Every parent knows that their kids grow up so fast. It’s important to capture as many memories as possible, because once they’re adults, they’re going to be out of the house and living their own life.
Well, this father and daughter made sure to capture as many moments as possible — 35 to be exact. Every year, Hua Yunqing and his daughter, Hua Hua, have taken the same photo in the exact same spot on the bank of Yinghu Lake. The photos see Hua’s growth throughout her life, and his daughter’s growth from a baby into a mother of two.
1980: The Very Beginning
This is the first photo that Hua Yunqing and his daughter, Hua Hua, took in front of this river while they were on holiday in Zhenjiang, China’s Jiangsu province. This was the photo that started it all.
After getting this picture developed (they used film back then), Hua knew he wanted to create something like a time capsule for his daughter. It was his idea to return to this spot year after year and take a photo each time.
1981: Hua Hua Is Two Years Old
So, dedicated to his project, Hua Yunqing brought his family back to Zhenjiang in 1981. He and Hua Hua stood in the same spot, and somebody, most likely Hua Hua’s mother, snapped this photo of them.
Hua Hua looks more alert in this photo. She’s smiling at the camera and proudly holding her father’s hand. She’s sporting an adorable pixie cut, and Hua, at age 27, is looking as young and as fresh as he did at 26.
1982: Not Much Has Changed
Hua Hua is three years old in this photo. She’s wearing the very same dress that she wore the year before. She’s smiling at the camera, but this time, she’s not holding her father’s hand. Hua Hua has grown more independent. She’s still rocking the same haircut, but she has more life experience now. She is three, after all.
Hua is striking a proud pose. It’s hard to raise a three-year-old, and Hua should be proud of all of his hard work.
1983: Growing Taller Every Year
Hua Hua’s hair is a little bit longer in this photograph. She’s four years old here, and she’s still very much into those ruffled shirts (or whoever is dressing her is into those ruffled shirts).
Hua looks calm and happy. 1983 must have been a good year for him and his family. This is the first picture in the series in which you can see that pagoda in the background. Keep an eye out for it in later photographs.
1984: The First Color Photograph
This is the first color photograph in this photo series, so Hua must have invested in a new camera. You can see that pagoda in the background in full color now, although the background colors are still kind of hazy.
Hua Hua is wearing a bright magenta dress, a white visor, and she has a pair of sunglasses propped up on her forehead. Hua looks like a very respectable father in his white buttondown shirt.
1985: Time For A Swim
Hua Hua is six years old in this photo and she’s still wearing ruffles, but this time the ruffles are on a navy and white polka-dotted bathing suit. Hua has taken off his signature button-down collared shirt for this photo.
These two look like they’re having the best time splashing around in the river, and they even have matching swimming goggles. Hua Hua looks very different from how she looked in that first photograph, but Hua hasn’t aged a day.
1986: The Year Of The Bowl Cut
The year is 1986 and Hua Hua’s lovely pixie cut has somehow morphed into a bowl cut. Hey, it is the 80s after all. She clearly still has a thing for ruffles and that white dress is positively angelic on her.
The red ribbon adds a pop of color, and it might even make the bowl cut look high-fashion. Dad is still rocking his signature watch, plus he’s sporting some very cool shades in this photo.
1987: Hua Hua Is In The Second Grade
Hua Hua is eight years old in this photo, and she’s probably started grade school at this stage in her life. She looks older and wiser, and she doesn’t have a bowl cut anymore. She’s not wearing any ruffles either.
She’s still adding a pop of red to her outfit though, this time with a red hairband and red color-blocking throughout her dress. Dad looks pretty much the same, although the way the light is hitting his sunglasses makes them look a lot more Elton John-y in this photo.
1988: What Is Dad Wearing?
Hua Hua looks lovely in this photo. She’s cut her hair short again and she’s back to the ruffles, but she looks taller and more mature than before. Hua, well, those mom shorts are not doing him any favors.
I’m going to give him a pass because it was the 80s and because he took a fashion risk with the hat (that may have actually paid off). Hey, at least he’s not wearing socks with those sandals.
1989: Dad Got Some New Glasses
We spoke too soon about that whole socks and sandals issue. At least the short shorts are gone, though. Hua Hua is rocking a middle part in this photo that suits her so much better than the bowl cut. Those side-swept bangs are definitely ahead of their time.
Her matching shirt and shorts outfit is preppy in a good way. She looks very put together, and I’m impressed that they both can wear white to the river without getting their clothes dirty.
1990: A New Decade
Look at these two striking matching poses! It’s been a decade since Hua Hua and her father took their first picture in front of this river together when Hua Hua was just a year old. Time goes by so quickly when you’re having fun.
Hua Hua and her father are both wearing sunglasses in this picture, although Hua seems to have gotten a new pair. Also, these longer khaki shorts are much better than those old jean ones.
1991: Check Out Those Electronics
Hua and his daughter really are living in the future now. It’s 1991 and Hua has a pager strapped to his belt. Hua Hua also appears to be holding some kind of portable tape player. She left her earphones in for the photo.
It’s crazy how you can track the progress of time in these pictures. Even though Hua Hua is twelve years old now, she still loves wearing cartoon characters on her clothing. That isn’t Winnie the Pooh, by the way.
1992: She’s Almost As Tall As Her Father
Hua Hua is thirteen years old in this photo and Hua is thirty nine. Hua Hua is wearing two little clips in her hair and it looks like she’s wearing a lanyard with keys on it around her neck. Hua still looks very official in his trousers and white dress shirt.
Hua Hua is almost as tall as her father in this photo. We’ll have to keep going through the pictures to find out if she ever grows to be taller than him.
1993: Blowing In The Wind
Hua Hua’s hair is definitely blowing in the wind in this photo. Fun fact, Bob Dylan’s song “Blowin’ In The Wind” came out exactly thirty years before this photo was taken. What are the chances that these two take a windblown picture the year of that song’s thirtieth anniversary? Pretty high, actually.
Hua Hua is starting to look more and more like her father. In this photo, you can see that these two have very similar profiles.
1994: Hua Hua Starts High School
Hua Hua is fifteen years old in this photo, which means that she had already started high school at the time this photo was taken. Hua Hua has entered the awkward teenage phase of life. She’s wearing glasses and braces, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s still smiling and having a good time with her family.
I’m not sure that those red pants and that Las Vegas shirt would be considered fashionable now, but it was definitely in style in the ’90s.
1995: Holding The Hat Was A Good Choice
Hua is actually wearing a tie in this photo. That’s new. The brown belt is also a touch fancier than the belts we’ve seen him wear in the past. Maybe he had an important meeting that day or something.
Hua Hua is wearing some kind of jean jumper— again, very ’90s. That hat is also very of the decade, but we’re glad that she decided to hold it in this photo rather than wear it.
1996: No More Braces
Hua Hua got her braces off! She had them on for a good two years, which is a long time to have braces. We’re loving that pink floral shirt tucked into a pair of high waisted jeans. This is the kind of ’90s look that could still be in style today.
Hua looks exactly like he did in the photo taken the year before, only his tie is a different color. He’s even giving us the same smile.
1997: They Grow Up So Fast
This photo was taken in 1997, which means that Hua Hua is eighteen years old in this photo and Hua Yunqing is forty-four. Hua Hua is on the brink of adulthood. She’s grown out her hair, she’s wearing more conservative, grown-up dresses, and she’s worked those glasses into her personal style pretty seamlessly.
Hua is still in his tie phase, but this is a floral tie, which is especially funky. They both look very dapper.
1999: The Turn Of The Millenium
1998 was the only year that Hua Hua and her father weren’t able to take their annual photograph because Hua Hua was in school abroad. She didn’t join her family on holiday. That brings us all the way to 1999, the year before Y2K.
Hua Hua has her hair crimped and she’s wearing an entirely red outfit. Hua Yunqing seems to have a pretty high tech camera in that bag (or high tech for 1999).
2000: What A Thick Tie
We’re going to talk about the new millennium and Hua Hua’s bangs in a minute, but first of all, what is going on with that thick as heck tie? That is the widest tie I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m pretty sure wide ties weren’t “in” in 2000, so I don’t know where he got that thing…
Anyway, Hua Hua has bangs now and they look amazing on her. She’s 21 in this photo, so she’s old enough to drink in pretty much any country. Also, Hua Hua is on the right now for some reason…
2001: Hua Looks Like A Cool Dad
Hua Hua’s Louis Vuitton bag is the most 2001 thing in this photo. Hua Yunqing’s jeans are still stuck in the ’90s, but you know what, that ’90s style is back in now so I think he’s actually ahead of his time. We’re loving the Tommy Hilfiger polo.
This is the longest that Hua Hua’s hair has ever been. The long locks look good on her, but we’ll see if they stick around for the next few years.
2002: She’s Not A Little Girl Anymore
Hua Hua looks like a real professional lady in her business casual outfit. She’s invested in some kind of curling iron, plus she’s wearing makeup now. I think this is what we call the glow-up shot. 2002 was a good year for Hua Hua.
Her father looks as young as ever in this photo even though he’s actually 49 in this picture. This guy doesn’t look a day over thirty. He’s still rocking those polo shirts. Some things never change.
2003: A Style Overhaul
Hua Hua died her hair an auburn red in 2003 and I’m not mad about it. I actually think her hair color looks great with that nude colored dress she has on. Hua Yunqing has finally changed out of those polo shirts. He’s wearing a classic white tee and blue jeans combo and it is everything.
Most men wished they looked this good at fifty. Why did it take him so long to where a tee shirt on vacation?
2004: A Major Growth Spurt
It looks like Hua Hua did actually grow to be taller than her father. Or maybe they’re the same height but he’s just leaning back a little bit. Either way, Hua Hua is way taller now than when we first met her. She’s developed her own sense of style and she certainly has an extensive handbag collection.
Hua Yunqing has gone back to the polos, but he’s putting his own spin on them. I guess he doesn’t like to mess with a good thing.
2005: What A Camera
Hua Hua looks super stylish in this photo. The pattern on that dress is amazing. Let’s talk about her father’s camera for a minute though. Why wasn’t this picture taken with that giant Canon DSLR? Why is he holding it while someone is taking this photo with another, inferior camera?
Anyway, Hua Hua’s eyebrows are on fleek and that’s all that really matters. I’m just amazed that she had the good sense not to overpluck her eyebrows in the mid 2000s.
2006: Back To The Short Haircut
This is the first photo in which Hua’s looked like he’s aged even a little bit. He looks older in this photo (because he is older), but we think age looks great on him. He just looks a little bit wiser and a little bit more refined.
Hua Hua has cut her hair shorter again, and she’s holding yet another handbag. I don’t think we’ve seen a handbag show up more than once in this photo series. Every year she’s holding a new one. You do you, girl.
2007: And Then There Were Three
In 2007, Hua Hua gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Of course, this baby had to be included in the family tradition. Hua Yunqing now had a daughter and a granddaughter, and the three of them could now be a part of something larger than themselves.
Now that there’s another generation involved, who knows how long this tradition could continue for. Hua looks like he’s loving the grandpa life. That baby is way too cute.
2008: Watching Another Little Girl Grow Up
Hua Yunqing and his daughter had so much fun documenting their lives in annual photographs that they thought they would do the same for Hua Hua’s child. From now on, she will be included in every yearly photo in this spot.
Hua Hua has traded in her stylish handbags for an equally stylish diaper bag, and this baby girl is the best-dressed person in this photo. She must get her sense of fashion from her mother.
2009: Growing Older Every Day
It must have been cold by the lake this year because Hua is wearing a jacket and Hua Hua and her daughter are wearing sweaters. If you look at the lake behind them it kind of looks like it was raining that day too.
Rain or shine, this family is always smiling. Hua Hua is back to her old handbag habit, and there’s even some strange blue stuffed creature that’s making a cameo in this photo.
2010: Three Generations In One Shot
Hua Hua doesn’t look a day over 20 in this photo even though she’s actually thirty one here. That little girl is about three years old in this photo, and she looks just like Hua Hua looked when she was three. Now this little girl can look back at all the photos of her mother growing up.
Hua Yunqing is wearing a pink polo shirt, which we haven’t seen him in before. These three look like they’re enjoying life.
2011: Another New Addition
And baby makes four! In 2011, Hua Hua gave birth to another baby girl. This family is getting larger and more full of love every year. That baby is absolutely adorable, and Hua Hua and her older daughter look like twins in their matching striped dresses.
Hua Yunqing looks so happy to have not one, but two granddaughters in his life. I love how the older girl is holding on to her little sister’s foot.
2012: Fun In The Sun
That little girl in Hua Yunqing’s arms was an infant just one year ago, and now she almost two years old. Now there’s another child to join in this charming family tradition. When speaking about his collection of photos, Hua said, “each time I look at these pictures, I couldn’t help crying. As I can feel love, lots of love.”
The love in these photos is absolutely palpable. Hua has raised a wonderful daughter who has gone on to raise a family of her own.
2013: Matchy Matchy
We love how Hua Hua and her two daughters are all wearing the same shade of light blue. These three clearly operate as a team. It looks like Hua Hua’s oldest daughter has a thing for handbags too, just like her mother.
Hua is fifty-nine in this photo. So much time has passed since he took that picture of Hua Hua as a one-year-old by this very river in 1980. Hua has said, “it’s a memory. When I look at the pictures, I feel I have a time machine.”
It All Started In 1986
Tian Jun was 27 years old when his son, Tian Li, was born in the Guizhou Province. Guizhou is located in a mountainous region of Southwestern China. It boasts some pretty amazing sites in nature, including the near 250-foot Huangguoshu Waterfall and the underground waterway system of the Dragon Palace Cave.
The year Li was born, a major political event was underway. The 1987 Student Demonstrations were taking place across the country on campuses. The movement was influenced by intellectuals like Wang Ruowang and Fang Lizhi who were critical of the government’s lack of reforms. The protests lasted about a month before dissipating.
Tian Jun was an artist who had the idea to take a photo on his son’s birthday every year in the same spot. According to his son, Li, the photos were taken in front of a wall outside of the apartment that he grew up in. Their family has resided there for 20 years.
When Li was two years old, a massive wildfire called Black Dragon Fire swept across China and the Soviet Union. IT was one of the largest wildfires ever recorded, and it destroyed 18 million acres of forest including a sixth of China’s timber reserves. It also had a devastating human cost: over 200 people died in the fire, and hundreds more suffered injuries.
When asked by CNN why they were shirtless for all of the photos, Li explained that it was because he was born in the summer. Summer in the Guizhou province would get so hot that it was normal to go without a shirt a majority of the time. Because of this, they have decided to keep all the photos consistent with this motif.
In 1988, the People’s Republic of China competed in the Summer Olympics that were held in Seoul, Korea. That year, they entered 273 competitors in 150 events and 25 sports. China’s athletes brought home five gold medals, 11 silver medals, and 12 bronze medals for a total of 28 medals.
Li, who did not think about what the photos meant when they were taken, retrospectively views the series as a form of performance art. He recognizes that people are attracted to stories of father-son bonding and coming-of-age, which is why these photos have become so popular.
Though this sweet photo of Li and his father seems completely peaceful, there was a serious political event happening this year in China. Student-led protests that were happening in Beijing were reaching a boiling point, and soon these protestors would find themselves up against an army in their fight for democracy.
1989: Tiananmen Square
Li was just three years old when the Tiananmen Square Protests happened in Beijing. The student-led demonstrations were sparked over anxieties about the uncertainty of the Chinese peoples’ future in a time of dramatic economic and social change during the post-Mao era. Although Li was just a toddler, this event would set a precedent for the type of atmosphere he would grow up in, in his country.
In what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops carrying assault rifles and driving tanks plunged into the crowds of protesters who were trying to block their advance. The civilian deaths from this horrifying incident are estimated between hundreds and thousands.
Despite the political and social unrest, father and son maintained their ritual through subsequent years. Although the Guizhou province is not close to the Chinese capital (Beijing is more north-east of where the Tian family has settled), it doesn’t mean that they weren’t adversely affected by the aforementioned events, but they clearly didn’t let these things get in the way of their happiness.
1990 was a year of damage control for China. The international community was shocked by the major loss of life and the advancing of troops on unarmed civilians in Beijing. Leadership tried to restore the appearance of unity in the country.
In his interview with CNN, Li has recounted the numerous occupations his father held while he was growing up. His father has done business in real estate, tourism, and farming before going back to art, teaching the subject at a local school. Clearly, this was his passion as can be interpreted from his idea to begin this photo series.
In 1991, the People’s Republic of China and the then-Soviet Union set up the Sino-Soviet Border Agreement that was an attempt to resolve most of the border disputes between the two countries. Ultimately, changes to the border were made, to Taiwan doesn’t recognize the changes.
When Li turned six, a lot of other events were happening in other parts of the world. In the United States, Bill Clinton was elected as the 42nd president and the Rodney King riots broke out in Los Angeles. In the Middle East, Afghanistan overthrew its communist government, while the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Libya. Spain hosted the Summer Olympics, while France hosted them in the Winter.
Back in China, McDonald’s made its Chinese debut with its first restaurant in Beijing. China also reported that their economy grew 12% that year, which was in line with their rapid economic development.
In 1993, Li turned seven, while his father was 34. The same year, a series of earthquakes wreaked havoc on neighboring Asian countries. Off the coast of Japan, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 hit, launching a tsunami that killed 200 people on the island of Okushiri, Hokkaido.
Earthquakes also hit in the countries of India and Indonesia, killing 10,000 and 2,200 people, respectively. In April, China Eastern Airlines Flight 583 crashed, and in June Typhoon Koryn hit China, leaving 37 people dead. The typhoon also caused $14 million in damages across the Philippines, the Caroline Islands, and the People’s Republic of China.
This is Li and his father at ages eight and 35. In 2015, Li posted the photos to Chinese social media site WeChat and the series circulated quickly, generating 100,000 clicks in 24 hours. The popularity of the post prompted interviews from various media outlets.
When Li was eight years old, the Kenpeng mine disaster happened at the Guangxi Kenpeng mine. Eight tons of dynamite exploded, destroying a worker’s dormitory and killing everyone inside. More than 230 people were injured in the blast, and the death toll reached 77 people. The explosion was caused by the mine not maintaining proper health and safety standards.
1995 was also the ear the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis occurred. The crisis was caused by a series of missile tests conducted by the People’s Republic of China in the waters surrounding Taiwan. The tests were an attempt to send a signal to Taiwan’s government, which was seen as moving away from the One-China policy at the time.
When Li was 10, the neighbor country of Japan had released popular gaming system Nintendo 64 at the same time that DVD’s were launched. By this time as well, global warming was at a record high, as the Arctic Ozone layer continued to be depleted and a reported 38 million acres of the rain forest had already been destroyed.
The same year in February, Lijiang earthquake hit Lijiang City in southwestern China and resulted in 13,000 injuries, 3,925 serious injuries, and 322 deaths. The shock measured 6.6 on the moment magnitude scale. Many high rise buildings were torn down as a result.
By age 11, Li is visibly not the little boy we have seen in previous pictures. This would be the last photo in which he is being held by his father, who at this point was 38. This is the same year that Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule, after being under the United Kingdom. This transfer is often noted as the end of the British Empire.
The same year in Ghulja, protests erupted after 30 Uyghur independence activists were executed. After two days of protests where the protesters shouted “independence for Xinjiang,” the demonstrators were attacked with gunfire. While official reports say the death toll was nine, dissident reports estimate the death toll at 100.
1997: Great Firewall
In 1997, the Chinese government attempted to regulate the Internet by imposing Internet censorship across the country. The Communist Party of China blocked its citizens from viewing certain websites, filtered keywords out of searches, and criminalized certain speech and activities. This came to be known at the Great Firewall of China that remains in effect to this day.
Research indicates that suspicion of the Great Firewall and the knowledge that one is being watched is more effective than actually blocking internet content because users tend to self-censor out of fear. The Great Firewall has been a point of controversy between China and tech companies based in the United States.
The year that Li turned 12, Microsoft released Windows 98, while Apple unveiled the iMac. Titanic premiered in theaters, while Disney released a new Pixar installment, A Bug’s Life, as well as Mulan, which brought the legendary tale of the Chinese heroine to light all across the world.
1998 was also the year the Three Stresses campaign was launched. Three Stresses was an ideological campaign among Communist Party members. The stresses refer to: “stress study, stress politics, stress righteousness.” The goal was the rectify some of the common corruption in the Communist Party of China, an adapt to the global economy.
1998: Flooding in China
Also in 1998, a series of heavy rains caused the Yangtze, Nen, Songhua, and Pearl Rivers to flood for up to four months out of the summer. It was the worst Northern China flood in nearly four decades, and devastated the entire region. The floods left 3,704 Chinese citizens dead, while 15 million people became homeless as many homes were damaged in the Northern region of China.
During the floods, which lasted from June to August, a staggering 25,000,000 acres had to be evacuated. The main cause of the floods was the above-average rainfall—nearly three times the historical average.
At age 13, Li is now visibly a teenager in 1999. This is the same year that the U.S. bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The U.S. has claimed the attack was an accident and that their intended target was actually the nearby Yugoslav Federal Directorate, but several Chinese officials believe that the attack was deliberate. The government issued a statement the same day as the bombing calling it a “barbarian act.”
This sparked a series of anti-American protests in China, with protesters throwing rocks outside the United States embassy in Beijing. President Clinton profusely apologized, and gradually relations improved throughout the year.
At the turn of the century, you will notice Li grow more into his teen years in subsequent photos. Here he is at age 14, with a straight face that could be considered resonant of a certain guardedness that is often attached to teen angst and coming-of-age.
In January, the Yunnan earthquake in southwest China killed seven people and injured 2,528 people, as well as leveling 41,000 homes. There was also a devastating fire at a shopping center on Christmas in Luoyang that killed 309 people. The fire was triggered by sparks from welding at the building. Construction workers and Christmas shoppers were killed by the blaze.
Here are father and son in 2001 at the start of the new millennium. Li turned 15 this year and you can see he wears the same look from the previous photo. His father, now 42 in this photo, wears a grin despite the attitude Li displays in his during his teen years in this photo series. This occurs throughout the next five years, as you will see in subsequent photos.
2001 was an eventful year in China. Shenzhou 2, an unmanned spacecraft was launched, and the International Olympic Committee decided Beijing would host the 2008 summer games. That’s not all that happened.
In 2001, five people set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square. One man was seriously burned, yet he and the other four were detained by the Chinese police. This reportedly happened in response to criminalizing Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that the government worried followers were becoming too strong.
Several Western journalists and scholars noted inconsistencies and even suggested that the self-immolations were staged by the government to make Falun Gong seem too radical or extreme. The lack of independent information about the event made it very difficult to report, and Human Rights Watch took note of the inconsistencies too.
2001: World Trade Organization
Also in 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization. The process required China to make important changes to its economy, but the result integrated China deeper into the world economy. The United States had a strong interest in the Chinese economy because they viewed as a potential market for U.S. goods and services.
The changes were difficult steps, but China’s admission was an enormous achievement. Hong Kong had already been admitted to the World Trade Organization in January 1995 before Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997. Taiwan had also been a member of the World Trade Organization.
When Li turned 16, there were new advancements in space technology. In 2002, scientists reported findings of a new type of black hole with a middleweight class of gravitational sink. In this same year, China launched both Shenzhou 3 and Shenzhou 4 in a series of unmanned launches. While China was advancing technologically with their amazing space program, citizens were still prone to natural disasters.
The Dongting Lake flooded and forced the evacuation of 6,000 people in Yeuyang. An Air China Boeing 767 also crashed into a hillside because of heavy rain and fog, and sadly 128 people were killed.
By 2003, Li was just another 17-year-old in a world whose population reached 6.31 billion people. This is the same year that North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the U.S. and Britain launched a war against Iraq. Later that same year, the U.S. would declare an official end to combat operations in Iraq and they would also capture Saddam Hussein.
The Bachu earthquake measured 6.3 in magnitude and killed at least 261 people, and injured 4,000 more. Nearly 10,000 homes were leveled by the earthquake. Those weren’t the only major events happening in China at the time.
2003: Hu Jintao
In 2003, Hu Jintao was named President of the People’s Republic after his role of general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. After being elected president, he also became a chairperson of the Central Military Commission. During his time as president, he released the “Eight Honors and Eight Shames,” a moral code that listed what a good Chinese citizen should regard as honor and shame.
During his time in office, Hu Jintao reinstated state control in sectors of the economy that had previously been relaxed. However, this resulted in a decade of consistent economic growth, and cemented China as a major world power
2003: Shenzhou 5
Also in 2003, the Chinese space program launched their first human spaceflight mission on board a spacecraft called Shenzhou 5. This monumental moment made China the third country to launch a human into space, behind the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States.
The launch took over the news cycle in China, with official Chinese state media and newspapers devoting more time and space to the launch than any recent event. The launch was praised as a milestone not just for technology, but for Chinese nationalism, though the flag of the United Nations was also brought in addition to the People’s Republic of China, and Taiwan crop seeds were brought on the spacecraft.
When he was 18, Li was accepted into the Beijing Film Academy, which was the biggest accomplishment in his life at that point, according to CNN. After his acceptance, he moved away from home to continue his studies and pursue a career as a director.
In April 2004, Shanghai modified its interpretation of the One Child Policy, allowing divorced residents who remarried to have a second child without a penalty. Martial law was imposed in parts of China’s Henan province after fighting between Han and Hui ethnic groups. There were also two major coal mine explosions in China in 2004 with hundreds of fatalities.
Although Li left home at 18, he and his father continued their tradition when Li would visit home during his breaks from school. Here they are, aged 19 and 46, respectively. This photo depicts another shift in their father-son relationship as it is the first photo since he was a boy that Li is facing his father, whereas Li had his back to his father in his teenage photos.
Tension between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China reached a head when the People’s Republic of China issued an anti-succession law in March that was aimed at preventing Taiwan from declaring independence. China was also facing tensions with Japan after a Japanese schoolbook glossed over Japan’s imperialist past, sending 20,000 people to protest in the streets.
2005: Plant Explosions
In the fall of 2005, Jilin city in a northeastern province of China experienced a series of explosions that occurred at the petrochemical plant. There were only six fatalities, but at least 70 people, including dozens of workers, endured injuries. In addition, many residents of the city had to be evacuated.
As a result of the explosions, the nearby Songhua and Amur Rivers were tainted with chemicals, creating a toxic slick made up of benzene and nitrobenzene. The cause of the explosions was that a tower jammed up and wasn’t handled properly. The explosion was so powerful that it shattered windows at least 100 to 200 meters away.
By age 20, Li has earned himself the title as a young adult. He and his father, who is 47 years old at this point, both wear slight grins. His father is probably proud of all that Li has accomplished thus far, while Li’s body language begins to open up to his father again from this point in the series, forward.
The same year Baidu.com, modeled on Wikipedia, was launched in China. The site is self-censored, since Wikipedia is inaccessible in China without using a proxy. More than 1.5 million people had to evacuate before Super Typhoon Saomai, the strongest to land in the country in 50 years, hit in Wenzhou.
By age 21, Li had graduated film school with a degree in Film Directing, accomplishing his goals. This year, their picture was taken during the winter, which probably explains why they are wearing pants, as opposed to shorts in many of the previous photos in the series.
The same year, a drought in southwestern China threatened the drinking supply of 1.5 million people, and China signed on and approved the “Washington Declaration” that proposed a global Carbon emissions trading system. Bird flu also spread throughout China, with two human cases of the virus confirmed that year. There was also a major pet food recall in the United States after several pet deaths from tainted food imported from China.
Li turned 22 the same year that China was host to many cultural events. Since he was in the process of pursuing a career in film directing, he may have been interested in the second Asian Film Awards held in Hong Kong, or the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards, or even the 2008 Shanghai International Film Festival.
Unfortunately, 2008 was also the year of the Sichuan earthquake, and over 70,000 people died in central south-west China as a result of the 7.9 magnitude quake. Just a few months later, China would recover to host the Olympics. During the games, media censorship was lifted.
2009 would mark Jun’s golden year when he turned 50 as Li turned 23. This is the same year that then-U.S. president Barack Obama announced China’s participation in an agreement to combat global warming, which required wealthier nations to contribute billions of dollars to poorer countries that are more affected by climate change.
In January, strict keyword filters were introduced in China leading to mass protests online and in the streets against internet censorship. However, censorship would continue. In May, the Republic of China started allowing financial investment from the People’s Republic of China for the first time since 1949.
Li turned 24 when Google’s servers have been hacked when someone tried to access information about Chinese dissidents. Because of the incident, Google expressed interest in removing themselves from China, since they no longer wanted to censor their searches in concordance with the Great Firewall. Words like “democracy” and “Tiananmen Square massacre” were being censored in searches.
China continues to censor internet searches and politically sensitive Wikipedia entries. The censorship has caused problems with global trade and has been condemned by democratic countries around the world. Even in 2017, Google is no longer allowed to operate in China because of the Great Firewall policies.
In 2011, Li turns 25, while his father, Jun, turns 52. This same year China would experience another series of environmental disasters, as they began efforts to combat an on-going drought in the north, while the central and southern parts of China experiences a series of floods. These protests wouldn’t stop in 2011, and would only increase intensity over the coming year, often becoming violent riots due to a militarized police presence.
China also launched the unmanned flight of Shenzhou 8 on October 31. China docked the spacecraft, and only Russia, Japan, and the European Space Agency had achieved an automatic rendezvous docking before China.
At 26 years old, Li told CNN that 2012 was the year he got married. In this picture you can see the way this relationship has matured. Li, now a married man, wears a slight grin and puts his arm around his 53-year-old father in a respectful and dignified manner.
This can be contrasted with the way he holds onto his father as a child for support and guidance and the way in which he leans against his father as a teen. 2012 was a year of environmental protests in China. A number of factories found themselves in the crossfire for their practices.
As another year passes, you can see the tables have turned as it is now 54-year-old Tian who is being held by his son Li, now 27 in this photo. Tian was 27 when he began this photo series, so the posing in this photo is quite fitting, depicting the way that children often become the support for their aging parents as the years go on.
In March of 2013, Xi Jinping officially became the president of the People’s Republic of China. He adopted “China Dream” as the country’s slogan. At the same time, China’s environmental crisis was getting worse, with thousands of pigs turning up dead in Shanghai’s Huangpu River.
In 2014, China became the world’s largest economy. At the same time, Li was in America, where he and his wife had a son, so this is the only year that Li and his father were not able to take a photo. At the time, Li was a film director, living and working out of Beijing. His father was busy and unable to make it out to Beijing when Li was there.
The same year, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the South China Sea while it was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It was a mystery that baffled the world.
By 2015, Li and his wife returned to China with their son, Timothy, in tow. In the final heartwarming photo, Li holds his own son next to his father, who is now a grandfather. This is the perfect end to the series of photos that Li released, but we can only hope that their tradition lives on to this day.
According to DailyMail, in an interview with People’s Daily Online, Li has commented on what the photos represent, saying “This is the power of time. Time itself is a form of art. Perhaps this set of pictures represent a universal emotion and it’s straightforward, so people would resonate. That’s all.”