Last month, Jiangnan Yiling, editor-in-chief of Size Outdoor magazine, spoke at UCCA about his travels and the inspiration for his charity projects. Jiangnan speaks with a strong southern accent. From the age of 10, he often traveled with his father to snowy mountains, harsh deserts, Buddhist shrines and the Tibetan steppe.
A visit to an elementary school in Yushu, Qinghai Province changed his life in 2009.
“I was traveling for fun that day. We were driving in the mountains when we bumped into this portable school,” he said.
The “school” was little more than a traveling tent that moved about the plateau to offer classes to the local children.
“The contrast between developing regions like Guangdong and Jiangsu and truly isolated areas was simply shocking,” Jiangnan said.
The encounter inspired his documentary project to spend 5 to 10 years on the road, recording village life, documenting living conditions and boosting awareness of poverty.
Since 2010, Jiangnan has visited nearly 50 impoverished regions across the country to photograph the conditions, learn from the locals and expand his knowledge.
For the UCCA lecture, he selected the 10 most touching places he visited to highlight for the audience.
His personal stories painted a very different picture of China’s development than the one portrayed in official media.
When Jiangnan revisited Yushu after the quake, he learned about the local government’s wild corruption and its plan to use the disaster to grab more land. He recorded the terrible conditions of the migrants and the struggles of the rescue team, many of whom fell ill due to altitude sickness.
His personal account is raw and unedited, written based on his first impressions rather than digested and refined.
Many people who attended the lecture said they were interested in helping to work as volunteer teachers.
“Speaking for myself, I do not support the idea of being a short-term volunteer teacher,” he said. “The more you see, the more you become aware that one person’s ability to make a difference is so small and so limited.”
That feeling is part of why he began the project: awareness is the first step in building a system that can provide real support, he said.
The massive turnover in volunteer teachers carries its own burden for the community, much of which consists of children who are left behind with aging, ailing grandparents as their only caretakers.
Jiangnan said he plans to visit all 468 of the government’s officially recognized impoverished counties. Along the way he will record and publish the contact information of children in need.
Although his projects has several sponsors, the majority of his work is entirely self-funded.