The photo-essay—a group of pictures about a single subject, usually accompanied by captions—was a staple of photojournalism throughout Cartier-Bresson’s career. This and the following section present such essays in abbreviated form.
In 1958 Cartier-Bresson undertook an ambitious campaign to photograph the Great Leap Forward, Mao Tse-tung’s intensive program of forced industrialization. He worked steadily for four months in China, and although he was closely monitored by the authorities, he returned with a very substantial body of work, rich in concrete detail.
The story was widely disseminated through magazines in Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, as well as the United States—usually with splashy color spreads similar to those in the issue of Life presented here. In 1964 nearly fifty photographs made in 1958 appeared in Cartier-Bresson’s small paperback book on China, but otherwise the project has received little attention.