Wild Grass --- China's Orphans


2015 - 2019


I was born during the 1980s, when the one-child policy was the strictest in China. The high cost of living has led to the abandonment of disabled infants in favor of healthy ones, it was common to hear the screams of newborns, especially in rural areas. When I was a child, my father once took me to the hospital because of a high fever. I remember the strong smell of the disinfectant in the corridors, and I saw next to me a dead infant on a chair wrapped in tattered clothes. Many flies flew over her dark purplish face. She haunted my nights for years.

During my trip to China in the summer of 2015, I met many "left behind children" . Their vitality which is like the wild grass touched me a lot. Yet it seemed that the rest of the world had chosen to ignore their existence. As a documentary photographer, I didn't see how I could be of help. However, one day I came across a newspaper reporting a fire at an orphanage specializing in the care of disabled children in 2013, in Henan. Seven children lost their lives that day. This tragedy was the starting point for my project « Wild Grass- China's Orphans ».

The orphan protection system unfortunately could not receive all requests sent as the division of territorial administrations hinders the flow of information. As a result, child protection institutions, established by the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People's Republic of China, struggle to support every orphaned child, while the situation is especially dire in the cantons and towns. Volunteers have opened so-called "popular" orphanages to increase access to care, however, they lack the necessary skills to be officially recognized, and thus suffer from a lack of subsidies, equipment and staff.

I found that the majority of these children had different forms of physical and/or mental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and schizophrenia. Families unable to cover the cost of medical expenses see orphanages as the only way out.

Because of the ambiguous statutory situation in these orphanages and also due to their geographical locations which are mostly hidden in rural area, children do not have the opportunities to get included into the mainstream. Without any education or mainstream moral upbringing, these children instinctively form a set of rules similar to the law of the strongest. As they grow, their hormones lead them to experiment with intimate contact through play in which they establish physical relationships determined by force. Some of them developed close bonds confused between "best friends" and "sexual partners".

During the project Wild Grass, I’ve been luckily able to gain their trust and get into their micro-society by learning the rules and codes that the children had established. I give them my camera to play with by which the approach has allowed me, through their own shots, to understand better their vision of the world.

It is common for us to perceive their situation as "painful", to assess their future as "uncertain" or to consider their life "difficult". These terms, which reflect suffering and tragedy, are, in essence, labels constructed by our conception of human rights and other mainstream moral values, built within our modern societies. These children are not able to understand our feelings towards them because they have no basis for comparison. As we learn to perceive the world through a "normalized" rationality, could we truly understand what we are at the origin?

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  • A boy wearing a plastic bag, 12 years old. No disability.

    Yilin Orphanage, Xuchang City, Henan Province

    Yilin Orphanage is a non-government agency that specializes in receiving “factual orphans”. The children here came here because of family changes. Their parents left them for various reasons such as taking drugs or going to their homes in debt, and they often suffered from family violence in their native families. Although their bodies are not crippled, no one knows the pain in their hearts.

  • A boy and a scar on his heart,9 years old. Congenital heart disease

    Bo'aiyuan Children's Rehabilitation Center, Xuchang City, Henan Province

    A boy who recovered after surgery. Many poor families abandon their children because they cannot afford the high cost of surgery. The boy was lucky and he was adopted by another family.

  • A boy driving a tractor, about 16 old, mildly retarded

    Nameless orphanage, Daming County, Hebei Province

    This orphanage is located in an unmanned abandoned mine. They have just moved here. Three adults are leading a group of disabled children to build a house where they will live

  • A girl adopted by a leprosy, 7 yeas old, No disability.

    Nuo'er Leprosy Village, Yunnan Province

    A girl swimming in the river next to the village of Leprosy, she was abandoned by her parents because of her poverty. Then she was adopted by an elderly leprosy (Have been cured) and lives here.

  • Twin brothers, 11 years old. Hereditary spastic lower body paralysis.

    Aizhijia Orphanage in the village of Jingang, Nanyang city, Henan province

    On the winter night last year, the brothers were abandoned at the door of the church. The nuns heard the cry and took them back.
    Sometimes their parents later sneak back to visit their children and pretend to be unfamiliar. They still love them, but they cannot afford the price of love.

  • A boy about, 18 years old, cerebral palsy.

    Duanmin orphanage, Yuncheng city, Shanxi province

    At nightfall, sisters tie him to the bed so that he won’t wander about.

  • Under the blooming pear tree, a blind boy, 14 years old, visual impairment

    Special Vocational School for the Blind, Nanyang city, Henan province

    There are few public special education institutions for the disabled in China. Many families do not send their children to such private schools. This is a non-profit school for the blind.

  • A smoke boy wandering in the street

    Dadukou market, Chongqing City

    One day, I met a stray boy at the market. He picked up things on the ground to survive,
    He also learns like an adult, picking up cigarette butts on the ground

  • A girl wearing a hearing aid, About 7 years old, Hearing impaired

    Bo'aiyuan Children's Rehabilitation Center, Xuchang City, Henan Province

    Bo'aiyuan Children's Rehabilitation Center is a non-profit private institution.
    The low cost makes many poor families come here with children with disabilities
    However, some extremely poor families have abandoned their children after finding that there is no hope of recovering

  • A little angel lying on the ground, About 6 years old, Mental retardation

    Aizhijia Orphanage in the village of Jingang, Nanyang city, Henan province

    She lay on the floor and coquettishly, asking me to hold her up.
    When this little angel saw me for the first time, she shyly took out a handful of crushed cookies from her pocket and invited me to eat

  • A girl with mental retardation and her most beloved deer, 14 years old. mild cerebral palsy.

    Orphanage of the Diocese of Yongnian, Handan city, Hebei Province

    20 years ago, an old man picked up an orphan boy on the street and founded the Orphanage of the diocese of Yongnian. Years later, the boy has grown into a man whereas the old man has passed away. A friend of his now manages the orphanage.

  • A girl who has long been locked in the basement, 20 years old, schizophrenia.

    Orphanage of the Diocese of Yongnian, Handan city, Hebei province

    A ghost-like being, she’s locked away in a corner room, door tightly shut with a large wooden stick. So she covered the walls and herself with shit.

  • A boy is cutting hair, 12 years old. No disability.

    Suiyuan Buddhist Orphanage, Ying County, Shanxi Province

    The Boy doesn't like cutting hair, a nun forced him on the table

  • An extremely poor family and their upcoming children

    Liangwa Village, Henan Province

    I visited many families who wanted to abandon their children for find the source of these abandoned babies.
    Many years ago, this disabled man picked up this stray woman as his wife, this woman has Down syndrome and severe mental retardation.
    Now that she is pregnant, the man is glad to be a father.
    "But If the child is born with a disability, I have no choice but to abandon him"
    As he said

  • A man who spent a lifetime in an orphanage, about 32 years old, Severe cerebral palsy

    Orphanage of the Diocese of Yongnian, Handan city, Hebei province

    This man is the veteran of the orphanage, and he has lived here for almost 30 years. Like many children in orphanages, he has never had a chance to go out from here, because the outside world has no place for them

  • Boys are playing

    Aizhijia Orphanage in the village of Jingang, Nanyang city, Henan province

    The bedroom door will be locked at night, but the boys will not go to sleep obediently as the nuns hop

  • A boy who is climbing a window and sneaking to swim, 12 years old. Hearing impairment.

    Aizhijia Orphanage in the village of Jingang, Nanyang city, Henan province

    The children of this orphanage live in an abandoned church with an abandoned pool on the roof of the church. In summer, the boys often sneak away to swim

  • Two boys playing hide and seek

    Aizhijia Orphanage in the village of Jingang, Nanyang city, Henan province

    As the project progressed, I found some serious and deliberately ignored issues.
    As children get older, physical growth leads them to sexual maturation. They then experimente intimate contact through games, often violent, in which a relationship of domination is established. Some children of the same sex gradually developed a close bond.
    Maybe the problem of violence among children can be noticed, but the sexual problems of children are deliberately ignored by most managers

  • A boy hiding in cement pipe

    Aizhijia Orphanage in the village of Jingang, Nanyang city, Henan province

    Back in the most difficult days, sisters would use up their own savings for the orphans. And then they started to accept donations. Without them even asking, people brought clothes and bedding, which now fill up an entire room. But a bigger problem is on the horizon: who will take care of those kids when those elderly sisters are gone?

  • A boy fell asleep peacefully, like in his mother's womb

    Aizhijia Orphanage in the village of Jingang, Nanyang city, Henan province

    On New Year's Day, I took seven boys to the public bathhouse in the nearby village.
    They have not taken a shower since the fall.