Photographers' Blog

Seven siblings in China

By William Hong
August 28, 2014

Jinhua, China

By William Hong

Even after I set out to visit his family, the story of Yang Hongnian and his seven children sounded unbelievable to me. As I stood in front of his makeshift house, which is just 20 meters square, I still wasn’t sure it could be true.

Yang Hongnian and Le Huimin's children drink outside their house in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, August 7, 2014. Migrant worker Yang, 47, his wife Le, and their seven children share a 20-square-metre makeshift  house on the outskirts of Jinhua, and live on around 3000-4000 yuan ($486.8-$649) which Yang earns from working at a construction site. Except for one daughter Le had with her ex-husband, the couple have given birth to six children in 10 years. REUTERS/William Hong (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

The children played around as I waited for Yang to finish work so that he could be interviewed. Eventually, he walked into the dimly lit space with a tired face and a lighted cigarette. The children rushed and surrounded him. Suddenly the already cramped house was completely full.

Yang Hongnian, 47, smokes after lunch at home in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, August 7, 2014. REUTERS/William Hong

Yang and his wife Le Huimin have had six children together over the past ten years, in addition to a daughter of Le’s from a previous marriage.

China has eased its famous one-child policy, making it easier for many couples to have two children. However, having as many children as Yang and Le definitely breaks the country’s family planning policy.

Shiyu, 1, the youngest child of a seven-children family, looks up as she rests on a bed at home with her brothers and sisters, in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, August 7, 2014. Migrant worker Yang Hongnian, 47, his wife Le Huimin, and their seven children share a 20-square-metre makeshift  house on the outskirts of Jinhua, and live on around 3000-4000 yuan ($486.8-$649) which Yang earns from working at a construction site. Except for one daughter Le had with her ex-husband, the couple have given birth to six children in 10 years. REUTERS/William Hong

That means that four of their kids have not been able to get ‘hukou’ residence permits. Without these documents it’s hard for children to be registered for a primary school and there may be more problems for them as they grow up.

Yang is 47 years old but he looks older. He does basic cement and carpentry jobs in the construction industry, but the work is both badly paid and unstable. Some days, he can’t find any sites at all that need his labor.

On average, he earns about 3,000 – 4,000 yuan ($487 – $650) a month. And that’s all the money the family can count on since Le has to stay at home to take care of the kids.

Yang Hongnian and Le Huimin pose for a picture with their seven children at home in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, August 7, 2014. William Hong/REUTERS

Yang told me there were people who had come to him and offered to adopt their children. Some even promised to provide several thousand yuan as compensation but he and his wife declined.

“We have given birth to them, so we are obligated to raise them, even if it means begging on the streets,” he said.

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