Gabriel Newman, currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, spent two years in mainland China studying Mandarin Chinese and teaching English. While in Zhejiang province in a
southeastern county near Wenzhou, he gained a unique window into rural life and explored the lush and hilly landscape around him. Surprised to find that roughly half the population of Qingtian County lives abroad with large communities in Spain and Italy, Gabe used his camera to capture his feeling of emptiness, isolation, and beauty during the rainy and overcast month of March.
Taihelou Fendian 太鹤楼分店, a small hotel in Youzhu subdistrict, stands quietly in the misty afternoon air, a small but prominent mountain in the background. I’ve never seen anyone make use of the hotel but it may have had some use around special occasions.
A service worker walks in front of a restaurant and tall residential building on an otherwise empty sidewalk.
Terraced farmers’ fields and crops sit beneath a large construction site, the future home of a new middle school.
Hammer and sickle and People’s Republic of China flags hang on streetlights extending down the main junction in Youzhu subdistrict, their red and yellow contrasting strikingly with the deep green and damp, misty air.
Darkness engulfs the foreground, the same fields that were seen in the daytime on the left, and a construction site for a Roman-style wine importing business on the right. The lights beyond are residential buildings and the outskirts of one of Youzhu subdistrict’s import markets.
A grandmother, dressed in a vibrant yellow raincoat, wheels her toddler in a stroller out from a small and dilapidated house on the edge of Ya’ao Road, just beyond where the photo of the terraced fields and hill where construction on the new middle school was ongoing. Grandparents often take care of young children while their parents work. In many instances, these are left-behind children, their parents working in other cities and provinces across China where there are better opportunities, or in Qingtian’s case, in many cities and countries across the globe.
Newly built and recently opened but largely empty and quiet buildings make up one of Youzhu subdistrict’s import cities. Upon arriving, the concept of an import city was a little strange to me and I haven’t seen it elsewhere. About half of all of the citizens registered in Qingtian County currently live overseas, with especially large communities in Italy and Spain. Though I heard rumors that a significant proportion of the import city’s products are fake and may be made cheaply domestically, the extent to which this was the case was difficult to confirm and there were certainly some real imported goods, mostly Italian wines and Iberian ham, a trade orchestrated by overseas Qingtian residents.
On the far side of Youzhu subdistrict, a field of various crops stands empty. In the distance is the construction, rapidly underway, of a Roman-style building that will become a new center for the wine trade. Residential buildings stretch along Shijin Road 石锦路, Youzhu subdistrict’s main artery, in the distance.
A massive red truck from Jiangxi Province stands near the east end of Shijin Road 石锦路, mountains shrouded behind it.
A colorfully spraypainted store’s gate in one of Youzhu subdistrict’s overseas Chinese hometown import markets remains vibrant but empty. Note the “red wine,” “shopping,” “salamis,” logos of Dulce and Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and 我爱青田/I love Qingtian painted across its metal bars.
A single barren tree stands empty and waiting amid the lush green of low brush. In the background, a decrepit and seemingly empty house stands on a small cliff. Far on the left, the building with the silver globe on its top is a science teaching building and lecture hall at my high school. I could never quite tell if there were still residents living there but from a good distance away, in the teaching building of my high school (out of frame, farther to the left), a short video clip I shot captured the faintest glint of light at one of the windows. Upon arriving in Qingtian, one of the teachers I worked with told me that the government wanted to tear down this building and others in the surrounding community to build something else. That project did not begin while I was there but I am unsure whether those buildings are still standing, their fate perhaps delayed by the pandemic.