The Everyday Life of Young People in North-eastern China

Ronghui Chen portrays the sense of uncertainty felt by the younger generations living in China’s northern territories as once prosperous industries disappear and opportunities for work greatly decline.


We’re used to thinking of Chinese cities in the context of growth, but the country’s northeastern territories are an exception. Bordering Russia and North Korea, the region, with ample natural resources, was the first to develop heavy industries in the 1960's and prospered for decades. There were 15 million immigrants to northeastern China during the Mao era, but since the 2000's, it has become China's most recessionary land as resources dwindle and other regions have 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. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently started a campaign called the “Chinese Dream”, but what does this mean for 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 the social video app “Kuai shou” to look 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 are sparsely documented by Chinese media or through other mediums. Few people know about their stories: colourful, yet full of loneliness. I also photographed the derelict landscape – places that were once lively but now forgotten. Throughout this process, the emotion expressed by these young people – a mixed sense of hesitation, loneliness, and hope – has brought me resonance.

Words and Pictures by Ronghui Chen.







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Ronghui Chen is a Chinese photographer and storyteller based in Shanghai whose work explores the relationship between China’s urbanisation and individual experiences. Find him on PHmuseum and Instagram.

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This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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