Occasionally I sift through photos taken by friends who had recently been to China. This is a portrait of Mr. Zhang taken by my friend Ming while in Shanghai. (The same friend whose Tiananmen photo I used in a previous post.) In his words, this is the story behind the image:
85 years old and retired, Mr Zhang is a man living in his past. Came to Shanghai in 1952, he spent his entire life working for the Communist Party. For over a half century he lived in his condo on 淮海路, a shopping street now known for exclusive high-end malls and boutique stores. As an orthodox communist he has hard time to adjust himself to the ever westernized Shanghai.
As he stepped out his century old neighborhood complex, now preserved as historical heritage buildings by the municipal government, Mr. Zhang faces a completely changed World.
The China of today has gone through massive transformations. For my parents and their friends generation, the changes are breath-taking and at the same time quite “foreign.”
For Mr. Zhang, even before he moved to Shanghai, the roughly 25 years of his life saw the Japanese invasion, followed by the civil war between Mao and Chang Kaishek, and then the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. Even within the last few years of Shanghai, he has just witnessed the infrastructure upgrade from the 2010 World Expo. High speed train between Shanghai and Nanjing now takes less than two hours.
Another friend told me her father recently got onto the Internet. She now complains her father “spamming” her with emails; like a little kid who has just visited the zoo for the first time in his life, he points out all the animals he sees. Who would have thought China’s Internet population at the end of 2010 be larger than the entire population of the United States?
I also see a sense of capitulation to the more energetic younger generations, trusting that they will make sense of it all.
But I do hope someone help Mr. Zhang get on the Internet if he is not already on it. Like my friend’s father who got on the Internet recently, I think their generation would provide a different kind of perspective altogether, one that is attainable only through age.