25 Books to Read Before You Die

Reviews From


The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, October 7th, 2003


Red-Color News Soldier

by Zhensheng Li

A review by Benjamin Schwarz

This horrific book presents the only known photographic documentation of the entire period of China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Li worked as a photographer for the Communist Party-controlled newspaper in Heilongjiang, China's northernmost province, and there he recorded the revolution's sudden grip, its organized violence, the mass hysteria it engendered, and the processes by which it turned in on itself -- as purges begat more purges, and tormentors became the tormented. His photographs of orchestrated denunciations and public humiliations, of forced "self-criticisms," of rampaging Red Guards, of executions, all with the stupid, hate-filled, and oddly zeal-less crowd looming, captured events that combined the dull terror of the show trial with the sadism of the lynching. This minutely documented (the 285 prints were gleaned from the tens of thousands of negatives Li hid under his floorboards), scrupulously honest (the book orders all the prints strictly chronologically, and all are uncropped) record of revolution on the grassroots level should at the very least mortify those who, as morally obtuse college students, toted the Little Red Book (unread and unreadable) in their hip pockets.

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