Material Life Noisy I: Do Women Count?
by Paul van der Stap and Elisa Veini, Titojoe Documentaries
Until recently it has been said that the Chinese do not have a word for loneliness. China remains the promised land of the group. Family, classmates or colleagues, the village, and other more or less involuntary groups are the decision makers for who one is and how one should behave.
China is becoming the country of singles. The younger generations experience this through and through. They are often the only child of parents who were the only child, they study and work so hard that they have little time left for hobbies or socializing and they are ready to move from Heilongjiang to Guangzhou or from Kunming to Hohhot, if their career demands.
Demography is little help for finding a partner: for every 100 girls that are born, there are about 120 boys. In the southern coastal provinces the ratio of girls to boys can be as high as 100:140.
On the street, men are cool and women are shy. The young woman could help the visitor easily. She knows a lot (if not everything), but she says nothing. She peers to the ground. Behind her stands the jolly friend who knows nothing but dares everything, she passes the information to him and he translates it into English.
An old poem says: ‘Birth of a son is a source of joy / Birth of a daughter is a source of shame.’ Looking at the name of Chinese girls, they mean ‘beauty’, ‘modesty’, ‘sweetness’, ‘calm’ or ‘peace’, and association to a life of dependency. A girl is expected to join a man, be beautiful and not to argue. Boys, on the contrary, are called ‘the great beer’, ‘the thinker’ or ‘he who will win over others’.
There is also a problem in China that is so great that it should not be overlooked: most women grow up with the knowledge that they do not count.
About the Authors:
Documentary photographer Paul van der Stap and cultural anthropologist, writer and editor Elisa Veini make slow documentaries in photography, text and film. Among their projects are Carnival days, a book and an exhibition about the Dutch and Flemish carnival as a cultural, emotional and social event (2009-2012, ISBN 978 90 78909 11 8), and Dalit lives, a book and an exhibition about the insurgent Dalit rights’ movement in India (2005, ISBN 90 809375 1 7). Their work has been published in various magazines, among which ei8ht photojournalism and Third Text. Paul and Elisa are based in the Netherlands. See their website www.titojoe-docs.nl and blog www.titojoe-docs.nl/verhaal.