Eyes of Sky
1950’s and 1960’s Aerial Photos of Southeastern Coastal Cities of China
Special advisor: Gu Zheng
The confrontations between the East and the West deepened in the late 1950s and 1960s, when the Cold War was at its peak. In order to obtain information on military and economics, various U.S. agencies used any possible means to collect intelligence on China, including aerial and satellite surveillances. The U-2 high altitude reconnaissance airplane, designed and manufactured by Lockheed Corporation, was the most important image collecting platform of the period.
Between 1957 and 1967, over 100 reconnaissance missions were successfully flown over China, covering from Xinjiang and Tibet to Heilongjiang and Hainan Island. Every mission covers as much as tens of thousands of square kilometers of land, including large number of densely populated regions and majority of mid to large size cities. Restricted by technology and funding, land surveys in China were mostly done on the ground between 1950 and 1980. Limited amount of aerial and satellite imagery were collected, and most are still unavailable to the public. The landscape changed greatly since 1980 under the pressures from development, population growth and urbanization. Images collected by various U.S. agencies are precious resources in the study of China’s changes of landscape, urbanization, economics, defense industry and remote sensing archaeology.
In 2007, Xu Lin, a Chinese engineer who moved to the United States in the early 1990’s, learned that film from the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft had been declassified and given to the U.S. National Archives. What started with a search for images of his hometown in China grew into a devouring obsession. To show the country’s past to the public, Xu Lin has copied hundreds of U-2 images over the past ten years, driving eight hours from his home near Boston, to the National Archives’ research facility in Maryland. The images selected for this exhibition are Cold War period U-2 reconnaissance and satellite images of Beijing and South Eastern Coastal cities: Xiamen, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Fuzhou, Guanzghou, Hong Kong and Macao.
Original declassified films courtesy of U.S. National Archives.