Faces of Shaanxi

(*note this page is continuously updated: last updated 8/24/03)

These are photos taken by me since 1994. Most of the photos were taken in between 2000-2001.

The areas cover northern as well as southern Shaanxi.


This is the "Ceremonial Hall of the Heroes" locally known as the Mao Zedong Temple. The Hall is located on the "Daoist Temple Mountain" outside a village in Northern Shaanxi. The Hall is situated between the Yu Wang and Guanyin Temples.

These are the six foot plaster figures inside the Hall/temple. In order from left to right Zhu De, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. This Hall was built in 1993 in honor of Mao's 100th birthday celebration. The top floor of the two level structure houses the three figures while the lower floor is dedicated to the local heroes who died fighting the Nationalists (KMT) in the the 1930s and 1940s.


Old Ma was 78 years old in 1996 when this picture was taken. He was singing a Mongolian folk song when we met him. We asked where did you learn this song and then he proceeded to tell us his story.

He was born in 1918 in the exact same village where we meet him in 1996. He said that in 1947 the KMT (Nationalist Party/Guomingdang) came to his village and conscripted every male over 16 years old. The KMT said, "you fight for the KMT or die" Ma replied "Long live Jiang Jieshi, and the KMT" and off he went to fight the communists in Inner Mongolia. Less than a year latter, his KMT unit was overrun by the Chinese Communists (CCP). The CCP soliders said join the Communists or you will die as the emeny. Ma replied, "Long Live Mao Zedong and the Communist Party". He then fought the KMT in the Shan-Gan-Ning regions until the end of the war in 1949. He then returned to his home village.

He still plays the Mongolian folk songs he learned as a KMT and CCP conscript.


This is a family of five: one couple and their three daughters. I met them in 1996 and the husband introduced the two older girls by their names, but the youngest was introduced as the "non-existent one" (ta bu cunzai). The youngest daughter is unregistered, that is, she is not on any official local records (i.e. one of the missing girls). Over the years I have met a number of these non-existent girls.


The tradition is that the older daughter helps the family with the prized younger son. The little brother began crying in the middle of the road and the older sister immideately came to comfort younger brother.


The elderly in rural China do not "retire" with a pension or benefits. In fact, many work until they drop. The gentelman in this photo is 82 years old and he still collects the sunflower seed, dries them and sells them from a make shift stand near the center of the village.

In Northern Shaanxi, goats are a measure of wealth and an important livestock.

The young man carries a stick with a small flat metal end somewhat like a tiny shovelhead. He uses this to control the goat herd. Always walking behind the herd, he periodically plunges the small shovelhead into the dry earth and flings the clumps of dirt with pin point accuracy to either the right or the left of the lead goats. The sudden sound of these dirt projectiles landing so close forces the lead goats to follow the perfered direction of the goat herder.


In Northern Shaanxi, most of the villagers live in a Yaodong or a cave dwelling. Inside the yaodong there is a kang or brick bed in the back of the room and a cooking/heating stove next to the kang. The yaodongs are remarkably comfortable: cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The chimney from the wood stove runs under the kang in a snake like pattern and this heats the bed during the winter months.

This yaodong has a dirt floor and "polished" dirt ceiling, but I have also stayed in yaodongs with tile floors and finished cement ceilings.

The young girl is starting the fire to cook noodles for the evening meal. Notice the tall brown ceramic contaniers, these contaniers hold the household water for cleaning, drinking and cooking. The metal pail below is used to carry the water from the well.

This what the inside of a kang looks like. You can clearly see how the kang heats the bed.


This is the home of a family I stayed with for a few days. The whole family, including guests, sleep on the kang.

This is a picture of dirt yaodongs (tu yaodong) in a poor mountian village.


These are stone and cement yaodongs. In many parts of Northern Shaanxi, some of the villagers are building newer yaodongs with stone and cement and using the older dirt yaodongs for storage.


Carrying water from the well to the house is a daily chore and everyone in the family contributies to the effort.


This is a village women husking corn. Off to the righside (out of view from the picture) there is a large stack of corn.


The fields in Northern Shaanxi are dry and mountainous. I typically see villagers in this area plowing the hillsides.

The Northern Shaanxi landscape is very mountainous (shandi). It is difficult to farm and there is little or no irrigation. In this region, a common folk saying is "kaotian chifan" "depend on the weather to eat".


In stark contrast to Northern Shaanxi, the fields of Southern Shaanxi are flater (pingdi) and tend to have greater access to irrigation.

The dirt structures in the background are greenhouses where villagers grow cash crops. The most successful villages are the one near urban centers (i.e. large markets).

The villagers in Southern Shaanxi typically do not live in yaodongs. They tend to live in larger brick homes (pingfang). This home has running water and a washing machine.


This photo was taken in a southern Shaanxi village. The young and old are frequently seen together in the villages I visited. Usually the grandparents take care of thier grandkids, but, in this case, it is the great grandchildren who are taking their great grandmother to the local market.

This is me with a village host family. The man on the right is the father and his eldest son is on my left. They live in a four room stone yaodong. The farther has one room on the end and the eldest son and his family live in another room while the room I stayed in was being prepared for his number two son and his wife to be.

I stayed in this village for six days and this was my going away party the night before I left.