Lens on A Rising Nation

July 14, 2009
By Huang Hai, Gong LeiEditor: zhuhong

Hou Bo and her husband Xu Xiaobing

Hou Bo takes a shot of a group of volunteers. [September 15, 2008]

The life of photographer Hou Bo is what legends are made of. Born during the chaotic warlord era, she fought in the anti-Japanese war at age 13 and joined the Communist Party of China when she was 14. Hou was present at the founding ceremony of New China on the Tian'anmen Rostrum when she was 25, and was official photographer of China's top leaders for the next 12 years. Along with many others, she, suffered injustice during the turbulent years of the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976). After being rehabilitated in 1978, she made impressive achievements after China's implementation of the Reform and Opening up Policy. Hou became the first president of the China Women Photographers Association when she was 71.

Hou Bo, now 85, is still in good health. She and her 93-year-old husband Xu Xiaobing, also a renowned photographer, live happily with her son and his family.

"I am blessed. I have witnessed the ceremony marking the founding of new China, and have lived to see the nation prosper," Hou said.

Chinese People Rise under CPC Leadership

The founding ceremony of the new China [by Hou Bo in 1949]

Mao Zedong at the Beidaihe beach resort [by Hou Bo in 1954]

Mao Zendong and his daughter Li Na at the Beidaihe beach resort in July 1960 [by Hou Bo in 1960]

"I was born in Xia County, Shanxi Province in 1924, a few years after the founding of the CPC. It was a chaotic time of constant fighting among warlords. After 1937 more than half of Shanxi Province was under Japanese occupation, and life became harder each day. I joined the Sacrifice Allied Group for Saving the Nation under Bo Yibo's leadership when I was 13," Hou said.

"The CPC offered me a way out and the chance to train and be of help in the revolution," Hou said.

Hou trained in the Eighth Route Army in Xi'an in 1938 and also joined the CPC there. In winter of the same year she went to the Yan'an revolutionary base and was assigned to the security department. Owing to her young age, the CPC sent her to middle school in the border area, and later to study at Yan'an Women's University and Yan'an University. After graduation she has worked as nurse and teacher.

After China's victory in the anti-Japanese war, Hou was assigned head of the photography section at the Northeast Film Studio, and it was then that she began systematically to study photographic techniques. In early 1949 Hou and her husband went to Beijing, where she became head of the photography section at Peking Film Studio and later head of the Central Guard Bureau photography section, assigned to photographic portraits of top leaders, including Mao Zedong.

"The CPC placed tremendous trust in me and I am honored to have witnessed the ceremony that marked the founding of this country," Hou recalled, with pride. "Top leaders stood on the Tian'anmen Rostrum in the afternoon of October 1st, 1949. I had just one camera with one standard lens and twelve photographic plates. When, after all present sang the national anthem, Chairman Mao solemnly declared the founding of new China, I felt so exhilarated that I forgot about the danger and leaned as far out from the rostrum guardrails as I could and took a photo of Chairman Mao as he declared the rising of the new nation." This is how Hou took her most famous photo, "The Founding Ceremony." Hou's husband Xu Xiaobing, who compiled a documentary on this historic moment, was also on the rostrum.

"What impressed me most about the ceremony was the feeling of overwhelming joy that radiated from the masses that witnessed it," Hou said.

Reform, Opening-Up and Renewal

Having recorded the founding of new China, Hou was also present during the construction of this thriving young nation. She photographed China's top leaders for 12 years, having taken more than 400 of Mao Zedong's 700 official photographs.

Hou was transferred to the Xinhua News Agency Photography Department in 1961. During the Cultural Revolution she spent 10 years undergoing reform through labor in Yongji, Shanxi Province, and was rehabilitated in 1978. In 1995 Hou, then 71, became the first president of the China Women Photographers Association. After her rehabilitation in 1979, her husband became president of the China Photographers Association. Hou was awarded "National Film Artist with Outstanding Contributions" in 2005 and the "China Photography Master" gold medal in 2006.

"The Reform and Opening up Policy has given China new life," Hou said, when recalling her past.

Hou and her husband have compiled their photos into an album entitled "The Road."

"The nation is prosperous. We are on our path towards national rejuvenation. Chinese people will have a better future as long as there is social stability," Hou concluded with confidence.

(Source: Xinhua-qianlong.com/Translated by womenofchina.cn)


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