Everyday China 2008 不起眼的生活

Everyday China 2008 – Images by xiaomei chen


I’ve started putting pictures with as many keywords as possible to my photoshelter web account, hoping someone would find one or two or more of them usable – thus sellable.

The other day, I dug out some snapshots of China I took in 2008. 2008 was a difficult year I am not eager to look back to. Yet these nearly forgotten images surprised me by presenting a general yet real and specific picture of the Chinese NOBODYs’ lives.

They are the lives that I feel connected to. They remind me of my favorite books by Sheng Congwen, who wrote a lot about his hometown, a quiet but lively small town. Sheng’s observations and representations of the everyday life there were picturesque, vivid, poetic and imaginative yet warm and real. He had no prejudice toward any one. A prostitute is portrayed as a warm human being with normal emotions. His writing is no voyeuristic. Sheng was the most sincere, humane, sensitive, realistic and poetic writer I’ve known. He was one of the few literature masters in the world.

Sheng called himself a peasant. Earlier, I took that as his modesty. Now looking at those not very skilful images, I realize it was not modesty, but pride that he considered himself a peasant.

At a small open market in a town in Guangxi Province, southwest China, I see Sheng-style depictions. Men and women, young and old, sellers and buyers, holding their charcoal heaters, bargain for their best prices, smiles on their faces. In the middle of the facility is a food plaza. Steam rising from the pots makes the dirty and noisy place attractive. It makes you hungry. The food is cheap and delicious. I sat down and enjoyed my lunch with hundreds of peasants. Now I think that may be what makes me different from an elite or a pseudo-elite. I am one of these nobodys and I take pride in it instead of shame.

In my hometown, a city called Heyuan(河源), which literally means the source of the river, and which is the set for one of the most famous classic story: Jing Hua Yuan (《镜花缘》), the market is as loud, lively and dirty. Crowds squeeze through the limited space, looking for what they need. The buyer pretends what he wants to buy is not good enough and asks for a lower price. The seller complains he is losing money. They bargain back and forth. In the end, the seller sells and the buyer buy, both happily, but pretending that it was a bad bargain.

At a corner of the market, a housewife buys a live chicken and has the seller kill it. Some feel this is inhumane, but this is how customoers know the meat they buy is fresh. And most of us eat chicken, wherever you buy it and whether you see the chicken being killed or not.

Then at my parents’ house, my father is making sausages. They are the best organic sausages you can ever have. I miss the moments when I sat at our yard, chatting with my father, who carefully and slowly filled the meat into the intestines. His movement had a tint of Zen.

Back to Guangxi, in a mountain village near Guilin, I met a peasant who was cutting grapefruit trees with his son. The peasant said there was little market for his grapefruit partly due to Ameica’s economic recession. Isn’t it amazing that a peasant could connect his grapefruit business to America’s economy?

There are a lot of small but warm stories about the people I met in China in 2008. They make me want to give up everything and move back to China and start documenting NOBODY’s lives being lived. No spot news. Not big events. Just lives being lived, quietly and lively. Maybe I can use my 4×5 view camera. I will take my time, compose carefully and slowly, as if it were a Zen practice.

Maybe it is time to go home, but…How can I make a living?














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