The Interpretation of History through Photographs
Photographs are primary records that not only document important moments and historical events but also provide a visual basis upon which to interpret history. The topics covered in this section are organized by geographical locales and themes, and the publications listed often showcase photographs that focus on a particular city or region, or use these images to narrate how a place changed over time. After the commercial success of the Lao zhaopian (Old photographs) series, published by Shandong Huabao Chubanshe in 2000, a large number of Chinese-language books featuring sites and cities have been published. This implies an increasing interest by the Chinese in understanding the history of Chinese cities through the medium of photography. In addition to the growing number of book titles on major metropolitan cities, publications focused on smaller cities in China have also merited attention because of how they present a selection of good-quality photographs from local private and public collections.
Recent publications have highlighted China's ancient architecture and landscape, as shown in most of the publications regarding Beijing and Hangzhou. While some books on Beijing focus on either imperial gardens and palaces or walls and gates of the city, those books related to Hangzhou almost exclusively center on views of the West Lake. Aside from scenic views, other books take as their focus aspects of modernization in China; among the most popular themes are the postal service, transportation, commerce, finance, industrialization, and the entertainment industries. The nostalgia exhibited by Chinese today toward glamorous bygone eras, as shown by books such as Lao Shanghai (1998; Old Shanghai), makes a strong case for the inextricable link between photography, modernity, and cities.
The second part of this section lists books and articles that use photographs as primary visual resources for understanding themes that include portraiture, the practice and role of photography in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, wars, courtesan culture, commodities, and customs.