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

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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 Power of Chinese Assimilation

August 27, 2014

Andrew Clark contributed a post to Politics Daily about China’s minorities and the autonomous regions they call home. As Clark points out, “Han Chinese make up 92 percent of the People’s Republic of China. The remaining 8 percent is made up of minority groups, mainly Tibetan, Zhuang, Uyghur, Mongolian, Miao, Manchu, and Hui (these are the major ethnic groups—China officially recognizes 56 minority populations).” Eight percent may not sound like much, but in China that represents more than 109 million people.

To put that in perspective, there are about 240 countries in the world but only eleven have populations of more than 100 million.

Clark concludes that “It remains to be seen whether the Chinese government can successfully assimilate these groups, or if consistent suppression of uprisings can force social tranquility.”

The Chinese map has inflated and deflated for more than two-thousand years. Some of these minorities have been in China longer than others. The Mongolians Clark visited, like the Tibetans and the Uyghur, are three who haven’t been inside China as long since they were conquered by the Qing Dynasty (the Manchu minority), who ruled China from 1644 – 1911.

Another minority ruled China for a brief time and that was the Mongols as the Yuan Dynasty (1277 – 1367). Both the rulers of the Qing and the Yuan were assimilated into the Han culture while they ruled China. That was primarily because they were heavily outnumbered by the Han Chinese.

Tibet broke from China in 1913 and stayed out until 1950 when Mao sent an army into Tibet, which has always been a difficult place for China to manage since sending armies there to enforce control was difficult. But today, a highway and a railroad make that journey easy. If those transportation routes are cut, there’s still air transportation. The travel distance between Tibet and Beijing is shorter than it was a century ago.

China is currently adding about 40 thousand more kilometers of rail throughout China and is extending its high-speed rail to reach every major city. This improved transportation system is also bringing about change and causing a Han migration that would have been unthinkable more than a century ago when most of China didn’t have electricity or roads.

For centuries, China ruled over these minorities without moving Han Chinese into their territories, but times have changed and the Han Chinese—like the Europeans in North America moving West—have been migrating into the autonomous regions for years, which may have more of an impact keeping these territories part of China than armies ever have. And if that doesn’t work, China still has the largest standing army in the world.

Clark also claimed, “the United States has seemingly countless ethnic and cultural minorities that are proud to call themselves American…”  While somewhat true, many of almost 2,500 American native tribes still  hold to their old ways and live on reservations proud to be Navaho or Sioux, Black Foot or Apache, maybe more so than being American.

If given a choice,  many of these North American tribes would jump at the chance to have their ancestral homes back. But the FBI keeps a tight watch over these American minorities, and the US Marines are always a phone call away.

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Climbing the Dragon’s Back in Southeast China

August 5, 2014

The Dragon Back Rice Terraces are located in Guangxi Province in southeast China near Vietnam.  The nearest city is Guilin, which is close to the Li River.

When we arrived, there was two-legged transportation for anyone who wasn’t strong or healthy enough to climb to the top.

There are fifty-six minorities in China and this is an autonomous region where the Zhuan minority lives— the largest minority in China with more than sixteen million people. The ancient Zhuang culture has been traced back more than two thousand years.

Halfway to the top, we passed this woman cleaning rice.

We arrived in the autumn and the rice had been harvested. The terraces were turning brown. For lunch, we ate in the village.  The terraced rice was cooked in segments of bamboo over an open fire.

At the top, we looked toward the far mountains—a foggy blue outline.

On the way down, we noticed an entrepreneur making money by letting tourists dress in minority costumes and take pictures.


Video from Oregon Lifestyles

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Li River Cruise 2008

June 27, 2013

Southeast China near Vietnam and Laos is a beautiful area to visit.  The air is clean. The sky blue. One morning, we left the hotel early to join a river cruise along the Li River. Click on the photos for a larger view.

Soon after leaving the dock, I snapped this shot of the boat in front of ours. While the tourists were on the upper decks, the cooks were preparing lunch.  The dinning room is in the large, first-deck cabin.

Cruising the Li River will carry you past one of the ten places to see in China.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of water buffalo eating the plants that grow under the water.  They would dip their heads under and come up with a mouthfull of green.

Small boats and villages are scattered along the river.

I wasn’t the only tourist taking pictures.  Most of the tourists were from the Chinese middle class.

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy Shanghai Huangpu River Tour

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

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Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 4/5

January 20, 2012

After the “Puer” tea is ready, the journey begins.

For the Pu’erh that I buy, Emperor’s Pu’erh, it leaves Yunnan, reaches China’s coast and then crosses the Pacific to end on a shelf at a Whole Foods Market. However, before that, for centuries, Puer tea traveled to Tibet and China’s capital for the Emperor.


CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 1 1/2

Most people have heard of or read about the Silk Road from China to Europe. I’m sure that few have heard of the Ancient Tea Horse Road, which I discovered in the May 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine.


CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 1 2/2

Legend says that tea from China arrived in Tibet as early as the Tang Dynasty (618- 906 A.D.). After that, the Chinese traded tea for horses, as many as 25,000 horses annually.


CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 2 1/2

But that isn’t what struck me the most about the piece. It’s the example that demonstrated why the peasants loved and possibly worshiped Mao Tse-Tung.


CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 2 2/2

For more than a thousand years, men fed their families by carrying hundreds of pounds of tea on their backs across rugged mountains into Lhasa. Some froze to death in blizzards. Others fell to their deaths from the narrow switchbacks that climbed into the clouds.


CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 3 1/2

This all ended in 1949 when Mao had a road built to Tibet and farmland was redistributed from the wealthy to the poor. “It was the happiest day of my life,” said Luo Yong Fu, a 92-year-old dressed in a black beret and a blue Mao jacket, whom the author of the National Geographic piece met in the village of Changheba.


CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 3 2/2

Before ending the four posts on Puer [Pu’erh] tea and moving on to Kombucha Fermented Tea in Post 5, Numi Organic tea, Emperor’s Pu’erh, the one I buy at Whole Foods, says, “These old-growth rare Pu’erh trees are communally owned by the local villagers who pick them for their livelihood, ensuring that they continue to grow for generations to come… Pu’erh is an ancient healing tea picked from 500-year-old organic wild tea trees in Yunnan, China. Pu’erh has more antioxidant than most green teas.”

Continued on January 21, 2012 in Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Kombucha Fermented Tea – Part 5 or return to Part 3

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This five-part series of posts on “Tea for Emperors and Tibet” first appeared May 2010, as The Magic of “Puer” Tea, The Tea Horse Road, and Kambucha Fermented Tea.


Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 3/5

January 19, 2012

The fermentation of “Puer” tea demands a perfect mix of water, moisture and air. This provides the conditions for the development of microbes and the necessary fermentation.

The fermentation of broad leaf “Puer” tea produces a substance called theaflavin often called the soft-gold of tea.

Clinical experiments show that theaflavin reduces blood fat and cardiovascular disease among other benefits.

In animal experiments, the mice fed theaflavin had their blood fat reduced by 30% compared to the control group’s 10% blood fat reduction.


Chinese Puer tea – Part 3/3

Due to the process of producing “Puer”, the tea may be stored as long as a century without losing its flavor or health enhancing benefits.

The 110 days of fermentation for “Puer” is important to achieve the best flavor and enhanced, health benefits—the time must not be shortened. The temperature and humidity must also be stable and many warehouses are built partially underground to achieve this.

I’ll bet you didn’t know much about the process the tea you may be drinking went through before filling your cup. The process to produce Puer tea represents almost two thousand years of China’s tea culture.

“Puer” got its name because it used to be sold in a town by the same name.

Continued on January 20, 2012 in Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 4 or return to Part 2

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This five-part series of posts on “Tea for Emperors and Tibet” first appeared May 2010, as The Magic of “Puer” Tea, The Tea Horse Road, and Kambucha Fermented Tea.


Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 2/5

January 18, 2012

Puer tea is mellowed by aging, the period by which it is transported and stored.

The largest, tallest tea trees in the world grow in the mountains of Yunnan. This region also produces black, green, Oolong and other kinds of tea.

The leaves for “Puer” tea are divided into three sizes and the largest contain more of the health benefits attributed to “Puer” tea.

For centuries, the process of making tea from picking, to washing, to boiling, mixing, pressing, clustering, baking, and packing has been improved to enhance the flavor of the tea.


Chinese Puer tea – Part 2/3

Dao Linyin, the governor of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous region in China says, “Puer tea contains many vitamins. Very few Puer drinkers get high blood pressure.”

Standards for selecting the thickest broad leaves for “Puer” tea means only about 30% of the tea leaves that are picked pass inspection to be processed into the final product. This selection process is important because the wrong leaves will have a negative impact on the fermentation process.

The fermentation step in the process of producing “Puer” tea takes 110 days.

Continued on January 19, 2012 in Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 3 or return to Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Subscribe to “iLook China”
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About iLook China

Note: This five-part series of posts on “Tea for Emperors and Tibet” first appeared May 2010, as The Magic of “Puer” Tea, The Tea Horse Road, and Kambucha Fermented Tea.


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