/, book excerpt, china/China: Portrait of a People — a lesson in how to travel

China: Portrait of a People — a lesson in how to travel

Some years ago now, I crossed the border from Kazakhstan into Xinjiang in China’s far northwest, and found myself stuck in Urumchi with the equivalent of US$50 and no onward tickets. It wasn’t a problem; saving my cash for food, I ‘hitch-hiked’ on China’s trains by boarding them at small-town stations and then jumping off before the ticket collectors reached my carriage. At Jiayuguan in Gansu, I spent a windy night on top of the Great Wall. When I got to Xian, a green-coated PLA soldier had a spare ticket to Beijing and insisted I go with him — we spent the journey drinking Tsingtao beer and communicating in sign language, and he wouldn’t accept a penny for the ticket. In Beijing, I slept in a bike shed and got to see early-morning tai chi for the first time. And further train-hiking got me to Hong Kong on the south coast — all the way across one of the world’s largest countries for less than the price of a typical hotel room.

This is just to point out that travel need not be expensive. If the spirit of adventure is present, you can see foreign countries as well as — if not better than — package tourists.

But few adventurers have gone as far as Tom Carter. Despite a lack of funds, he decided he wanted to see China — all of it — and he set off on a two-year odyssey to visit every province and region of the PRC. He slept in bus stations, travelled with farmers and monks, fell ill and got into scrapes, but got to meet the kind of people a business traveller never would.

The resulting photo book, CHINA: Portrait of a People, features a small proportion of the people he met during his epic trek. And what a trek it was: 33 provinces, 56,000 kilometres, 56 distinct cultures and over 10,000 photographs… Tom has probably seen more of China than any Westerner since Marco Polo.

The 640-page book is available in bookstores in China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, and will soon be on sale in North America. Until then, for your armchair travelling pleasure, we reproduce a few photo spreads below.

Tom is now photographing India. Get updates on his travels at www.tomcarter.org.

2009-06-30T02:36:27+00:00June 30th, 2009|authors, book excerpt, china|10 Comments


  1. Phil June 30, 2009 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Pete – when are we going to see a book about your own silk road exploits?

  2. Pete June 30, 2009 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    When I get six months free to write them? 🙂

  3. Ireene Bucks July 1, 2009 at 1:53 am - Reply

    See, I am not the only one asking you to write your travel stories. The ones you told me are so interesting and everytime I think about them , I wish I was young again and could do what you have done, not in China but In India. It is still my dream.

  4. Ka July 3, 2009 at 3:51 am - Reply

    It is always my ambition to travel aimlessly and never have to use the same road for a return journey.
    People who have sensible guts are my Heroes. Cheers to that !

  5. Wole October 5, 2009 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Dear Pete and Tom,
    On the 1st floor of Shanghai Foreign Languages Book Store there are at least a hundred photography books about China, but China Portrait of People is NOT to be found.
    I asked the clerks if they could place an order, but they are not familiar with your title or ISBN number.
    Are there any other book stores in Shanghai or China that we can find your book? Or is it only sold in Hong Kong?
    Many thanks,

  6. Pete October 10, 2009 at 5:52 am - Reply

    Hi Wole. China is a difficult place in which to sell books (or at least to be paid for them — I wonder how many publishers and authors are being paid for those lovely photo books on display! We’ve had trouble with some of the government-run bookstores).

    However you can find Tom’s book in Timezone 8, the art bookshop, in Shanghai. You might find some other interesting titles there too.


  7. Sam Haley October 22, 2009 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    Great photos and a really good traveling lesson, indeed.

  8. Daniel Andrews October 23, 2009 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    From this photos it is absolutely clear that China is a great country. I have follen in love with it and will visit this lovely region as soon as I have such an opportunity.

  9. Uln January 10, 2010 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    It is a beautiful book, I have it on my Living Room table always open for visiting friends to browse.

    @Pete – I can see why it is not an easy book to approve here, it is not “harmonized” to the local standards. Pity, because I am sure in the 2 Fuzhou Lu stores (Book City and the Foreign Language) you could sell a few copies. Lots of expats looking for presents to take back home.

  10. Pete January 14, 2010 at 12:03 am - Reply

    Thanks Uln! China distribution is a tricky task. Luckily the book will be available on Amazon in a few months, so that’s one workaround.

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