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.