2016 - 2021

Since late 2019, a pandemics has taken the world by storm, forced billions of people into lockdown and is profoundly reshaping our lives. For many, this is a novel experience, but for those who have survived leprosy outbreaks of the last decade, this may feel like a déjà-vu.

According to the official tally issued by the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China in 1956, over 500 thousands persons suffered from leprosy in the country. Leprosy was historically considered to be a highly contagious disease, and the PRC government took large-scale segregation measures to contain its spread, sending hundreds of thousands of patients to be isolated on far-flung mountains and islands. Hundreds of leprosy settlements, called “lepers’ villages”, were thus formed across the country. During the decades-long isolation, these villages lagged behind the national average by a wide margin in economy development, education level and public health infrastructure, while their inhabitants bore the stigma associated with the disease and suffered from injustice. When the segregation was finally lifted in late 1980s, many of them had died, whereas few among the living found opportunities to leave the settlements. To make things worse, the Marriage Law introduced in 1950 denied lepers the rights to marry

For his ongoing project “Curse of the Wind. A History of Leprosy in China”, TIAN Jin has visited and photographed 51 “lepers’ villages” across nine provinces since 2016. Photography aside, he also carried out extensive documentation and collected hundreds of personal and institutional documents, including personal dossiers, medical records, official directives, diaries and letters alike. Centered around personal trajectories, this project aims to show how disease and segregation affected personal destinies. In this era of China Dream with its rapid economic growth and unrelenting progress, these are the souls left out and forgotten in the country’s unsuspected corners.

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  • A leprosy-village-born boy with the house he use to live in.It was not easy to live in this impoverished village. This boy used to go out to work, but there was no way to adapt to life outside, so he finally returned.When it rained, he took me to see the house where he used to live, located on a hillside not far away. When the rain stopped when we stepped into the house, the sun came out.

  • A former leprosy patient in an abandoned leprosy hospital.This hospital was originally founded by British missionaries.It was taken back by the Chinese government in 1949 and transformed into a quarantine office specializing in the treatment of leprosy patients. Nowadays it is transformed back into a church since it was no longer used as a hospital.

  • A former leprosy patient is in his house.Like many leprosy patients, he was disfigured by the disease.
    Since then he never went out to the outside world.

  • A pair of mother and son in Leprosy Village

  • A former leprosy patient was in the hospital where he used to live, this hospital is located on an isolated island and was converted from a landlord ’s house.

  • An old lady was wandering in her yard. Although the isolation measures have been cancelled, many people still have no choice to leave. People set up villages not far from the abandoned leprosy hospital.
    This cactus fence was planted by her and her late husband when they built the village. Now she suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

  • This is a boy born in the leprosy village, but there are very few children born in the village, so it is difficult for him to find a playmate

  • An old woman and her beloved dog A deaf-mute woman was abandoned in relying on each other

  • Two men who were playing instrument. They met in the hospital when they had leprosy before. Later they often played music together.

  • The veil and beekeeper are two symbols of leprosy,
    They can keep them away from the crowd and help them live alone.

  • In these isolated leprosy villages, gambling is one of the few entertainment activities. The villagers told me that some gangs used to come to the village to open underground casinos because the police never came here.

  • This man was born in the second generation of Leprosy Village, since people in the society discriminated against leprosy patients and their families, he chose marry a girl from another Leprosy Village.

  • In the past when isolation measures were strict, leprosy patients could not get married. Therefore, many leprosy villages have no young people. It was told that in the past, these old people would prepare a bottle of poison by the bed, if they lost their ability to take care of themselves, they would choose to drink it.

  • The 70th anniversary of the National Day military parade broadcast on TV.

  • This strong woman likes to laugh, she came from a local tribe. When she chose to marry someone who had leprosy, her family cut off contact with her.
    "My husband, my son and this old mule who followed me out are now my only family "
    She smiled and told me.

  • A leprosy patient and his incomplete body.

  • They were hospitalized together decades ago. His friend left and he chose to stay. This was the last letter sent by his friend.
    “ Recalling that before, Leprosy Village was my kingdom, my paradise, but I chose to betray it, I wonder if the people in the village will forgive me and let me go back again? ”
    At the end of the letter, his friend wrote to met him on the second day of New Year, but he never saw him again.

  • Reply on the issue of four cases of discharge from Shan Shiping
    (61) Medical bytes012
    Shan Shiping Leprosy:
    Leprosy Byte No. 013 in your hospital on the report of four patients who asked for approval after treatment, after we consulted the leaders and relevant departments to study the results. We thought that Yang Baoyou, Li Wenlin, Shi Xiaoer, Yang Kouxian, four patients had undergone long-term medication.....Our opinion is given to discharge from the hospital.....
    December 13, 1961 Eryuan County Bureau of Culture, Education and Health

    After a period of treatment, Comrade Yang Baoyou has basically been cured and can be discharged. However, there is currently no leadership in the hospital. Before the cadres are fully assigned, the opinions of the Personnel Department is that he will remain in the hospital for leadership work until futher steps.
    January 9, 1962 Civil Affairs Section of Eryuan County People's Committee

  • The former-leprosy-patient doctor, his marriage certificate and a photo of his ex-wife. He contracted leprosy while practicing medicine and was forced to be quarantined, and his newly married wife immediately abandoned him.
    Since then he has been in trouble, and never been to the outside world.

  • Leprosy's personal medical records and portraits (photos taken recently in 2016-2019, and the records exist in year 1982&1983)