Photographers' Blog

Seven siblings in China

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.

Singing from the heart

Beijing, China

By Jason Lee

Every night from 7pm until around midnight, anyone in Beijing who craves a bit of music can go and enjoy an “open-air concert” in the southeast of the city.

Street musician Zhang Mingyuan sings during his daily performance at a square outside a shopping mall in Beijing

The singer, Zhang Mingyuan, isn’t part of a famous music label and his performances are just held on a street corner. But even so, the warm atmosphere that he creates in the chilly night air seldom disappoints.

Street musician Zhang Mingyuan relaxes his eyes during a break at his daily performance at a square outside a shopping mall in Beijing

Many of Zhang’s songs are about a happy family life, but his own childhood seems to have been far from content. Born in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province, Zhang said that his father had depression and his mother left him when Zhang was 11 years old. His father left later and Zhang said he was abandoned.

Uighurs of Shanghai

Shanghai, China
By Aly Song

The traditional home of China’s Muslim Uighur community is the far western state of Xinjiang, a region that has been plagued by violence in recent years.

The government blames a series of attacks on Islamist militants and Uighur separatists, who it says want to set up an independent state called East Turkestan. But human rights activists say that government policies – including restrictions on Islam – have stirred up the unrest, although the government strongly denies this.

Uighur men visit the Bund in Shanghai, April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Aly Song

Some members of the Uighur community have chosen to move elsewhere around the country and Shanghai, the city where I am currently based, had 5,254 Uighur residents as of 2010, according to a government website.

Heshan: a poisonous legacy

Heshan, China

By Jason Lee

Heshan, a village with a population of about 1,500 in China’s Hunan province, is sometimes given the grim label: “cancer village”.

Located some 1,200 kilometers (770 miles) from Beijing it stands in an area rich in realgar, or arsenic disulphide.

A villager washes clothes in a river with heavy arsenic concentrations through

Factories and mines sprang up to process this precious resource but they were shut down in 2011 because of the pollution they caused. It seems that even now, the consequences have not gone away: Heshan residents say that many have died from cancer caused by arsenic poisoning.

Life on a leash

Daohui village, China

By William Hong

Every morning, as soon as Xie Juntu wakes up, he ties his grandson to a pillar. His aim, however, is not to torture the boy but to keep him safe and save the family from bankruptcy.

When I met him in the remote Chinese village of Daohui, Juntu’s grandson Guobiao looked like any other normal 11-year-old. The only difference was the rope that prevented him moving more than a few steps away from the place where he had been tied.

Juntu explained the situation. He said that when his daughter-in-law gave birth to Guobiao, a landslide blocked vehicles from leaving the village. It was a difficult labour. Four neighbours managed to carry the mother on foot to the nearest town with a maternity hospital, but it was too late to save the baby from suffering brain damage from lack of oxygen during the long birth.

Living on e-waste

Dongxiaokou village, China

By Kim Kyung-Hoon

Dongxiaokou village lies just on the outskirts of Beijing, but a trip there does not really offer a pleasant escape from the city centre. For Dongxiaokou is no ordinary village: it is a hub for rubbish.

A waste recycle worker looks around a broken piano which he recently picked up from the street at the yard of his tenement house at Dongxiaokou village in Beijing May 14, 2014. This village is known as Beijing's biggest site for the disposal and recycling of electronic waste and it has been the home of E-waste collectors and recyclers for a decade.    REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (CHINA)

For years, the area has been home to people who make their living by collecting and recycling electrical and electronic waste – from abandoned air-conditioners to fridges and TV sets. Several hundred families work to gather this “e-waste” from people in wealthy, downtown Beijing.

No one knows the exact number of people involved because many are migrant workers who don’t have licenses for their recycling businesses or permanent residency permits through China’s “hukou” system. They live on the margins in more senses than one, and as summer approached I went to document their lives.

China’s sea burials

Shanghai, China

By Carlos Barria

Before Li Zhenxuan died at the age of 101, the former chief officer of a riverboat told his son he wanted to be buried at sea with his mother, who passed away in 1965, and his wife, who died in 1995.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

On a rainy Saturday this month, his son released three bags of ashes into the wind and sea from a boat near the mouth of the Yangtze River, and Li’s final wish was granted. Faced with a growing population, soaring property prices and increasingly scarce land resources, the Chinese government has been trying for years to convince more people to break with tradition and bury loved ones at sea, like Li. The practice has been slow to catch on. Many older Chinese oppose cremation and prefer to be buried beside ancestors, according to tradition, ideally on a verdant hillside with the proper ‘feng shui’.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Attitudes are changing as China’s urban population expands, but still the number of sea burials is a drop in the ocean. For Li, the decision was simple, said his son, who wished to remain anonymous. “He said: ‘I don’t want to leave you trouble’,” his son recalled. The family kept the ashes of his mother and wife in urns at home until he died. “He wanted to set an example, one that future generations would follow.”

Making it as a masseuse

Zhengzhou, China
By Jason Lee

I have to admit that I’m a massage addict. I’m hooked on the magical, relaxing effects that massage has, especially after a tiring day of shooting pictures that leaves many of my muscles sore.

My love for the art and my sense of curiosity brought me to the Chinese city of Zhengzhou to photograph the training center of a leading massage company – Huaxia Liangtse.

When I first saw the gloomy classrooms and humble dormitories they seemed a long way from Huaxia Liangtse’s luxurious massage stores in Beijing. But the basic conditions did not deter students.

The teachings of Mao

Sitong, China

By Carlos Barria

In a remote farming area of China’s central province of Henan, kids are roused from their warm beds at 5 a.m. as revolutionary songs play over the loudspeaker system. In the freezing morning they gather around a cement courtyard for their morning exercises.

Mr. Xia Zuhai, principal of the Democracy Elementary and Middle school — where the curriculum stresses the teachings of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong — blows his whistle and encourages the students while they run around in the darkness for 20 minutes.

Then, the children enter a cold classroom where a big portrait of Chairman Mao is seen on the wall, decked out with colorful balloons in preparation for the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth on Dec. 26.

Little gladiators: China’s cricket fighting

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-hoon

On a late summer day in Beijing while roaming through the narrow alleyways of an old pet market I heard the chirping of insects. It was such a refreshing sound on a stiflingly hot day. At one point, the chirping grew louder and louder, and my curiosity led me into one alley. There, I found countless little insects in bird cages and small jars on sale and waiting for their new owners.

According to a cricket expert, keeping crickets as singing pets is an old Chinese tradition which dates back more than 3,200 years. Unlike in some countries, where people treat crickets with disdain and repel them with bug spray, in China the chirping of crickets traditionally has been regarded as beautiful music. Even more interesting than the singing crickets in small cages was the men observing hundreds of small jars with very serious faces.

The creatures in these small jars were small brown crickets, and the men were looking for little gladiators to bring them the glory of victory in cricket fights. Cricket fight lovers claim that this sport has more than 1,000 years of history in China and that there are many Chinese who still enjoy this ancient tradition every year in August through October.