205-004 Don Gibbs Followed by Children Youngsters stalked foreigners just for the joy of seeing something strange; teen-agers and young adults gathered wherever they thought foreigners might appear, usually in city parks, and their purpose was to practice English and ask questions about the world outside China.
205-003 Children Seeing Their First Foreigner This was the scene in Guiyang, a city not officially open to foreigners in 1979. We had a transit pass to make railroad connections. During the layover we were sealed off in a room to ourselves until the trip across town from the police station to the railtoad station. Our car was blocked at every intersection, but crowds were friendly in their curiosity.
#204-305 For a few cents per hour, picture books can be borrowed but read on-site only under watchful eyes of the proprietor. Similar to our comic books in style, the contents were of violence and sex.
#204-300 Bookstalls like this loaned books to read on-site for just a few pennies. They specialized in violence and sex with crude illustrations and very little text. One might find all ages reading avidly.
#204-181a This boy is leading the oxen while his father handles the plow in the same way it has been done for centuries all over Asia. His father was considered very fortunate to have a son during the one child only era. There are no government pensions for farmers, so a son ensures the economic survival of the family in addition to carrying on the family’s name. Farming, by its very nature, is labor intensive. Under government and economic pressure, triple cropping has become common in the south and in turn subjects farmers to a relentless year round work routine.
#204-003 In 1979, people in northern Shaanxi Province were still living in caves. In the countryside, one-cylinder tractors converted to mini-trucks were slowly replacing pony carts that have been in use for over 2000 years. For hundreds of years, the combination of China’s government policies and the extreme and vast remoteness of the country made a white foreigner a rare visitor. These girls are surprised to see a foreigner and greeted me with amusement and puzzlement. But when I spoke out in fluent Chinese there was a warm response and hospitality.
#204-001 For a small fee, picture books with written dialogue may be borrowed on-site at this sidewalk library in Shanghai. These libraries are very popular in the cities throughout China.
#202-013 In spite of the one-child policy, there was a strong promotion made by the ruling Party to respect female babies. Government financed billboards urging the population to cherish girls were put on prominent display all over the country in the 1980’s.
#190-003 China’s population includes over 50 different nationalities speaking different languages, wearing different clothes and dwelling in distinct districts. Historically discriminated against by the dominant Han majority (over 90 %), they have gradually been pushed from the fertile flatlands to the ever-higher mountain areas. Most are located in Southwestern China. The PRC government has worked to make amends for prejudiced treatment by past governments. More recently, the PRC is finding them of ever-greater value to the tourist industry. This photo was taken near the Jinsha River in Yunnan where many of the Miao people live.
#175-024 The old and the young are often seen together in China while the children’s parents are working. This grandmother and grandson are on a pilgrimage to a Buddhist site in the mountains.
#161-033a This is the front of a rural school in Hubei Province in central China in 1991. As a result of longstanding government policies that restricted foreigners, these youngsters had never seen a foreigner before. Regardless, I was politely received and the children happily posed for this picture. They had a natural and reserved curiosity.
#159-029 In the Xishuang Banna region of Yunnan, China, dwellings and clothing are similar to those in nearby Southeast Asian countries. The custom of older children caring for the younger is centuries old all over Asia. Throughout China there is a distinct variety of ways of carrying an infant in a sling on the back to keep hands free for work. The child being carried is wearing a tiger-striped hat to frighten off bad elements and to protect the child. In days past children would wear some sort of amulet around the neck that was to serve the same purpose—something to keep the child tethered to this earth and not carried away to the netherworld. Children often went barefooted in the southern countryside for shoes were not necessary in the warm climate. Straw sandals were common and later on canvas and rubber shoes identical to those manufactured for the Peoples Liberation Army were used. Leather shoes were scarce, expensive and unnecessary in the 1980s.
#159-013 In Xishuang Banna, near the border with Burma, the pattern of life has not changed much in the last 100 years except for the advent of rural busses and the introduction of electricity. The architecture and the carefully terraced hills are of Southeast Asian origins. Very often, the children care for these large animals.
#153-014 This woman is proud for having both a boy and a girl during the one child policy era. Her home was no worse than anyone else’s. For nearly 40 years of Mao’s rule, investment went to heavy industry and not into housing. Since people could not own their homes there was little incentive for maintenance.
#132-051a Chatting with folks on a country ferryboat I happened to say, “These boys,” gesturing to the lads scampering about, cutting up and excited to be on an excursion, “are so wonderful I’d love to take them home with me to America. Instead, I’ll just take their picture home with me.” The boys heard that and immediately lined themselves up to be photographed. The whole boat became friendly after that.
#132-046 Chinese tradition value boys over girls. Boys are expected to carry on the family name and care for his parents in their old age. A boy is also looked upon as future economic support for his family and has priority for the family’s resources, especially in his education.
#132-034a Two boys with an older daughter to help look after them is a Chinese parent’s dream. This stroller is made of bamboo, which is one of China’s most enduring resources. The planting and use of bamboo goes back to 7,000 years ago and played an important role in ancient China. The usages of this renewable resource included food, utensils, clothing, housing, transportation, music instruments and even weapons. The largest planted area for bamboo is in the south Yangtze River region with over 400 known species. Pound for pound, bamboo is as strong as steel.
#132-033 Before the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989, the nation held the Peoples’ Liberation Army in high esteem. Acceptance into the PLA for a country boy was a ticket out of farm drudgery and a chance to be admired and travel far from the village. The PLA was so admired that it was popular to dress children in PLA uniforms. The father is not a soldier. If he were, then his cap would be adorned with a red star.
#132-020a In every region of China one sees a wide variety of devices, usually of cloth, invented by women for carrying their infant children. Throughout Chinese history women in all but the wealthiest of homes were charged with feeding the family, running the household and often working in the fields, too. Meanwhile, they still had the responsibility for caring for the children, hence the need for a sling to keep a child close at hand while performing these chores. From the imperial periods to the beginning of the twentieth century, her relationship with her family was in accord with the teachings of Confucius. Family members were subordinate to the eldest male. Because daughters would marry into another family, they were considered a “small happiness.” After her husband died, a mother would be subordinate to her son.
#132-014a By ancient tradition in China, the father was a stern and distant figure who left the care of children in the hands of the household women. The old ways are falling away now as we can see in the tender hand and loving expression on this father’s face.
#132-013 The one-child policy began in 1979 by which time this happy man already had two sons and a daughter. The policy began phasing out in 2015. There were many campaigns telling people by loudspeaker, posters and TV to “cherish your daughter” and saying that daughters are more filial than sons.
#132-011 Girl enjoying ice cream in Beijing. The one child policy was introduced in 1980. This policy was the result of an exploding population growth, shortage of food and a Cultural Revolution lacking in intellectual capacity. The government decided to ration children in the same fashion as coal and grain. For over 1000 years, the Chinese culture demanded that a male heir carry on the family’s name in addition to caring for his parents in their old age. From the very outset of this new law, girls were a surplus. This resulted in infanticide and abandonment of newborn girls. Many were adopted by the west. Women giving birth to a second child were severely fined or forced to have an abortion. Women were abused for their failure to produce a boy. Girls were prevented from marrying until they were 20 and too old by tradition to marry after 25. But the law required that no mother should give birth before 24. Many were subjected to regular pregnancy tests, some about twice a month and were forbidden to travel without a certificate stating they were not pregnant.
#132-010 Girls enjoying ice cream in Beijing. The one child policy was introduced in 1980. This policy was the result of an exploding population growth, shortage of food and a Cultural Revolution lacking in intellectual capacity. The government decided to ration children in the same fashion as coal and grain. For over 1000 years, the Chinese culture demanded that a male heir carry on the family’s name in addition to caring for his parents in their old age. From the very outset of this new law, girls were a surplus. This resulted in infanticide and abandonment of newborn girls. Many were adopted by the west. Women giving birth to a second child were severely fined or forced to have an abortion. Women were abused for their failure to produce a boy. Girls were prevented from marrying until they were 20 and too old by tradition to marry after 25. But the law required that no mother should give birth before 24. Many were subjected to regular pregnancy tests, some about twice a month and were forbidden to travel without a certificate stating they were not pregnant.
#132-004 China was dreadfully shabby in 1979 but it was not hard to find beauty. Outside the front door of this meagerly furnished home are food scraps in the basket put out for the pig farmer to collect. In those days, very little went to waste in China. Chinese homes in this era were sparsely furnished due to the past 150 years of strife and poverty. From 1839 to 1979, China endured chaos and oppression. In the 1990’s there was a big boom in the manufacturing and sales of household furniture and kitchen appliances. There was nothing of that kind made for the common people in China during those awful years because of the total emphasis on investment in heavy industry.
#132-002a In 1979, foreigners were still a rare sight on in China. These schoolboys stopped to take a good look at me and were happy to oblige when I asked to take their picture. All four are wearing the red scarf that identifies them as “Young Pioneers.” They were also known as “The Red Scarves.” Membership is not only political but is based on deportment, grades, and physicality: meaning hygiene and performance in exercises. Children age 6 to 14 were eligible. After age 14, some were admitted to the Communist Youth League, a path to possible membership in the Communist Party.
#130-074 In this northwest village of Yanglia Gou, people lived in caves. Children went to school in a cave that was dark because the lone light bulb was not turned on to save on the electric bill. My university students contributed their own money to the village chief to pay the electric bill for a year. Later in the day I saw the chief gambling with wads of bills.
#123-003a In 1980, China introduced the one child policy aimed at the Han majority population in fear of food shortages. Couples who abided by this policy were awarded a “Certificate of Honor for Single Child Parents.” A violation of the one-child policy resulted in punishments that could last a lifetime. As most jobs and housing were government related, housing for the family would be denied and job promotions ruled out. In some areas, relatives were held as hostages until the woman consented to sterilization. When the private sector of the economy grew, parents who violated the one child policy would be heavily fined and charged exorbitant school fees for their child. Such controls had less effect on farmers because they built their own houses and did not have state jobs. Job promotion or denial was not an issue. In addition, farmers often didn’t want their children, especially a girl, to attend school anyway. The punishments for farmers were different. Their houses might be bulldozed or televisions and furniture confiscated depending on the local authorities. In the mid 1980s, the laws were relaxed a little allowing for families in rural areas to have a second child. The one child policy ended in 2015.
#122-031a Rustic skills our great grandparents possessed in early America were still very much alive in the countryside in 1979. The White Russians introduced knitting to China during the 1920s after their defeat in their civil war. Many units that had retreated ended up in Eastern China. The art of knitting was originally passed on to the Chinese caravan men who transported the Russian internees who had a ready supply of camel hair that they used for knitting when they ran out of yarn.
#120-082 I may have been the first white foreigner these school children have ever seen in this remote village. In spite of years of propaganda, they were happy to interact and pleased to pose for my picture. My wife, Loretta Gibbs is in the background.
#120-043 Boys and girls generally did not play together. These are all boys. In the rivers, only the boys swam. Both were friendly, inquisitive and had no problems with having their picture taken. The summer is hot in China’s continental climate and there was no air conditioning in 1979. Kids stripped down to the bare minimum to keep cool. Of course where there was any swimmable place the kids swam but I never came across a public swimming pool anywhere in those days. In 1979, lots of people moved bamboo beds out on to the sidewalk at night and slept there because their dwellings were just too darned hot.
#120-035 Pupils designated “Young Pioneers” walk to school in a disciplined way in Beijing, 1979. Not everyone could be a Young Pioneer. Parents and grandparents needed to have Communist backgrounds. Everyone in China carries the burden of a dossier for life. If there was a landlord in the family, an association with the former government or had connections outside of China, then that stain stayed with your dossier for life. Guilt by family connection was the rule of the day. Only when the private sector economy was developed so that jobs became available outside the government sector were people able to be somewhat free from the limitations of their dossier.
#120-033 When China first re-opened in the late 1970’s, the Europeans or Russians built the few better hotels that existed. They were open only to foreigners with foreign exchange currency. Locals were excluded. These children are at the gate trying to get a peek inside forbidden territory.
#110-031a After 1979, the sound of hundreds of bicycle bells was heard in the streets. The dreadful Cultural Revolution was over. No more wholesale mobilizations of the population into frenzied rallies. The rampages of the Red Guards had ended. Peace reined and people were relaxed. It was evident everywhere except in some backward places that still had not gotten the word that it was a new day with new policies. In such places the tension was palpable; loud speakers, martial music and restrictions of every kind were perpetuated. There were no private autos yet but bicycles and trucks were becoming more available. In less than twenty years, cars will take over the streets with their noise and pollution. A new China was about to be created.
#110-021a There are an endless variety of these homebuilt sidecars on city streets but not in the countryside. Farmers have no use for this kind of thing and would consider it coddling. The “little emperor” is enjoying a soda while the parent finishes grocery shopping. Bicycles were still considered a luxury and most of the population walked or caught the bus. The one-child policy was written into the 1978 constitution and the new regulations put into effect in 1980. Subsequently, a single male such as we see here became known as “the little emperor.” The emphasis in China on a male heir to continue the family line resulted in the current imbalance in the male to female ratio. Social problems for men unable to obtain a wife led to the relaxation of the one-child policy in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
#107-010 These are members of the Sanyi group in Yunnan Province. The baby carriers are handmade, embroidered and colorful. The minority people tend to make lavish use of color, while the Han tend towards the drab. The Han constitute over 90% of China’s population. A minority woman said, “Only when something is not beautiful do the Han say it’s beautiful.
#094-031a When China opened to outsiders, they had been warned not to be friendly with foreigners. When the police saw them talking to foreigners, they would investigate: demanding to know what the conversation was about. Speaking Mandarin, I was able to overcome this barrier by spontaneously praising the child’s mother upon meeting and out of respect, ask permission to photograph them. Very rarely did I experience objections or problems with the police if I kept the conversation short.
#094-014 With the exception of the one man eyeing the photographer, these people are enthralled by a street performer in the the Kashgar town square stuffing a small snake up his nostril and out his mouth. Kashgar is on the west side of the Taklamakan Desert and famous for its bazaar and camel market. Merchants on the ancient Silk Road used horses to cross the mountains from the Middle East and then swapped them here in the bazaar for camels more suited to desert travel.
#090-039a A Naxi minority woman and baby in Lijiang, Yunnan Province. The Naxi are believed to be descended from Tibetans. They have their own language and writing system.
#043-038a The role for girls is inscribed early in the countryside. The older girl is charged with the care of the younger. Door couplets traditionally portrayed fierce warriors but here tradition has been set-aside in favor of the Peoples’ Liberation Army soldiers who are mounted on white horses of the old days. Door gods were refreshed with new ones at News Years’ time. The writing on the right says “The sun is out; our sacred land now sets a proper course.” It’s matching line on the left says, “Spring is here; China sets forth great plans.” Above the door: “The sun renews, the moon rises,” signifying a new day in a continuum. The children are wearing good clothes and the house is made of bricks signifying prosperity. The end tiles on the roof indicate this house is very old.
#043-011 China’s one child policy was difficult to enforce in the countryside. Families with two daughters but no son are considered unfortunate. That means there is no male to carry on the family line. Worse, from the traditional Chinese point of view, daughters are an economic loss because they marry off to another family after the expense of raising them. Subsequently, government propaganda urged farmers to cherish their daughters.
#026-030 Small children too young to work the fields were put to the task of minding immense animals ten times larger than they.
#022-042a During the Mao era, cameras were considered bourgeois. However, these girls have no problems with that as opposed to the adults in the rear. After 1979, the government became more relaxed about cameras.
#022-035 In the 1980’s and 90’s, I never saw toys of any kind in any of the villages I visited. I gave this this child some bubble fluid and it attracted a crowd that responded with expressions of puzzlement and glee. Traditionally, China did not manufacture toys. They were either homemade or fashioned one at a time by local craftsmen as a part-time occupation in the off-season. Toys tended to be interactive, such as tops you needed to spin or a kind of horizontal yo-yo both of which required technique that needed to be learned. Organized sports such as baseball or soccer teams did not exist. The closest thing to organized sports was the annual boat race competitions during the Dragon Boat Festival. All that has now changed with the expansion of free enterprise and the introduction of professional teams.
#015-147a The patches on the boy’s clothing are not an affectation. Everything is patched rather than discarded, including pots, pans and even porcelain. Being a rare foreigner, the two girls respond to me with curiosity.
#4051-D-705 The policies of Mao placed farmers in communes that amalgamated villages and small towns into huge work units of as many as 30,000 people sub-divided into work brigades and work teams. This collectivization aimed at realizing the perfect communism resulted in a famine that caused fifty million people to lose their lives. The immediate remedy was to allow farmers to grow food on small private plots and sell them in open-air markets such as this one. Eventually the communes were disbanded and farmers were allowed to lease land to farm as they pleased without external command. Under Marxism, all land belongs to the state, and still does. What one buys is a lease. The issue of land ownership still has not been resolved as of 2020
#4051-D-495 These country folks are waiting for the ferryboat powered by a hand sweep at the stern. The charge was a few pennies. From 1949 to 1979 emphasis was on developing heavy industry. After 1979 and particularly in the 1990’s when the newly liberalized economy roared into new life, attention was given to investment in infrastructure projects such as highways and bridges.
2 thoughts on “Children”
I saw myself in the first pic. I was 10, I remember sitting there for the entire afternoons reading the books. The owner was a mid-age lady with one arm, she was extremely nice, I can remember her face.
Thank you for sharing.