Photo Essay: Hunan, China

Editor’s note: The passage by Shen Congwen is translated from the original Chinese by the writer.

For me, Hunan, China is not only a place of memories — it is where my maternal family lives and where I spent many of my childhood days — but also a place of surprise, as new ways of life are gradually replacing the old. This sentiment, one that is commonly felt by people who have left familiar places behind, is vividly described by Chinese writer Shen Congwen in his sanwen, or lyrical prose, “On the Boat and On the River.”

“Everything is overwhelmingly serene and beautiful, so much so that we feel melancholic — Yuan and I. We cannot stop but to listen to the song, as if it’s coming from a magic flute, to reminisce about the beloved and familiar rural things gradually disappearing. That song is one about farewell, carrying young people away from their homes into another world, on a quest for knowledge and hope. The tune changes over time, just as our boats are borne downstream, reminding us that we are further and further away from home. We can no longer stay to listen to this eternal song, not even for a second time!”

Through these photographs, I hope to preserve the memory of Hunan at a particular point in time.