My "Capitalist" Album

The title of this album may sound strange. Yet, it is authentic. It contains pictures I took, sorted and categorized as “social problems” in a capitalist country. When our group of teachers was preparing to return to China after receiving trainings in German Studies in Germany, the group leader, a senior teacher, requested that I destroy the pictures. In 1984, the Chinese airport checkpoint was still very strict. Anything that was printed and even non-printed items could be interpreted as being anti-China or capitalist and thus was forbidden and confiscated. I tried my best to explain to the group leader that the pictures certainly should be allowed to enter China because, I promised, I would show them to my students as examples of the evils of capitalism. At the Beijing International Airport, although I had the pictures hidden in the very bottom of my suitcase, I could not help but worry about being spotted by the Chinese custom officers. I was lucky, for I have those pictures to up to this day.


The punks’ appearance very much scared us in the beginning. They had a terribly strange hairstyle, a so-called Mohican hairstyle. The hair is very short, but quiet long in the middle of the head and usually red, green or multicolored. The long hair in the middle must stand straight up. Punks need to put an egg every day into their long hair to make it stand so straight up.




The picture on the top shows an old man holding a sign with the sentence “Ich habe Hunger” (I am hungry) on it.  On the bottom is a picture of a boy begging for money. It was surprising to frequently see this kind of scenes in Germany. In a developed country there are still many poor people. What particularly surprised me was the man’s appearance for he was wearing a nice outfit, a pair of leather shoes, and a pair of glasses. From his appearance it’s hard to believe he didn’t have any money.




The flea market was one of the many things that we learned about from other Chinese students and scholars who had come to Germany earlier. Every week we searched newspapers for flea market locations because one of the main things we enjoyed doing on weekends was to shop at flea markets. The first time I went to a flea market I was flabbergasted about the items for sale, “they are still quiet new!” My first impression was that this was evidence of capitalist “surplus” and “waste”, a phenomenon that wouldn’t occur in China as goods were rationed before economic reform took place in the country.


Imagine how someone who comes from a place where no one owns or can afford a private car would think upon arriving at a used car (Gebrauchtwagen) shop! All of the cars still looked so new, so attractive. To me, Germans didn’t know how to value things that are valuable. They simply replace them with new ones.




When my group visited the old people’s home in the picture, it was sad to learn that many old people were sent by their children to live in an old people’s home. The director of the home said that many of them became depressed and even committed suicide. Even though many old people didn’t live in old people’s homes, they still lived separate from their children. Very often they lived with pets and had a close relationship with their pets. When I saw an old woman kiss her dog like she was kissing a human being, I was shocked. All of this was beyond the understanding of someone from China where it was normal for three generations to live and socialize together.

Alte Leute



“Guest workers” (Gastarbeiter) is a term that I learned in German readings about German culture and society. It was associated with people who emigrated from Turkey, had little money, lived in ghettos, and worked low-paid jobs that Germans didn’t want. I had sympathy for them and kept my eyes on them when I was in Germany. I witnessed these guest workers who only had the opportunity to do janitor work such as cleaning the train station (the upper picture), or do dangerous work such as cleaning a high building’s windows without using a good safety device (see the lower picture).


The two young people caught my sight because the man’s arm was on the woman’s shoulders in public. Did they feel embarrassed at all? Certainly not! I couldn’t understand why Westerners who are strong protectors of privacy liked to show their private relationships in public.


I was curious about western models in windows which very much resembled real people. In fact, two such models looked just like real people. I stood staring at them and then I noticed a trifling breath. They were indeed real people! I was disappointed by my discovery because I thought one shouldn’t treat oneself as a commodity.



When I saw street performers and artists, I felt sorry for these very talented people. To me they were unemployed, but in order to make a living they had to sell their talents on the street. They displayed their talents but were not always paid for doing so. In a capitalist country I realized that money speaks, but money is unequally distributed.

Auf den Straßen



Among a number of shocking and thrilling things, freedom of sex was beyond my comprehension. Seeing sex shops made me hold my breath. I mistook a “non-stop Film Show” for a regular film screening and wondered how many people would watch films at midnight. It took me some time before I could even glance at the Sex-Shops. Again, for me, people in a capitalist country have little or no privacy.

Sex Shop    



This picture was taken in Amsterdam where prostitution is a legalized business in a designated zone, a red light zone. Legal prostitutes sit in widows on a street. Men who desire service from a prostitute go from window to window to “shop” for a prostitute. Yet, there are illegal prostitutes who are not in any windows. The picture shows one of them. I took the picture of her. Out of fear that she might be caught, she chased me down the street. The legalization of prostitution is an obvious social problem in a capitalist country.


Educated with the Marxist thought that “Religion is the opium of the people”, religion was seen as evil. In Germany I couldn’t understand why people put their fate in so-called God’s hands when I saw them praying. Even worse was that babies were baptized and pupils took religious class and participated in religious events. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them as their minds were poisoned by religious thought.




Casting a vote in a little cell aroused my curiosity as I had never seen nor experienced this in China. However, seeing political candidates’ portraits hanging on a pole caused me to doubt how much respect these candidates received in society.