Gallery of Fine Art Photography - Atlanta GA


Zeng Yi – Our Classroom

Universal Education: Key to China’s Economic Success

Zeng Yi’s classic photograph, Our Classroom, 1982, shows several rows of small Chinese children lined up at narrow primitive tables listening to a teacher who is off camera. A few students have stone tablets and pencils; others have nothing to write with. Holes can be seen in the shoes of some of the children. Most of the children are paying attention, but some are obviously tired and struggling to stay alert in the dimly lit room.
© Zeng Yi - Our Classroom, 1982

© Zeng Yi – Our Classroom, 1982

The photograph could just have easily have been taken in 1882, as evidenced by the timelessness of their clothing and utensils, as well as the impoverished conditions.
Bing Zeng, Yi’s daughter, who often works as her father’s interpreter, described the image last month during an interview on Atlanta’s public radio station, WABE. “In the early 80s, China had just opened up, and in order to get out of poverty the only way, is to get universal education in every corner of China, not just in the cities. In this village, the families are still living in a relatively poor situation.” She noted that one child had to bring his younger sibling to class because the parents were working in the fields. Still she said, “They are very eager to learn.”
Another by product of the opening of China to outsiders in the 1970s has been the Chinese government’s renewed effort to educate its people. Competing in the global economy requires an educated populace. Though the children shown in Zeng Yi’s 1982 photograph had few resources, according to remarks made by the photographer at a recent Carter Center event, these students went on to receive a quality education.
“This situation was typical of the rural education of China in the 1970s. This paved the way for the prosperity and achievement we witness in China today. Those kids have become very talented and artists, scientist and business people in China, some are engineers or teachers. Their descendants are able to attend Kindergarten, high school and colleges. Some of them are even studying abroad.”
These children and their parents were able to take their place in the twenty first century marketplace because of the careful maneuverings of Deng Xiaoping, who emerged from two periods of exile following Mao Zedong’s death to lead China towards modernization, according to Henry Kissinger’s 2011 book, On China.
Deng skillfully maneuvered his way through the Chinese Communist Party leadership and was able through carefully worded statements, to suggest that China must embark on an economic revitalization program that would rival the Japanese.
Deng recognized that science and technology, which would require vast improvements in the country’s education system, would partly drive this new economy, as would the easing of restrictions on private and individual business endeavors.
“Mao had governed by counting on the endurance of the Chinese people to sustain the suffering his personal visions would impose on them. Deng governed by liberating the creativeness of the Chinese people to bring about their own vision of the future,” wrote Kissinger.
President Jimmy Carter granted China formal diplomatic recognition on January 1, 1979. This recognition was a formal acknowledgment that China was entering the world stage.
More than 50 photographs by Zeng Yi were were exhibited from October 1, 2015 thru January 17, 2016 at the Carter Library and Museum. The People’s China: Village Life by Master Photographer Zeng Yi took viewers on a journey into the villages of China for a personal look at the people and how they live. Zeng Yi has spent a lifetime telling the story of the common people of China through his photography.
Now on view at Lumière is thoughtfully curated selection of these Chinese Village Life images
Additional information about Yi’s work, can be found on his Artist Page.
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