Empty Chairs Symbolise Pain of Rural China

Ministry of Tofu has posted a set of photos by Xinhua’s Liu Jie, which poignantly reflect the separation of millions of families by mass labour migration and tight residence restrictions.

Due to the massive urbanization process, the traditional pattern of agrarian life in which men farm and women engage in the weaving and spinning has been tweaked in many rural regions in China. However, restrictions and discriminatory policies on family register (hukou) system, housing, education and other social security have rendered it very difficult for an entire family to relocate from the country and gain a foothold in the city. In an effort to bootstrap themselves out of poverty, many peasants have to embark on an arduous adventure alone in the cities and leave their families behind in the villages.

… According to a study by China Agriculture University, currently 87 million people are left behind in rural areas, which include 20 million children, 20 million senior citizens and 47 million wives of migrant workers ….

The Mid-Autumn Day, a traditional Chinese festival to celebrate harvest and family reunion under the full moon on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, falls on September 12 this year. During the ten days leading up to the festival, Liu Jie, a photographer with Xinhua News Agency, trudged from the north of Shaanxi province to its south, and took dozens of family photos of rural residents, where the backbones of the families are missing, and empty chairs sit in their places.

The image of an empty chair became politically loaded following last year’s Nobel Prize ceremony, in which a seat was left unoccupied to mark the absence of imprisoned prizewinner Liu Xiaobo. The Southern Metropolis Daily raised eyebrows soon afterwards with an enigmatic cover image showing three empty chairs and five cranes.


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