Peasantography . Lucky 88
Peasantography: Lucky 88
By Tami Xiang
The Peasantography project is one of series of works that addressed social issues in China caused by the household registration system (Hukou). The series includes the Family Portrait, Lucky 88, Art Biennale of Left Behind Children and Migrant workers series. In 1955, the household registration system was introduced to classify all people in the whole country as either agricultural (rural) or nonagricultural (urban). These classifications differentiate the people’s rights and privileges. The system is critical in giving people access to good jobs, education, housing, health care, and even the right to move to another city.
In rural China, the elderly are experiencing a particular set of problems. Due to rapid urbanisation, they have sometimes lost touch with their home communities, and their families have moved to the cities. For example, in 2014, a pair of elderly people living alone in the rural area in Kunming died at home. It was not until the corridor reeked of rotting corpse that they were discovered by their neighbours. People in rural areas have low levels of education and lack the necessary survival skills for the modern world. When they age it becomes difficult for them to do high intensity, heavy, physical work and subsequently they lose their incomes. Older people have an increased risk of disease, and because rural social insurance is not adequate, the old people’s lives become more and more difficult when faced with huge medical expenses.
The pension system provides very little. There is a great difference between urban and rural pensions, as village pension funds are far from enough to guarantee the basic needs of rural elderly. The elderly people in the countryside received, 55RMB (AU$11) a month until very recently when the amount was increased to 88RMB (AU$18). By comparison, urban people or those who work for the government can receive a few dozens times more than the rural elderly.
When these groups of elderly were interviewed, they expressed high appreciation of the 88RMB from the government. These elderly people are aged around 65-90 years, and were born either before 1949 or during the establishment of People’s Republic of China (PRC). They have experienced all the political social and political movements such as The Great Leap Forward ( 1958-1961) which caused more than 30 million people to die from starvation, The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) which caused chaos for the whole country with millions of people dying during the ten years of violence. In the interview, the old people remembered the days of hardship when they had to eat grass, tree bark and mud to survive. The reason they praised the Elderly Insurance Policy is that now they receive 88RMB extra in a peaceful era. Despite the fact that they still have to work until they are unable to, some of them even at 90 years old, they do not question the inequality and disparity between the rural and urban pension. More disparity exists between rural and urban elderly people in that rural people do not have the option to retire.
In Chinese tradition, certain numbers are believed to be auspicious, especially the number 8. Number 88 symbolizes fortune and good luck in Chinese culture, since the sound of the Chinese word 8 similar to the Chinese word fā (发, which implies 发财, or wealth, in Mandarin). The number 8 is considered to be the luckiest number in Chinese culture, and prices in Chinese supermarkets often contain many 8’s. The shape of the Chinese character for 8 (八) implies that a person will have a great, wide future as the character starts narrow and becomes wider towards the lower half. The Chinese government for example has been auctioning car license plate numbers containing many 8s for tens of thousands of dollars. Hotels, real estate agents and other businesses are keen to capitalise on the numbers that contain 8 by taking advantage of the many Chinese clients’ belief.
Peasantography: Lucky 88 addresses the living situation of the Chinese farmers in the countryside. Tami Xiang invited a group of elderly farmers from one village to buy whatever they would like with 88 RMB, and photographed them with all the objects in front of a red background. From the images we can see much more than what they bought.
Tami Xiang is a Perth based Chinese-Australian artist and academic scholar. She received a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and is currently undertaking a PhD by research at UWA. Her work has been exhibited in Australia, Mainland China, France, Taiwan and the U.S.
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This project addresses the living situation of the Chinese farmers in the countryside, who receive 88 RMB a month for living after 60 years old. By comparison, urban people can receive a few dozens times more than the rural elderly. Due to the household registration system was introduced to classify all people in the whole country as either agricultural (rural) or nonagricultural (urban). These classifications differentiate the people’s rights and privileges. These rural people don't have the same rights to access welfare such as pension and medical service as the urban people. Artist photographed what they can buy with the Chinese lucky number 88.
PROFESSIONAL REVIEW FROM LENSCULTURE ON PEASANTOGRAPHY. FAMILY PORTRAIT
Thank you very much for submitting your work. Your series is quite outstanding and poignant. The depiction of the parents by themselves, along with the child and the grandparents, and finally the train tickets all speak to a sense of separation yet a desire for togetherness and familial bonding. You interestingly use the train tickets as a vertical element in most pictures which divides the parents from the children. The concept of the train is something that could seemingly unite the families, but here that symbol of unity is used as a dividing formal element. This does not take place in image ten, of course - here there are no tickets and apparently no parents present as well. The assumption is that this child has no parents, or the parents are no longer living - consider making this a bit more clear via the title or caption. While your approach to the series overall is extremely compelling, one question I have is that you could create compositions in many different ways, yet you choose one approach to composition (at least in images one through nine.) This lends an overriding consistency to the pictures. If you feel that this is necessary, consider making this clear in your statement. In other words, account for your consistency in compositional construction. Otherwise, altering your approach at least slightly could make for more eclectic and dynamic pictures. In addition, your statement is quite brief. I suggest you write a bit more. For example, many of your potential viewers might not be familiar with the left-behind children in China, so consider explaining this unfortunate phenomenon. In addition, what do you hope to achieve with these pictures? What do you hope viewers might glean from your work? Usually, the more information that is provided to viewers, the greater the chance that they will arrive at a more fully realized appreciation of your vision. Under comment one, you inquire as to how photography can be used to publicize social issues, particularly issues that are taboo or are not able to be discussed in public. That's a very pertinent and important question. I think it is the photographer's burden to share with others the stories of those who are voiceless and those who are in need, such as in this particular series. Therefore I think it is vital that this work is shared with as many persons, in as many countries and cultures as possible. I've enjoyed viewing your work and I hope to see more in the future. I've enjoyed viewing your work, and I hope to see more in the future.