Fan Shisan: Multiple Meanings

In 2009, Shanghai-based photographer Fan Shisan began working on a series he calls ‘Two of Us’, an affecting and unique comment on China’s one child policy and its effect on an entire generation. After gaining attention online, the series has grown 50 photos strong and there is still no end in sight.

To try to adequately explain what he is trying to convey with the ‘Two of Us’ series, Fan Shisan relates a story from his childhood. At elementary school, Fan’s maths teacher was a taskmaster who always assigned the most difficult homework to his students. One of the assignments was so hard that no-one in the class could figure it out and when the teacher realised none of the students had done their homework he ordered the children to raise their hands. The teacher then took a wooden ruler and hit each child on the palm of the hand, one by one, as punishment for their stupidity.

“At the time we thought we were wrong because we couldn’t figure out the assignment and we deserved to be punished,” Fan says. “It was only later I realised that it wasn’t our fault that we didn’t understand.”

He compares this experience to that of being a product of China’s one child policy. “To be an only child is the same thing,” he says. “It’s unnatural, but you are made to think it’s correct.”

The thoughtful and soft-spoken 27 year old was born and raised in Sichuan, where he began drawing at an early age, and, hoping to develop his talent, his parents enrolled him in a traditional painting class at the age of seven. Not seeing a viable career in the art world, Fan came to Shanghai to do a degree in television production eight years ago and started taking photographs for fun, but it wasn’t until he left his full-time job in design two years ago that he really got serious about becoming an artist.