Art April 6, 2010 By Nika Knight

Your series on the Muslim population in the Qi Lihe district of China is one of your most beautiful and compelling. What led you to Qi Lihe in the first place?

Qi Lihe is a district which sits on the outskirts of Lanzhou city in Gansu Province, north western China. It is home to thousands of Muslim migrant families who have left their homeland within the Linxia Hui autonomous prefecture and arrived into the city searching for job opportunities and, ultimately, a better life. For hundreds of years the Hui and Dongxiang Muslim minorities have farmed the arid land surrounding their ancestral villages. In recent years though, desertification has forced this once workable landscape to begin a dramatic change, impelling many modern-day farmers and their families to migrate to the provincial capital in order to survive. As poor rural farmers living on the edge of society, the majority struggle to gain official Lanzhou residency from the local government. This means they cannot visit hospitals for the most basic medial care and they have very little hope of job security and therefore, no regular income.
     I first travelled to Lanzhou in February of 2009 after a friend, who works at an NGO in Hong Kong, told me about the situation of Qi Lihe’s Muslim migrants. I learnt that thousands of families were living in dire conditions and I had seen no reports on their situation in the media. I felt strongly that this was an important story to tell. To this end I spent one month teaching English in a small school where the education is free for migrant children. I would then visit students’ homes after school and spend time with their families. Day after day, I grew to learn about their lives and their situation. I then returned for one month in November 2009 to continue documenting life in Qi Lihe and building on my project in the hope that my work would raise awareness of their plight.

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