Photos: A Chinese Man Through Three Historical Eras

By Juliet Song
Juliet Song
Juliet Song
April 26, 2016 Updated: April 27, 2016

For 62 of his 88 years alive, Ye Jinglü of southeastern China posed for photographers across three tumultuous eras of modern Chinese history: during the final years of the imperial Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), the period of republican government (1912–1949), and under communist rule.

Presented below are 22 of the photos, originally posted with info about Ye’s life story on, a popular Chinese mobile app. 

Ye Jinglü, born in 1881 in the coastal province of Fujian, was a Christian businessman and collector who had gone to Great Britain to accompany his mother, a servant to a Qing Dynasty ambassador. His personal photo collection is a rarity given the time and place in which he lived. 

Because of his economic and religious background, Ye became a victim of communist rule when his grandson reported him to the authorities as a rightist. In 1960, his property was seized. 

In the final years of his life, Ye’s family was persecuted for their class background when the chaos of the Cultural Revolution began on the orders of Mao Zedong, the leader of communist China. 

First portrait of Mr. Ye, taken in London in 1901 when he was 21 years old. 


27 years old, in 1907.


28 years old, in 1908


29 years old, in 1909.


31 years old,in 1911.


35 years old, in 1915.


36 years old, in 1916.


38 years old, in 1918.


43 years old, in 1923.


49 years old, in 1929.


51 years old, in 1931.


56 years old, in 1936.


58 years old, in 1938.


60 years old, in 1940.


65 years old, in 1945.


69 years old, in 1949.


71 years old, in 1951.


72 years old, in 1952. This is the year when Communist Party began its “Five-Anti” campaign, in which Ye was reported by his eldest grandson, for selling gold. In lieu of a photograph, Ye used a silhouette of showing himself in profile, with explanatory notes: “Although I was exempted from the punishment of making a forced confession, I see this as a great humiliation, as I must bear this dirty charge as an innocent man.” 


73 years old, in 1953.


74 years old, in 1954.


81 years old, in 1961.


84 years old, in 1964. 


Ye Jingü at 88. He died of sickness at a time when his family was suffering from political persecution at the onset of the Cultural Revolution, a communist political campaign denouncing traditional culture and people of “bad class backgrounds” that lasted ten years and cost the lives of millions of people. 


Juliet Song