« But what do the Chinese have to say about it? | Main | A protest in China »

Thoughts about dead bodies in Gansu, China


On Saturday I posted  five photographs on the blog, and said that one of them was for a story I'd been working on. It was a picture (No. 3) of Wei Jinpeng standing next to the Yellow River, with his hands held behind his back. Just to the left of the frame was a cliff that dropped to the shore, and floating in the water was a jumble of human corpses.

Wei makes his living by collecting dead bodies and selling them to family members or friends. (The story about Wei and body fishing can be found by clicking here.) 

It's not the photograph of Wei that I've been thinking about. It's the one below, of the bodies in the Yellow River, with ropes tied around their waists. I have seen a lot of dead people while reporting -- Iraq, Afghanistan, the war in Georgia --  but this scene resonated in a different way. 

All the other times I've encountered a collection of bodies out in the open, there's been the wail of people grieving, or the very loud sounds of war. The scene by the sluggish stretch of the Yellow River in Gansu was totally quiet. The wood and cable bridge nearby stood still.  There was no traffic, no crowds, no voices. A snapshot of Wei suggests nothing strange happening.

Of course, when families come and recognize one of their own, the scene is much different. China has a tradition of sweeping ancestors' graves, and to see a loved one rotting in the river is the opposite of that venerated display of respect.

 "If it's the mother, son, husband or wife, they cry," said Wei Yingquan, another body fisher, who's not related to Wei Jinpeng. Another man, a relation of Wei Yingquan, added that: "It's very common that they cry a lot."

Looking down at the bodies in silence, I wondered how they died.

Both Wei Jinpeng and residents of the nearby city of Lanzhou said that many who end up in the river have committed suicide or been murdered. They spoke of a city in which laborers, especially migrants, get shoved around and cheated all the time. To live like that and then die like this, I thought to myself, would be a terrible thing. 



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Thoughts about dead bodies in Gansu, China:


Dave Palmer

This is just another example of the human cost of the restoration of capitalism in China.

The west condemns Mao as a "monster" -- yet they ignore the massive and ongoing destruction and devaluation of human lives that results from the so-called "natural functioning" of the so-called "free market."


This is one the saddest stories I've ever read, and one made more poignant by your photos. Photographing bodies so often adds another layer of de-humanization to the dead, but I think, rather, that these pictures bring something of the dead's humanity back to us. Ironic, given that many of these lost souls were dehumanized in life in various ways (whether through the violence of acknowledged criminals, or the economic crimes too often ignored by the present political system). Thank you for this work.

The comments to this entry are closed.



"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

Send Tom a story suggestion.

Read Tom's stories at news.mcclatchy.com.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomLasseter

Follow Tom on Google Plus

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


    Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
              1 2
    3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    10 11 12 13 14 15 16
    17 18 19 20 21 22 23
    24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Photo Albums