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Photo Column

Depth of Field

In April 2016, I partnered with journalists Yan Cong and Ye Ming of the Chinese-language micro-news site, Yuanjin Photo to launch Depth of Field, ChinaFile's new monthly round up the best documentary photography published each month in China by Chinese photographers. Cong, based in Beijing, and Ming, based in New York, have a keen eye for the most interesting visual reporting in China and surface it for ChinaFile's English-language audience. The work, originally published by news outlets such as Tencent's "Living" Channel, Sina's "Witness," and Caixin Monthly, offers up stories and perspectives that are unfamiliar to Western readers and introduces many Chinese image makers to a global audience for the first time.


Photography by Davide Monteleone, used with permission

Photography by Davide Monteleone, used with permission

In early 2016, I developed a ChinaFile partnership with VII Photo Agency to launch an ongoing photojournalism project to document life along China's borders. For the first installment, photographer Davide Moneleone traveled along the Russia/China border, in the region of Heilongjiang and along the Amur River, documenting the surprising and unexpected ways that families and cultures intermingle far from the centers of power in Moscow and Beijing. His photo essay appeared in the New Yorker and the Financial Times.

Photography by Muyi Xiao, used with permission

Photography by Muyi Xiao, used with permission

In China, the legal age for marriage is 20 for women and 22 for men. But in some of the country's more rural regions, early marriage is increasingly common, since the parents of these young husbands and wives prefer their children to marry before they migrate to major cities to find work. Chinese photographer Muyi Xiao traveled to a region in southern China where under-age marriages are common and photographed married children as young as 13, but her striking images had only been published in China. I commissioned Xiao to do additional reporting and was the first to publish her work for an English-speaking audience on ChinaFile. Her images were then republished in the New York Times' Lens Blog and on the websites of BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera America.


China’s Hui Muslims are unique in many respects. The country’s second-largest ethnic minority share linguistic and cultural ties with the majority in China, and there they have been allowed them to practice their religion with less interference and fewer restrictions than other religious minorities, such as Uighur Muslims and Tibetans. Outside of China, the Hui practice of installing women as the head of female-only mosques has received both harsh judgment and admiration. For ChinaFile, I commissioned Beijing-based photographer Sharron Lovell to document the lives of Hui women and capture what their religious practice means to them.

One afternoon in May 2008, while children were still in school, the mountains in Sichuan province shook. Nearly 90,000 people died, including more than 5,000 children attending shoddily constructed schools. 1,500 students died at a single school, Beichuan Middle School, when their school building collapsed. Filmmaker Zijian Mu grew up in Beichuan, and he returned there years later to see how families in his hometown were coping in the wake of the sudden loss of their children. He made a film about them for his thesis at NYU's News and Documentary Program, and I worked with him to produce a shorter, 22-minute web documentary for ChinaFile.

When President Xi Jinping launched his slogan, the "Chinese Dream," in November 2012, many who heard in it the Communist Party's answer to the "American Dream," and a recognition of the aspirations of the Chinese people. For ChinaFile, I commissioned Sharron Lovell and Beijing-based filmmaker Tom Wang to speak with ordinary Chinese people—an immigrant worker, a farmers daughter, and a university student—about their diverse interpretations of Xi's dream.


Illustrations by Davide Vacatello & Valentina Caruso, used with permission

Illustrations by Davide Vacatello & Valentina Caruso, used with permission

Mao Zedong, the revered founder of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic, has not retreated from history quietly. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, posters and statues of the Great Helmsman proliferated. Today, relatively few of these statues of Mao remain; many were torn down after his death and in the early years of the Reform era. But two researchers tracked down a sampling of those that remain, recorded their height and location, and combed through the numbers to unearth their hidden meanings; I commissioned a playful infographic based on their findings for ChinaFile.

Illustration by Jeffrey Linn, used with permission

Illustration by Jeffrey Linn, used with permission

Cartographer Jeffrey Linn has spent the last few years trying to map out what various parts of the world may look like when a warming planet causes the earth's ice to melt. I asked Linn to apply his techniques to China’s coasts, where some 43 percent of its population currently lives. I then used his maps to create an interactive graphic for ChinaFile where viewers could watch present-day coastlines melt away into a projected future.

In 2013, as tensions escalated on the Korean Peninsula, my colleague Ouyang Bin, a Chinese journalist, catalogued a decade of developments in North Korea’s nuclear arms program and the negotiations that came to be known as “Six-Party Talks," where diplomats from North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States met to discuss security concerns. Together, we created a searchable timeline for ChinaFile, sortable by country, that links each political development to news headlines from the time.