By Our Side: A Visual Profile of China’s Left-Behind Children

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Chinese web portal (网易) has a photo project series called “By Our Side” (身边) that focuses on “social phenomena”, aiming to document the stories of people that would normally remain untold. Recently, photographer Liu Feiyue’s series on left-behind children – called “Childhoods of the Left-behind children” (留守的童年) – was featured on the site (link here). With the permission of the photographer, CDB has republished the photos and translated their captions.

As of today, there are about 61 millions of left-behind children living in rural China. Two tragic incidents that took place earlier this year have once again brought public attention to the issue (see here for CDB’s special focus). It is estimated that 10 million of these children don’t get to see their parents even once a year while 2.6 million dont even get the chance to speak to their parents even once every year. Government and NGOs are working hard to provide material aid to left-behind children, but their mental and psychological health have long been ignored (information from a White Paper recently published by the NGO Road to School (上学路上) ((The White Paper is called “上学路上中国留守儿童心灵状况白皮书(2015年)” see here for related news story)).

In a rural village in Longnan, Gansu, 90% of the student body at a local elementary school are left-behind children according to the head of the school. On the right is Miaomiao who is 8 year old and a first grader. One the left is her 50 years old grandma who takes care of her brother, her sister and her. Miaomiao’s parents have gone to Tianjin to seek job opportunities and only came home back this winter for a short month. Miaomiao doesn’t like to talk much, but she is a good big sister to her little brother.


Minghao, a 12 year old third grader, lives with his 61 year old grandpa. Minghao also has a 6 year old little sister. 8 years ago his parents went to Beijing to work at a restaurant and this year they didn’t come back for the Chinese New Year holiday.


Qingyuan is a 6 year old pre-school student who lives with her 50 year old grandfather. Sometimes Qingyuan has trouble studying, so her grandpa would go to class with her and help her.


Shuangshuang, a 6 year old pre-school student, lives with his 49 year old grandma. Shuangshuang’s mom has gone to Beijing for work and comes back home every Chinese New Year.


6 year old Yuer lives with her 54 year old grandpa and 10 month old little brother. Her parents are out working in a restaurant in Beijing and come back once a year. At the pre-school in the village, most grandparents take their grandchildren to class and help them study.


Li Hong is 6 years old and lives with her 70 year old great grandma. Her parents and grandparents all migrated to faraway cities for job opportunities.


Zhuang Bin is 7 year old first grader and lives with his 56 year old grandma, 13 year old sister, and 14 year old brother. His father works in a freezer factory in Shandong province and his mother works as a nanny in Beijing.


Wenwen is a 13 year old 6th grader and her grandfather is 68 years old. Wenwen’s grandparents take care of Wenwen and her brother throughout the year. Her parents are constantly out in Shandong and Beijing for work. Right now, her mom is working as a nanny in Beijing making 4,000 yuan a month with no days off. Wenwen’s mum often sends Wenwen messages encouraging her to do well in school and also warning her to not hang out with the bad kids. Wenwen studies well and when she misses her mum she writes about her feelings in her diary.


On the right is Li Juan, an 8 year old second grader and by her side is her 55 year old grandma. Li Juan’s grandma has been taking care of her for 4 years. During these 4 years, Juan’s parents have been seeking job opportunities in places such as Hubei and Inner Mongolia. When they worked in Inner Mongolia, their boss died which meant that they only received half of the money they were promised.


Yunyun is a 6 year old pre-school student. Her grandma is 53 years old. Yunyun’s grandma usually accompanies her to school and helps her with school work. Yunyun’s parents only come back home during New Years and they plan to build their own house next year.
Jianbin and his 59 year old grandpa. Jianbin’s grandpa takes care of Jianbin and his 2 year old brother while Jianbin’s parents are out working in a plasterboard factory in Beijing. They only come back home once a year at Chinese New Years.


5 year old Meifen and her 4 year old little brother live with their 70 year old grandparents. Their parents are out for work in Beijing. They only come back to see the family once a year.


11 year old Kaijun is in third grade and his 17 year old sister goes to 6th grade. His sister expressed her desire to start working and making money and said that she wants to go to Beijing to work after this school semester ends. Kaijun’s parents have been out working since her sister was only 6 years old.


Xiuzhen’s 70 year old grandpa takes care of her and accompanies her to class at pre-school. Her parents started working in Henan couple of years ago and now they have gone to Hangzhou hoping to find better opportunities.


12 year old Zhou Qiang lives with his 52 year old grandma and 9 year old sister. Grandma has been taking care of the siblings since Qiang was still in pre-school. His parents have been working in Xinjiang for years.


12 year old Xiaoxue lives with her 76 year old grandpa. Xiaoxue’s grandpa has been taking care of Xiaoxue and her sister and brother for 4 years. Xiaoxue’s mother works in a restaurant in Beijing and comes back home once a year. Xiaoxue misses her mum very much and calls her once every two weeks or so. Her dream is to become a teacher. She is an excellent student in her class.


Xiaojuan is a 12 year old 4th grader. She lives with her 62 year old grandma, brother and sister. They rent an apartment next to the school that costs 2,000 yuan a year. 2,000 isn’t cheap for Xiaojuan’s family. Her parents only come back home once a year during Chinese New Year and then go back to work again.


In Brief

CDB has republished and translated Liu Feiyue’s photo series on left-behind children called “Childhoods of the Left-behind children” (留守的童年).
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