Zhang Lijie
(b.1981) Photographer based in Beijing, China
Chunchun and Minghua

From China to America: The Parallel Lives of Two Disabled Women

Two childhood friends reconnect after a decade apart, living their lives on opposite sides of the globe.

/ 图文:张立洁 /


Chen Chunchun sits in bed after showering at a budget hotel in Jiashan, Zhejiang province, May 25, 2016. Zhang Lijie

                       刚洗完澡的春春大方地同意我拍摄一张她的背影。她并不介意别人知道自己的残疾,她说过,“我就是我,我不想掩饰,也掩饰不了”。

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Chen Minghua and Chen Chunchun have a lot in common. They both contracted polio at a young age, were abandoned by their families, and grew up together in the same Chinese orphanage — which gave them the same family name. But in 2001, Minghua, then 11 years old, was adopted by an American family, embarking on a new life and leaving Chunchun behind.

The “sisters,” as they refer to each other, lost contact until 2011, when Minghua was offered an internship in China and visited the orphanage where Chunchun still lives. The two women have kept in touch ever since, video-calling each other frequently.


Xray film of Chunchun's upper body.春春的脊柱X光片显示她的脊椎变形非常严重,医生说这将影响她的内脏功能,甚至影响寿命。姐姐明华在刚去美国的时候在养父母的帮助下,接受了长达12小时的矫形手术,很大程度上缓解了这方面的风险,但春春却因为现实原因错过了最好的手术时机。


Chunchun is unflinching about her physical disability. “This is just me,” she says. “I can’t hide it, and I don’t want to hide it.” Her spine is bent as a result of polio, putting pressure on her organs and making it difficult to breathe.

Chunchun lives a relatively happy life in Chenzhou, a city in central China’s Hunan province. She has her own room at the orphanage, which provides her with the basic necessities for a life with dignity. However, she would rather she didn’t have to rely on others so much when going outdoors. As facilities for the disabled are uncommon in prefecture-level cities like Chenzhou, Chunchun has to ask her male friends for help getting on and off public transport.

Two years ago, Chunchun met Lei Yu, a blind masseur who would later become her partner. Lei is Chunchun’s feet; Chunchun is Lei’s eyes. Though Chunchun and Lei have not registered for a marriage license, they have abundant respect and affection for one other. “Two people in love, that’s all there is,” says Chunchun. “Many of my friends are married or divorced, but I am perfectly satisfied with the present situation.” Lei’s children call Chunchun “Mommy.”


天晚了,春春提议出去吃点东西,却下雨了。这时候雷雨灵机一动,让他们的朋友小敏(化名)直接坐在春春身上,这样就能推着她们两个人一起走。一个负责打伞,一个负责看路,一个负责卖力气。

租住在离上海不远的浙江嘉善,春春他们的演出队每天开着两辆小面包车拉着音响和十几个人到处找场地,打游击一般的演出生活,练就了他们上车就能睡着的功夫。

在寻找了一个多小时后,他们开车来到距离嘉善县几十公里以外的另一个城市,城市中心的一片广场成了他们当晚的目的地,但是刚刚架起灯光,抬出音响,几名保安就迅速赶到,春春却能不慌不忙地与之应对。最终,在经历了几轮较量之后,他们得以在这个人流密集的场地演出,春春说,这种情况算是很顺利的了。

春春正在唱一首网络情歌,欣赏或同情他们的观众会在演出期间往捐款箱里投钱,一块五块,十块一百,多少都有。那天晚上据说“收成”不好,也就千八百块,十几个人平分,刨去油费、住宿费、饭钱,几乎没有盈余。


Chunchun used to make and sell handicrafts, and more recently she’s been going out onto busy streets to sing for passersby. With Lei and other friends, she founded a team of street performers with disabilities. They travel from town to town putting on two- or three-hour shows, singing, dancing, and doing acrobatic stunts in exchange for donations from spectators. Sometimes the whole team might earn less than 1,000 yuan ($145). After subtracting costs, there is often nothing left. Chunchun, normally strong and stable, can’t help but feel demoralized when this happens.

On the other side of the world, Minghua lives a markedly different life. At the London School of Economics (LSE), she is studying for her master’s degree. Minghua feels satisfied with the campus’s accessibility features, which make her daily life safe and relatively easy.


Chen Chunchun’s partner Lei Yu carries her on a train in Jiashan, Zhejiang province, May 25, 2016. Zhang Lijie 两年前,春春认识了现在的男友——盲人按摩师雷雨。雷雨是春春的腿,春春是雷雨的眼,坠入爱河的两人开始了相依为命的生活。图为从老家湖南回到浙江嘉善县,雷雨抱着春春往车厢门口挤。虽然春春只有六十几斤不算重,但是大包小包都要照看到,总是很狼狈。


春春和雷雨如愿拍了一张“结婚照”。手里的捧花是向旅馆老板借的,雷雨的西服也是他叔叔刚刚脱给他的。虽然没有正式领证,但是对与彼此来说,他们以夫妻相待。“男男女女,情情爱爱,不就是那么回事嘛。我那些朋友,结婚离婚的,还没得我现在幸福”,春春这样说。

雷雨推着春春,带着他的两个孩子,一起往郴州市中心的一个湖边公园走去。他们难得回老家,借着这次回家给雷雨奶奶过生日的机会,抽空带着孩子们到外边玩玩,雷雨的孩子们都称呼春春“妈妈”。


Minghua lived in oregon with her adoptive family — a mom, dad, and two brothers who treated her as one of their own. After living independently for years, Minghua can both take care of herself and lend a hand to others.

After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Minghua moved to New York to work in administration and translation. Though her job wasn’t bad, Minghua hoped to continue her education. After working for two years, she was admitted to a master’s program in the history of international relations at LSE.


Chen Minghua attempts to cross the raised threshold of a restaurant in London, June 8, 2016. Zhang Lijie for Sixth Tone

Chen Minghua attempts to cross the raised threshold of a restaurant in London, June 8, 2016. Zhang Lijie


Minghua can go just about anywhere she wants in London, which has a reputation for being wheelchair-accessible. However, seemingly insignificant aspects of everyday life, such as steps in front of restaurants, are still an obstacle for her. Minghua says she feels embarrassed when she has to rely on other people to help her move, so she tends to avoid eating out.

With the help of her adoptive parents, Minghua underwent a successful orthopedic surgery after she arrived in the U.S. The operation lasted 12 hours and prevented Minghua’s spine from curving further.

Chen Minghua chats with her friend Chen Chunchun during a video call from her dorm room in London, June 7, 2016. Zhang Lijie for Sixth Tone

Chen Minghua chats with her friend Chen Chunchun during a video call from her dorm room in London, June 7, 2016. Zhang Lijie

姐妹俩重新建立起联络是在明华上大学期间,她争取到了一个暑期回中国实习的机会,才第一次回到湖南郴州的儿童福利院,那也是她和“妹妹”春春一起长大的地方。现在,越来越发达的网络,让姐妹两可以经常通视频电话,这也让她们更珍视重新拾起来的亲情、友情。最近,明华刚帮春春联系到一个国际医疗机构,春春因此得以接受矫形手术。帮助春春完成这次矫形手术是明华长久以来的心愿。痊愈之后,春春因脊柱侧弯导致的呼吸困难将得到极大缓解。


Although Chunchun missed out on the ideal window for surgery, Minghua has been in contact with an international medical organization inquiring about treatment plans for Chunchun. After surgery, Chunchun would be able to breathe more easily, and Minghua says it’s her dream to help her friend get the same treatment she did.

Though Chunchun and Minghua live on separate continents, the distance doesn’t separate them. Even after so many years apart, Chunchun still considers Minghua her closest friend.



Minghua is studying her Master's degree in LSE 2016. 地球的另一边,姐姐郴明华的生活则是一个与春春完全不同的,又互相平行的世界。2016年5月,正在写论文开题报告的明华,来到学校图书馆归还图书。当时正在伦敦政治经济学院就读硕士项目的明华对那里的学习生活很满意。图书馆、自习室、食堂……在学校的各个地方,她都几乎能够畅行无阻。

Minghua's life in London while she is studying her master's degree in LSE. 性格相对内向的明华希望通过篮球来挑战自己,一方面可以锻炼身体、结交朋友,一方面也可以让自己更坚强、勇敢。拼尽全身力气,尝试了不下十次,明华终于投进了一次罚球,队友欢呼着和她击掌相庆。


Link: http://www.sixthtone.com/news/1691/from-china-to-america-the-parallel-lives-of-two-disabled-women#

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