History of Life

By Cai Dongdong

Captured through the eyes of ordinary Chinese citizens before, during, and after the cultural revolution and curated by one of China’s most talented visual artists, “History of Life” presents a fascinating story on the determination of the human spirit. A collection of 415 restored photographs chronicling the history of modern China from the 1910s to the late 1990s.

For the past decade, artist Cai Dongdong has visited markets, public offices, libraries, and trash heaps around China salvaging discarded black and white negatives. After amassing a collection of over 600,000 negatives, the artist compiled a book telling an often-overlooked narrative of pre and post cultural revolution China – the narrative of the everyday lived experience of ordinary citizens.

Adding a few of his own pictures into the story, the artist crafted his interpretation of the birth and growth of modern China over 3 of the country’s most formative eras: the founding of the Republic, the cultural revolution, and the post-Mao era.

“These images carry the memory of Chinese people. Memories are the only way to establish life. The process of forming this memory symbolizes how I visualize history. Visualization is the only way to understand facts.” Dongdong says.



About the Artist

Cai Dongdong is an acclaimed multi-disciplinary visual artist. Originally from China, he is currently based both in Berlin and Beijing.


Related Links


Book: History of Life


Photo Essay submitted by Gavin Marcus, edited by Alejandra Martinez