In the village of Spring Valley, people rarely spoke of the dead, and they didn't like to reminisce. "This place was always so poor," villagers said if I asked about the old days, and then they fell silent. They had few old photographs and only a handful of written records. The Great Wall stood nearby, but even those impressive ruins didn't inspire much interest. In 2001, I began renting a home in the village, partly because I was curious about the region's history, but soon I realized that glimpses of the past were fleeting. Like most Chinese of the current generation, the villagers focused on today's opportunities: the rising prices for local crops, the construction boom that was bringing new jobs to Beijing, less than two hours away.
Published: January 2010
In China, ancient human sacrifice has given way to modern tomb-tending ceremonies, but the dead still make demands.
Photograph by Ira Block