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Pulitzer Center Update June 29, 2015

This Week: Dying to Breathe


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China’s deadly mining accidents hit the international news headlines frequently. But the country's...

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He Quangui, a former gold miner, is slowly dying of silicosis—an irreversible but preventable lung disease he contracted from years of working in small, unregulated mines in Henan Province in central China. Since he became ill 10 years ago, his wife, Mi Shixiu, 36, has had to take care of his every need. When he is too sickly to walk, she carries him, even up flights of stairs. Image by Sim Chi Yin. China, 2015.


Four years ago, Pulitzer Center grantee Sim Chi Yin set out to document the devastating impact of pneumoconiosis, China's most prevalent occupational disease. The slow, silent killer that destroys the lungs afflicts an estimated 6 million people, most of them mine workers. Chi Yin met a miner named He Quangui who was dying of pneumoconiosis and persuaded him to allow her to move in with his family.

Though she started out doing a story about a deadly disease, she soon saw a different narrative: "I realized this was not just a story about a dying man in a remote village in China," she told The New York Times. "It was a universal love story." In producing her intimate and loving portrait of He and his wife, Chi Yin grew close to the family. At one point she helped raise funds for medical treatment that has prolonged He's life.

"I was a human being first and a photographer second," she said. "As a documentary photographer, I want to bring about change around large issues, but given the opportunity to make a concrete change in one person's life, it would be unconscionable not to do so."


After a policy review, President Obama last week announced that families of U.S. hostages would no longer be threatened with prosecution if they attempted to negotiate private ransom settlements with terrorist organizations.

The clarification comes too late for the families of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and other hostages murdered by ISIS, and it may not go far enough, according to Pulitzer Center grantee Michael Scott Moore, who was held hostage by Somali pirates for 977 days before a ransom deal was reached.

Michael, who was interviewed on PBS NewsHour about his ordeal, said he had no issue with the U.S. government's policy of not paying ransom to terrorists, but that in order for that policy to be effective the government needs to coordinate closely with hostage families and be willing to carry out an aggressive plan to rescue hostages.

"If we think that American policy is going to stop future kidnappings, then we're misled by the idea that just saying to a TV camera that we don't pay ransoms will actually prevent it, because that wasn't the case in my case," Michael said. "The one language that kidnappers and terrorists would understand is a consistent policy of rescue."


The stoutly Catholic Philippines is now the only country in the world (aside from the Vatican city-state) where divorce remains illegal. In her wise and witty account of her own struggle to get out of a failed marriage, Ana Santos, our 2014 Persephone Miel fellow, explains why the Church might show a bit more mercy toward poor "sinners" such as herself.

"I had walked out on my marriage five years earlier and had barely spoken with my daughter's father for just as long, but on paper he was still my husband. I was a single woman, but I was not free. My name was only half mine—all my identification papers remained in my married name. Any major purchase I made would be considered conjugal property. If I got into a new relationship, I risked being charged with adultery and jailed," Ana writes in The Atlantic.

It took Ana four years and more money than she could afford to wend her way through the corrupt, humiliating and hypocritical annulment process that ultimately terminated her marriage. "I was 33 when I received the court decision. And on the phone that day, I felt like the oldest 33-year-old in the world," she says.

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor


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