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Empty Room

I have been trying to rekindle the embers in the historical ashes, hoping that I can shoot those unforgettable events China gradually experienced, as the fable for the world today. Before that, my art was incomplete.  

 

Under the international environment of cold war, the Beibu Wan Incident (Tokyo Bay Incident) which happened in 1964 put the top Chinese leaders on high alert, and triggered the 14 year-long construction of the third line of defense in China, or rather the Third Front. Specifically, taking the former Soviet Union and USA as the imaginary enemies, China regarded the inland borders and the coastal areas as the first front, Beijing-Tianjin area and central China as the second front, and the vast South-western areas far from the first and second fronts, and the mountainous areas in the 11 adjacent provinces as the third front. The so called Third Front construction was to move the importance national defense industry and the basic industries supplement to the national defense as well as research institutes to the Third Front. At the same time, millions of works were migrated to the Third Front areas under the slogan of “Supporting the Construction of the Third Front”. It could be said that it was the largest non-ideological act of state after the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

 

Now, 20 years have passed since the end of the Third Front construction, and the then imaginary enemies no longer exist. But where are the factories in the Third Front?  There are three possibilities now: most of the factories which used to produce guns and rifles have stopped production; the energy and supporting factories supplement to the national defense factories have transformed their roles, and continue to operate for today’s economic construction; and those factories still being kept secret are transferred to their original sites. Then, how about the people?

 

That year, his wife had traveled half China, and found him before he, the youngest aerodynamics engineer in Shanghai, was sent to a secret factory. He turned down his wife’s proposal to absquatulate. Despairingly, his wife said: “ You swore to God that you would marry me, and unite as one until our death.” The engineer replied that he also taken the oath for his country.

 

That day, 20 years after the end of the Third Front, his daughter got the notice that his father’s tomb would be removed due to the construction of an express way. His daughter shouted when she found his father’s tomb, people rushed to the tomb and were astonished by the scene when the tomb was opened, there were only a section of rail and a badge of Chairman Mao. An old man came over, and covered the badge and the rail gently with the soil, then said, “ He dropped to Dadu River when he was constructing the Chengdu-Kunming Railway, where to find his body?”

 

That second, he finally kissed her, who was just as the blossoming red flowers in the silk cotton tree. His heart was quivering, and passion was surging. Unlike his colleagues who had left no girl in the surrounding villages without being trampled, he was self-respectful, but oppressive also. She was an actress in an art troupe which went there to give morale-enhancing performances. He took her to his dormitory, and she found his life with walls full of plans. As a result, he was sentenced to prison for 15 years, for he was told that she was a spy.

 

I remember one day 20 years ago, it was also a rainy day, I was staying with a girl who was also working at the Third Front. With our backs to the red-brick wall of the dormitory, I asked her why she wasn’t a spy. She was puzzled, and asked why. I explained that if she was a spy, she would allure me with her beauty, then I would countermine, give her some discarded plans, but I could get her, the beauty. She seemed to have understood me, and said: “have your daydream!” Today, she may have been the wife of someone, but her bright eyes are still in my mind, here is the witness with poem:

 

--Your glances are in the depth of the blue sky,

  Where are your eyes?

--Your fragrance of kiss comes over the fields,

  Where are your lips?

 

The Third Front, my forever Third Front, I’ve kept looking for you. I started my searching road for the Third Front with my heavy photography equipment since the spring of 2004.

 

In July of 2003, I accidentally shot The Dormitory with Wei Yuxin at Luodai Town, Longquan District, Chengdu.  

 

In May of 2004, I traveled over Gongxian and Lishe in Sichuan Province and Yanjin in Yunnan Province with He Jun, Luo Li and Ma Jun, and shot the works of Age of Blossom, Village Teacher, Old Wall, Classroom, Workers’ Dormitory, Girl and Balcony.

 

In July of 2007, I went to Ya’an and Shimian of Sichuan Province with He Jun, Sister Zheng, President Wei, Ma Bin and Luo Li, and photographed the works of The Opera in the Ruined Factory, Dongfeng Tunnel, Shimian General Plant, People Sitting in the Room, An Old Cottage with Old Newspapers and Latter Generation etc.

 

In November of 2004, together with Yang Zilang, Deng Zhenglong, Chen Shi and Shu Xiaoli, we traveled to Yibin in Sichuan, Yanjin and Zhaotong in Yunnan, Weining and Liupanshui (Shuicheng and Panxian) in Guizhou, and then to Kunming in Yunan, during which I shot Shuicheng, Splashing With One Stone, Yanjin, Melancholiness, Crossroad and Cable Bridge I ect.

 

I spent the Spring Festival with Li Yang and Yang Zilang, we went to Dali in Yuanan, Panzhihua, Liangshan, Shimian, Ya’an and Chengdu in Sichuan, where we finished Ore Washing Pool, Cross-line, Old Machine Tools, Iron Transferring Ladle Vehicle, and Fire in the Furnace etc.

 

In May of 2005, I went to Quxian, Wanyuan, Daxian, Bazhong and Yanzhong of Sichuan Province with Li Yang and Jiang Shangbo, and took Cable Bridge II, Bridge Under Water, People Collecting the Slags, Barber Shop, Cinema, Clinic, Father, People’s Conference Hall, Stone Gristmill, and Taking A Rest etc.

 

During the Spring Festival of 2006, I went to Chongqing Municipality, Zunyi, Guiyang, Huaxi, Liupanshui and Weining in Guizhou Province, Huize and Qiaojia in Yunnan Province, and Panzhihua, Liangshan, Yibin and Gongxian of Sichuan Province with Li Yang, He Chongyue, Zhu Yan, Wei Yuxin, Party Secretary Li, and Zhou Shi, during which I completed Mine in the Mist, Water Bridge by the Mine, Cyan & Red, Shuigang Plant, Ore Crusher, Ore Yard, Plant’s Internal Train, Weining Water Plant, Auditorium, Guiyang Steel Plant, and a set of 22 photographs of the Third Front in 12cm x 20cm, including the works of Jinsha River.

 

In October of 2006, Li Yang, Meng Yue, Chen Hui, Pei Jingmei and I started from Beijing, and went across Hebei Province, Henan Province, Luoyang, Xi’an, Baoji, Fengxian and Chencang of Shaanxi Province, Tianshui in Gansu, Baiyin in Ningxia, Shenmu in Shaanxi, then to Shanxi Province. During this trip, we shot The Little Town Before the Workers’ Dormitory, Fengxian Coking Plant, The Sold Plant, The Women Sitting at the Bottom of the Stairs, Tianshui Bridge,  Shenmu, Drama, Chencang Primary School, Luoyang Steel Plant, Train, Morning, Coal Separation Plant, Fellow Workers, Stands Before the Workers’ Dormitory, Steel Ingots, Baiyin Town, Warehouse Converted from Plant  etc. 

 

In October of 2007, together with Zhu Yan, Li Congzhi, Gu Xi, Li Yang, and Guo Yu, I started from Beijing and took a trip to Henan Province, Hebei Province, Changzhi, Linfen and Jixian of Shanxi Province, Yan’an and Yulin of Shaanzi Province, during which I took the pictures of Dust Fog, Sunny Day After Rain, Corn Field, Emergency Pond, Platform for Assigning Tasks, Red, Publicity Board, Road Light and Cross Pool etc.

 

In January of 2008, accompanied by Yang Zilang, Jiang Shangbo, Li Congzhi, Yang Yang, Li Yang, Liang Juan, Dai Lu, Guo Jin, Zhou Zhengjun, Guan Xi, He Jun, Chi Yangjuan, Li Xuezhi, Wei Yuxin and Party secretary Li etc., I took another trip starting from Beijing. It took us 2 months to get to Chengdu after Henan Province, Hebei Province, Shaaxi Province, then Gongxian in Sichuan Province, Yanjin and Zhaotong in Yunnan Province, Weining, Liupanshui, Panxian, Liupanshui, Guiyang, Huaxi, Bijie, and Weining again (we were stuck there for half a month due to snow storm) in Guizhou Province, then Huize, Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Yongsheng in Yunna Province, then Panzhihua, Xichan and Leibo. During the two months, we took 13 color pictures of The Third Front in 8cm×10cm, 4 series of color pictures of The Grand Third Front, and 1 series of Beauty of Nature.

 

The picture I want to especially mention among all my works is The Dormitory. The shooting of the Third Front started from that picture which was taken in Longquan out of Chengdu in 2003. One of the pictures was collected by Yue Minjun after it was displayed in the Exhibition of LIGHT. TIME. SPACE held at Tokyo Gallery in Beijing.  That picture is like the story of Pan Jinlian, an heroine in the Outlaws of the Marsh. There is only one chapter describing Pan Jinlian, but stemming from it, came the classic novel The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jinpinmei). And that picture opened the history of the Third Front.

 

I am not a historian, and I don’t have the ability and courage to restore the true story of the Third Front construction. What I can do is just to tell the fable stories. That is to make a story of the Third Front in the real scene, and leave some loopholes for the audience, so that they can find some clues, and to interpret the ideas of the author with historical approach. As a matter of fact, this approach is a very “revolutionary” method. If you want to beat somebody down, you will first study out the opinion of that person, then criticize his opinion. Then if that “somebody” feels wronged, he will try to defend for himself. In the defending process, loopholes appear, and those who want to beat him down can take his loophole by which the person is beaten down. Therefore, loopholes are important, just as the nuclear reaction starts from the breakdown of the nuclear, and then the reaction happens from the crack and generates gigantic energy. So, the little girl inserted to the pictures is the “loophole” and the truth can not be revealed forever. The construction of the Third Front in that extremely difficult condition truly represented the state will, but the cost was so huge, especially in the cost of human lives. Thousands of lives were deprived just by the construction of one railway. It was implemented in the cost of humanity, how many couples were separated in different places, and how many children could not get education? It was done in the cost of health, how many people got sick due to pollution? And it was in the cost of environment and resources, almost non of the Third Front companies had the financial investment and planning for environmental protection, and almost all the plants and dormitories mingled together. There were glorious dreams, and there were tortures. Tortures can only be covered and glossed with the aesthetic females, I have nothing to say.

 

Where have we come from?  Why can’t we review our own history?  How can a nation who can not see herself with historicism talk about the future prospect? Today is a time with excessive expectations. It would be better to clear up the room where our soul has grown than to have recourse to God and luck for more dreams—never forget those pitch dark nights with thick fog, though we could only move several miles an hour, what we had passed was the historical events.  

中文 / English