Wednesday, 16 October 2019

From muddy markets to a Shanghai without skyscrapers: Fascinating pictures capture bygone street scenes from 1980s China before the country's economic boom began

China of 30 years ago seems like a country from another century: low rises, slow trains, roads full of bikes and no notion of the imminent economic boom.
This was a decade when the country - having gone through years of political turmoil - opened its doors to the outside world by allowing Western tourists to come in.
This was also a decade when its youthful population - more curious, aspiring and energetic than ever - watched their first French fashion shows, ate their first American fast food meals and bought bootleg cassettes of British bands.
Residents walk in a street market in Hefei in 1986. 'This is where the new economic era really started, with farmers able to make extra money if they were more productive,' said British photographer Adrian Bradshaw who lived in China for 30 years
Residents walk in a street market in Hefei in 1986. 'This is where the new economic era really started, with farmers able to make extra money if they were more productive,' said British photographer Adrian Bradshaw who lived in China for 30 years
The Oriental Pearl Tower is under construction in 1987 in Shanghai's Pudong, which is renowned for its futuristic skyline today. 'It's amazing to me how derelict the other side of the river in Shanghai was so recently. There wasn't even a bridge. Now there are multiple bridges, tunnels, underground lines and a skyline that competes with Manhattan,' the photographer said
The Oriental Pearl Tower is under construction in 1987 in Shanghai's Pudong, which is renowned for its futuristic skyline today. 'It's amazing to me how derelict the other side of the river in Shanghai was so recently. There wasn't even a bridge. Now there are multiple bridges, tunnels, underground lines and a skyline that competes with Manhattan,' the photographer said
A portable music player attracts the attentions of a small crowd of men due to its novelty on a street of Shanghai in 1985
A portable music player attracts the attentions of a small crowd of men due to its novelty on a street of Shanghai in 1985
Children were everywhere at the time: on the street, in parks and outside their schools. In the picture above, naughty boys and girls play on treadmills in Jing'an Park in Shanghai in 1985. They are the country's first generation of the 'single child
Children were everywhere at the time: on the street, in parks and outside their schools. In the picture above, naughty boys and girls play on treadmills in Jing'an Park in Shanghai in 1985. They are the country's first generation of the 'single child

Adrian Bradshaw, a British photographer who moved to the Far East in 1984 to study Mandarin, is one of the few Westerners who were able to witness and document the country's recent transformation first hand.
Few Chinese people owned cameras at the time, so Mr Bradshaw's unique archive of nearly two million pictures provides many intriguing insights into the lives of China's populace before the country's economic boom.
'Life was simpler and less stressed in many ways,' Mr Bradshaw recalled of his days in China during the early '80s.
'There seemed to be a greater sense of community, stemming perhaps from a sense of shared deprivation, and less privacy,' reflected the photographer, born in Cambridge and grew up in Wells, Somerset.
From muddy street markets in the city, to workers painting over Chairman Mao's slogans, people seemed to welcome the changing times. Young men sporting tight jeans and big hair and cheeky children mocking foreigners, the China captured by his lens would be unrecognisable to the modern eye.
China was billed as the kingdom of bicycle and private cars and taxis were a rare sight . Dozens of cyclists try to cross a junction in Beijing in 1985 in the picture above. Nowadays, the nation's roads were filled with expensive private cars
China was billed as 'the kingdom of bicycle' in the 1980s and private cars and taxis were hard to find. Dozens of cyclists try to cross a junction in Beijing in 1985 in the picture above. Nowadays, the nation's roads were filled with expensive private cars
A worker dusts off a portrait of Joseph Stalin in preparation for the National Day in Beijing in 1985
A slogan reading 'Long Live Mao Zedong Thought' is painted over to welcome new ideas in Beijing in 1985
The era heralded changing times in China when Communist images and slogans would soon be replaced by commercial billboards. Pictured left, a worker dusts off a portrait of Joseph Stalin in preparation for the National Day in Beijing in 1985. Pictured right, a slogan reading 'Long Live Mao Zedong Thought' is painted over to welcome new ideas in Beijing in 1985
Shoppers walk past counters selling winter clothing at a store in Beijing in 1985. The st
Shoppers walk past counters selling winter clothing as saleswomen chat to each other at a department store in Beijing in 1985
Mr Bradshaw arrived in China at the age of 20, unaware then that he would remain in the country for 30 years.
From an ageing Norwegian ferry, his first sight of the mysterious land was the colonial-style waterfront of Shanghai - without the towering skyline it is famous for today.
The Mandarin student was supposed to spend one year in the Beijing Languages Institute as part of his course with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Instead he found himself landing in the midst of a unique and rapid social transformation. He was enchanted. So much so he made the decision to halt his studies and stay.
He said the people he met were 'young, optimistic, open to new experiences but bizarre'.
'That suited my character at the time.'
The young Briton moved from Beijing to Shanghai in 1985, bought himself an old bike and began to explore the city with a small Leica camera in hand.
Welders work at a factory building cars to be used in the fast growing wedding photography sector in Changsha in 1990
Welders work at a factory building cars to be used in the fast growing wedding photography sector in Changsha in 1990
A little boy smiles as he drives a toy car shaped like a tank in a playground outside the Workers Gymnasium in Beijing in 1989
A little boy smiles as he drives a toy car shaped like a tank in a playground outside the Workers Gymnasium in Beijing in 1989
Pedestrians walk past a billboard advertising women's footwear from Hong Kong fashion label Daphne in Shanghai in 1986
A man prepares to dive into a canal to cool off in Beijing in 1985
People embraced new ways of life and thinking after Chinese leaders had vowed to develop economy and open up the nation to the West a few years earlier. Pictured left, pedestrians walk past a billboard advertising women's footwear from Hong Kong fashion label Daphne in Shanghai in 1986. Pictured right, a man prepares to dive into a canal to cool off in Beijing in 1985
He documented everything around him in black-and-white film.
He snapped the pictures mostly to satisfy his own curiosity, along with work as a freelance photojournalist for international news agencies.
'My motives were not complicated,' said Mr Bradshaw, now 55 and based in Oxford.
'These pictures were mainly taken for my own record of people I met and places I visited for no other reason than curiosity.'
Nothing seemed to be impossible in those 10 years when the Chinese were met by new fashion, new equipment and new visitors.
One of Mr Bradshaw's favourite pictures from his collection captures five young men on Shanghai's riverside with their bouffant hairdos and flared trousers.
Mr Bradshaw said he was impressed by their sense of humour and confidence as well as their 'appetite for risk'.
Five young men sporting cutting-edge fashion pose for a photo during a walk along Shanghai's waterfront in 1985. This is one of Mr Bradshaw's hand-picked favourites. 'The clothes and hair would have been shocking to older generations,' he said
Five young men sporting cutting-edge fashion pose for a photo during a walk along Shanghai's waterfront in 1985. This is one of Mr Bradshaw's hand-picked favourites. 'The clothes and hair would have been shocking to older generations,' he said
Four young Cantonese hairdressers wait for customers at one of the first privately run hair salons in Beijing in 1987
Four young Cantonese hairdressers wait for customers at one of the first privately run hair salons in Beijing in 1987
A Pierre Cardin fashion show takes place in Beijing in 1985 at the newly opened Maxim's, a replica of his glamorous restaurant in Paris. The brand staged the first catwalk show in Communist China in 1979 at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities in Beijing
A Pierre Cardin fashion show takes place in Beijing in 1985 at the newly opened Maxim's, a replica of his glamorous restaurant in Paris. The brand staged the first catwalk show in Communist China in 1979 at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities in Beijing
French fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent opens a retrospective exhibition of his work to bemused audience in Beijing in 1985
French fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent opens a retrospective exhibition of his work to bemused audience in Beijing in 1985
'The clothes and hair would have been shocking to older generations in a way we can barely imagine in the west, where breaching social norms was not the life-or-death matter it had been in China for so many until very shortly before this picture was taken.'
The other image he hand-picked shows Muhammad Ali, the late American boxing legend, practising moves with a Chinese cook in 1985.
Ali, known as 'the king of boxing' in China and revered by its people, was visiting the country to promote the sport, which had been banned by the Communist Party for 27 years.
His trip proved to be so well-received by Chinese leaders they decided to call off the ban a year later, allowing its athletes to compete internationally.
'I spent a week with Ali and his entourage. The experience was one that helped me make my decision to interrupt my studies and stay on in China,' Mr Bradshaw said.
'He was such a positive, strong character who brought out the best in people.'
'One of the first visitors to China I was asked to photograph was the great Muhammad Ali who was being sounded out as an advisor for Beijing's desire to host the Olympic Games in the future,' said Mr Bradshaw who snapped the picture in 1985
'One of the first visitors to China I was asked to photograph was the great Muhammad Ali who was being sounded out as an advisor for Beijing's desire to host the Olympic Games in the future,' said Mr Bradshaw who snapped the picture in 1985
Two children riding tricycles enjoy the rare sight of a 'big nosed' foreigner in Shanghai in 1985. This is one of Mr Bradshaw's favourite pictures from the collection
People queue up under a new raised highway in Shanghai in 1990
As recent as 30 years ago, residents of Shanghai lived in cramped rooms without flush toilets. Pictured left, two children riding tricycles enjoy the rare sight of a 'big nosed' foreigner in Shanghai in 1985. This is one of Mr Bradshaw's favourite pictures from the collection. Pictured right, people queue up under a new raised highway in Shanghai in 1990
A family is seen taking a meal break during a trip in Dali in 1986. Menus were basic, meat was rare and ration coupons were required, but fresh ingredient were guaranteed in the days before processed food, widespread refrigeration and plastic packaging
This picture taken in 1986 shows a family taking a meal break during a shopping trip in Dali. Menus were basic, meat was scarce and food was rationed, but fresh ingredient were guaranteed in the days before widespread refrigeration
China was young then. The average age of its population was not yet 25, and families were raising the country's first generation of the 'single child'.
Little boys and girls seemed to be everywhere: on the street, in parks, outside schools and in the nooks and crannies of alleyways; playing with their neighbours or simply running around.
'The picture of the two tricyclists making fun of me, the foreigner with the big nose, always makes me smile,' Mr Bradshaw referred to the photograph of a mischievous girl gesturing his Caucasian feature to her playmate in a residential lane in Shanghai.
'Children were even more confident than adults in that time and I felt their enthusiasm and sense of humour augured well for the future.'
Children and adults watch on as thrill-seekers take a space-themed ride in Shanghai in 1985. 'Who knows, one of these children may have grown up to be a real astronaut? No-one imagined this could be possible at that time,' Mr Bradshaw said
Children and adults watch on as thrill-seekers take a space-themed ride in Shanghai in 1985. 'Who knows, one of these children may have grown up to be a real astronaut? No-one imagined this could be possible at that time,' Mr Bradshaw said
A toddler learns to walk while a granny with bound feet watches on with a smile at a traditional lane in Chengdu in 1985
A toddler learns to walk while a granny with bound feet watches on with a smile at a traditional lane in Chengdu in 1985
A little boy plays in an alleyway alone with a snack, a hat and a big stick to complement his confident pose in Taiyuan in 1985
A little boy plays in an alleyway alone with a snack, a hat and a big stick to complement his confident pose in Taiyuan in 1985
A woman walks out of a shop displaying walkie-talkies made by a brand called Meile next to a figurine of an astronaut in 1985
A shop in Shanghai shows walkie-talkies made by a brand called Meile next to a figurine of an astronaut in its window in 1985
Father Christmas and Donald Duck, icons of Western culture, meet with welcoming crowds at a funfair in Beijing in 1986
Father Christmas and Donald Duck, icons of Western culture, meet with welcoming crowds at a funfair in Beijing in 1986
Mr Bradshaw brought his photo archive to Britain when he moved back in 2014.
The large file of images - one million on film and another million digital - surprised his Chinese friends who came to England to visit him.
That inspired him to organise the snapshots and bring them to a wider audience.
Last year, he selected nearly 190 pictures and published them in a book called 'The Door Opened: 1980s China'. 
'As a photographer I have been privileged to bear witness to a country that never fails to amaze,' said Mr Bradshaw who continues to document his life as a photographer.
A young man in Shanghai hitches a free ride on a tricycle, a highly popular means of transport, on a busy street in 1985
A young man in Shanghai hitches a free ride on a tricycle, a highly popular means of transport, on a busy street in 1985
Mr Bradshaw (pictured in the 1980s) arrived in China in 1984 as a language student. He was meant to learn Mandarin in Beijing for a year, but he soon decided to halt his studies and worked as a photographer.
'I have been privileged to bear witness to a country that never fails to amaze,' said the Briton (pictured recently), who is now 55 and based in Oxford
Mr Bradshaw (pictured in the 1980s, left) arrived in China in 1984 as a language student. He was meant to learn Mandarin in Beijing for a year, but he soon decided to halt his studies and worked as a photographer. 'I have been privileged to bear witness to a country that never fails to amaze,' said the Briton (pictured recently, right), who is now 55 and based in Oxford
Street markets tended to be dominated by large quantities of the same produce and all prices were negotiable. The picture above shows a street market in Hefei in 1986. The provincial capital of Anhui is now a modern city with 800,000 residents
Street markets tended to be dominated by large quantities of the same produce and all prices were negotiable. The picture above shows a street market in Hefei in 1986. The provincial capital of Anhui is now a modern city with 800,000 residents
Courtiers take up position in the centre of the Forbidden City during a scene in the filming of The Last Emperor directed by Bernardo Bertolucci in Beijing in 1985. Mr Bradshaw helped negotiate access to the Forbidden City to make this film
Courtiers take up position in the centre of the Forbidden City during a scene in the filming of The Last Emperor directed by Bernardo Bertolucci in Beijing in 1985. Mr Bradshaw helped negotiate access to the Forbidden City to make this film
A middle-aged man is seen stretching his leg on the Bund in Shanghai in 1985
A young woman is seen cycling through a bustling hutong, the time-honoured residential alleyway, in Beijing in 1985
Chinese people were more relaxed and less material-driven in the 1980s, which saw the end of collective economy. A middle-aged man is seen stretching his leg on the Bund in Shanghai in 1985 in the picture on the left above. A young woman is seen cycling through a bustling hutong, the traditional residential alleyway in Beijing in 1985 in the picture on the right 
'Nowadays both China and myself are a bit older,' he added. 'Also there is a degree of cynicism that barely registered in the 1980s when everyone was so keen to try new things and felt increasing confidence about the future.'
He said if there was one thing he could do to make today's China better, that would be to 'break down the Great Firewall' which Beijing built to restrict people's access to Western websites.
'The opening of communications with the rest of the world is the single greatest achievement of the reform era and it should not be reversed, ' he said, adding the benefits of the act would work in both directions.
The streets, cities and people in Mr Bradshaw's works might not have the glitz of today's China, which has the world's second largest economy, boasts the world's largest bullet train system and built more skyscrapers last year than ever before.
Nevertheless, they radiate an irresistible charm and innocence, which remains little known to the outside world, and fails to be defined by economic figures alone.

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