The train was a black centipede
moving through the blue-dust
a television cast across my mother’s pleated red skirt
spread like a fan over her knees.
She sat on the floor, her legs
kicked out to one side,
her white-socked foot
until the newsman’s voice,
And now the car bearing the body,
draped in the flag
her heart breaking all the way
across the back of America.
- from my second book, The Circle Line, forthcoming from The Backwaters Press in 2009
Sometimes a story finds the photographer. I think this is the case with the photographer Shiho Fukada, who was one of the early photographers into the earthquake zone in China. The story that found Fukada, however, is not just the general devastation of the earthquake, but the specific devastation of families as the result of "tofu construction" of schools. These schools were built poorly as the result of corruption, with money either embezzled, squandered or diverted to the schools of wealthier people in the towns. And now the parents are becoming a political force in their local areas, demanding that local officials be held accountable for the deaths of their children. The central government may give them their wish, in order to keep the controversy local and not allow it to expand nationally.
Of course, the local officials are scared to death, primarily because if the central government decides that they should be punished, they could very simply be put to death. At the very least, they will lose their positions and their primary source of income. You can see exactly how desperate local officials are to diffuse the anger of the parents in Fukada's photo above of Jiang Guohua, the Communist Party boss of Mianzhu (New York Times, May 28, 2008,) as well as the intensity of the anger in the parents who are marching to protest the collapse of the schools in their village. Quite a photograph.
Sunday, June 1, was International Children's Day, a particularly poignant day for the parents who lost their child in the earthquake. Since China has a "one-child" rule, many of these parents only had one child, which made losing their child even more disastrous. The central government has rescinded the "one-child" law for those parents who lost their children in the earthquake, but what are parents whose children were 12, 13, 14, or older to do? Aside from the emotional price paid, they have already invested hard-earned resources in the rearing of their now deceased child - can they afford to do it all over again? What if they have already chosen sterilization as a method to prevent future children? And to further anger parents, there is the sting of class in this issue. There are ways around the "one-child" rule if you have money, and it is not unlikely that the people who have money in these communities are the government officials and perhaps the building contractors who made the decisions and did the work on the schools that collapsed.
I think Fukada has really taken some terrific photos of the parents whose stories, for obvious reasons, are not being reported with much detail in China. While the first slideshow is made of more purely journalistic photos of events as they occur, the second slideshow contains posed photos of parents holding the photos of their children in the ruins of the schools they attended. Perhaps, while these photos may not change the way China takes care of its working class, the photos Fukada took may offer some solace to the parents in their taking. I wonder if these parents will find themselves in government positions as reformers some time in the near future. I hope that she spends some time also documenting the children who survived. I wonder what will be their role in China's future once they are older, having at least lost their home at a young age and perhaps, lost their mother or their father or even their entire family.
Here more of Fukada's work on her website and others.