Dong Guochang was born in 1934 in Fenghua. At the age of sixty, he builded a huge grave for himself in addition to two pavilions for future generations to rest when they visit him. The township head discouraged him from taking so much land for his grave that even the mother of Chiang Kai-shek did not own such a huge one. Dong, with rulers in his hand, went three times to compare two graves. Finally, he agreed to dissemble the two pavilions. Now, he becomes a famous painter in the village.
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In the museum of Van Gogh in Netherland, I encountered this palette of him with remains of pigments. At that point, I felt I was so close to the artist yet distant. I felt the sense of intimacy meticulously tracing each crack on the pigments even more than the time when I was complimenting his oil paintings on the wall. However, I was also frustrated by the glass between the palette and me. It was the first time the concept of distance came to me.
A couple years later, I became a curator myself for my dad’s photos of people in the Siming Mountain, the mother mountain that cultivates rural culture in Ningbo. The concept of intimacy is always with me.
I named my first two exhibitions “Nostalgia” because they are exhibitions that trace roots for the urban Ningbo people. For the two exhibitions, I not only displayed photos but also their stories below each. I wanted to establish the feeling of intimacy to the photos with the stories. I reflected on the role of photography. Nowadays, people look at photos on social media for no more than five seconds before they scroll down. During my first exhibition, the approach for me was to use stories to bring people closer to pictures. During my second exhibition, I invited a 96-year-old mother and her 76-year-old son to the opening ceremony so that the audience could interact with them.
After two in Ningbo, I decided to reach global audience. I went to the local art gallery and persuaded them to provide a place for these pictures and their stories. Besides thinking about what I can do with all those photos and stories, I thought about what it means for the old residing in the Siming Mountain for their entire life. They have never been outside of the mountain before, and the exhibitions would not even matter to them. I came up with the idea of not only shortening the distance between art and audience but also the subject of art and the audience. I have made my photos for sale, and I am going to bring the money back to them. I have also encouraged the visitors to leave messages to them so that they know there are also a group of people knowing and caring about them from the other side of the earth. They depend their entire life on labor of themselves and they probably do not realize they need help from others. On our notebook for message, I already received some warming messages praising this caring sense and reflect on the rural life between China and U.S. I do want to break the geographical isolation and connect to them and the history they have witnessed. For those foreign visitors, I have printed out posters, and I hope they will keep this glimpse of lives in rural Ningbo with them. I, therefore, named this exhibition “More than Nostalgia.”
Aiju Wang was born in 1918 in Maoyangtou, Fenghua. The picture is all her family members at the birthday celebrating her age of 100 years. Right after she was born, her mother lost conscious and was unable to feed her. After a year later, her biological father sent her away to the Zhangs. He was a child bride for their adopted son.
The biological son of the Zhangs died 18 years before (ca. 1900). They adopted a son who used to be an orphan. Life was hard for the Zhangs since they had to feed both their son and the child bride. A hundred years later today, she says that she survived because she drank lactic of the mother. Wang is lucky to have more than a hundred members on her family across five generations.
Historical background: The reversal of social classes- the end of “private ownership”
Hong Shengheng, born in 1927, is from Xiashao, Beilun. Orphaned at an early age, he, at the age of 10, came to Xiashao from Lianjiang, Fujian on a boat that transported sugarcanes. He came for his uncle who worked at the Baolaixiang candy shop. After he was adopted by his uncle, he also inherited the candy shop. Baolaixiang, being a famous dessert shop, makes candies in autumns and winters and bakes in spring and summer. After the establishment of PRC, all the private retailers came onto the communist way. Hong and his wife thus turned from shop owner to staffs working in the collective shop. In 1980, Baolaixiang stopped runing, and the shop becomes the house that the couple lives in.
Historical background: The lowest peasant class in the old ages
Xu Shiyue, born in 1931, is from Xiashao, Beilun. He does not know where his ancestors come from; the only thing he knows is that the Xu family has been watching the ancestor shrine of the Shao family for five generations. They belonged to the lowest social class in the society, depending entirely on the family shrine of the Shaos.
Since the Ming Dynasty, they were banned from going to school, being government officials, or marrying other social classes. They were only allowed to held degrading jobs, like taking care of ancestral shrines or being barbers and butchers. Such discrimination was eliminated by Yongzheng Emperor and gradually faded since the Republic of China period.
Historical background: Chiang Kai-shek resigned from the political arena for a short period during the Republic of China
Jiang Xiaochang (in the middle) was born in 1921 in Xikou Fenghua. He is from the same clan as Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi). In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek lived in Xikou for half a year, visiting Xuedou Temple and Miaogaotai often. The Siming Mountain is steep; a sedan chair was the best means going up the winding roads. He was the bearer who carried Chiang Kai-shek uphill. Chiang was a very nice man, as he recals. He also considers it an honor, and his family takes delight in talking about it. He is 96 years old now and still healthy besides deafness.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, gangs were active in the Siming Mountain. He was once abducted by a gang, and his parents borrow money for four days in order to save him. According to him, during the four days, although he had to be tied at night, the meals were not bad at all.
Historical background: Wartime Turmoil before the Failure of the Kuomintang
Zhang Fengcui was born in Pukou, Fenghua in 1927. Her uncle’s entire family was on SS Kiangya and unfortunately did not make it. The shipwreck led to the death of 3,000 people, even more than the shipwreck of Titanic.
Historical background: Wartime Turmoil before the Failure of the Kuomintang
Zhang Ahua was born in Nanpu, Fenghua in 1937. On December 3rd, 1948, his father brought him and his three brothers from Shanghai to Ningbo by SS Kiangya. At night, the overloaded steamship that was destroyed in an explosion near the mouth of the Huangpu River. Under the leadership be his father, the four family members rushed to the up end of the steamship. They were then saved by the cargo ship “Jinyuanli” and survived the disaster.
Zhu Dexing was born in 1922 in Xizhou, Xiangshan. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, he joined the local armed organization. He defended Xizhou from Japanese invasion and killed a Japanese soldier. He became deaf during the war. After the war, he went home and served as a forest ranger. Zhu has been single his entire life. Now he lives in a nursing house, subsided by the Xiangshan government. When talking about the Japanese army, Zhu, who lay on the bed, lifted his arm and made a shooting pose with fierce stare.
Historical background: Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War
Jiang Fufang was born in 1920 in Tang’ao, Fenghua. His family, belonging to the merchant class, provided him with great living conditions. After graduating from Ningbo High School, Jiang went to Republic of China Military Academy, determined to serve the nation. He joined the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1943. During the Chinese Civil War, serving as a major, he was shot at abdomen when fighting against the People’s Liberation Army. He went home after being cured. He faced discrimination due to his social classes and rebelled successfully in the 1980s. Now he lives in a nursing house for old people and is subsidized by the Academy Alumni Foundation.