The best photojournalism books on China

The Books I Picked & Why

Humanism in China:A Contemporary Record of Photography

By Huangsheng Wang, Ge An, Wugong Hu

Humanism in China:A Contemporary Record of Photography

Why this book?

This vast book in 500 pages broke new ground in publishing and photojournalism circles in China. Edited by the visionary curator Wang Huangsheng this extraordinary collection of colour and black and white material from hundreds of photographers both professional and amateur remains unmatched in scope. With unflinching courage to show both the brightest and darkest sides of life in the People’s Republic Wang selected many previously unpublished images along a range of themes from ‘desire’ to ‘time’, existence’ to ’relationships’. Crime and punishment, rural schools, and worker demonstrations - all sorts of subjects that were rarely seen in the state media, even the anal inspection of army recruits. Never before and rarely since, particularly in the last few years, has such a daring serving of so many slices of life been served. This important book is a reminder that despite the limitations of China’s state media and the much denigrated Western coverage of the country millions of talented eyewitnesses are out there keeping a record. I look forward to many such books in the future.


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Visions of China: Photographs, 1957-1980

By Marc Riboud

Visions of China: Photographs, 1957-1980

Why this book?

A gentle observer of a nation undergoing transformation. Riboud witnessed a wide range of people from the top leaders mingling with Western diplomats to steelworkers, farmers, and students. At a time when most foreign visitor's access was highly restricted and choreographed scenes of socialist paradise were the norm he somehow managed to capture the energy and spontaneity of his subjects. By singling out individuals who were not reacting to his presence he allows their dignity to shine through. His compositions invariably elegant and technically beyond reproach nevertheless are full of life, particularly his earlier work.


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From One China to the Other

By Henri Cartier-Bresson

From One China to the Other

Why this book?

The grandmaster of 20th Century photojournalism long had a fascination with China and was fortunate to get access to the country both pre and post-revolution. These times were chaotic and characterised by social upheaval yet Cartier-Bresson finds order and meaning through close observation and attention to geometric form until the ‘decisive moment’ is reached. Civil war, political turbulence, and an undercurrent of violence were the prevailing themes of this period yet the Frenchman’s sensitivity to the humanity and strength of his subjects is what lingers in the mind long after closing the cover.


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One Billion Journeys: A Documentary that Spans 40 Years

By Wang Fuchun

One Billion Journeys: A Documentary that Spans 40 Years

Why this book?

Spontaneous photojournalism has not been a feature of the People’s Republic as the state-run media prefers rigid control of any media message. One of the most distinguished early practitioners of documentary photography to challenge this dull approach was Wang Fuchun. His book on life on the long-distance trains that trundled across the country delighted and informed first his compatriots and then the world. Most of the journeys he witnessed were in the age before mass tourism and are a far cry from the world-beating high-speed trains of the 21st century. It feels like ancient history but steam-powered locomotives were still produced in China until the 1990s, the last country to give up the coal-burning dinosaurs.


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China after Mao: Seek Truth From Facts

By Liu Heung Shing

China after Mao: Seek Truth From Facts

Why this book?

After the gradual normalisation of relations between China and the US and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, a small number of western journalists were allowed to open bureaus in Beijing. Access was limited and travel difficult but one talented Chinese American photojournalist really pushed the boundaries in showing the rest of the world what the long inaccessible country was like. His tenacity and eye for the telling detail were an inspiration for me to take up the challenge to devote my career to covering the historic era of change in due course. Such was Liu’s ability to cover more than his hosts were quite ready to show ethnic Chinese foreign journalists found it near impossible to gain accreditation for many years afterwards.


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