Photography Cinema

Chien-Chi Chang: Side Chain

Image Maker
Chien-Chi Chang
Born in Taichung, Taiwan in 1961. Chien-Chi Chang earned his BA from Soochow University in 1984 and an MA from Indiana University in 1990. He was a photojournalist for the Seattle Times and later the Baltimore Sun between 1991-1994. In 1995, Chang was elected to join Magnum Photos. His work has been published by New Yorker, National Geographic Magazine, TIME, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, , GEO (France and Germany) and many other leading international publications.

In his work, Chang makes manifest the abstract concepts of alienation and connection. Chang’s investigation of the ties that bind one person to another was drawn on his own deeply divided immigrant experience first in the United States and later in Austria. For 24 years, Chang has photographed the bifurcated lives of the Chinese immigrants in New York’s Chinatown, along with those of their wives and families back home in Fujian, China. Still a work in progress, China Town was hung at the National Museum of Singapore in 2008 as part of a mid-career survey and at La Biennale di Venezia, 2009 as well as at International Center of Photography, New York. 2012.

Chang has had steady solo and group exhibitions including The Chain, La Biennale di Venezia, 2001, Museum der Kulturen Basel, 2011 and recently, Home, at National Art School Gallery/Sherman Contemporary Foundation, Sydney, 2014, Busan Biennale 2014. Chang has received numerous awards from National Press Photographers Association, Picture of Year (1998 & 1999, USA), World Press Photo (the Netherlands, 1998 & 1999) Visa d'Or at Visa Pour L’image (1999, France) and was the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund on Humanistic Photography in 1999.

Chang's photographs have been in the permanent collection of The National Media Museum, Bradford, Chi-Mei Museum, Tainan, International Center of Photography, New York City, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Los Angeles County Museum, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Queens Museum, New York City, Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona Beach and Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei.
Place of Origin
In English and Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles


In 1970, Long Fa Tang temple was founded by Abbot Shih Kai-feng in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

He adopted a schizophrenic as his first disciple and began to raise chickens, keeping his helper on a leash called “the Chain of Compassion.” One day, the disciple’s delusions vanished.

The story of the cure spread. Abbot Shi Kai-feng was soon known throughout Taiwan as a healer of mental disorders. Distraught families flocked to Long Fa Tang with their troubled kinsmen.

Opposed to the use of traditional medications, Abbot Shih Kai-feng administered an unorthodox treatment. A pair of “disciples” was bound together at the waist by a six-foot chain. Such “linked therapy,” temple administrators said, allowed more stable patients to guide their partners to sanity.

In the 1980s, the temple had over a thousand “disciples,” many of whom worked on its egg farm. As of the artist’s last visit in 2014, some 700 people with mental illness lived at Long Fa Tang but no longer toil in the henhouses.

Until its closure in 2018, patients, after exhausting conventional medical treatments, continue to arrive in the hopes that Long Fa Tang temple will care for them for the remaining lives. For the desperate family members see the temple as the last resort for the incurable. In the face of harsh criticism, temple authority maintains that, as well as alleviating the tremendous burden on families, their methods have proven successful in treating the mentally ill.

The story is based on writer Cheryl Lai’s interviews with patients and temple authority and with still photos and video shot by Chien-Chi Chang between 1993 to 2014. The life-sized portraits taken in the temple were exhibited in various museums but were destroyed in a London storage space after the final exhibition.

N.B. Long Fa Tang was shut down by the authority in 2018 due to an outbreak of amoeba dysentery, marking the last chapter in its controversial five decade-long history.

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