Taken at a machinery foundry, Advanced Individuals is not just a record of the model workers in the year 1977, but has also documented the very existence in the Post-Cultural Revolution days.

Ren Shulin (b. 1954, Beijing) has been involved in the photo community in China over four decades. He also works as a freelance architectural photographer.

Artist Statement

Progressive Individuals, 1976

In those years, the workers cited for their outstanding contributions were neither called advanced producers nor model workers. They were called progressive individuals. In addition to their workplace performance, their politics, interpersonal relationships and other qualities were also accounted for. The Machine Foundry Plant was a heavy industrial operation and therefore the workers were industrial workers – a very typical working class.

These individuals were also the citizens of Beijing. Outside of their work, they embody the city with their everyday existence, socially, intellectually, culturally and ideologically. In a very concrete and real sense, through the efforts of these individuals and many others, the city of Beijing was formed and shaped and its history and tradition were carried through.

In those days, the opportunity of having a photograph taken was rare. Each “progressive individual” would therefore take it seriously. Each of them sat formally in front of the backdrop. And then, the grand ceremony would begin!

With photography, I recorded our faces, our demeanor, our postures and our attire, and perhaps our very existence and conditions of that era.

For more info on the artist, a 3-part interview with Ren Shulin, along with a critical essay by the Chinese art historian Gu Zheng can be found at:


先进个人 —— 1976年度