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“Old men of Zhaoxing”
May 2010

1/2500th @ f/2.2
ISO 400
Canon EOS 5D Mark II

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China Like No Other
A decade of travelling to China with camera in hand finishes this year. I have been fortunate to enjoy so much of "Old China", so much so that I'm finding it difficult to embrace the new version. All good things must come to an end.

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Guizhou province is home dozens of ethnic minorities, hidden into the undulating landscape of terraced rice fields and steep valleys. It's a treasure, a province that embraced the lost cultures of China from successive dynasties and gave them a home.

One of my favourite places in Guizhou is Xijiang, a Miao village built from timber and hugged by the curve of a river. When I first visited Xijiang I had to first reach the city of Kaili and then drive another 6 hours into the mountains. The Chinese built a new highway and reduced the road time to just one hour, making it a popular day trip for hordes of visitors passing through Kaili. Things change.

All over China the modernisation of a nation is pushing aside these quiet locations that photographers like myself enjoy best. The easier they are to reach, the more popular they are to visit and the more flooded by domestic tourism they become. Old town all over China are being turned into theme parks. Buy a ticket, pose with girls in ethnic costumes and take your photos.

In September last year I visited my favourite rice terraces near Guilin, a place that requires an hour walking up hill from where the road ends. At least it used to. As of this summer a new chair-lift is in operation, making it easy for exercise challenged tourists to get up high into the scenery. The moment I saw the chair lift under construction I knew in my heart that my time in China was coming to an end.

I'm reminded of the old gag about Coney Island, "That place is so popular, nobody goes there anymore."

New China is not always a tacky theme park replica of Old China. Shanghai is a brilliant beacon that leads the nation forward, indeed the world. You don't head to Shanghai in search of rice paddies, you come for a glimpse of the future, to taste fine Chinese cuisine and to indulge in contemporary artistic expressions.

Once you let go of Old China there is an opportunity to enjoy the sassy and shiny new version. It's not the China I reflect on in my photo collection, it's another country entirely. The world changes and I am grateful to have had my decade of China before this one.

Some people wanted to know why I am no longer running tours in China, so I hope this will paint an accurate picture. I hope to spend a little time with New China in the coming years, but probably not for too many photography tours.

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A few images from my most recent travels in China:




Guizhou - Miniskirt Miao

Guizhou - Dong People

Guizhou - Village of Xijiang

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This feature was last updated on Wednesday 08th May 2013
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