Bookshop revives red memories with picture-story books, posters
by Xinhua writers Yuan Quan and Jia Zhao
The Cathay Bookshop has contributed to the revolutionary theme of this year's Beijing Book Fair by exhibiting 100 antique movie posters and 100 pocket-sized picture-story books created between the 1950s and the 1970s.
The objects on display tell stories from the Communist Party of China (CPC) since its founding in 1921, including some tales that have been familiar to several generations, such as "Tunnel Warfare," "The White-Haired Girl" and "The Red Detachment of Women."
The unique visual show immediately became a hit at the book fair, luring nearly 10,000 visitors on the first weekend, said Zhang Xiaodong, general manager of the bookstore chain.
The exhibits were selected from more than 2,000 picture-story books and 200-plus movie posters collected by the bookstore, with nearly one-third coming from private collectors.
Liu Yichen, the exhibition curator and manager of the bookstore's reader service department, said some picture-story books on display are masterpieces by famous artists and might be worth a fortune on the antiques market. They are seldom available for public viewing, he said.
In the early years after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, when people had limited resources for reading and entertainment, the pocket-sized picture-story books of scenario drawings, commonly known as "xiaorenshu" in Chinese, were read by almost everyone.
At that time, many picture-story books were created to communicate the policies of the Party and the government, Liu noted. "They are a vestige of Chinese history."
The books on display at the Cathay Bookshop exhibition space are all behind glass in display cases. But visitors can also scan the QR codes for each item, allowing them to view high-definition photos and background information on their cell phones.
Apart from their artistic value, many pieces were chosen for the exhibition because they provide a record of historical events, Liu said.
He was impressed by a poster of the film Train 12 released in 1960. The film was based on an event that occurred in 1959 when Train 12 heading to Beijing was trapped for three days in the mountains of northeastern Liaoning Province due to a devastating flood.
The train conductor led crew members and other Party members aboard to overcome the food shortage and efficiently distribute air-dropped relief supplies to passengers. Their efforts not only saved all the passengers but also rescued over 350 local flood victims.
Liu watched the film for the first time on a video website as he prepared the exhibition; he had never heard of the incident before. "Party members should always have a sense of duty in such a crisis," Liu commented.
The 37-year-old curator, the oldest member of the curatorial team, said that, prior to the project, he had read only one-third of the selected pieces, while members born in the 1990s had read fewer.
"The exhibition offers us an opportunity to learn the stories of my father's generation," Liu said.
A 76-year-old viewer surnamed Cheng said watching such movies was his favorite pastime as a kid. "Childhood memories came flooding back when I saw them again," he said.
Nowadays, with young people routinely bombarded by a mass of fragmented information via digital screens, the question arises whether their interest can be piqued by these once-popular books and movies?
Liu is very confident that the answer is "yes." He illustrated the point by showing a photo he snapped of a little girl who was captivated by a movie poster that was the same size as her.
"The exhibition may be a start. We hope the stories in the old books and movies can inspire young people to explore more about the 100-year-history of the CPC," Liu said.