Liu Feiyue’s Village of Left Behind Children

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After four children tragically committed suicide in Bijie, Guizhou, the subject of “left-behind” children has become a hot social issue in China. Photographer Liu Feiyue travelled to one village in Longnan, Gansu to document the lives of the children whose parents had left to find work in urban areas. CDB has re-published the photos and translated their captions with the permission of the photographer. The original photos and captions can be found here. To view another series of Liu’s photos published by CDB click here.


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In a small and quiet village in Longnan, Gansu, a girl is playing with her brother on the village road. At most times, adults in the village are out for work and only children and elderly residents remain.
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Standing beside a wall that promotes China’s one-child policy, two old people are looking after their grandchildren. The kids’ parents have gone to work in the neighbouring province of Xinjiang. They only return to unite with them once a year.
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Tiantian, 5 years old, standing alone in her courtyard. Her parents migrated to Beijing to look for work. They only come back at Chinese New Year. Days ago, her mother called and Tiantian refused to speak to her because she was angry that her mum was always away.
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Students ready to pack up schoolbags and go home. There are two schools in the village, with a total of around 500 students. Over 90% of the students’ parents have left the village to search for work.
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Two children play by the river of the village. A boy has tied another with grass rope. Boys live with their elders, who often do not have the capability to discipline them. According to locals, this is a grade 6 boy who often fights with his family and his grandmother has no idea how to deal with him.
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Lingling, 4 years old, has not yet started school. Her parents work away in a city and return once a year. She lives with her 60 years old grandmother and brother who is in grade 4. Lingling is crying because she fell over while playing.
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A 70 year old grandfather is resolving a family issue. 3-year-old grandson is playing with a broken tricycle, while the 1-year-old granddaughter is trying to take it. The grandson is crying and will not let go while his grandfather is comforting him. Their 5-year-old sister is playing with a balloon standing on a chair and ignoring the conflict in front of her.
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A grandfather holding a toy in his hand. He takes care of his grandchildren because their parents went to Xinjiang to work in a cotton plantation. They only come back once a year at Chinese New Year.
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An elderly man over takes his 5-year-old granddaughter home. Her name is Lili and her parents work in Beijing. She and her 3-year-old brother are taken care of by their grandparents.
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Leilei, 3 years old, is having dinner on the windowsill. He is Lili’s brother. Their grandfather takes Lili to preschool while Leilei is taken care of by their grandmother. According to a white paper on the mental health of left-behind children, most of left-behind children are resentful towards their parents.
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Lili is playing on her traditional kang bed after eating dinner. Her grandfather chops the buns and cooks them, that is their dinner for the day. He cooked with firewood he chopped on the mountain by himself. Above the bed there are old propaganda posters.
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Since the school is too far away from their home, Lili’s grandfather stays in the school for the whole day before taking her home.
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13 years old Caicai attends Grade 1 in elementary school. She always cooks under the watchful eyes of her grandfather, who is over 60 years old. Her sister is over 20 and works in Beijing. When Caicai was 3, her parents had already gone to work in Xinjiang. The family only unites at New Year.
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Tingting is sitting with her grandfather, 70 years old, who takes care of her. Her mother married another man years ago and her father has died. They have decided to go to stay with relatives in Beijing and start a new life.
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At night, several kids are playing with their mobile phones on a bed. Parents of Junjun (on the right) went to work in Beijing. His mother did not return even on New Years day. His grandparents take care of him and his 3-year-old sister. The two boys under the blanket are brothers. They cook and take care of themselves everyday. Their parents work in Xinjiang.
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At the local clinic, a child is undergoing treatment. The doctor says kids here have to do an infusion when they catch a cold. His parents are away for work so cannot stay besides him.
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Huihui, 9 years old, has written “Mum I love you, Dad I love you.” on a wall covered with newspaper. His parents went to plant cotton in Xinjiang. Also on the wall are his sister’s paintings.
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A grade 5 student having dinner alone after school. He has ordered a bowl of chopped buns. While waiting for the food, he stares outside of the window in silence. Like most other parents in the village, his went to urban areas for work and only return at Chinese New Year.
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As night falls, an elementary student stands in the courtyard of a bunkhouse in the village. In total six elementary students live their – all of their parents are out working in urban areas.



In Brief

Photographer Liu Feiyue travels to one village in Gansu to document the lives of the “left-behind” children who live there.
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