Photos: Hometown of overseas Chinese in desolation
In the past few decades, about 200,000 people from Changle, Fujian province joined the gold rush to the other side of the Pacific Ocean with nothing but a daring spirit and permanently changed the map of the Chinese diaspora in the United States. While Changle is quickly absorbing and amassing wealth from abroad, it has increasingly become an empty nest as a result of the “out-migration” of the younger generations, which has drained the village’s population.
(Back in 2010, Ministry of Tofu translated an article detailing the mass and often illegal migration from a small village administered by Changle city to the United States. To learn about the tortuous and arduous journey of villagers to New York City and the realization of their American Dream, please read: Chinese village full of New Yorkers: a story of illegal emigration.)
The city of Changle in Fujian province is renowned both home and abroad as the hometown of overseas Chinese. One of the most conspicuous marker of this status is the Western-style “mansions” that can be seen everywhere. Almost all owners of these mansions have overseas connections.
A recreational center in Caozhu village, under the jurisdiction of Changle City, for senior citizens.
In contrast to the ornate mansions are old people gathering in crowds. Like in many other parts of China, here, senior citizens are the majority of the population. The difference is, instead of heading for a big city a few hundred kilometers away, the young and the middle aged of Changle left for the other side of the globe – the United States.
Life of these old people left behind is pretty simple: enjoying sunshine, playing mahjong, and chitchatting about their children’s life in the U.S.
Interestingly, while local people in Changle left to work in the States, migrant workers from other parts of the country arrive here and take up jobs. Abandoned farmland is now taken care of by migrant workers. Mansions are attended to by migrant workers. Money earned by the hardworking children in the Unites States goes into the pockets of migrant workers who work as caretakers for the parents.
80-year-old Lu Yunhong knits a sweater for her little grandson currently living in the United States. Despite living in easy circumstances, the elderly care much about their offspring half a globe away.
To the elderly here, being left behind means they have to deal with the distress of separation from their families. But leaving their hometown, where they have resided for most of their lives, and settle down in an alien land in their twilight years is too much of a challenge to them. So these old people stay together and keep one another company. 91-year-old Cao Xiangdan is just one of them.
Cao Xiangdan at his home. Behind him are photos of the deceased in his family hanging on the wall.
In fact, the history of emigration in Changle dates back to over 1,000 years ago. Since the economic reform in the late 1970s, people in Changle left in mass exoduses to abroad through various means. Currently, the footprints of Chinese who hail from Changle can be found in many countries and regions around the world. Among them, about 200,000 live in the United States. The picture shows a map depicting the distribution of Changle natives across the globe inside Changle’s Museum of Overseas Chinese. The museum was built with 8 million yuan (roughly US$1 million) donated by overseas Chinese.
The exhibits on display at Changle’s Museum of Overseas Chinese. Top left: a remittance receipt of a Changle native mailed from abroad back in the 1940s. Top right: a volleyball given as a gift to overseas Chinese from Changle by Chinese national volleyball team during their visit to the United States. Bottom left: an old obsolete passport used by a Changle native. Bottom right: statistics on the overseas population from Changle kept by the Nationalist Government back in 1942 .
Hand written ads of emigration-related services (training in cooking, skill certificates) on the wall spotted in Changle. After the loosening of the policy in the 1980s, Changle saw a new wave of emigration. People were so eager to go abroad that their efforts were catch-as-catch-can. But sneaking and traveling via a third country are the two most common methods. After they arrived in their destination, they would take up the most menial job and accumulate their wealth and experience little by little while trying their best to obtain a Green Card (U.S. permanent resident card).
A hand-written slogan on the wall spotted in Dahong village under the jurisdiction of Changle. It reads, “Vigorously Pursue and Vehemently Attack to Strike Down the Unhealthy Trend of Illegal Emigration and Stowaways!”
On June 19,2000, customs officers at the British Port of Dover found a truck in which 58 illegal immigrants from Fujian province died of suffocation.This gruesome tragedy shocked the world at the time.However, the ordeal and hardship fail to stop Changle natives’ pursuit. The wealth brought back by foregoers is a temptation to followers, whereas foregoers are willing to lend a hand to followers who came at their heels. Changle’s population is less than one tenth that of Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian province, which has jurisdiction over Changle, but among today’s 600,000 new immigrants in the U.S. that came from Fuzhou metropolitan area, one third of them are Changle natives.
Its consequence is the decline of Changle. Take Caozhu village as an example. Now over 3,000 villagers reside in the U.S., while fewer than 1,000 still live in Caozhu. The population has dropped to an all-time low since its founding in Ming Dynasty four hundred years ago.
A monument erected in Caozhu Village with inscriptions that acknowledge donors and amount of their contributions.
After they gained a foothold in the United States, they started giving back to their hometown. In Changle’s many villages, infrastructure was developed with donations made by former villagers who were living abroad.
In 2007, local residents raised funds and built Zeli Cultural Center – a multipurpose structure that looks very much like the White House in the U.S.
Xiao Bin and his daughter at home in Changle on May 20, 2012.
Xiao Bin, in his late 20s, is a ‘left-behind husband.’ His wife left home for the U.S. to take care of her family business there soon after their marriage, whereas Xiao Bin stays in Changle and looks after their daughter on his own. But Xiao Bin says his stay will only be temporary. When the opportunity arises, he will follow his wife to the U.S. With the solid material and empirical foundation laid by the older generations, going to the U.S. to new emigrants is no longer an illegal and risky endeavor. Changle natives have managed to relocate their entire extended families overseas, aided by their blood ties and human networks.
Tang Tang holds a pack of candies (Jing’s correction: chewing gum).
Tang Tang, less then two years old, is Xiao Bin’s daughter. To her, the only possible media through which she can feel the existence of her mother are: the video-chat at noon every day, and candies her mother mails to her from the United States.
Xiao Bin works as an unpaid chef at a local Japanese restaurant. The owner did not put him on payroll, and yet did promised him a chance to learn how to prepare food. Xiao Bin said that rolling sushi and cutting fish fillets involves techniques and takes a lot of learning; he may be able to earn a living with the skills after he arrives in the States. There is a well-known saying among Changle natives: In NYC’s Chinatown, as long as you can speak Changle dialect, you will never be starved.
In addition to wealth, mass emigration has also brought back changes in lifestyle and religious belief. The picture shows a Christian church near Changle.
Religious faith gives people left behind spiritual comfort. In one village near Changle, almost all of its male population has gone abroad as migrant workers, leaving women and children behind, which earned it the nickname “Women’s Village.” There, most women have converted to Christianity. The picture shows women praying at church.
A man lulls his grandchild to sleep in Caozhu Village.
Young parents who are struggling and fighting for their future abroad have entrusted their little children to the grandparents. These young kids, born in the States and brought up in Changle, have U.S. citizenship and are entitled to subsidies for infant formula provided by the U.S. government.
Changle is hometown of grandparents and parents. But to little U.S. citizens, it is the cradle when they spend childhood, and a turning point of their life. Their future path has been planned. Instead of leading to Changle, it leads to the U.S.
Top comments on NetEase:
网易山东省济南市网友 ip：60.208.*.*2012-06-21 07:40:22 发表
If happiness and peace can be ensured for the rest of the life, who would really want a bumpy and vagrant life?
shikefei12 [网易江苏省徐州市网友]：2012-06-21 07:41:25 发表
The essay did not say it right. Who said Changle people are in desolation? After all, they flooded into the U.S. with joy and thrill.
老车儿 [网易浙江省杭州市网友]：2012-06-21 07:41:27 发表
My respect for those hardworking people!! For the sake of your families and your children, you rise early and go to bed late. You devote yourself to work wholeheartedly and bear headships without complaint. You even risk your life. You are the most respectable people!!!
新闻联播倒数第二集 [网易福建省福州市网友]：2012-06-21 07:52:50 发表
Who said it is in desolation? Young people from Changle went abroad in huge quantities. And then young people from all over the country came to Changle in huge quantities and work there. From Jinfeng township to Songxia township, factories can be seen everywhere. What Changle natives have experienced in making money is leaving their hometown for an alien land. They depend on their diligence, not on effortlessly receiving rent or speculating on real estate. So even though Changle city is very rich, and it does have social ills, there are way fewer (social ills) than some other developed regions. Several Sichuanese people I know kept hopping from place to place and changing their jobs when they were migrant workers in other economically developed provinces. But after they arrived in Changle, they have stayed their for more than a decade and never left.
齐天撸圣 [网易山西省长治市网友]：2012-06-21 07:42:12 发表
Overseas Chinese, I want to tell you, you are really lucky. I will make my child an overseas Chinese.
八月十五杀鞑子 [网易安徽省合肥市网友]：2012-06-21 07:41:49 发表
So people in coastal regions have really got a lot on the ball!
齐天撸圣 [网易山西省长治市网友]：2012-06-21 07:44:59 发表
They risked their life and fought with all their might while making money in order to lead a decent life and not just for survival.
Those southern barbarians (a historical and archaic epithet for southern Chinese people given by northerners, for the political and cultural center of ancient China used to be in today’s North China), honestly, I admire your spearheading and fighting spirits. But how is a family possible without a country? Instead of thinking about the cause of building up our own country, you went to a foreign country and became a low-class citizen there, and then you brought back the money you made from doing dishes abroad and showed off. This is the sense of belonging of a barbarian…
So even if they made money abroad by doing dishes, and what? That’s money they made with their hard work and clean hands. Even if they bring the money back and show it off, that’s called bringing glory onto their ancestors and clan, nothing to be ashamed of. If one who does dishes (abroad) is able to show off back here, then it is indeed a humiliation on some people.
网易加拿大网友 [美利坚赞歌] 的原贴：3
Who says people from Fuzhou (which administers Changle) do dishes? Those are Mexicans. Fuzhou people won’t do these jobs. That bureaucrat from Beijing on the first floor (the first commenter in the line) is now telling you guys about the poverty in America!
网易福建省厦门市网友 [叫我济公] 的原贴：4What’s wrong with doing dishes? Why would anyone risk his life and cross the ocean to the other side and do dishes there? How can you ask people to put heart into building up this place, where hard working rewards even less than doing dishes?Oh, okay, those living abroad are low-class citizens. But staying here won’t even give you what a citizen is worth.
网易西班牙网友 [axiwu2008] 的原贴：5
They make more money than you do, even by doing dishes abroad than you. 人家在外刷盘子都比你赚多的多
网易重庆市渝北区网友 [cyllin] 的原贴：6
Yes, a family is not possible without a country. But does our country treat its people as humans? If they did, a little hardship is fine. People can tolerate hardship but never grievances. Those people went abroad to live better. Don’t raise it to a higher plane and make a big deal of it. Now this country is not owned by the people.