‘Here Live Only Sparrows’: China’s Vanishing Villages in Heartfelt Photos

A man from the village requesting a photo of him before his homes are demolished. From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)
A man from the village requesting a photo of him before his homes are demolished. From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Polish photographer and visual artist Wiktoria Wojciechowska took part in an artist residency in Beijing in 2013. She produced the award-winning series Short Flashes, inspired by an excerpt from Polish writer Wiesław Myśliwski’s Treatise on Shelling Beans.

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

New Year’s decorations lay idle on the floor. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Along with this is a powerful series featured in this article, Here Live Only Sparrowswhich shows demolished houses in a village near Beijing, with the inhabitants forced to relocate so the government can make more room to build factories.

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Residents forced to relocate so factories can be built. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

An excerpt from the photographer’s website shares the story of the harsh history that inspired the title, along with a touching story of an encounter with a local from the village.

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Demolition of houses with mountains and a few trees left standing. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

From Wiktoria Wojciechowska’s website:

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Hundreds of millions of sparrows were killed, and they came close to extinction. It wasn’t factored in that sparrows ate insects, such as locusts; therefore, locusts no longer had their main predator.

By the following year, the locust populations had grown excessively, eating all the crops in sight. This led to the grain production in most rural areas collapsing, followed by a massive famine.

Rubble from the demolition. From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Rubble from the demolition. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

The topic of the famine is taboo in China, with any books being written about it becoming banned. It’s a dark part of their history where many people were murdered for food and people began to eat each other, along with accounts of parents who ate their own children to survive.

It’s estimated 45 million people died in the famine caused by economic mismanagement, environmental disaster, and state terror under Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

Almost 50 years on, Wiktoria Wojciechowska ponders this, and we are left to draw parallels with China’s people and the sparrows. A feeling of extinction within the village, yet a small feeling of hope in the symbol of a sparrow and an old man she encounters, a gentle resilience, as she visits a village almost completely demolished to make room for economic growth.

Empty houses. From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Empty houses. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Here is her experience taken from her website:

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Belongings from the residents who had to vacate the property. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Vanishing buildings. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Odd bits of detail left from what remains of the house. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

A man from the village requesting a photo of him before his homes are demolished. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

From photo-series 'Here Live Only Sparrows.' (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Mountains of rubble. From photo-series ‘Here Live Only Sparrows.’ (Image: Wiktoria Wojciechowska)

Visit Wiktoria Wojciechowska’s website to view more of her photographic projects.

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