Left Behind
2013
Description
In the wake of China’s rapid industrialization, many young people are moving to the city for greater opportunities, or as migrant workers to support their families back home. This phenomenon has created a generation of elderly and very young children who are left behind to live their lives in rural Chinese villages. Seen through the eyes of the Huang family, ‘Left Behind’ explores how globalization and the exodus of young people to the city for work affects the families they have left behind. The story exposes life and death experiences and the day-to-day struggles of the Huang family and asks the question: what does it mean to be left behind?
Fields
Photography, Photojournalism
  • The young daughter of the Huang Family, Huang Junyan, takes a break during her daily trek up the mountain to her home from school. The Huangs live in YingPanXu, a rural mountain town in the eastern Jiangxi Province on the border with Hunnan Province.
  • The Grandmother of the Huang Family, Zhu Huaxiang, climbs a mountain with her daughter-in-law, Li Xiaowei, to cut wood for cooking and heating. It is hard work and sometimes the women climb the mountain twice in one day. In rural Chinese families, women are frequently the ones who shoulder the burden of providing for their family and raising the children. However, it is still considered more preferable to have a son then a daughter.
     
  • Huang Junyan lies with her mother, Li Xiaowei. Her mother has been working too hard cutting wood in the mountains and the effort is taking a toll on her pregnant body. With little knowledge of the proper care for pregnant women, Li Xiaowei is doing too much physical labor for her condition.
     
  • The grandmother of the Huang family, Zhu Huaxiang, takes a moment to rest before she resumes the care of her six grandchildren. She and her daughter-in-law, Li Xiaowei, do all of the work in their large household and even care for the adult son of Zhu Huaxiang who still lives at home and is uninterested in having a job or assuming family responsibilities. When Zhu Huaxiang's husband, Huang Jingming, was still alive, they also had to care for him.
     
  • As dawn approaches, funeral ceremonies for Huang Jingming, who died suddenly in the night, move outside and take on a different tone. The Huang family held a wake and burial over the course of two days and most of the villagers in YingPanXu came to pay their respects. Funerals are incredibly expensive and the Huangs will be paying the debt for a very long time.
     
  • Two days before the patriarch, Huang Jingming, died, he relaxes and smokes a cigarette as his grandson, Huang Juntao, sits nearby. After Huang Juntao's mother, Lai Zhilan, ran away, his father, Huang Fuan, sent him to live with his relatives while he worked as a woodcutter in the neighboring Hunnan Province.
     
  • Huang Juntao, mourns his grandfather's, death while his father, Huang Fuan, tries to pull him away. Traditionally, the family sits at the foot of the coffin throughout the wake to mourn the death of the departed and send them up to heaven with their cries. However, when family members become too bereft they are taken away to a private room and consoled.
     
  • Handprints of the Huang grandchildren are imprinted in a layer of ash from ceremonial paper burning on Huang Jingming's coffin.
     
  • Food, incense and gifts for the departed are burned on an altar during the night.
     
  • The young daughter of the Huang Family, Huang Junyan, looks over at her grandfather's coffin during the wake at the family home.
     
  • Huang Jingming's daughter, Huang Shiying, cries alone at her father's funeral.
     
  • One of Huang Jingming’s relatives kneels among the hand made rope that will be used to carry the coffin to the burial site.
     
  • The Huang's second eldest son, Huang Shou-Bin, kneels at his father's coffin to say goodbye one last time.
     
  • The Huang's second eldest son, Huang Shou-Bin, kneels at his father's coffin to say goodbye one last time.
     
  • After the family views the dead's body for the last time, they don white cloth and caps to symbolize that they are in mourning.
     
  • Huang Juntao, the eldest grandchild of the Huang family, wears a ceremonial headdress at his grandfather’s funeral.
     
  • The funeral procession is lead by the eldest son, Huang Fuan, to the mountainside burial site for his father, Huang Jingming.  Local volunteers bury the dead in the belief that their tribute conveys good luck. The mountainous topography is the region dictates that graves be dug on mountain slopes. They are then sealed with memorial stones.
     
  • The funeral procession walks up the hill to the burial site. The family wears ceremonial headdresses to show they are in mourning and wreaths for the dead are carried up the mountain and placed at the burial site.
     
  • Smoke hangs over YingPanXu on the day of Huang Jingming's funeral. Incense, firecrackers and paper offerings are customarily burnt throughout the wake and burial. The ceremonial burning begins inside the family home, moving outside to the yard and eventually to the burial site.
     
  • Local volunteers bury the dead in the belief that their tribute conveys good luck. The mountainous topography is the region dictates that graves be dug on mountain slopes. They are then sealed with memorial stones.
     
  • Firecrackers are common in funeral ceremonies. They can be heard all over the valley of YingPanXu. They are used to celebrate as well as mourn.
     
  • The Huang children stand in the light of the doorway. Their home is not typically lit by electric light so much of it remains dark when the doors are closed, even in the middle of the day.
     
  • The eldest Huang daughter, Huang Junyan, cries softly to herself in the corner. It is not easy to be a girl in rural China where many families still prefer boys. Women frequently receive bad treatment.
     
  • Zhu Huaxiang climbs up the mountains near here home to cut firewood for the family.
  • The Huang's second youngest daughter, Huang Qinqin, accompanies her mother Li Xiaowei, to the market where they sell the food they grow in mountainside fields. Despite the fact that the Huangs work very hard, they make very little money from farming.
     
  • Li XiaoWei is rushed to the hospital unexpectedly one early morning.
  • A nurse looks on as Li XiaoWei is treated with antibiotics after an emergency C-section.
  • Li Xiaowei, lays on an old hospital bed to be inspected after her emergency C-Section. She began having strong labor pains in the middle of the night and was rushed off to the county hospital four hours away by car. Her hospital bills cover both the C-Section delivery and the cost to save her baby daughter who almost died. The family could not cover much of the expense so the organization IFChina started a fundraiser to help them.
     
  • Li Xaowei's husband, Huang Shoubin, signs for his baby daughter's ex-ray scans.
     
  • Li XiaoWei talks with her mother who has come to help her while she is in the hospital.
  • Zhu Huaxiang sits in the family's front yard while her young grandson squirms in her lap.
  • Three of the Huang children, Huang Junyan, Huang Qinqin and Huang Meiling, play on their bed after school. The children are often unsupervised by the adults and their behavior sometimes gets out of hand.
     
  • After crying, Huang Junyan, falls asleep at a table.
  • Three of the Huang children, Huang Junyan, Huang Qinqin and Huang Meiling, play on their bed after school. Huang Junyan and her cousin, Huang Juntao frequently cares for their rambunctious younger cousins.
     
  • Huang Junyan studys in the local school. Her family commonly talks about how unintelligent Huang Junyan is and how she should work harder.
  • The Huang's young son, Huang Chaoshuai, plays with a yellow pillow that has become his version of a security blanket.
     
  • A young boy runs through the mountain village of YingPanXu.
  • The full moon shines brightly during the wake of Huang Jingming.