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For the Millions Left Behind

A play about the millions of left-behind children in rural China touches hearts in New York

By Xie Yi Updated Apr.4

The Story of Xiaoyi, a play based on the true story of a child left behind in a remote village in southwest China’s Guizhou Province as her parents look for work in the city, arrives in New York for the first time. The production offers a window into the lives of China’s left-behind children and how a group of social workers are helping them strengthen emotional bonds with their families, rebuild trust and regain hope.

There are about 6.97 million left-behind children in rural China, according to the country's Ministry of Civil Affairs. Left-behind children either live with their relatives, often grandparents, or are left alone as their parents work in cities. Some of the left-behind children haven't seen their parents in years.

In addition to financial difficulties, many left-behind children experience mental health issues such as emotional instability and trauma. Drop out and suicide rates are high. Some turn to crime.

To meet these challenges, social workers in China are working side by side with policy-makers. In 2014, volunteers from Shanghai Huidiji Public Psychological Care Center, a non-profit organization that provides mental health care to people in need, traveled to Guizhou, one of the most underdeveloped provinces in China, to help left-behind children.

In the village, they met a 12-year-old girl named Xiaoyi, whose parents were working in Guangdong Province, 600 miles away from her hometown. Xiaoyi was living with her grandparents and younger sister and had only seen her parents five times since she was born. Feeling abandoned and unloved, Xiaoyi refused to talk to her parents on the phone. 

Through programs and activities, volunteers encouraged left-behind children like Xiaoyi and their families to express their affections for one another to eliminate misunderstandings and strengthen emotional ties.

In late 2015, Huidiji created an interactive stage play based on Xiaoyi's life. To date, The Story of Xiaoyi has been performed 88 times in 10 cities across China to raise awareness of China’s millions of left-behind children. 

Over the last four years, Huidiji volunteers returned to see Xiaoyi’s family many times. Xiaoyi’s mother is back home taking care of her children. Xiaoyi, now a sophomore in high school, hopes to become a doctor.