Chinese Photo Exhibit Exposes Years of Meticulous Propaganda

October 31, 2012 6:48 pm Last Updated: October 31, 2012 6:48 pm
the original "Tank Man" photo

A photographic art exhibit in mainland China, displaying historic news images that were doctored by state-controlled media, along with the true original versions, have exposed some sensitive historical facts to the Chinese public.

One of over 100 images recently on display at the Guangdong Art Museum in Ershadao, Guangzhou Province, was the famous “Tank Man” photo. It depicts a man, thought to be named Wang Weilin, in front of a line of tanks on June 4, 1989, attempting to block their advance prior to the bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square. The photo was widely circulated in Hong Kong and by world media, but has been censored in China.

State-run Xinhua News Agency published its own photo-shopped version, showing thousands of people on the roadside appearing to give a warm welcome to the tanks approaching Beijing.

The small, seemingly unimportant photo with the English title “Beijing Event” attracted the attention of many museum visitors, some studying it for a long time.

Another “art piece” was a set of three photos of Hu Jintao and Deng Xiaoping shaking hands in 1992. The original image showed a crowd in the Great Hall of the People with former leader Jiang Zemin between Hu and Deng. What Xinhua readers saw, however, was a photo with only Hu and Deng shaking hands.

 Hu Jintao (L) and Deng Xiaoping (R) shaking hands
At the top is the original photo, showing Hu Jintao (L) and Deng Xiaoping (R) shaking hands. In the bottom photo Jiang Zemin is edited out by Xinhua. (Xinhua, Ming Pao)

The exhibition, titled the “Fourth Guangzhou Triennial Unseen Art Exhibition,” or “Unseen Art” for short, displayed over 100 pieces collected by Beijing artist Zhang Dali over the years, many of them touching on politically sensitive topics.

Coming face to face with fact and fiction made people think and comment about the deception they have been subjected to by state media over many years.

Forty-year-old Mr. Liu, who attended the show with his wife, told Hong Kong media Ming Pao that he was a high-school student at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests. He said he had watched Hong Kong media reports and remembered the events vividly.

“Tiananmen Square was filled with students and the tents they had set up. Then the army came and opened fire, which drove students away and emptied the square.”

Referring to the “Tank Man,” Liu said, “The tank tried to go around him, but he was unyielding and continued to stand in front of the tank.”

But owing to the regime’s media censorship, many people, especially those born after the ’90s, don’t know about the actual June 4 events on Tiananmen Square.

After looking at the “Tank Man” photos, Zhang, a 22-year-old student of Guangzhou Art School, said he still doesn’t know what happened in the photo, he only knows that one of them is the fact and the other one is forged, the Ming Pao article said.

A statement by artist Zhang Dali on the museum’s artist page said it took a great amount of effort to recover the missing originals without help from the media. He wanted to bring the images back to life and display them in their rightful place.

Chen Wenzhe, head of the Guangdong Museum of Art marketing department, said the purpose of Dali’s work is to recover historical facts, and the content of each art piece on display was approved by the provincial cultural department.

Asked whether he anticipated any issues arising over the June 4 photo, Chen replied that it was hard to say. “The artist did not exaggerate, and we only focus on the art itself,” he said.

Read the original Chinese article.

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