on liu yuan's works


After Socialism

Bao Kun


Liu Yuan photographed a series of countries that were part of the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War. This massive presence controlled world history in the twentieth century. These countries were also sometimes called the “socialist family.”

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany’s eastward advance brought together many nations in the Eastern part of Europe. Nazi Germany also invaded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. With the help of Western Europe and America, the USSR began a war to defend itself from the Fascists. After nearly five years of bitter struggle, the Fascists retreated to Germany and the Soviets took the opportunity to liberate much of Eastern Europe. After the end of the war, a number of countries in the region instituted socialist planned economic systems under Soviet leadership. These countries united with Asian countries employing similar systems to form a socialist family of 17 countries. This camp was both a military alliance and an economic community. For a long time, this family was a fortress resisting capitalism, and it was sometimes called the “Red Bloc” by the capitalist world.

Unfortunately, dictatorship made these nations extremely bureaucratic. When socialist and communist ideals vanished from the bureaucratic class, social conflicts accumulated and adjustments were not made. The Soviet Bloc ceased to exist after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, thus ending a unique period in history.

Liu Yuan experienced the red years, and half of his life was spent responding to ideology. Based on his own life experience, he understands the other countries in the socialist family, which we now see in his photographs. His visits to these places are the realization of long-cherished dreams, because these countries were once only imagined. However, in this globalized world, they are not so distant. It is regretful that these visits have happened too late, because socialism has already ended in these places. In Liu Yuan’s photographs, we can see societies revisiting the true color of history. Those imagined socialist countries that gave us our communist ideals have already disappeared into the ether. Liu Yuan’s photographs pay tribute to his experience and to history.