221A Artist Run Centre is pleased to present My Big Family, a long-term and ongoing project by Vancouver-based artist Hua Jin. In the summer of 2010, Jin traveled to seven places in Northern and Eastern China equipped with one hundred rolls of film. Through photography, video and sound, Jin documented the lives of over fifty people in her immediate and secondary family. More than just a family portrait, this project attempts to illustrate the changing family structure in China and the gradual disappearance of traditionally large families since the inception of the One-child Policy.
In the beginning of the 1970s, the Chinese government began to promote population control; subsequently, the One-child Policy was first applied in 1978 to urban areas of China. Every couple is now restricted to no more than one child as a way of controlling the rapidly growing population in China. Controversial, critical and effective as it is, the execution of the One-child Policy marked the beginning of a changed family structure and the society it exists in.
Born in 1976, Jin has a twin sister, but it was typical for her parents’ generation to have several siblings. “My Mother had three brothers. My father had four brothers and two sisters. I have a twin sister, but most of the people my age or younger were born under the One-Child policy.”(Jin Hua). Under this policy, the fundamental Chinese ideology of a prosperous family with a large number of offspring is gradually and steadily fading. Nowadays, the traditionally large families of the previous generation do not extend to the current or the future generation. The society is getting older; the families are getting smaller.
Contrary to individualism common in western cultures, China emphasizes and thrives on the idea of collectivism. Its large population is guided by the Confucius philosophy, “each individual is part of a whole”. The concept of family and community is not only crucial to the shaping of individual identity, but also effects the development of the whole nation. China is undergoing its biggest economic and social transformation over the last three decades. With the shrinking of family size due to the introduction of the policy, accelerated pace of life, and urbanization and migration, value systems have also undergone significant transformations. Increasingly, diversity in financial brackets, living conditions, educational backgrounds and lifestyle are becoming more and more common in China, even within the same family. Changes are happening not only to the existing family structure, but also to the dynamic between family members. At this turning point, to document, examine and question such changes forms the conceptual base of Jin’s project.
On a personal level, My Big Family is a continuously evolving diagram of Jin’s own big family. It has been three years since Jin left China to become a Canadian citizen. The vast physical distance between Jin and her family has triggered powerful emotions; one such is the regret of not having taken photographs with her parents, who passed away several years ago. However, their stories are kept and told by other family members. Through documenting her sister, grandma, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces, Jin captures traces of her parents and the memories they left behind. With the help of everyone in her big family, Jin stays connected – not only to the present, but also to the past and the disappearing.