lørdag 16. oktober 2021

China’s Factory Children and Their Splendid, Closed-Off Youth

Sometimes, when he is in a nostalgic mood at night, Pan Yizhi will sit up, light a cigarette, open his computer, and browse satellite imagery on Baidu Maps, carefully tracing the highways, railways, and rivers around his hometown. Faces and stories from his past begin to appear. He grew up on the grounds of a factory complex with the mysterious code number “475,” also known as the Liaoning Xiangdong Chemical Plant, in northeastern China. Originally built in 1947 in a different province — and called a brewery to mask its true purpose of gunpowder production — the factory was part of China’s military industry.

For Pan and others from his generation, such factories were a unique environment to grow up in. Isolated from the outside world, they provided workers and their families with everything — schooling, health care, entertainment. But as China’s planned economy was dismantled, so were the factories. Pan’s “475” has sat abandoned for years.

He now leads the “Children of Factories and Mines Group” on the social media platform Douban. Communal life as they knew it may no longer exist, but Pan and other members find it difficult, whether willingly or unwillingly, to shake off the past.