CHINA: Portrait of a People


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By Tom Carter

with foreword by Anchee Min and epilogue by Mian Mian

The Beijing Olympics focused the world’s eyes on China. But despite increased tourism and rampant foreign investment, the cultural distance between China and the West remains as vast as the oceans that separate them. The Middle Kingdom is still relatively unknown by Westerners.

China is in fact made up of 33 distinct regions populated by 56 ethnic groups – and American photojournalist Tom Carter has visited them all. This little book is a visual tribute to the People’s Republic of China, with an ardent emphasis on the People.

Look inside this book
Click on the links below to see sample pages from CHINA: Portrait of a People. You will need a pdf reader to view these excerpts.

Gansu  Hainan

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ISBN: 9789889979942 Categories: , Tags: , , , , ,


The Beijing Olympics focused the world’s eyes on China. But despite increased tourism and rampant foreign investment, the cultural distance between China and the West remains as vast as the oceans that separate them. The Middle Kingdom is still relatively unknown by Westerners. China is in fact made up of 33 distinct regions populated by 56 ethnic groups – and American photojournalist Tom Carter has visited them all. This little book is a visual tribute to the People’s Republic of China, with an ardent emphasis on the People.


“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.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Part of the strength of this book is its independent spirit. It’s not a travel guide showing China dressed in its Sunday best, or a photojournalistic approach documenting the underbelly of the country, but rather a peek at the sights Carter has seen and a corrective to both the glowing promotional images and negative Western media shots that we are all familiar with. For instance, if you were to make a pilgrimage to Mount Tai for the sunrise you would likely be one of many thousands doing the same and this is the image Carter presents – hordes of people dressed in green army overcoats – not the typical picture postcard view.” — China Daily

“In China: Portrait of a People, 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.” — Christian Science Monitor

CNNGo stopped Tom Carter before his talk at Shanghai’s Glamour Bar to get some insight into his “beautiful and groundbreaking 600-page photo collection”.

With the international release of his book this summer, the rest of the world can now tag along on Carter’s eye-opening journey through China’s biggest cities and far-flung regions and discover what China really looks like. CHINA: Portrait of a People is the cover story for Shanghai Talk Magazine.

“It must have been a daunting task for Tom Carter to set out to photograph all 33 provinces and regions of China, including Hong Kong and Macau. But capturing the diversity of its 56 ethnic groups is a remarkable achievement … There are a number of shots in this book that could easily grace the pages of National Geographic … Unless you want to undertake your own two-year trek through some of the mainland’s most difficult terrain to take your own shots, this is a study well worth having on your bookshelf.” Steve Cray, South China Morning Post

Video: see Tom Carter speak at TEDx Guangzhou

“Carter has shown us just how easy it is. Just get on the bus, Gus. Buy a ticket, ride from town to town, chat to people and take their picture. I have traveled many of same roads in the same way and this photo-book captures the feel, the color, the smell of China better than most others I have seen. … His subjects are casual, un-posed, unrehearsed. He manages to achieve an extraordinary intimacy, not just with cute kids and young women, but with worshippers at a mosque, with a miner caked in coal dust changing his clothes at the end of a shift. He clearly must have considerable charm to have achieved these candid snaps of people who are normally shy of having their picture taken. But as he says, and people who travel the country soon find out, ordinary Chinese people are extraordinarily warm with foreigners.” John Sexton,

“In these 900 images, Carter shows just how diverse the Chinese really are, with their different facial features, skin hues, lifestyles, cultures and occupations. What ensues is an engaging and enlightening photo essay of 1.3 billion people.” Ferina Natasya Abdul Aziz, Asian Geographic Passport

China is the in-your-face bright lights, neon signs and bars in the cities. It is the marketplace of fresh produce and livestock in the smallest villages. The movers and shakers in the high-rises of Shanghai and the pilgrim prostrate on the road as he moves, wormlike, towards Lhasa. China is all of this and more than these, as Carter shows. China is the sum of its people’s dreams and hopes and heartaches and joy and pain. There are many, many facets to China that most of us will never be able to see. For most of us, our view of China will be limited by our pilgrimages to its tourist centers. Thankfully, Carter has provided us with a bigger view of the country. Geni Raitisoja, All About China

“Who are the Chinese? This is the question Tom Carter explores in his photographic journey through China’s 33 provinces.” Perrine Lhuillier, GBCC China Review

Instead of similar photo books, CHINA: Portrait of a People is a more portable volume. Rather than focus on geographic, landscape or sight-seeing photos, Carter focuses on the distinct features and lifestyles that define the nation’s 56 ethnic groups.” Annie Wei, Beijing Today

“After teaching English in Beijing for two years, Carter hit the road with a backpack, his Olympus Camedia C-4000, and an undeniable eye for images. Two years later, the result is a striking, kaleidoscopic vision of China’s lands and people, covering all 33 provinces. Carter’s grassroots approach to photography gives the book an intensely personal quality, downplaying standard news-style imagery in favor of the human intrigue and intimacy of opening a friend’s photo album.” Mary Dennis, The Beijinger

“The images veer between the light-hearted (laughing children playing on a sand dune in Gansu), titillating (a pair of female KTV hostesses in Shandong lean in for a kiss), appalling (a mentally ill girl lies in the middle of the road as cars just pass her by), and thought provoking (the worn and sunburned face of a destitute old Tibetan lady). But there is a constant the peering visages of all ethnicities, of all China. Through Carter’s journey of self-discovery, we end up discovering a little more about ourselves and a land so vast, so disparate, that 638 pages of photos barely manage to scratch the surface. Still, Portrait of a People is a very good place to start peeling back the layers.” Simon Ostheimer, Time Out Hong Kong

Tom Carter: Portrait of a People Danwei

Are you one of those kooks who spends more time staring at the Forbidden City workers than at the place itself? If so, you’re in good company with Tom Carter. CHINA: Portrait of a People forsakes temple and tower to focus on China’s many faces. For those who read more in a twinkling eye or a lined brow than in a slate roof, the book is a revelation, providing a more honest picture of this turbulent land than a rack of China travel books pre-approved by the Ministry of Information. Ernie Diaz, China Expat

China Travel 2.0 asked Tom Carter about seeing China on a shoestring.

After a year teaching in the new industrial city of Dongying, and another in the capital Beijing, Carter knew just enough of China to realise he knew very little. Nomadic by nature, he decided to hit the road in search of the real China, in all its various postures. Sometime during his twoyear trek through China’s 33 provinces — by train, bus, boat and on foot — he realised he had the makings of a book. Not a vast, ostentatious coffee-table book whose square footage is more impressive than its photographic count, but a square, dense tome, bursting with nearly 900 images. … Carter’s photographs — of disco girls and beggars, businessmen and farmers, gangsters and monks, and of the far-different facets of China they inhabit — are divided by province, each section marked by a foldout map that acts as a pre-determined bookmark for browsers. Each province gets half a dozen paragraphs of exposition, but the photographs largely speak for themselves.” Tony Atherton, Macau Business

Tom gives us an incredible insight to the people of China, from poor to wealthy, young to old. You can see he gets into their culture and delivers a fabulous insider view, capturing emotions through the lens. Each region has a selection of Tom’s photos with brief, but informative captions. It’s not a travel guide or a photography technique guide but it will keep you enthralled for hours at a time. ePhotozine

“Travelling by the cheapest modes of transport available and sleeping in 15 RMB guesthouses, the American photographer lived side by side with the ordinary people of China. CHINA: Portrait of a People is the culmination of his hard work, his passion for travel, his eye for detail and his genuine curiosity. Tom kindly took the time to answer my questions about what it’s like to travel in China for two years. I just couldn’t resist the ‘Jack Kerouac’ question, the ‘disgusting food’ question, the ‘what’s in your bag’ question and of course, the ‘why China’ question. He humored me. Read on. It’s been quite the journey.” Rebekah Pothaar,

“Tom Carter gets around. Thirty three provinces, 56 ethnic cultures, 10,000 portraits. The 35-year-old American spent two years on the road photographing people from every nook and cranny in China for his ambitious 640-page coffee-table book, CHINA: Portrait of a People. His stated mission: To dispel the stereotype of the Chinese as a homogeneous single nationality.” JFK Miller, Urbanatomy Shanghai

CHINA: Portrait of a People is not to be dismissed as another light-hearted snapshot collection. But neither is it heavy socio-political commentary. Photojournalist-cum-travel writer Tom Carter has successfully struck a fine balance between the two, dividing the 600-plus pages of annotated photography into 33 chapters, a document of the two years he spent travelling in different Chinese provinces.” Winnie Chau, HK Magazine

Travel photos taken by a stranger seldom fascinate. But 800 color images captured by Tom Carter as he spent two years on the road, traveling 56,000 kilometers through all of China’s 33 provinces, make a dramatic exception... Carter’s weighty book takes an effort to carry home from a store. But anyone interested in China should love owning it. Cairns Media Magazine

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

“Tom Carter’s photo book is an honest and objective record of the Chinese and our way of life… his camera leads us through 33 wide-sweeping scenes of the real and the surreal.” — Mian Mian, author of Candy

“It takes a great boldness of spirit to set out to capture the essence of so diverse a people as the Chinese in a single volume of photography. The thrill is to discover that Tom Carter has achieved just that.” — Chris Wood, Editor-in-Chief, Asia Literary Review

“As photojournalist Tom Carter discovered on his journey across China, to know the true spirit and culture of a place, you must look into the faces of its people.” MiNDFOOD magazine

Tom Carter is a guerrilla hitandrun photojournalist with a camera instead of a grenade launcher. To take the upclose and personal pictures in Portrait of a People, Carter risked jail; almost froze on the 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. Lloyd Lofthouse, author of My Splendid Concubine

Michael Herborn at Play the Game for Open Journalism interviewed Tom Carter about his work as a photojournalist in China.

Have Camera, Will Backpack Yao Minji of the Shanghai Daily quizzed photojournalist Tom Carter about his groundbreaking travels around China. Read the story here.

“…the largest collection of images on contemporary China ever published by one author. Cool Han,

Quest for photo book on Chinese people set to end in Hong Kong read the South China Morning Post clipping here.

Additional information

Weight 1200 g
Dimensions 152 × 152 mm





Full colour, 800+ photos, with maps of each province

About the author

An inveterate vagrant who flirts with pictures and words, Tom Carter spent two straight years backpacking a groundbreaking 35,000 miles across all 33 Chinese provinces, and was named “one of China’s foremost explorers” by The World of Chinese magazine. His first book CHINA: Portrait of a People has been hailed as the most comprehensive book of photography on modern China ever published by a single author. He is also the editor of Unsavory Elements, an anthology about foreign expats in China. Tom was born and raised in the City of San Francisco, graduated with a degree in Political Science from the American University in Washington, D.C., and has called China home since 2004.