Tom Carter traveled 35,000 miles in two years to capture a portrait of China’s people

February 18, 2015

“Tom Carter is an extraordinary photographer whose powerful work captures the heart and soul of the Chinese people.” – Anchee Min, author of “Red Azalea”.

Most tourists travel by jet or bus and spend nights in four-or-five star hotels sleeping on plush beds. They eat at only the best restaurants. A rare few visit countries like Sir Richard Francis Burton, the famous nineteenth century explorer and adventurer. Tom Carter is one of the rare few. Imagine backpacking for two years and walking 35,000 miles to capture the heart and soul of a nation. That’s what Tom Carter did to create China: Portrait of a People.

The consensus among ‘backpackers’ is that China is probably the single most challenging country in the world to visit on foot. That by itself says a lot.

There are more than 1.3 billion people in China. Besides the majority Han Chinese, the population includes fifty-six ethnic groups numbering over one hundred million. Carter saw it all from the teenage girl living in Chengdu dressed like an American punk rocker to the soot covered coal miner in Southern Shanxi. Carter’s camera lens captured the complexity and diversity of China.

Tom Carter is a guerrilla hit-and-run photojournalist with a camera instead of a grenade launcher.  To take the up-close-and-personal pictures in ‘Portrait of  a People’, Carter risked jail; almost froze on his way to Tibet; faced exhaustion and hunger; was beaten by drunks; plagued by viral infections, and risked being shot by North Korean border guards.  The hundreds of photos in ‘Portrait’ are priceless. I doubt if there will ever be another book about China like this one. From Inner Mongolian nomads to newlyweds in Hong Kong, Carter captured it all with his photography.

There is an old saying that a picture is equal to a thousand words. Great pictures tell stories.

In ‘China: Portrait of a People’, each picture is worth ten thousand words or maybe more. Carter’s photojournalist study of China stands alone in its genre as it focuses expressly on the Chinese people. Carter backpacked to remote areas to visit China’s minorities like the thousand year old Phoenix Village perched over the Tuo Jiang River or the seventy-five year old Pai Yao minority farmer in his red turban.

To reach some locations, Carter had to travel on foot into some seriously rugged terrain. To get an idea what I’m talking about, consider that China, almost the size of the United States, has only sixteen percent of its land for growing crops. The rest is either mountains or deserts.

Between the covers of ‘Portrait’, you will see what happens when a modern day Sir Richard Francis Burton spends two years backpacking through China’s thirty-three provinces and autonomous regions, not once but twice. During his odyssey, Carter discovered that the Chinese are a friendly, open hearted people.

If you plan to visit China, buy this book before you go. On the other hand, if you are an armchair tourist that never strays far from home, Carter’s Rembrandt ‘Portrait’ of China will not disappoint. You will chuckle when you see the young, twin boys walking out of the river after a swim or watch the eight-year-old acrobat student at Wuqiao bending herself like a folded sheet of paper.

Between the covers of ‘Portrait’, you will start a vicarious journey visiting China like few have done even among the Chinese. You will travel on this 35,000 mile journey without leaving your house, bus or jet seat.

  • The Christian Science Monitor said, Tom Carter shows us that there are actually dozens of Chinas. The American photojournalist spent two years traveling 35,000 miles through every province of China by bus, boat, train, mule, motorcycle, and on foot. – August 27, 2010
  • The San Francisco Chronicle said, Getting a full picture of China – a vast country with an enormous population, a place that is experiencing sweeping cultural and economic changes – is, of course, impossible. But Tom Carter comes close. … It’s a remarkable book, compact yet bursting with images that display the diversity of a nation of 56 ethnic groups. – September 26, 2010

As you might see, there is no way this review does justice for ’China: Portrait of a People’. To try might require a million words—seeing is believing. What are you waiting for?

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010″ Awards

Kindle_LR_e-book_cover_MSC_July_25_2013

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

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What Honor Means to Most Chinese: part 3 of 3

February 12, 2015

In 1935, Lin Yutang said, “Face cannot be translated or defined. It is like honor and is not honor. It cannot be purchased with money, and gives a man or a woman a material pride. It is hollow and is what men fight for and what many women die for.

“It is invisible and yet by definition exists by being shown to the public. It exists in the ether and yet can be heard, and sounds eminently respectable and solid. It is amenable, not to reason but to social convention.

“It protracts lawsuits, breaks up family fortunes, causes murders and suicides, and yet it often makes man out of a renegade who has been insulted by his fellow townsmen, and it is prized above all earthy possession.”

“It is more powerful than fate and favor,” Lin Yutang said, “and more respected than the constitution. It often decides a military victory or defeat, and can demolish a whole government ministry. It is that hollow thing which men in China live by.” (Lin Yutang, My Country and My People, Halcyon House, New York, NY, 1938, page 200)

Chinese like Yue Fei and Guan Yu were honorable men and gained much face/respect because of their beliefs and behavior.

When anyone in China reacts to anything, politically or personally, honor plays a large role. It doesn’t matter if one is a member of the Communist Party, a farmer or a factory worker or one of the wealthiest members of the new capitalist elite.

Most Chinese measure what is important in life by a different standard than the rest of the world.

Return to Part 2 or start with Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010″ Awards

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


The Jade Culture of China

January 28, 2015

Cultures I know of that valued jade more than gold were the Aztecs, Incas, Mayans and Chinese.

In fact, China’s history with jade has been documented back more than 7,000 years, as Archaeologists have discovered jade objects dating from the early Neolithic period (about 5000 BC).


On the Road of Jade

Experts of the Zhejiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology found a 6,000 year-old jade workshop in China. Inside the ruins, piles of stone slices and primitive tools were found along with twenty jade rings.

Xinhua reported that the ruins were located in Tonglu county in Zhejiang province.

In 12th century China, a treatise was written about the property of jade, which resulted in 100 volumes with 700 color illustrations.

Confucius believed jade was the symbol of intelligence, humanity, loyalty and truthfulness, and the Chinese have called it eternal, divine, the Stone of Heaven and Earth, and the stone of tranquility.


Chinese Jade Culture

Peter Luca wrote on the Health Properties of Jade in China on Suite101.com, and he said, “for centuries, imperial households and courts, ate jade, wore jade, sucked on jade and were buried with it.”

Luca says, “Scientific research has confirmed that the stone contains elements such as: Zinc, Iron, Copper, Manganese, Cobalt, Selenium, Chromium, Titanium, Lithium, Calcium and Sodium. A current line of thinking is that, wearing natural products for a long period of time can supplement the body’s diet in its requirement for these elements.”

Jade also absorbs the sun’s energy and lets it out at night.

The finest Jadeite comes from Myanmar while Nephrite (another type of jade) is found in China, Guatemala, New Zealand and Canada.

As you can see, we have barely scratched the surface of this stone.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010″ Awards

 E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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What is it about the Asian Culture?

January 14, 2015

On Tuesday January 13, I briefly mentioned the 6th Annual Asian Heritage Street Celebration that took place in San Francisco on May 15, 2010. This post continues with that event.

There were Chinese, Thai, Tibetans—and even the Falun Gong (using another name to disguise who they were)—a free Burma booth, and booths for Dragon Boat Races, and the Lion Dance.

I was there with President Margie Yee Webb of the Sacramento branch of the California Writers Club (CWC), Frances Kakugawa, and Teresa LeYung Ryan. That year, the CWC’s booth was in front of the San Francisco library.

Authors Frances Kakugawa and Teresa LyYung Ryan at the CWC booth

It’s estimated that 100,000 people attends this street celebration each year.

Many people stopped by our booth to talk about China and/or buy books. By noon, I went for a walk toward Little Saigon. Booths lined the street for blocks. It was obvious from what I saw that all of Asia’s cultures have been influenced by China one way or another.

Lion Dance booth

California Dragon Boat Races

The Chinese believe in lucky symbols and bamboo plays a part in that belief.  China was the super power in Asia for more than two thousand years. At one booth, I stopped to take a few photos of a Chinese band playing traditional Asian music.  All the instruments I’ve written on this Blog about were there.

The silk trade started in China and there was a booth with a woman creating tapestries from silk thread.

Even the Glamour and Grace of Miss Chinatown USA was represented.

It was a long and rewarding day that went by too fast, but it was a harmonious day.

Lloyd Lofthouse (me)

When I was still teaching (1975-2005), I learned that by the third generation, the children of most immigrants are assimilated by American culture.

If that is true, why is it that Asians—as an ethnic group—have the lowest incidence of STDs, the lowest unemployment rate, the lowest incidence of drug use and the lowest incidence of teen pregnancy?

In fact, American Asians, including Chinese, tend to graduate from high school with higher GPAs and complete college at rates more than any ethnic group—including White—in the United States. For instance, the Institute of Education Sciences reports that in 2011-12, 93% of Asian/Pacific Islanders; 85% of Whites; 76% of Hispanics and 68% of Blacks, graduated from high school on time.

In addition. The U.S. Census reports that 48.3% of Asian-Americans have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 29.7% for Whites, 16.3% for Blacks and 13.5% of Latinos.

Why is education more important to Asian Americans than the other ethnic groups? When I say important, I support that claim by the graduation rates and not by what someone might say. Saying an education is important to you and then you don’t graduate, reveals the truth.

I think the answer is simple, and I’ve talked about this before in other posts—the collective family culture with a strong belief in the importance of education and respect for teachers and elders, and the public schools where I taught for thirty years had a small percentage of Asian students. Most of them always earned higher grades and were concerned about any grade lower than an A. Even an A- minus might worry some Asian-American students. I also seldom had behavior problems from the Asian-American students I taught in the same classes where every racial group was represented.


Opening Ceremony of the 2014 San Francisco Asian Heritage Street Celebration

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010″ Awards

 E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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At San Francisco’s 6th Annual Asian Heritage Street Celebration

January 13, 2015

In 2010, I went to the 6th Annual Asian Heritage Street Celebration in San Francisco on Saturday, May 15, and saw my first Guzheng. No one was playing it. The band was playing with other instruments, but this stringed instrument was silent as if it had been abandoned.

The modern-day Guzheng has movable bridges and may have 15 to 26 strings.

In ancient times, the strings were made of twisted silk, but by the 20th Century most players started to use metal strings (generally steel for the high strings and copper-wound steel for the bass strings).

The Guzhen has been around since The Warring Kingdoms era (402-221 B.C.). In the video, listen to Bei Bei playing Under the White Wind.

Last year’s San Francisco Asian Heritage Street Celebration was held on Saturday, May 17, 2014. Sponsored by Hill Physicians, this annual festival is free to all attendees.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010″ Awards

E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


China Preserving its History

January 6, 2015

A few years ago, David Frum wrote on his blog (I think he deleted that post or closed his Blog since then) about China’s Early Empires referring to Belknap’s six-volume history of Imperial China. Frum said, “There is no Chinese equivalent of the Parthenon or the Roman Forum, no Pantheon or Coliseum. For all its overpowering continuity, China does not preserve physical remains of the past… He offhandedly mentioned at one point that there remained not a single surviving house or palace from Han China. There are not even ruins.”

David Frum—who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush—was wrong.

I wrote a three-part series about the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) tombs discovered in Xuzhou, which was the location of the capital of the Han Dynasty. The tombs, which have not been destroyed or looted, are now tourist attractions. A museum was built to house artifacts that were discovered. One tomb has a living room and a bedroom before the coffin chamber.  Since the tomb was built inside a hollowed-out rock mountain, it survived more than two millennia with evidence of how the Han Dynasty lived more than 2,000 years ago.

And I’ve toured the Ming tombs, and seen the graves of heroes from the Song Dynasty near the West Lake in Hangzhou, south of Shanghai.  Also, let’s not forget that the Grand Canal, which was started five centuries before the birth of Christ, is still in use today.

Then, if you visit Tibet, there’s the Potala Palace, which was first built in 637 AD and is still lived in. Although much of ancient China has vanished, there are still vestiges that equal or surpass what the Roman and Greek civilizations left behind.

Last but not least, there’s the Great Wall and China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors from the first emperor (260-210 BC). I wrote about Qin Shi Huangdi in this post: http://ilookchina.net/tag/the-first-emperor-of-china/

Though the beginning of the Great Wall of China can be traced to the third century B.C., many of the fortifications included in the wall date from hundreds of years earlier, when China was divided into a number of individual kingdoms during the so-called Warring States Period (Beginning between 481 – 403 BC) .

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010″ Awards

E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


China’s Annual Lunar New Year Migration

December 31, 2014

Imagine 220 million people on the move using the roads, rails and sky—all at the same time.

That’s what my family experienced in 2008 when we visited China during one of its national holidays, the Lunar New Year on February 7, the Year of the Rat. For 2015, the Year of the Goat lands on February 19.

In 2008, my sister and her youngest daughter went with us—and both are evangelical Christians who did not agree with China’s one-child policy. I heard this more than once but after they arrived in China and experienced that migration, they both stopped preaching about why the one-child policy was wrong.

At times, It was so crowded it felt as if we were swimming upriver through an ocean of people.

That’s when I decided that my next trip to China will not be during any of China’s national holidays—especially the Lunar New Year.

For readers who haven’t been to China, this may be your only chance to experience a taste of what it is like to live in a country with more than 1.3 billion people. By the way, 220 million people is equal to 70% of the population of the United States.

It’s possible that a passenger will have to stand for a trip of 16 to 48 hours to reach their destination.

For comparison, during the 35-day Thanksgiving to New Year holiday season in the United States, USA Today reports that Auto-club giant AAA projects that nearly 99 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles by car or air—less than half the number of people in China who travel during the Lunar New Year that’s celebrated for about 15 days.


2103 Lunar New Year in China

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010″ Awards

E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


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