fr en
close post
11 July 2014

Claude Hudelot collection / The panorama, mirror of the celestial bureaucracy

In China, one genre seems to prefigure the panoramic photograph: portraits of emperors or high dignitaries, alone or as a couple, then shown again with their descendents. These vertical ‘accumulations’ in the form of family trees are the ancestors of panoramas.

Western photographers first used panoramas to show landscapes like the bay of Hong Kong. The vogue for panoramas—presenting a school, a business, a political meeting—spread rapidly. A rite perfectly suited to Confucian or Communist ideology.

The ultimate development of the genre is undoubtedly the political panorama. When Mao Zedong came to power, he became the absolute symbol of ‘celestial bureaucracy ’.

Everything here has a meaning: the position of each person in relation to the epicentre, which is always ‘the President’, the clothing worn, the setting. The precious icon is taken in the greatest hall of the People’s Palace, at Tiananmen, or in the open air, and always in Beijing, the hallmark of Maoist fervour.

In one of these panoramas, which brings together the entire political clique at a crucial moment—it is 1966, the Cultural Revolution has just begun—everyone is lined up as though on parade, hands on knees, legs uncrossed. Everyone but one person: the Great Helmsman. He seems to take a sly pleasure in differentiating himself. The message is clear: ‘I, President Mao, am above the law.’

In short, the Maoist panorama is an almost inexhaustible source of information for any historian of contemporary China. Today, the genre is on its way out. The new establishment, incarnated by Xi Jinping, hardly uses it any more, while nonetheless perpetuating a confounding formalism, which has mutated from this fixed and framed format to an equally inflexible ritual of hyper-hierarchical parades, carefully rehearsed, in all probability, for the television cameras.

Claude Hudelot

Exhibition curator: Claude Hudelot.

Exhibition organised within the framework of France-Chine 50.


Framing by Circad, Paris.

Exhibition venue: Bureau DesLices, Rencontres d’Arles 2014.