German reporter’s camera captures China’s changes in 30 years

September 30th, 2008 - 8:53 am ICT by IANS  

Hamburg, Sep 30 (Xinhua) In April 1976, Martin Kummer, a journalist with The Hamburg Morning Post, paid a three-week visit to China and shot hundreds of photos across the country, then a mysterious land largely closed to the Western world.Exactly 30 years later in April 2006, Kummer, already in his 60s, made another China tour. He spent five weeks re-visiting the same places he toured 30 years ago, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guilin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, taking another batch of pictures.

On Aug 8, 2008, when the Beijing Olympic Games opened, Kummer selected over 240 photos from his two China tours and staged a photo exhibition at a ship museum, named “Cap San Diego,” on a berth of Hamburg.

The exhibition, titled “Mao’s Empire and China today — Fascinating Contrast in Photos,” showed China’s remarkable changes over the past 30 years.

“When I visited China in 1976, it was very difficult to get a visa for the first thing,” Kummer told Xinhua.

As China had not yet adopted the opening-up policy, Kummer had to seek help from then German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to get the visa.

Things were different at Kummer’s second China tour in 2006. “The biggest difficulty for me this time is to find the exact same buildings, railway stations and ports I had visited and hotels I had stayed in 30 years ago, because I wanted to take the pictures of the same places,” Kummer said.

In his efforts to find the same places in the Chinese cities he visited in 1976, Kummer received help from his Chinese friends, including those in China’s local governments and general consulate in Hamburg.

“I wanted to lodge in the same hotel rooms and visit the same villages and the same berths,” said Kummer, who is still serving as an active freelance journalist after his retirement.

However difficult it was, Kummer made it.

In retrospect, Kummer said his impression of China in 1976 was “grayish”. Everybody wore “the same black or grey Mao’s Suit”, and people led “poor lives” and they had “scarce” recreational activities, he noted.

According to Kummer, the most legendary anecdote for his first tour was that he was arrested as a suspect of “Soviet Union espionage” during the April 5 commemoration (in 1976) of late premier Zhou Enlai at Tiananmen Square.

“On that day, I was in Beijing Hotel, I rushed to the Square with three cameras in my hands when I saw people moved there,” he said.

However, Kummer was soon arrested because of photographing the event, but was released hours later.

Kummer’s arrest made sensational frontpage news in Europe, and he still keeps the newspapers that carried the stories.

For Kummer, his two pictures taken in front of the Forbidden City showed the cruelty of time — In 1976, Kummer was a handsome Yuppie, but 30 years later, his hair has turned grey.

For China, 30 years means “dramatic” and “unprecedented” progress, Kummer said and gave several examples of China’s changes as shown by his photos.

In the Pudong Area of China’s economic powerhouse Shanghai, for instance, the over-400-metre skyscraper Jin Mao Tower stands at the place once home to a two-storey plant 30 years ago.

“Cities in China are developing like mushrooms after rain,” he said.

Thirty years ago, Chinese people led “dull” lives, but now their lives are so colourful, and you can see fashionably dressed people, taste diversified food and enjoying all kinds of recreations everywhere.

At Kummer’s photo show, black-and-white photos from 1976 were positioned above those taken in the same places in 2006, and the contrast is dramatic.

“Around 100 people visited our exhibition every day, and many of them were amazed by China’s changes,” the journalist said.

Major German newspapers, including Die Welt and Hamburger Abendblatt also said that “Kummer’s photos are a precious record of China’s development”.

The photos showed China’s transformation from an undeveloped country to a world power, the Chinese nation’s renaissance and the remarkable changes of people’s lives, the newspapers said.

Kummer, born in 1939, has read a lot about China and studied Chinese culture and history, including Confucius and the Taoism.

“If you want to know China, you have to go there and see things for yourselves,” said Kummer.

Prior to the Beijing Olympic Games this year, Kummer, together with his wife, revisited China, and he selected one photo of the National Stadium known as the Bird Nest to include in his photo show. That was the only picture not taken in 1976 or 2006.

Kummer said he hoped the photos could some day be shown in China after this exhibition which ended Sunday.

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