In January 1970, Xinhua News Agency — the largest state-owned organ of mass communication in the People’s Republic of China — announced the nation’s mastery of ranyin fa (literally, “the method of dyeing and printing”), a dye-imbibition technology that could print full-color photographs from images originally fixed on black-and-white negatives.[1] This was the first independently researched and -developed printing system in the Chinese photography industry. What made ranyin fa unique was that by adding a complex “masking” step onto the already existing Kodak Dye Transfer process, the Chinese innovation overcame its predecessor’s limit of making dyed relief images from only color negatives or color transparencies. And yet, marked by the closing down in 1979 of the “dye-transfer unit” (ranyin zu) in the China Photo Service (Zhongguo tupian she), ranyin fa was displaced in the People’s Republic’s photographic printing practice. [2]

This article will take the short-term and little-known ranyin fa as a case study to examine the promotion of Maoist culture through a visual form that had grown from a very different regime of symbolic practice in the West. The development of dye-imbibition printing in the United States was based primarily on consumer culture and was driven by individual interests in color photographic technologies and the desire for truth in pictorial representation rooted in the Renaissance tradition. This would seem to place it at odds with a Maoist project that was dominated by socialist realist rhetoric and aimed to establish a new revolutionary culture in which individual creativities were subordinated to the collective value defined by the ruling communist party. In this article, we will focus on the rise and fall of ranyin fa and consider the following issues: Why was dye-imbibition considered an applicable photography printing method at a time when China was isolated from the Western world? How was Kodak Dye Transfer as a privately operated technology that served individual artists and businesses in the United States transformed into a state-supported and collectively operated innovation in China? What role did photography equipped with new color codes play in promoting Maoist culture at its peak during the national sociopolitical campaign of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–76)? Echoing recent academic interests in exploring multiple histories of photography in China, we intend to revisit the Cultural Revolution decade overlooked by previous scholarship and hope to bring scholarly reconsideration of the intricate relation between photography and Chinese socialist culture.

The Chinese Reception of Kodak Dye Transfer

Technically, the Kodak Dye Transfer process inspired and provided ranyin fa the primary supplies formulations. However, the introduction of Kodak Dye Transfer to China occurred in an informal and fragmentary way. In 1956, the photography department of Xinhua News Agency bought from an overseas Chinese American four devices: a register board, a precision punch, a print roller and a squeegee for making a Kodak Dye Transfer print. This secondhand purchase enabled Xinhua photographic professionals to get the first real sense of this printing method after a decade of its commercialization in the United States. In 1957, based on brief descriptions found in foreign professional journals, the photography department designated its researcher Huang Cishi (1922–2004), a former secretary of the Nationalist government’s Foreign Affair Minister and a committed amateur photographer, to supervise a technician named Zhu Sizong to test this new method. However, Zhu left the team in 1958 and the testing experiment was suspended.

More than from a personnel change, the suspension may have resulted from a consideration of productivity in the context of the Great Leap Forward campaign (1958–61). Launched by Chairman Mao Zedong (1893–1976) and carried out by all professions and trades in the country, this campaign aimed to mobilize manpower to achieve Chinese modernization through rapid industrialization and collectivization. It was during this period that the state-operated photography industry in China came into being, independently designed cameras were put into production, and the manufacture of domestic brands of photosensitive materials reached a height.[3] This manufacturing growth was also stimulated by the need for photography to mobilize mass devotion to the economic and social campaign. In response to Mao’s call for “greater, faster, better, and more economical” production, the photography department of Xinhua urged its staff to set goals such as to double the quantity of news reports, shorten the time of news editing and dispatch, eliminate the waste of film and print paper, and extend the service life of cameras.[4] The goal for the department’s researchers, as collectively announced by the research section, was to improve the department’s efficiency by solving practical problems encountered by photojournalists and darkroom technicians “within six months.”[5] The unpredictable input of labor and materials for testing dye transfer was therefore contradictory to the Great Leap Forward’s demand for rapid productivity.

It was not until the fall 1968 that Kodak Dye Transfer returned to research attention in the photography department of Xinhua. According to Gu Ruilan (b. 1927), a former senior photographic technician of the department and one of the pioneering experimenters in ranyin fa, the research began as a voluntary, after-hours activity. [6] It became the sole focus of the researchers after their Kodachrome test failed. They ran out of imported testing supplies but still could not control the developing process of Kodachrome film, and thus produced unsatisfactory color photographs.[7] Compared with Kodachrome and other popular color printing methods in the 1960s, Kodak Dye Transfer required much more time and intensive labor in processing, but it had the advantage that the printing did not consume any color emulsion paper, which at that time could not be manufactured by the Chinese. A successful appropriation of Kodak Dye Transfer would therefore free the state news agency from reliance on imported color printing paper.[8]

A more significant reason for Xinhua experimenters’ preference for Kodak Dye Transfer was that this method enabled the user to fully control color density and contrast, subsequently offering the viewer an extraordinary experience of visual richness and color saturation in the final print. This unique color quality was particularly important for the printing unit’s assignment on the subject of the eight officially approved “model” theatrical performances, which were meant to “revolutionize” Chinese traditional Peking opera and European classic ballet and symphonic music by telling stories about Chinese revolutionary struggles against foreign and class enemies. For Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing (1914–1991), who was the most enthusiastic advocate and a key cultural authority during the Cultural Revolution, the content and form of these new performances exemplified how to apply the Chairman’s cultural ideas to existing cultural practices. [9] By 1968, the third year of the official announcement of the Cultural Revolution, these eight “model” plays had extended from the stage to become the aesthetic template for other types of visual cultural production. Images of protagonists and major scenes of these plays were so popular that they were reproduced in various mediums and available on almost all items of daily use.[10] This massive demand also boosted orders for model play photographic prints in both the central and local photographic agencies. What Kodak Dye Transfer offered to Xinhua was a uniform version of the reproduction that superseded the uneven hand-coloring and conformed to the new rules of “red, bright, and shining” (hong guang liang) visual aesthetics that governed cultural production of the time. Not surprisingly, the Xinhua experimenters chose their first testing image from one of Jiang Qing’s stage photographs of Hongse niangzi jun [The Red Detachment of Women], a “revolutionary modern ballet opera” designated to be one of the “model” plays (figure 1).

Fig. 1. Li Jin (pen name of Jiang Qing), “Lianzhang” [The Captain], 1966–68, Kodak Dye Transfer print in 1968, 51 cm x 41.5 cm. Private collectionFig. 1. Li Jin (pen name of Jiang Qing), “Lianzhang” [The Captain], 1966–68, Kodak Dye Transfer print in 1968, 51 cm x 41.5 cm. Private collection

The Party-State’s Investment in Ranyin Fa

By the spring of 1969, the Xinhua experimenters had become proficient with the Kodak Dye Transfer process. If the return to dye-transfer research had in the beginning been driven by sincere professional commitments, its application to stage photographs of the “model” plays opened up new imaginations of what photography could do as a Party-oriented cultural apparatus. After the dye-transfer print samples were sent to the highest authorities, Wang Dongxing (1916–2015), director of the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party, commented that Xinhua News Agency could “make an improvement if making color prints out of black-and-white images, [since] there are many black-and-white photographs of Chairman Mao during the Yan’an period.”[11] The political context in which Wang made this remark was that with the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, held in April 1969, the Cultural Revolution entered a new phase.[12] Encountering unprecedented social and economic chaos caused by Mao’s call for a massive youth mobilization to overturn the established authorities and intellectual population, the new leadership, dominated by Mao, shifted the Cultural Revolution’s goal from political-power reshuffling to the Party’s power consolidation and social restoration, even though “geming” (revolution) remained the key word in the political rhetoric.

In this context, the state news agency’s mastery of dye-transfer technology was a prompt enhancement for the official mobilization of photography to advance Mao’s vision of social and cultural transformation. The upheavals of the Cultural Revolution had little effect on the established routines, protocols, and hierarchies of photographic practice in the state-run system of mass communication. However, the anarchical mass manipulation of the cult was thought to have undermined the Party’s authority over its symbolic brand.[13] A notable example was that in April 1968, a rumor spread when Mao began to form his governmental system of “revolutionary committees,” saying that in Mao’s widely circulated photographic portrait taken during his first reception of Red Guard rallies at Tiananmen, Mao’s hairs configured the Chinese characters “xiu dang” meaning “to trim the Party”[14] (figure 2). This rumor led to a panic and in order to quell it, the Central Cultural Revolution Group (the CCRG, the de facto supreme power of the Party during the early years of the Cultural Revolution) had to send out a team to investigate all of those involved in this photograph’s production and reproduction.[15] Subsequently, photographic printing experts from Beijing and Shanghai were organized to create a set of “standard” copy negatives through meticulous retouching of Mao’s selected photographic portraits, and circulars also regulated that new photographs of Mao could be dispatched only by Xinhua news agency and their printing had to be approved by the CCRG.[16] Adding to the Party’s new distribution rules, Kodak Dye Transfer offered Xinhua an exclusive way to represent Mao in photography, which realization was technically and economically impossible without highly sophisticated professional collaboration and administrative centralization of materials and labor. From this regulation perspective, the new color codes enacted a reshaping of popular visual aesthetics and conveyed the message that the Party-state had regained control of the cultural field.

Fig. 2. Lü Xiangyou, “Chairman Mao Inspecting the Red Guards,” 1966, top-right image on the front page of Heilongjiang ribao (August 19, 1966), https://www.pinterest.com/pin/85005511688745934/ (accessed March 8, 2017).Fig. 2. Lü Xiangyou, “Chairman Mao Inspecting the Red Guards,” 1966, top-right image on the front page of Heilongjiang ribao (August 19, 1966), https://www.pinterest.com/pin/85005511688745934/ (accessed March 8, 2017).

However, the difficulty to extend the Kodak Dye Transfer process to colorize Mao’s black-and-white photographs was that the images recorded shades of gray instead of various proportions of red, green, and blue. As shown in figure 3, the Kodak process follows the principle of the CMY (cyan, magenta, and yellow) color-printing model. After the color transparency is exposed through red, green, and blue filters, the corresponding separation negatives hold different densities of silver halides from one another, as the three images of the same Chinese rabbit god clay sculpture in this diagram demonstrate. [17] When applying these negatives to make relief matrices in the next step, the resulting gelatin reliefs in each developed matrix are also varied. The thickness of the reliefs determines the quantity of each dye to be absorbed and transferred in succession and the combination of the dyes results in the final color of the print. In contrast, because a black-and-white image does not record the colors to be separated, the exposures through red, green, and blue filters result in the same black-and-white negative. Subsequently, the same amount of gelatin remains in each of the three relief matrices and the transference of the dyes will still result in shades of gray. In other words, in order to apply the Kodak process to “colorize” one black-and-white image, the Xinhua photographic researchers had to create three separation negatives. This is a difficult-to-imagine task before the invention of image-manipulation software such as Photoshop.

Fig. 3. Steps of the Kodak Dye Transfer process    © Shi Zhimin                   Fig. 3. Steps of the Kodak Dye Transfer process[18] © Shi Zhimin
 Fig. 4. Steps of the ranyin fa process ©Shi Zhimin Fig. 4. Steps of the ranyin fa process ©Shi Zhimin

Inspiration came from the field of publishing printing. After failing to separate color from hand-colored versions and several consultations with printing plate–making workers, the dye-transfer-testing group came up with an idea to use masks to replace the function of the filter (figure 4). The steps were first to project the black-and-white negative onto a black-and-white transparency. This transparency then served as the basic image to be projected onto the masks. To make a mask, the technician had to control the exposure of selected areas on the sheet, covering or obscuring the desired areas for burning or dodging, just as on a photographic print. The number of masks made for each image may vary, depending on the image content and the agreed-upon colors of the subject matter. The decision of what colors to dye in each photograph usually involved a painstaking historical survey and punctilious consultations with event participants, eyewitnesses, archivists, and historians; the production of a hand-colored and -painted version to match the colors being described or seen; and approval of the sample print from the Party’s Central Committee.[19] Such an extremely meticulous and time-consuming process required highly experienced color-printing technicians who were sensitive to subtle changes of silver grains in the negative and, correspondingly, the changing amount of dyes to be carried for transfer. They also had to be capable of predicting the look of the final color print even from the stage of creating the mask and to maintain close cooperation with their darkroom colleagues. As recalled by He Shujun (b. 1935), who was a veteran color-printing technician transferred in 1969 from Jiefangjun huabao (the People’s Liberation Army Pictorial) to Xinhua and a key contributor to this masking innovation, he and four other technicians spent more than three months and carried out hundreds of experiments to represent the desired color onto the first testing image — a black-and-white landscape photograph (figure 5) also taken by Jiang Qing.[20]

Fig. 5. Li Jin, “Lushan xianren dong” [Immortal Caverns in Mount Lu], 1961. Left: Black-and-white photograph, page from Zhongguo sheying [China Photography], no. 3 (1964). Right: Ranyin fa color print, back cover of Renmin huabao [People’s Pictorial], no. 7–8 (1971), courtesy of Zhao Junyi. Fig. 5. Li Jin, “Lushan xianren dong” [Immortal Caverns in Mount Lu], 1961. Left: Black-and-white photograph, page from Zhongguo sheying [China Photography], no. 3 (1964). Right: Ranyin fa color print, back cover of Renmin huabao [People’s Pictorial], no. 7–8 (1971), courtesy of Zhao Junyi.

By January 1970, thanks to countless hours of labor, the Xinhua research team was able not only to extend the Kodak Dye Transfer process to colorize black-and-white photographic images, but also to utilize China-made dyes, relief matrix films, and other supplies. [21] It is obvious that this state-supported and highly complicated collaborative project was meant to demonstrate China’s ability to compete with Western innovations in photographic technologies.[22] After the mastery of ranyin fa, the Xinhua experts offered free training and printing supplies to counterparts from North Korea and Albania. It is interesting to note that between the United States and China in the 1970s, the application of dye transfer was divided into two distinct approaches. Whereas American photographers and art institutions resorted to this commercial printing method to transform color photography into “the ultimate print” of high art,[23] the Chinese appropriation highlighted collective creativity and, above all, valuated the political and educational significance of its practical outcome. In the early 1970s, the Xinhua News Agency’s possession of the much more complicated ranyin fa process enabled the Party-state to remobilize photography to secure the Party’s political legitimacy and promote China’s revolutionary image to the world.

Ranyin Fa and the Revolutionary Image of Mao

On February 18, 1970, a month after the announcement of ranyin fa, the photography department of Xinhua was assigned to prepare for an exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. It was decided to dye fifty archival photographs of Mao, dated from the 1920s, and display them in all big cities and foreign embassies in China on October 1, 1971, the twenty-first National Day of the People’s Republic.[24] The Party’s goal for this project was thus not only a demonstration of Chinese advanced photographic technologies, but also a reinstallation of Mao’s personality cult back to the orthodox narratives of the Party’s revolutionary history. The rationalization of the cult as a means of defending the founding principles of the Party-state was particularly needed at this moment, because China was seeking a closer relationship with the United States to counter the Soviet threat. By mobilizing Mao’s image at its anniversary to reassert the Party’s political faith in its persistent revolutionary spirit, the Party intended to consolidate its public image while its leadership was making a closely watched strategic shift — one that would profoundly change China’s relationship to the world.

However, this attempt to refurbish the cult met unexpected obstacles following the “Lin Biao Incident,” of September 1971, in which Lin, Mao’s designated heir, was killed in a mysterious plane crash in Mongolia. The event was soon declared to the public as an abortive coup d’état against Mao, and Lin was charged as the culprit. Yet Lin’s influence, especially his role as an active cult worshiper since the early 1960s, compelled a redirection in the promotion of the cult by Mao and the Party. It is in this political context that in September 1971, the Xinhua photography department was appointed to modify the cult-rebuilding photographic project to one called “National Photographic Art Exhibition in Commemoration of the Thirtieth Anniversary of Chairman Mao’s Talks at Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art.[25]

The National Photographic Art Exhibition was held in Beijing on May 23, 1972, thirty years to the day after Mao gave his concluding talk on the political role of literature and art at Yan’an. This was also the first officially organized national photography exhibition held during the Cultural Revolution decade. It attempted to reaffirm the orthodox principles of cultural work in Mao’s Talks as part of the Party’s plan to reestablish the authority of its narrative of the Chinese revolution. This was illuminated in the selection and arrangement of four hundred and six exhibited photographs.[26] Glorification of the Chairman was still obligatory, as was attested by eighty-four dye-transfer prints of Mao displayed in the first of the three exhibit halls. Here Mao appeared at every significant event in the Party’s revolutionary history, from the National War of Resistance Against Japan (1937–45) to the present year (figure 6). Such a comprehensive presentation of Mao was aimed to reverse the “misrepresentation” of the Chairman as a symbolic weapon of factional power struggles, especially in response to the widely circulated Chairman Mao Is the Red Sun in Our Heart photography exhibition (figure 7) organized by the Red Guards.[27] The informative titles attached to the images also sought to solidify Mao’s irreplaceable position in leading the Party and the nation to achieve continuous victories in socialist revolution. To reshape Mao as an enduring national hero, the rest of the exhibition expressed nationalist sentiments and the advantages of socialism, as presented by historical images of wars and post-1966 national achievements in the fields of industry, agriculture, education, culture, and national defense. In short, the 1972 photography exhibition constructed a utopian image of the Cultural Revolution, serving the immediate needs to defend the Party-state’s founding principles and to restore the authority of the Party’s vision of the Chinese Revolution.

Fig. 6. Shi Shaohua, “Mao zhuxi zai yanan he Yangjialing nongmin tanhua” [Mao Talks with Peasants at Yangjialing, Yan’an], 1939, originally black-and-white, ranyin fa print made in 1970–71, 36.5 cm x 49.8 cm. Private collectionFig. 6. Shi Shaohua, “Mao zhuxi zai yanan he Yangjialing nongmin tanhua” [Mao Talks with Peasants at Yangjialing, Yan’an], 1939, originally black-and-white, ranyin fa print made in 1970–71, 36.5 cm x 49.8 cm. Private collection

It is arguable that the 1972 exhibition fostered the definitive position of ranyin fa as a printing technology exclusively for revolutionary photography in China. When photography was mobilized to reinterpret the revolutionary rhetoric of Chinese socialism, ranyin fa played a pivotal role in renewing the visual representation of the Party’s symbolic icon. The effect of this innovative technology, in turn, reinforced the state news agency’s understanding of the political commission imposed upon dye-transfer and confined its application primarily to print images of Mao and “model” plays.[28]

By the end of the 1970s, ranyin fa was to be denounced as a waste of money and labor, as the revolutionary rhetoric was displaced in political and cultural discourses along with the official termination of the Cultural Revolution. Apparently, the requirement of highly sophisticated techniques in making the masks prohibited the popularity of the process. Even though ranyin fa was undertaking scientific research to increase productivity, it was identified as incapable of meeting Xinhua’s demand of market expansion and unable to compete with more advanced Western commercial printing systems introduced to China. Along with the closing down of the “ranyin unit” in China Photo Service, equipment and materials relating to dye-transfer processing were either sold or trashed. Only the extraordinarily stable color preserved in a few surviving prints reminds us the existence of this collectively innovated photographic technology in China’s recent past.

Fig. 7. Qian Sijie, “Mao zhuxi changyou changjiang” [Chairman Mao at the Yangtzi River], 1966. Left: Black-and-white photograph, courtesy of the photographer. Right: A ranyin fa color print made in 1970–71, 49.8 cm x 37.9 cm. Private collection. The image on the left was displayed in the Red Guards photography exhibition in 1966; the one on the right was shown in the 1971 “National Photographic Art Exhibition.”  Fig. 7. Qian Sijie, “Mao zhuxi changyou changjiang” [Chairman Mao at the Yangtzi River], 1966. Left: Black-and-white photograph, courtesy of the photographer. Right: A ranyin fa color print made in 1970–71, 49.8 cm x 37.9 cm. Private collection. The image on the left was displayed in the Red Guards photography exhibition in 1966; the one on the right was shown in the 1971 “National Photographic Art Exhibition.”


Historians of photography commonly regard Kodak Dye Transfer as a printing method crucial to the shaping of color photography as a high art form in the West, but few have heard about the Chinese appropriation of this longest-lived and most successfully commercialized process. In this article we have sought to overcome the extreme scarcity of documentary and material archives to offer a comparative study about the transplant. We examined how the American-branded color printing was received, transformed, and put to use in a “Red China” during the Cold War. We argued that the Chinese mastery and the utilization of ranyin fa was part and parcel of a communist state–operated cultural project in which the mobilization of photography was aimed to reestablish the Party’s political legitimacy and promote China’s revolutionary image to the world. Besides providing a confined yet accessible “national form” of photography through its application to the revolutionary performances and the symbolic image of Mao, ranyin fa, by means of its replacement of shades of grays with hyperrealistic colors in the photograph, brought about an extreme aesthetic shift that had been cultivated through official promotion of socialist realism since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, and a consolidation of the politically oriented notion of photography that had been established even earlier.

Ranyin fa played a significant role in visualizing the revolutionary Chinese’s desire to combine political message with an effective form in photography. The accumulative effect of politicizing photography, however, is ironic: ranyin fa as a technological innovation fell victim to the revolutionary ideology, whose logic remained in the Chinese cultural field after the end of the Cultural Revolution and was reemployed to define and evaluate the Cultural Revolution culture. As a result, ranyin fa was rarely mentioned in previous Chinese scholarship, which oversimplified Cultural Revolution photography as a means of political manipulation. Such an equally political and reductive presupposition in writing Chinese photography is challenged by our research discovery. From this perspective, this case study may open a window for further exploration of the historical complexity of photography and visual culture in the People’s Republic of China.

Zhou Dengyan, a historian of photography, earned her PhD in art history from Binghamton University in 2016. Among her research interests are photography and visual culture in China, critical theory, and modes of visualization. She is the editor of Quanguo sheying yishu zhanlan bangongshi koushu shiliao ji/A History of “The National Photographic Art Exhibition Office”: Reminiscences and Documentary Materials 1972–1978 (Hong Kong: Shanghai Press, 2015). Contact: zhdyan37@hotmail.com

Shi Zhimin is an independent photographer, curator, and photographic historian. He received an MFA in photography from Brooklyn College in 1991 and has recently focused on Chinese photography archiving. One of his recent publications is the three-volume Jin-Cha-Ji huabao wenxian quanji [A Comprehensive Documentary Collection of Jin-Cha-Ji Pictorial] (Beijing: Zhongguo sheying chubanshe, 2015). Contact: zhiminstudio@yahoo.com


We are indebted to Chen Bo, Gu Ruilan, He Shujun, Tong Shuheng, Wang Jingxian, and Yan Baoguang for generous individual reminiscences and the sharing of personal collections. We are grateful to Todd Gustavson, Ross Knapper, and Zach Long for their kind assistance, benevolence, and for giving us access to their personal resources during our research visit to the George Eastman Museum. Special thanks to John Tagg for his intellectual inspiration and consistent support, and to Nicholas Kaldis, Tom McDonough, and David Stahl for their critical comments on an earlier version of this article. Our thanks also extend to the journal Zhongguo sheyingjia [Chinese Photographers] and its chief editor, Wang Baoguo, for their enthusiastic support for this research and for publishing our articles, in October 2016, featuring technical issues of Kodak Dye Transfer and ranyin fa. The authors are responsible for any remaining errors in this article. All Chinese names are written with the surname first, in accordance with Chinese convention.

    1. He Shujun, “Yewu zizhuan” (Career Autobiography), unpublished manuscript dated June 2, 1989, 8. return to text

    2. China Photo Service was founded around 1951. It was run by the photography department of Xinhua and provided developing and exhibition service to individuals and organizations outside the national system of mass media. return to text

    3. Shanghai qinggongye zhi bianzhuan weiyuanhui ed., Shanghai qinggongye zhi [The History of Shanghai Applied Industry] (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubbanshe, 1996), 408; Xie Lin, Duihua gongyuan: Zhongguo ganguang gongye juxing yuanqu de beiying [A Dialogue with Gongyuan: A Fallen Star in the History of Chinese Photosensitive Industry], (Beijing: Zhongguo minzu sheying yishu chubanshe, 2014), 57.return to text

    4. Qin Shulan, “Xinhuashe sheyingbu zai quanmian yuejin” (The Photography Department of Xinhua News Agency Undergoes All-Round Great Leap Forward), Zhongguo sheying xuehui tongxun [China Photographic Society Correspondence] no. 8 (March 20, 1958), 7–9.return to text

    5. Ibid., 8.return to text

    6. The first group of researchers consisted of Huang Cishi, who still played the role of theoretical consultant to provide processing instructions; Wang Jingxian, photographic technician and the head of the department’s color-printing unit; and Gu Ruilan. Their testing began in late July 1968. Another technician, Li Xin, joined in September and Yan Baoguang, a young university graduate specializing in chemical engineering, became the fifth member in October in the same year. return to text

    7. According to Gu Ruilan, the Kodachrome testing started around 1965 and was interrupted by the start of the Cultural Revolution, in 1966, but the research resumed in 1968 lasted only a couple of days before it was abandoned.return to text

    8. According to the Xinhua staff members we interviewed, due to the tiny foreign currency reserves held by the PRC’s central bank in the 1960s, it was unrealistic for the state news agency to depend on importing consumable supplies to meet daily photographic printing demand. return to text

    9. Jiang Qing was Mao’s fourth wife. She was one of the key radical promoters of Mao’s revolutionary concepts and wielded significant influence in cultural affairs in the 1960s, idolized by the Red Guards and rebel factions as the “great flag-bearer” in the Cultural Revolution and later known as one of the “Gang of Four.” As a committed amateur photographer, Jiang’s work entered the professional circle around 1962, usually under the pen name Li Jin.return to text

    10. Barbara Mittler, “‘Eight Stage Works for 800 Million People’: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in Music — A View from Revolution Opera,” Opera Quarterly, Vol. 26 (2–3), (2010), 378.return to text

    11. Gu Ruilan, Zai Shi Shaohua tongzhi de zhichi he guanhuai xia, women xiyin gongzuo de fazhan he zhuangda [The Development of Our Printing Work Under the Support and Care of Comrade Shi Shaohua], unpublished manuscript (August, 2013).return to text

    12. Michael Schoenhals and Roderick MacFarquhar, Mao’s Last Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), 292.return to text

    13. Daniel Leese, Mao Cult: Rhetoric and Ritual in China’s Cultural Revolution (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 156–64.return to text

    14. Fang Houshu, “Mao Zedong xiang chuban wushi nian” (Fifty Years of the Publication of Mao Zedong’s Portrait), Chuban shiliao [Historical Materials of Publishing], no. 4 (2003), 9.return to text

    15. Ibid.return to text

    16. He Shujun, Yewu zizhuan, 16; Xinhua she, ed., Jingai de Zhou zongli dui xinwen sheying gongzuo de zhishi [Our Respected Premier Zhou’s Instructions to the Work of Photojournalism] (internal circulated material, August 1977), 7–8.return to text

    17. The photograph conservator Sylvie Pénichon points out that if the subject matter is exposed on the color negative, technicians will not need to make separation negatives. They can produce matrices directly from the color negative by projecting it onto panchromatic matrix films through red, green, and blue filters. See Sylvie Pénichon, Twentieth-Century Color Photographs: Identification and Care (Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2013), 152–53.return to text

    18. We make this diagram with reference to “Figure 4.24. Steps of the Kodak Dye Transfer printing (relief matrices),” in Pénichon, Twentieth-Century Color Photographs, 153return to text

    19. Unfortunately, the artist responsible for collecting color information in the dye-transfer group passed away a few years ago and more details of this step remain unclear. It will be an important issue to explore the relationship between painting and color photography in our broader project. return to text

    20. He, Yewu zizhuan, 8–9.return to text

    21. The rapid development of the manufacture of supplies for dye-transfer printing was associated with the enormous state investment in the film industry and especially dye-transfer technologies from November 1968 to the end of the 1970s. See Tian Jingqing, Beijing dianyingye shiji (1949–1990) [History of Beijing Film Industry (1949–1990)] (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe, 1999), 16669.return to text

    22. Previous publications on the Chinese photographic industry have overlooked ranyin fa. The common view is that experiments took place from the mid-1960s throughout the 1970s and it was in the early 1980s that China-made color films and print papers went to market. See, for example, Shanghai qinggongye zhi bianzhuan weiyuanhui ed., Shanghai qinggongye zhi [The History of Shanghai Applied Industry] (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubbanshe, 1996), 424–25.return to text

    23. The most famous example here is the American photographer William Eggleston, who promoted the idea of a “democratic camera” and had his dye-transfer-printed photographic works exhibited at MoMA in 1976.return to text

    24. Fang Houshu, “Mao Zedong xiang chuban wushi nian” (Fifty Years of the Publication of Mao Zedong’s Portrait), Chuban shiliao [Historical Materials of Publishing], no.4 (2003), 11return to text

    25. Chen Bo, interview by Zhou Dengyan, Beijing, February 13, 2012return to text

    26. Tong Shuheng, Jinian Maozhuxi <zai Yan’an wenyi zuotanhui shang de jianghua> fabiao sanshi zhounian quanguo sheying yishu zhanlan [In Commemoration of the Thirtieth Anniversary of Chairman Mao’s Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art, National Photographic Art Exhibition], catalogue design manuscript, 1972. Unfortunately, this document is the only surviving primary source of the exhibition. Our discussion is based on this catalogue and Tong Shuheng, interview by Zhou Dengyan, Beijing, January 28, 2013. return to text

    27. For more about the Red Guard photography exhibition, see Zhou, The Language of “Photography” in China: A Genealogy of Conceptual Frames from Sheying to Xinwen Sheying and Sheying Yishu (PhD diss., Binghamton University, 2016), 15456.return to text

    28. The third category was occasionally assigned diplomatic gift or conference commemoration photographs. He Shujun, Yewu zijuan, 13. return to text