Jan 05, 2019 04:34 PM

#Photo Essay: 2018 Through the Lens of Caixin’s Photographers (Part 2)

Editor’s Note: Now that 2018 has come to an end, we’ve picked 28 of our favorite photos that we took this year from across the country. We’ve covered the plights of regular families in rural areas and the successes of celebrities. We’ve recorded laughter, loss, happiness, tedium, illness and death through the lens. The topics range from society, environment, health care, culture to education. We wanted to let you know the stories behind these pictures and what they have meant to us.


Lin Aizhen (left) and Chen Shufen embrace near the sea in Putian, in East China’s Fujian province, on June 9. Both were sold by their parents when they were little. Lin was loved by her adopted family, while Chen was purchased as a child bride and was forced to marry her adopted brother, who is mentally disabled. At least 10,000 young girls were sold as child laborers or brides to families in Putian, according to estimates by women’s rights groups in the province. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

The life of an adopted girl is like a river, with a hidden current flowing under the calm surface. The two women seen in the photo have become friends, bonding over their shared roots as girls discarded by their families. They are each other’s best listeners and they are emotionally connected. To show their connection, I recorded the hug near the sea, trying to reflect the shared destiny of this group of adopted girls.



Three female detainees at a Compulsory Isolated Drug Rehabilitation Center in Deyang, Sichuan province, on June 10 take a break from rehearsals for a performance to mark United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. In 2017, the number of known drug users in China rose by nearly 2% to 2.55 million, according to official figures. Photo: Cai Yingli/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

During the interview, I felt like I was falling into a whirlpool of collective tragedy. Failed relationships with their families or significant others were the most cited reasons for why these young women became addicted to drugs. Although all of the women’s eyes I saw were as clear as water, I knew that they risked relapse after re-entering the outside world because it is hard to cut off all contact with the past. While I was taking photos at a rehearsal of their show, three girls in the picture above said that they could rarely enjoy a view without a security fence. They were leaning against the rail, which reminded me of the scene of the prisoners tarring the roof under the blue sky in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” Although those girls have a long way to go in their fight against addiction, hope remains.



Ren Huajun tends his goats on a hillside in Zunyi, Guizhou province. A former migrant worker who spent many years away, Ren returned home to take care of his family and raise goats after his father’s death. His father Ren Yunkai, a miner, was arrested for what local police allege was insurance fraud. The elder Ren was diagnosed with stage-one black lung disease at the Guizhou Aerospace Hospital in 2015 and received part of his insurance payout. He died of cancer in May before the investigation had been completed. His and other similar cases attracted claims local police had colluded with companies to undermine workers’ rights. Photo: Ding Gang/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

The land beneath Ren Huajun’s feet is full of coal — black gold for the locals. The coal used to give people hope, but now brings them pain. After the wild growth of small coal mines as the industry grew at breakneck speed, coal mining is now in a slump. Young people have left their hometowns to make a living elsewhere, while middle-aged coal miners have come down with lung conditions. Ren Huajun used to be one of the young migrant workers, but had to go back home and take care of his entire family after his coal miner father died of cancer. However, even after his father’s death, questions remain about the “fraud” that he and six coal other miners allegedly perpetrated.



Burying the dead is a long-running tradition in much of rural China. On Aug. 3, deep in a mountain hiding place away from her village in Ji’an, Jiangxi province, Yang Ailian (a pseudonym) inspects a coffin she prepared for herself two decades ago. Yang’s husband, who did not want to be cremated, was buried in a similar coffin after he committed suicide to avoid a controversial new law forbidding burials, which is set to take effect in Jiangxi in 2020. Photo: Cai Yingli/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

This news broke in my home province of Jiangxi. I thought it would be easy to do interviews and take photos in a place so familiar to me, but it proved to be more difficult than I expected. I was initially stopped while looking for people to interview, and then told that the other interviewees that my colleague had contacted were under surveillance. Despite this, I still went to the village where the interviewee lives and got a lot of information during the one-hour interview. However, when the son of the interviewee proposed taking me to the tomb in the mountain, my colleague said that the reporter who had interviewed the family was in trouble, so I had to reject his invitation for safety reasons. With the desire to take more photos, I went to the interviewee’s home again in the early morning of the next day. I was stopped by the local officials on the way. The officials and several locals forced me to hand over my identification card. Then I called the police over the unreasonable demands. By the time everything had settled down and I could leave, it was almost evening.



A flooded area of Shouguang town in East China’s Shandong province, is seen from above on Aug. 25. In the photo, locals attempt to dry out their furniture and other household items by leaving them outside. In mid-August, unprecedented flooding triggered by incessant rain and a last-minute discharge of floodwaters from upstream reservoirs wreaked havoc in the city, which is known as a top vegetable and fruit producer. Photo: Chen Weixi/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

I had been reporting on floods for three years. This year, I arrived at the affected area of Shouguang very late — it was three days after the flood occurred. Although there were still a few ankle-deep puddles around, most of the water had evaporated under the scorching sun, and the locals had started to clean up. At that time, it became difficult for me to find photos to show the impact of the flood. As I was wondering how to solve this tricky problem, a local took me and my colleague into his yard. We found that he had moved all the soaked furniture outside to dry out. That aroused my curiosity. I wanted to take a look at other yards in the village. When I flew a drone 500 meters above the village, it became clear how villagers had rebuilt their hometown after the flood.



Zhang Huanzhi, whose son Nie Shubin was wrongly executed because of a miscarriage of justice, dries corn on a roof. Nie was executed in 1995 for the crime of raping and killing a woman in a cornfield near Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. A decade later, another man who had been arrested for a separate crime confessed to the murder. Zhang fought for years to exonerate her son. Photo: Chen Liang/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

Zhang Huanzhi’s husband died in August. One year ago, they moved into a new house, and she was the only one there, left behind by her family. According to local customs, she should bid her partner farewell at the end of alley on the day of the funeral. After the procession was ready, her daughter got into the first car. Seats had been reserved for her deceased son and daughter-in-law in the second car. Once the vehicles had left, she had started to return home. She had only gone a few steps when she felt a pain in her lower back and fell to the ground. Feeling the physical and the mental pain, she cried out from all she had experienced. After her son’s death, her husband tried to commit suicide. Although he failed, he became disabled and Zhang Huanzhi needed to take care of him. While fighting to exonerate her son, she sometimes criticized her husband for trying to commit suicide rather than striving to maintain hope. However, since her husband unexpectedly died of heart disease, she has felt unbearable loneliness.



Actors and performers fill the streets during a parade on Oct. 20 at the Film and Television Festival in Hengdian, Zhejiang province. Participants travel from around China to the world’s largest film and television shooting base, Hengdian World Studios, to chase their dreams of stardom. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

Praise the town of Hengdian, where everyone can dream a dream. On the busiest street of Wansheng, people in costume can be found everywhere. Don’t be surprised, this is normal in this place. Among all the dreamers in Hengdian, there were people who planned to travel the world, female extras with heartbreaking stories, an 18-year-old rapper who had run away from home, and college students who have changed jobs countless times and finally found the meaning of life. If you really want to dig into their stories, you’d better blur the boundary between the ordinary person and the madman.



A fire at a lubricant warehouse in Tianjin’s Binhai New Area lights up the sky on Oct. 29. No deaths were reported. Photo: Cai Yingli/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

I happened to be in Tianjin when the explosion occurred. I rushed to the site after seeing the news. It was almost the early morning by the time I arrived, and several explosions occurred. I had never reported on an emergency before. I hurriedly took a few photos and tried aerial photography. Since I was not good at flying the drone, it failed to take off and I had to return to the nearby hotel to solve the problem. By the time I fixed it, it was almost 3 a.m. and the fire had been extinguished and the light was too dim. I waited until sunrise and found the location of the explosion. However, when I finally set up the camera, nothing showed on the screen because of the strong wind. Later, security kicked me out.

I ran into many obstacles on this assignment, leaving me with poor results.



The Red Falcon Air Demonstration Team, an aerobatic flying team that is part of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, flies the domestically designed Karakorum-8 jet trainer aircraft at the Zhuhai Airshow in Guangdong province on Nov. 6. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

This was my first time shooting the Zhuhai Airshow. I asked around and found out that the best place to shoot was on the roof of a nearby building. However, the police had blocked the entrance. Some villagers started to earn money by guiding photographers to the other entrance — for a price of 100 yuan ($14.5) per person. Of course, I refused the rip-off. I found a boat beside the roadblocks where other photographers were waiting. I took a photo of the boat, the photographers and the show. An hour after the show started, the villagers who wanted to “rob” us had cut their price to 30 yuan a head.



Two women tend a farm in Quanzhou’s Kecuo village in Fujian province on Nov. 13. Behind them, a power station belches smoke into the air. Six days before, toxic C9 aromatic hydrocarbons leaked into the sea, putting more than 50 people from the neighboring town of Xiaocuo in the hospital. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

After my colleague was investigated by police while covering the Fujian chemical spill, I left the town of Xiaocuo, and started doing research on neighboring villages. I found that similar things had happened in nearby villages. People altered the coastline to reclaim more land, and chemical plants drove locals out for more space.



An elderly patient grasps for the rail of her bed in Songtang Care Hospital, one of China’s first end-of-life centers, in Beijing’s Chaoyang district on Nov. 24. Although the number of people in China over the age of 60 exceeded 240 million in 2017, accounting for about 17% of the population — there are only a few dedicated hospices in the country equipped to provide end-of-life care. Photo: Cai Yingli/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

I wanted to find some shots related to time and life. A few days after the interview, I strolled inside the hospital and saw an elderly patient in a red sweater trying to grasp the rails of her bed. I raised my camera and captured the moment in continuous shooting. I knew that it would be the most important shot of this story.



A burnt-out truck sits outside Hebei Shenghua Chemical Co. Ltd. after an explosion left 23 people dead and 22 injured in Zhangjiakou in North China’s Hebei province. The explosion was caused by a vinyl chloride leak at a plant run by a subsidiary of China National Chemical Corp., the state-owned chemical manufacturer. Photo: Ding Gang/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

The day after the Zhangjiakou explosion, my colleague and I snuck into the site of the accident. I scoured the place for things to shoot and ended up taking the above photo from a roadside window. Standing in the room, which had been swallowed in the blaze a day earlier, I saw glass scattered everywhere, a bed burned down to its iron wheels and the remains of a truck on the road. A burnt stench lingered in the room. Across the road was China National Chemical Corp., where the accident happened. I started to picture the scene of the fire. Flames had engulfed 23 trunk drivers who had been sleeping.



Cleanup crews in protective suits disinfect a suburban pig farm in Beijing’s Tongzhou district on Dec. 4 after an outbreak of African swine fever. Since the disease — which is deadly for pigs but does not affect humans — first appeared in Northeast China’s Liaoning province, around 600,000 pigs have been culled around the country. China is the world’s largest pork producer and consumer. Photo: Ding Gang/Caixin

Photographer’s comment:

My colleague and I rushed to the pig farm in Beijing as soon as we heard about the outbreak of African swine fever. At a crossroads, our car was stopped by a worker in a productive suit. When I got off, the smell of dead animals surrounded me. I knew this was the place I wanted to go to. Because it was getting late, we didn’t have much time to take pictures. We had planned to enter the farm through the front gate, but unsurprisingly, we were stopped and told that we couldn’t take photos. We went around to the other side of the farm, but the same thing happened. In the end, I hid the camera under my coat, waited near the front gate and snapped photos of the workers in the white protective suits.

Translated by Gao Baiyu ( and Tang Ziyi (

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