I took this picture of Xiang when I first visited Baiji in October 2013. Learn more about Baiji, and “left-behind” children through this album.

Baiji is a county in the mountain area, Anhui province. The county is surrounded by mountains which makes it inconvenient to travel in and out. Anhui province is one of the poorest regions in China and Baiji county used to be very poor. However, recently with the development of tourism, the economic situation has improved.

This is a picture taken in Baiji 14 years ago. Junior fellows in MFZU initiated a voluntary teaching project in the county and kept the project going for more than a decade. When they first began the project, the living conditions there were much more difficult.

I enrolled as a junior fellow in the Melton Foundation in 2012 and went to Baiji in October 2013 for the first time. At that time, I taught students in the third and fourth grade. We decided to wrap up the project in Baiji and so that was the last time we went there as a group. But what I saw and learned in that small mountain village had truly impacted me. So I decided to return by myself and to create a documentary project recording the growth of the left-behind children.

The first child I want to introduce to you is Xiang, a 7-year-old girl. She will be in the first grade this September.

This is a picture of Xiang, her mother, and her little sister Ming and myself. Xiang was 7 years old and Ming was only few months old when I visited them in the summer of 2014. Xiang was one of my favorite kids in Baiji even though she was not in my class. She was so lovely, and most of the people fell in love with her at first glance. However, her mother’s story isn’t as lovely.

I  asked her if she had missed Xiang when she tried to leave in the past. She said yes but still she wanted to leave here. Xiang once told me that her father asked her to keep an eye on her mother to prevent her from running away again. Her mother looked older than her real age, her unhappy life in Baiji reflected on her face.

Xiang’s mother is not an exception in Baiji. There are other women from Yunnan province that are either abducted or bought by the men in Baiji. Her story might be one of the saddest because she was never able to leave. While other women were lucky to succeed in leaving, it was not so lucky for the children left behind. I was shocked when I heard her story and the stories of others — I felt powerless because other than spreading the story I couldn’t do anything to help her.

Xiang is happy most of the time and eager to share her life with me. This picture was taken in the summer of 2014.

Last summer, I went to Baiji again. I really hope Xiang’s mother will never leave her again, but at the same time I also want her mother to live a better life herself.