By Adriano Madaro
Only by chance did I find a book that really piqued my interest in China at a young age. The work was The True Story of Ah Q, a novel by Lu Xun, a Shaoxing native and arguably one of the greatest 20th-Century Chinese writers. After getting swept away by the book, I became determined to study journalism so I could one day travel to China as a journalist. Eventually, I made that dream happen.
Chinese People in My Lens
To this day, I still frequently think about my undergraduate thesis, which focused on China’s revolutionary development and political evolution across decades from the Boxer Rebellion (1900) to Sun Yat-sen’s “Three Principles of the People” (Nationalism, Democracy and People’s Livelihood), all the way up to the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea (1950- 1953) and to Chinese people’s support in assisting Vietnam and resisting America (1965- 1973). I tried my best to pinpoint the heart of Chinese revolution in modern and contemporary times. My systematic study of Chinese culture during my college years and my research for the thesis made me realize early how difficult it is to truly understand Chinese people and Chinese culture.
I had always believed that only by building a sound theoretical and knowledge base and accumulating life experience in China could I gradually become closer to Chinese culture, which previously felt totally strange to me. Therefore, in my youth, I employed all means to accumulate knowledge about China by making friends with Chinese writers and extensively reading Chinese books through which I formed my own unique view of the country. These efforts made me increasingly liken Chinese culture to a massive treasure trove full of endless fascinating gems to explore.
So I decided to focus my studies on Chinese culture, and my life became inseparable from China.
After graduating from college in 1976, I was invited by the Chinese Embassy to China. On April 28, 1976, I finally set foot on Chinese soil for the first time. During those years when I was living in China, I took some 75,000 photos. Among them was a 1979 shot from a window of Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai. In the frame, Pudong was still a rustic village, and today Pudong New Area glows as an icon of China.
In my 2018 pictures shot in Shanghai, Pudong New Area embraces bustling crowds navigating the intersections between high-rise buildings. Juxtaposed with the 1979 shot, these more recent photos provide a thumbnail sketch of China’s leapfrog development over the past 40 years.
Another set of photos that I want to share shows a pair of sisters living in Shaoxing, an eastern Chinese city. Decades ago, they were very poor and managed to make a living by polishing shoes. When I met them again 35 years later, they were doing the same job with a smile. Over the years, dramatic changes have taken place across China and people’s lives have improved while their peace and contentment remain unchanged.
Many of the subjects of my early portrait photography were children, who must be in their 40s and 50s now. I really hope to see them again. Given the great changes happening in China, I often think that if I were a Chinese, I would have joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) because I believe that the CPC is the inevitable choice in modern Chinese history that has driven the nation towards good governance. China’s reemergence as a global economic power set a milestone in the world history, which I was deeply convinced was inevitable as early as 1978. This is precisely the road leading to the realization of the Chinese Dream.
Balancing ‘Cognitive Deficit’
Some politicians in other countries claim that there’s a lack of freedom in China with the CPC as the ruling party. Behind such assumptions is a gap in knowledge of Chinese history, or else they would agree that the CPC is a historic choice of China.
In recent years, I have endeavored to help more Italians embrace a more intimate picture of China by organizing cultural exhibitions and other events. Despite the longstanding ties between Chinese and Italian civilizations, as an Italian I feel deeply that even today considerable misconceptions still exist between the two peoples. The root cause of this predicament is that information accessible to Italians is usually biased, flavored by certain political goals—in other words not objective and real.
In such context, most Italian people gradually developeda stereotyped mindset about China. Through organizing cultural exhibitions, I hope to provide Italians a fresh perspective on modern Chinese history and enable truth to speak. The art exhibition “Tibet, Treasures from the Roof of the World,” for example, displayed many material objects which strongly evidence that since ancient times Tibet has always been part of China. Rather than simply preaching, the exhibits allow the historical facts to speak for themselves.
To better study the history of China, I collected nearly 200 maps of the world published by different countries since 1700 from antique stores across Europe and Asia. On all of these maps, Tibet is drawn within the Chinese territory—unparalleled evidence that Tibet is part of China. The maps drawn by cartographers from France, Great Britain, the United States and the Netherlands all clearly depict the geographical location of Tibet as Chinese territory. My next plan is to organize a Tibet-themedexhibition featuring maps I have collected over the years to tell stories of China’s Tibet to Westerners using the maps made by Westerners.
When we reflect on the history with level heads, it’s easy to understand how few countries in the world have endured the suffering and hardship that China has Chinese culture features unique characteristics often unknown to the Western countries. I dedicated my life to the study of China’s development across different historical periods, and both of my daughters are now involved in communications work concerning Chinese culture. My life has remaine nseparable from China, and my efforts to study China will only continue. I feel so proud to have witnessed China’s development and changes over past decades.