Wild Grass --- China's Orphans
-- Written by Tian Jin 田晋
I was born during the 1980s, when the one-child policy was the strictest in China. The high cost of living has led to the abandonment of disabled infants in favor of healthy ones, it was common to hear the screams of newborns, especially in rural areas. When I was a child, my father once took me to the hospital because of a high fever. I remember the strong smell of the disinfectant in the corridors, and I saw next to me a dead infant on a chair wrapped in tattered clothes. Many flies flew over her dark purplish face. She haunted my nights for years.
During my trip to China in the summer of 2014, I met many "left behind children". Their vitality which is like the wild grass touched me a lot. Yet it seemed that the rest of the world had chosen to ignore their existence. As a documentary photographer, I didn't see how I could be of help. However, one day I came across a newspaper reporting a fire at an orphanage specializing in the care of disabled children in 2013, in Henan. Seven children lost their lives that day. This tragedy was the starting point for my project « Wild Grass - China's Orphans ».
The current situation is that these orphanages, which were spontaneously formed by civil society organizations, are not recognized by law, putting them in an awkward situation, and making it difficult for children in the orphanages to integrate into mainstream society. As a result, child protection institutions, established by the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People's Republic of China, struggle to support every orphaned child, while the situation is especially dire in the cantons and towns. Volunteers have opened so-called "popular" orphanages to increase access to care, however, they lack the necessary skills to be officially recognized, and thus suffer from a lack of subsidies, equipment and staff.
I found that the majority of these children had different forms of physical and/or mental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and schizophrenia. Families unable to cover the cost of medical expenses see orphanages as the only way out.
Because of the ambiguous statutory situation in these orphanages and also due to their geographical locations which are mostly hidden in rural area, children do not have the opportunities to get included into the mainstream. Without any education or mainstream moral upbringing, these children instinctively form a set of rules similar to the law of the strongest. As they grow, to with play in which they establish power relationships determined by force to with play in which.
During the project Wild Grass, I’ve been luckily able to gain their trust and get into their micro-society by learning the rules and codes that the children had established. I give them my camera to play with by which the approach has allowed me, through their own shots, to understand better their vision of the world.
It is common for us to perceive their situation as "painful", to assess their future as "uncertain" or to consider their life "difficult". These terms, which reflect suffering and tragedy, are, in essence, labels constructed by our conception of human rights and other mainstream moral values, built within our modern societies. These children are not able to understand our feelings towards them because they have no basis for comparison. As we learn to perceive the world through a "normalized" rationality, could we truly understand what we are at the origin?
 « left behind children » liushou ertong (留守兒童) refers to a Chinese social phenomenon. Rural parents migrate to the cities to work, leaving their children in the care of grandparents (sometimes they are left to their own devices).
 The Ministry of Civil Affairs reported in 2017 (second semester) a total of 453,000 orphans in the country. However, these statistics are based solely on orphans that have been registered. Since 2015, I have visited more than 30 “popular” orphanages and foster families in about 20 counties and cities in seven provinces of China. More than half of the orphans were not registered.