Watering my Horse

Xiaoxiao Xu

June 12, 2020

A photographic journey along the Great Wall of China, avoiding touristic folklore, but rather capturing a feeling for everyday life in villages defined by history and tradition.
There is virtually no structure in China that is better known; and even though its original purpose has long been abandoned, the Great Wall of China continues to represent a significant piece of history. Construction initially began back in the 7th century B.C. Over the following centuries, the protective wall was further extended, as one Chinese dynasty followed another. The Great Wall is not one continuous structure, but rather a collection of sections of walls and towers.

The Chinese-born photographer Xiaoxiao Xu currently lives in the Netherlands. In her new book, she takes the viewer on a long journey: from the spring of 2017 to the spring of 2018, she followed the course of the wall for around 25,000 kilometres, photographing life near structures built during the Ming Dynasty (1386-1644), and continuing onward to the oldest segments, which have now fallen to ruin.

In her dedicated attempt to reveal the undiscovered and virtually hidden identity of the wall, Xiaoxiao Xu focused attention upon the daily lives of the people living in villages along its lengths. “The Great Wall is not just a symbol of power; it is a place where people have been living, working, and preserving traditions for centuries,” the photographer clarifies. “Despite the decline, there is a lively relationship with the wall among the local population, who honour and protect the wall.” Over the passing centuries, a diversity of people have come and gone: soldiers and merchants brought different cultures, languages, foodstuff and ethnicities. The wall is a place of living history, in constant transformation. The photographer became determined to explore the influence of the rapid changes of modern-day China on these historic places. She sought to learn which elements have been lost, which traces have survived, and what the future looks like for the settlements living under the shadow of the wall.

Her wonderfully designed book, at a first fleeting glance, looks more like a paperback than the magnificent photo book that it actually is. Xiaoxiao Xu consistently combined her own photographs with materials found along the way, such as hand-written folk stories and pages from a military atlas; and even including items discovered in excavations along the wall. As a result, the character of the book evolved into an intense journey of exploration; its sequence reflects the changing seasons, as well as the changing geography, as the wall runs from East to West. The photographer explains of her project: “The Wall meanders through time and space. Instead of viewing it as a barrier, laden with meaning, I prefer to see it as less defined. I want to reveal the ordinary, everyday lives of people; and capture the desolate atmosphere and melancholic state of time, which is something mythical, undefined and elusive.” The delightful outcome is a multi-layered, material-rich, informative and poetic book, covering the history of the Great Wall and the people living there today, while at the same time reflecting the experiences the photographer herself enjoyed. (Ulrich Rüter)

Xiaoxiao Xu: Watering My Horse
(by a spring at the foot of the Long Wall)
Mit einem Essay von Maria-Caterina Bellinetti
112 Seiten, diverse Farbabb. und Illustrationen
Design: Rob van Hoesel
22,5 x 33,3 cm, Englisch
The Eriskay Connection

First edition: 1.000 copies
World-wide distribution: Idea Books
Ulrich Rüter

Xiaoxiao Xu+-

Xiaoxiao by Marco
© Marco van Duyvendijk

Xiaoxiao Xu was born in China in 1984. She moved with her family from the megacity and port of Wenzhou to the Netherlands, when she was fourteen years old. This experience had an impact on her photography, which she has presented in various book projects, since completing her studies at the Photo Academy Amsterdam in 2009. On her homepage she writes: “I have learned to observe both the East and West from a distance. I am as much an insider as an outsider.” More


Watering my Horse

Xiaoxiao Xu