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Tang Desheng

TANG DeSheng, Cultivating Pearls on the Riverside, Luoyang Commune, 1971
From the series Educated Youth, 1969-1976
Courtesy of the artist.

The Educated Youth

It is difficult not to be trapped by the numbers: as many as sixty million, if you include the young people, their friends, relatives, whole families. So-called educated youth were sent from schools and families in China’s cities to farms and remote rural settlements. European and Chinese researchers now say that official documents show that sixteen to eighteen million young people were relocated in this movement.

It lasted twenty-five years, from the 1950s to the late 1970s: the “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement.” A whole generation of young Chinese students was affected. The worst years were the late 1960s and mid-1970s. The repercussions of these forced relocations continue to echo throughout China and across two to three generations of Chinese families.

Today China is slowly coming to grips with the enormous and still unspoken effects of the “educated youth movement,” with its profound complexity and contradictions. It impacted China at every level. Five of seven recent members of China’s powerful Central Politburo Standing Committee were educated youth. The current president of China, Xi Jinping, is an educated youth.

In these pictures, a lot is consciously hidden: the suicides, malnutrition, lack of medical treatment, rapes, and separation from family and home. It has taken Tang Desheng a long time to show his pictures publicly, and he is careful about what he shows. But the people who were swept up by the movement have understood.

Excerpted from the introduction, Remembering, by Wendy Watriss, Curator and Co-founder, FotoFest International, for TANG Desheng’s, Educated Youth, A Fading Evidence (China: self-published book, 2014)

International Discoveries V is the first exhibition of this work in the United States.


Born in 1947, TANG DeSheng started his career in the Chinese army, where he was a photographer during his military service in 1965-1969. From 1969-1979, he photographed the zhiqing (“educated youth”), who were sent away from the cities in China to live and work in the countryside during the “Up to the Mountain and Down to the Countryside Movement” of the 1960s and 1970s. The 6,000 photos he took of this period in Chinese history constitute the only long-term photographic documentation that is known of this movement. These works were shown in public for the first time in 2012 at Canal 5 Visual Arts Center in Changzhou, China.

TANG DeSheng has continued to work in China as a freelance photographer since 1979. He works with the Changzhou Photographers’ Association and independently for the Wujin County Photography Association. He holds official positions in both organizations. In recent years, he has done work on The Grand Canal and the onetime practice of bound feet.

During the 2014 Mois de la Photo in Paris, a solo exhibition of his Educated Youth work was held at the SPÉOS Paris London Photographic Institute His Educated Youth work has been published in Educated Youth: The Weight of Images Passing Through Time (Changzhou, China: Canal 5 Visual Arts Center with Thinking Hands,2012) and Educated Youth: A Fading Living Evidence (China: self-published, 2014).

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