Out with the old

From www.photomichaelwolf.com

Text from Kyoto Journal 55

(A stunning little piece. It could equally apply to other places [I was thinking Korea]. Enjoy.)

“On one of my walks through Beijing, I discovered the chair shown on the previous page. It stood in front of a small shop where one could buy, amongst other things, delicious dumplings and soy milk. The shop owner, a young, rather fat man, was sitting on the chair as if it were a throne. And what a wonderful chair it was, propped up on one side by an old spingle and two bricks, and on the other its weak leg was splinted with a piece of wood and some plastic string.

“I set up my camera and tripod and proceeded to take some photographs. As so often when I work in China, a large crowd of people gathered behind me and bombarded me with questions. ‘Why are you taking photographs of that chair; it’s so ugly’ people asked me. `You are making fun of China,’ an older woman hissed as she held her hand in front of my lens. I turned to her and explained: ‘This is an old chair which has had a long and hard life. When I look at it, I do not see an ugly chair. I see a chair with a strong character, like a person who has lived for 80 years and has not given up the will to live even though life has been hard.’ The woman looked at me and shook her head: `I don’t believe you. You are a foreigner who is trying to show how backward the Chinese are. Why don’t you take a picture of a new chair?’

“I finished taking the portrait of the chair, packed up my equipment and walked on. Later that day, I walked by the shop again in order to have another look at the chair. It was gone. When I asked the owner where it was, he said: ‘After you left, the public security police came and smashed it into 100 pieces. They said it was shameful for China and that I should buy a new one.’

(Thanks to Michael Wolf for permission to run this.)


2 Responses to “Out with the old”

  • Grady Loy Says:

    I like that chair. Not that I would buy it or anything. But I think you have a point. What has happened to respect for age in China? And anyway, I think if the Chinese citizenry are going to worry about such things they are going to need to start familizing themselves with concepts of urban zoning. There is I believe a delightful East Asian aesthetic tenet that you can have something exquisitely beautiful next too something squalid and you learn just not to see the squalid. So I suppose you were seeing “that which must not be seen.” Then again, Tokyo was like that once and is much better now. It could have to do with the fact that Tokyo, in addition to changing (as the Beijing people have been changing – some rather reluctantly perhaps) to “modern” architecture and land occupation patterns, that Tokyo was completely burned twice in the last hundred years and, with all the intense growth, has barely had time to sort itself out. One wonders what London may have looked like in the 1670’s or 1680’s (New York we know was a bit of a mess any time prior to the just ended ccentury). Interestingly Tokyoites as often as not look back nostalgically at the insanely telephone and electrical cable drenched, ramshackle, worn looking, crowded, noisy, half chaotic, piles of unused goods and houseplants stacked in the alleys and sidewalks, and in their own way very charming streets of early Showa Tokyo (one of the studios just made a very popular movie about it.). Now the only way we can remember or capture the way it felt to live in those times is in films and photographs. Like the one you took of the chair.

  • Grady Loy Says:

    Sorry, “like the photograph Michael Wolf took of the chair and you posted”.

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