Issue #7: Highlighting Ukrainian photographers and powerful art in the name of China’s “chained woman”
It’s Yan, Beimeng and Charlotte here.
Elevating the work of local visual storytellers is a central mission for us at Far & Near. In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the need for newsrooms to hire local journalists and storytellers who speak the languages and understand the context of the conflict has become more urgent and essential. In this special issue, we’d like to first and foremost highlight Ukrainian visual journalists on the ground so you can follow their reporting.
We also curated some of the most notable protest art on the negligence and abuse of Xiaohuamei, known as the “chained woman” for lack of a better identifier, whose shocking story has stayed in the public conversation for more than a month. The persistent public outrage has generated many creative and artistic expressions online and offline despite government crackdowns. The top Weibo hashtags about the case had more than 10 billion views and were able to rival those about the Olympics, according to The New York Times.
We’d like to share our inspirations from these Ukrainian photographers and the Chinese grassroots movement calling for justice for Xiaohuamei. Next week, you will receive a regular issue, featuring a selection of stories from a Beijing ice rink to a special beerhouse in China’s rust belt.
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Ukrainian Photographers on the Front Lines
Andriy Dubchak is a photographer and reporter working for news organizations such as The New York Times. He is the founder of Donbas Frontliner, an independent interactive media project about the conflicts in Donbas and other regions in Ukraine.
Julia Kochetova is a documentary photographer and filmmaker who’s filing reportage and personal stories from the front lines. Her work appears in outlets such as Vice and Die Zeit.
Alina Smutko is a Ukrainian Muslim photographer with a background in documenting conflicts, historical memories and national identities in Ukraine, the South Caucasus and other post-Soviet countries.
A freelance photojournalist and filmmaker based in Kyiv, Evgeniy Maloletka works for various international outlets such as The Associated Press and The New York Times.
Mstyslav Chernov is a staff visual journalist working for The Associated Press. He has covered conflicts and social issues from around the world.
Mikhail Palinchak is a documentary and street photographer in Kyiv freelancing for numerous international publications.
Roman Pilipey is a photographer with the European Pressphoto Agency. He is usually based in Beijing but has returned to Ukraine to cover the conflict.
Serhii Korovainyi is a visual storyteller based in Kyiv. He works with photography, video and VR.
Alexey Furman is a photographer and game designer from Ukraine. He is covering the war for a number of media outlets such as Getty Images and Der Spiegel.
The Face of Human Trafficking
In late January, a Douyin vlogger uploaded a video that shocked the Chinese internet: It depicted a mother of eight chained around the neck in a doorless shack in the thickness of winter in Feng County in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province. Following waves of public outcry, the woman was finally established by local authorities to be Xiaohuamei (Little Plum Blossom), a 44-year-old human trafficking victim with mental illness. The haphazard investigations carried out by the government produced conflicting statements about her identity and how she was trafficked, which only fanned the flame of anger.
When Chinese media were banned from covering her story critically, a series of grassroots-led investigations sprung forth. In one instance, two retired journalists traveled to Yunnan to verify claims that the woman is from there. The case reveals a longstanding issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in China, which most people thought were long gone. Xiaohuamei was last seen in a state broadcaster report being treated at a hospital.
The story also highlights the power of imagery in the age of social media. We might never know the woman’s real identity, but the visceral image has made her the current face of gender inequality in China. Many artworks based on the appalling Douyin scene, including illustrations, murals and performance art, went viral before being censored. Together, they fueled a national conversation about misogyny and mental illness, and made visible the “shackles” that still bind women’s life in China today.
Many people used images of Xiaohuamei and chains as motifs to create artworks and upload them to Weibo on International Women’s Day, before the platform took them down. One of the artists is Chinese cartoonist Tango, who is widely known in and outside China for his humorous and insightful sketches. It is rare for Chinese artists with a big following to speak up on current events. While Tango’s illustration can still be found on his Instagram, the other censored artworks are archived by China Digital Times.
The simultaneous timing between Eileen Gu’s rise to stardom and the chained woman’s case forced many to consider the two women’s stark differences, prompting many to wonder, who represents the real China?
The public indignation has also prompted rare, albeit limited, activism offline. A mural of the woman – with her face painted with words taken from the Core Socialist Values, such as freedom, justice, harmony and civility – was later brushed over.
This photo of several young women marching in shackles down the streets is said to have been taken on International Women’s Day in a school district in Shanghai.
The event also inspired a bold performance by drag queen Gaosansan at a club in Hangzhou. Although photos and videos of the performance were censored on Weibo, short clips of the performance have been archived by Telegram channel “简中赛博坟场”.
Who we are:
Yan Cong is a former photojournalist currently pursuing a research MA in new media and digital culture in Amsterdam.
Beimeng Fu is a video journalist based in Shanghai. She is a lover of languages and documentaries.
Ye Charlotte Ming is a journalist and photo editor covering stories about culture, history and identity. She’s based in Berlin and working on a book about her hometown’s German colonial past.
Writers: Beimeng Fu, Ye Charlotte Ming, and Yan Cong; Copy editor: Andrew Menezes
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