The Left-Behind Children of Longnan

It is estimated that there are around 60 million left-behind children in China. According to the data from the Institute of Psychology at Chinese Academy of Sciences, 34% of these left-behind children have suicidal thoughts, 9% of them have attempted suicide, and 70% of them have some kind of psychological or mental problem. In March and April of 2015, freelance photographer Liu Feiyue went to Longnan, Gansu Province twice for his visual profile series on left-behind children. CDB has re-published the photos and translated their captions with the permission of the photographer. We divided the photos into three series. This series on left-behind children – called “Childhoods of the Left-behind children” (留守的童年) – was originally featured on Tencent News (link here). To view another series of Liu’s photos also re-published by CDB click here.



According to Liu, these left behind children are not so different from children elsewhere, but their “empty eyes” are special – Liu says that you can make eye contact with them without being able to tell what they were thinking from that eye contact. Spring is around the corner and living creatures in the mountains are becoming more lively. In the picture, an elderly is giving a piggy back ride to a child. Most people in the village have gone back to big cities for work after the Chinese New Year, leaving the elders and children behind in the village.


4-year-old Dandan is sick, so she is taking a day off from school. She hasn’t seen her parents for a whole year. When she misses them, she would look at their wedding photo on the wall.


Xiangxiang and Yuanyuan are twin brothers. They are in pre-school. Their parents went to Beijing for job opportunities long ago, and they have not returned yet. The brothers are taken care of by their 70-year-old grandma.


Both Xiangxiang and Yuanyuan have been sick. Their grandma feed them cold medicines during lunch time. They swallow 7 to 8 pills of different medicines each.


This is the village clinic near the school. The clinic is crammed by sick children daily. According to the doctor in the clinic, taking medicine doesn’t work as well as intravenous infusing. The psychological problems of left-behind children are increasing in eastern and western China. The most severe area is northwestern China. Girls need far more mental health care than boys.


A child plays in the wagon. His grandparents clean away cow manure.


At noon, Mingming cooks for himself. He eats fried potatoes almost everyday. Mingming is 12 years old and has lived independently for three years. His mother worked in an electronic bicycle factory in Tianjing and comes back only during the Spring Festival. The panda hat Mingming wears is a gift from his mother.


At dusk, Yanyan eats a bag of crispy rice, leaning on the firewood raft. Firewood is used around the year for cooking and heating. Every household has a big storage of it. Yanyan did not have lunch today and the bag of crispy rice is her dinner. Her grandmother takes care of her while her parents work away.


At eight in the evening, children use their cellphones in bed. Binbin takes out a bag of instant noodle seasoning as night snack. The children only gather with their parents once a year during the Spring Festival. These older children live independently without any custody.


As it become quieter in the night, Xiangxiang’s grandmother is phoning her daughter. The three children have gone into bed. They sleep early to save electricity from the lamp. The grandmother and three children live in this 5 to 6 square meter house.


After the rain, the 5-year-old Lele and her 4-year-old brother go to the school in a different village over the hill. They go over the hill four times daily.


After school, several students recites English words with each other. Their parents come back once every year from work.


In the classroom, an elderly woman accompanies her granddaughter to take preschool classes. 7 to 8 grandparents sit in the classroom with the children every day.


After school, several students recites English words with each other. Their parents come back once every year from work.


10-year-old Huihui is in grade 3. His father accompanies him when he is doing his homework.The Chinese characters on the wall (Dad I love you, Mom I love you) was written last year when Huihui missed his parents, whom he has not seen for over a year. His father wants to spend more time with Huihui before he goes to Xinjiang for work in two days. This, together with reading,and suitable amount of playing and homework, will help improve mental health of left behind children.


An old man and his grandson look into the distance at the end of the village. The parents of the child work in Xinjiang and return home once a year. The child lives with his grandfather. The mental state of the children who have their mothers around are better than those live with grandparents or only the father. Experts suggest that at least the mother stays with the children if not both parents.


Liu Feiyue is a freelance photographer.

Translated by Yuanhui Li

Reviewed by Wu Weiming

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