Rarely does a book of richly colored photographic images of a country and the people that inhabit that country on every page reveal so much of a culture that the book becomes an instant resource for fascinated travelers (real and armchair), students, teachers, and readers who care about the planet we call Earth. CHINA: PORTRAIT OF A PEOPLE is indeed what the title suggests: within the covers of this book are more faces sampling the 1.3 billion people who inhabit the 33 provinces and the 56 cultures of the vast country of China, faces that range from the new born to the elderly, the healthy to the suffering, the traditional culture bound with the new Westernized modern look, all placed within the context of the land and the life differences in one fascinatingly diverse country.
Tom Carter almost unintentionally created this brilliant book. His goal was to spend two years traveling across China, lingering long enough in each of the varied provinces to learn the customs, the people's way of life, the history that varies so greatly among the provinces (both ancient and recent - meaning within the last century), and capture the land and the people who dwell there with his camera. A young politician by training, Carter had already made a similar journey through Mexico, Central America and Cuba: this idea of earnest sociological, journalistic and humanitarian investigations was in place. In 2004 he traveled to the People's Republic of China as an English language teacher in Central China and in two year's time he resolved to learn more about the people who inhabit this divers and historically rich land: in 2006 he began his trek by every possible means of transportation traveling through every province, staying is many cities, soaking up the realities of life there that too often are obscured from tourists, committed to learning all he could, incorporating the splendors of the vistas from the Gobi Desert to the highest mountains of Tibet to the lush mountains and rivers and the seas and oceans that brush China's borders - and capturing it all on film!
Few of us realize how disparate are the various provinces of this great country. Carter shows us these variations of religions (Buddhism, Muslim, and variations within these, and more), farming, apparel, ritual, celebrations, animals, connections to the earth, the influence of the mass changes of Westernization on the beauty of the historically significant architecture, the lay of the land in the way it supports (and in certain cases dooms) its people, the forms of sport and entertainment, compassion and revolt, and the response of the people to the presence of an 'outsider'. Carter's photographic images were taken with Olympus Camedia C400 camera: more color saturation could not be possible than in the images we see here.
Another major aspect of this book is the presence on most pages of a few words by the author that so simply define the meaning behind each of the provinces and the people he has captured on film. Each section on each of the 33 provinces begins with a succinct description about the historical significance and the unique aspects of that province. At times there are bits of poetic moments shared, and at time the words of someone he met are shared. In all, then, this as complex a diary of a country as any book presented about he vast country that is China, an ancient and yet also very modern neighbor. Reading and absorbing this book will provide the reader with a true sense of the cultural riches of China: more important, the reader will feel an affinity for these people with whom we share life on the planet. Highly recommended to all readers. Grady Harp, August 10