Unintended Homecoming

I grew up in China and moved to the US in 2000 when I was 23 years old.  Eight years later, with a grant from Rafael Vinoly Architecture Research Fellowship in New York, I started to make frequent trips back to China to take photographs for a research project focusing on urban housing and development. While shooting there, I got the chance to wander around several Chinese towns, cities and villages with camera in hand, and I continued this journey long after the fellowship ended in 2010.  

In the beginning, I was hoping I could use photography to help me, and others, grasp the complexities of a country that I had been absent from in the past decade, and to get a sense of what it means to be Chinese today. But instead of getting a clearer image of these issues, I am often puzzled and frustrated by the misalignment between my imagery and my actual experience. It has become impossible to try to visualise today’s China while capturing the stark contrasts that define the everyday. 
The photograph of a lone house in the midst of rubble and in the shadows of a skyscraper failed to communicate that the building owner had collected several million dollars as compensation for the demolition and moved overseas. Those that are invisible are the now-homeless migrant workers, who could only afford a room in such a building. 
It is not uncommon to see a crowd being chased by policemen for selling black market train tickets for a profit. But no one knows that most of these people are workers who just lost their jobs in nearby factories. I photographed an almost uninhabitable shabby room, which was in fact the last refuge for a migrant worker’s children. A month after the picture was taken, the family of five moved into a 20 square-meter room that could only fit one bunk bed.

Facing the complexity of these stories, photography appears inadequate. Perhaps beyond documentary or visual evidence, photography should not give answers but raise more questions.  

"Unintended Homecoming" represents a journey to thoroughly photography what I encountered while wandering across China. It is my attempt to grasp the life experience of others and of myself before those memories become diluted. Rather than a journey of discovery, this project uncovers layers of a society that makes me feel both familiar and alien. I hope that I can one day turn the camera back on me. I would see myself in these situations and be able to reconstruct my own identity as Chinese and to understand the country in which I am rooted.