"On a Small Piece of Land" is a portfolio and a book project.
This project features works completed over the past three years in a seemingly ordinary rural village in the vast countryside of Northern China. While much of the western world's image of modern China has been defined by the rise of modern metropolises, the daily life of China's rural population has been overlooked. My images show profound affection and respect for the traditional, self-sufficient Chinese hamlet whose culture and society are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Throughout rural China the youth with dreams and aspirations recognize that their prospects are limited. They can either stay in their villages, toiling in menial jobs, or become unskilled workers on the margins of society with little hope of ever gaining fulfillment. The latter seems to be the choice of the estimated 240 million Chinese who are now migrant workers. My photos offer a glimpse of the dignity and resilience of the subsistence farmers who continue in their plight, numbed by their struggle, yet persevering with the knowledge that they are the last generation that will be connected to the land. The symbolism and danger are quite acute and the work emphasizes China's struggle with balancing modernity and antiquity. Recently, while watching Antonioni documentary "Chung Kuo, Cina" (1972) it is very clear to me that my work in China is going to be anachronistic in 20 years. China's present rural culture and tradition that has changed so little over the past thousand years will be replaced by "progress".
My project is a sociological, historical and an aesthetic archive of a developing China in the midst of industrialization.
By Leilei Meng
January 12, 2012