We’re used to thinking of Chinese cities in the context of growth, but the country’s northeast region is an exception. Bordering Russia and North Korea, the region, with ample natural resources, was the first to develop heavy industries in the 1960s and prospered for decades. There were 15 million immigrants to northeastern China in the Mao’s era.
But since the 2000s, the northeast has become China’s most recessionary land as resources dwindled and other regions caught up. Dying industries and shortages of opportunities have been forcing people out of their home and to other parts of China in pursuit of work.
My project, Freezing Land, aims to explore descendants of immigrants living in the northeast. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping started a campaign called the “Chinese Dream”. But what does this mean to the the once prosperous land? What’s the story of today’s northeastern China?
It is difficult to encounter subjects on the street in an environment of minus 30 degrees centigrade. Therefore, I used social video app “Kuai shou” looking for young people who were willing to share their stories. The young people I met were experiencing a sense of uncertainty. They were facing a choice to leave for challenges in bigger cities, or stay behind and embrace their fate. Their voices were sparsely documented by Chinese media or through other mediums. Few people knew about their stories, colorful, yet full of loneliness.
I also photographed the derelict landscape – places that are once lively but now forgotten. During this process, the emotion expressed by these young people – a mixed sense of hesitation, loneliness, and hope – has brought me resonance.
Ronghui Chen (b.1989) is a Chinese photographer and storyteller based in Shanghai, whose work focus on China’s urbanization in long term projects. He has devoted himself to the study the relationship between China’s urbanization and individual’s experiences. Known for his specific interest in these social issues, he had published his first collection of photographs named Chen Ronghui, which is one of the book among China’s Contemporary Photography Catalog. His projects have brought him many awards, including World Press Photo prize, Three Shadows Photography Award & AlPA special prize and Hou Dengke Documentary Photography Award. Outside of his own professional practice, Chen also acts as the head of the visual department in Sixth Tone, which is a Shanghai local English-language digital publication.