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In some remote and rural parts of China, early marriage is not uncommon

Photographer Xiao Muyi profiled some young couples in 2014

The youngest was 13-years-old

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Thirteen and just married, Jie looks at her wedding picture framed in white. Next to it, incongruously, are stickers from the Pixar movie “Cars.”

Jie married her 16-year-old husband three days after they met during the Lunar New Year in 2014. Not long after, she was pregnant.

It sounds like a scene from China’s feudal past, when early marriage was customary, especially for girls, but teenage brides and grooms aren’t uncommon in some poor and rural parts of the country’s hinterland.

The reasons are complex – as economic pressures, shifting social attitudes and changing population dynamics revive a practice that China’s Communist leaders had hoped to stamp out.

Photographer Muyi Xiao met Jie and her husband Wen in the southwestern province of Yunnan in 2014.

Jie was the youngest of a number of young Chinese newlyweds she profiled in a tender and fascinating series of images that helped earn 24-year-old Xiao a prestigious photography fellowship with the Magnum Foundation.

“Every girl I saw in these villages got married before they were 18 and some of them were extremely young,” says Xiao.

“It’s like something they think is normal to do – it comes from the teachers, from the parents, from the kids.”

Jie didn't want to fall pregnant so soon after getting married but didn't know about birth control.

Xiao, who traveled in the region for 18 days, said the marriages didn’t appear to be the result of parental pressure, nor a kneejerk response to an unexpected pregnancy.

“I didn’t see any forced marriage. The kids are happy, they say they fell in love.”

She said the teenagers she profiled weren’t comfortable giving their full names.

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