In what has to be one of the most fascinating lenses through which to observe history and societal change, this short film chronicles recent Chinese history by looking at the different things Chinese people have lined up for over the years. It was posted to the BBC website under the title “China’s History as Told Through Its Unbelievable Queues.” Here’s what the photographer has to say about the queues:
“Times have changed. Lives have changed. The reasons people queue have also changed. We are a huge country — 1.3 billion people — the biggest in the world. There will always be queues here; the reasons will be different. Who knows what we will be queueing for next?”
(email readers: go here to see the video)
My most common experience with queues in China was on Sunday mornings, standing in line to get into church. People would begin lining up 30-45 minutes in advance to be sure to get a seat inside the sanctuary as opposed to the overflow room or stools in the courtyard.
And the most amazing queue I saw was on Christmas Eve, 2009, outside Gangwashi Church in Beijing. The church had Christmas Eve services scheduled every hour from 5pm to 11pm. Those wanting to attend had to line up.
When the sanctuary was full, the would close the gates to the church courtyard and those still in line would have to wait until the next service. I talked to one lady in line and asked her how long she’d been waiting.
“An hour and half,” she said happily, despite the bitter cold.
Behind her the queue wound its way down the block and around the corner.
What was most interesting, though, was the police presence — not to prevent people from getting into church, but to make sure everything was safe and orderly so that people could get in.
I just wish the photographer had included church queues in his film.