Each time I arrived in Hongjun village after a 12-hour journey by plane, bus, and motorbike, I took deep breaths of the crisp mountain air—as if that could clean out my Beijing-polluted lungs.
It did not take long for the irony to hit me. This alpine landscape in central China is home to hundreds—perhaps thousands—of men too sick to breathe normally.
Once farmers, these men left en masse in the late 1990s to work in gold mines—part of the army of migrant workers who powered China’s economic boom in recent decades. They dug deep into the mountains for treasures. Years later, they came back with the lung disease silicosis, and now wait in their homes for death.
Photographer Sim Chi Yin has made portraits of more than 30 former gold miners suffering from silicosis. Pictured holding their chest x-rays, clockwise from top left: Song Dengfa, died 2013; He Quangui, diagnosed with silicosis in 2004; Wang Yiyin, died 2011; She Faxue, died 2012.
Read more at Proof National Geographic:
Story told by Sim Chi Yin
Sim Chi Yin is a photographer based in Beijing, and is a member of VII photo agency. She covers social issues in the region, and has produced photo, video, and multimedia commissions for TIME, the New York Times, The New Yorker, National Geographic, and other major international publications. She was a reporter and foreign correspondent for The Straits Times for nine years before quitting to shoot. She sometimes dreams in mute, black-and-white mode, but in real life is fascinated by color and light.