205-009 Family Re-union I didn’t intrude to ask, but it seemed that the husband was returning, probably from city work; his mother was beaming, the wife, reserved as a Chinese wife has to be, was pleased. Perhaps that is her brother holding the baby.
205-008 Muscle Power The loads that women carried was astounding. I noticed that some of the roughest labor in road building was done by women. Later, when World Bank loans brought in modern highway construction machinery and techniques women were relieved of that knd of labor, but not farm labor.
205-007 Family on Ox-Driven Cart This was a common sight not only in the countryside, but also in the cities as well. Busses did not serve every community yet and taxis were far to few and far too expensive for ordinary citizens. Note the stroller; it is made of bamboo.
205-002 Great Wall 1979 The great wall was a conumdrum for the communist government. Was it a despicable monument to tyrants who ordered citizens to buld it, or was it a monument to China’s engineering genius and the hard work and dedication of the laboring class? The wall deteriorated during the last imperial dynasty because the ruling Manchus had come from beyond the wall. Then revolution, invasion, occupation, WWII and civil war did not allow any preservation work. Thus, this is what visitors saw of the wall in 1979; soon, however, the promise of riches through tourism brought about restoration.
#204-226 This house once belonged to a landowner of the class that was eliminated when the Communist Party came to power in 1949. It features the traditional architecture of a walled compound with the principles of fengshui observed: a hill behind the house, a broad outlook in front with sub-dwellings for servants and the owner’s house set to the rear. The tile roof signifies considerable prosperity. Many such houses were demolished in the 1990’s and later. The beautiful, detailed, fine wooden carvings that went into the decorations such as doors, windows and panels found their way into various antique markets. When filmmakers wanted to create period films, they faced increasing difficulties locating older houses like this.
#204-209 On market day, carters are hired to transport farm produce and handicraft products to town. This lot is where they rest and feed their horses and swap gossip and news.
#204-202 “Snake oil” salesmen were common throughout small villages as well as large cities. China still has a long way to go in such matters as standards for medical and pharmaceutical products. These hawkers also served as a form of entertainment making people laugh and listen avidly. In the rural villages people tend to take them seriously. The police often run them along, especially when they block traffic or attract too large a crowd.
#204-181a This boy is leading the oxen while his father handles the plow in the same way it has been done for centuries all over Asia. His father was considered very fortunate to have a son during the one child only era. There are no government pensions for farmers, so a son ensures the economic survival of the family in addition to carrying on the family’s name. Farming, by its very nature, is labor intensive. Under government and economic pressure, triple cropping has become common in the south and in turn subjects farmers to a relentless year round work routine.
#204-180 The paddy in the foreground has been plowed, flooded and ready for smoothing and planting. Behind it, a farmer is planting seedlings that have been grown in a richly fertilized special plot out of sight. On the left someone is bringing two more baskets of seedlings for the planter. All of this backbreaking stoop labor is conducted from dawn to dusk. In the south where the weather is warm, triple cropping means there is no respite during the winter months such as occurs in the north.
#204-168a China is a fiercely hierarchical country. We see this in human relationships as well as throughout society, including on the roads. Big trucks automatically have the right of way everywhere and at all times. Busses can bully automobiles, cyclists have no rights against autos, and cyclists show little concern for pedestrians. So also on the waterways, as we see here, with two rafters frantically trying to avoid a ferry. The rafters are floating logs down the Yangtze River to a lumber mill. Building materials were in high demand for housing at this time because for the first thirty years of the PRC all resources were devoted to heavy industry. Mao was obsessed with the idea of building up China’s military strength so that China would never again be put under the guns of the Western Powers. This policy resulted in too little housing built for China’s rapidly increasing population.
#204-164 This pony cart with passengers is travelling through Yunnan Province on a section of the old Burma Road that was made famous in WWII. It has now been replaced by a modern superhighway. For over 2,500 year, little Yunnanese pony carts like this one were a common sight. The ponies are hardy and the passengers who rode in such carts had to be hardy too, for the roads were rough. There were no springs on the wagon and no cushions on the seats.
#204-162 Most Yunnanese ponies wear a leather collar ringed with bells so that they tinkle with every step and the effect of a convoy of ponies is very charming. In 1979 long strings of these ponies entered Kunming City every morning bringing fresh produce to market. The small wooden contraption on the pony’s back is for fastening cargo and for hitching a wagon. These ponies are patient, docile, hard-working and sure-footed animals. Every morning just at dawn I would hear a long train of about twenty ponies passing by my hotel. The sound of so many pony bells was unforgettable. Truck replacements and exhaust fumes can never match that charm.
#204-155 Minority women coming to town to shop in their quick-stepping Yunnanese pony cart. The adobe brick constructed building behind the cart is the town clinic.
#204-150 These stout little Yunnanese ponies found all over the provinces are depended upon to do much of the transportation work. The carters haul passengers as well as cargo. The charge was for distance unless a load was particularly heavy, and of course it involved a lot of spirited haggling. The Chinese have been using ponies for over 2,500 years and are still in use in many areas of the country.
#204-134 The construction of housing fell far behind the population growth that followed the establishment of the PRC in 1949. During the next three decades, families and newlyweds were desperate for a place of their own. With the help of family members, ramshackle homes were built using whatever materials available and building on any space they could find. Flimsy housing were built against compound walls, on public sidewalks and on land beside roads and bridges. Here, two homes have been built over a river. In the late 1990’s, the government introduced a campaign to rid these illegal and unsightly structures to present a better image to the outside world and promote international tourism.
#204-037 These are the upper rapids of the Jinsha (Golden Sands) River in Yunnan Province before it expands to become the mighty Yangze River. The Yangtze, the Mekong and the Irawaddy Rivers all begin near each other in the melting glaciers of Tibet, but only the Yangtze bends eastward to flow into the Pacific Ocean near Shanghai, while the others irrigate Southeast Asia. The woman with the packhorse is a member of the Naxi minority. In this remote region there were two minorities with lifestyles very distinct from the national majority people, the Han: one group practiced slavery until the late 1950’s. When interviewed, members of this group who were slaves said their greatest goal in life was to themselves own slaves. The other group featured a matriarchal society whereby women headed the household. A daughter who took in a husband under terms that put the husband under the rule of the mother. Women were free to sleep with any number of men until finally selecting one for a lifelong mate. Should children be born of any liaison that child joined the mother’s household and there was no opprobrium attached to the matter.
#204-031 Mao Zedong famously said, “Women hold up half the sky.” Certainly in China they also hold up a good share of the loads as well. This woman is bringing fuel home for the cooking fire. Around the time this photo was taken a cancer map conducted in Yunnan Province showed a high incidence of lung cancer among only women. Researchers puzzled over this for some time before realizing it was smoke from cooking fires made from a certain botanical material in the area was the cause.
#204-028 The woman on the far left with the hat is my wife, Loretta Gibbs, a native of China who was educated in America. In our travels in China, she always endeavored to dress like the locals to fit in as much as possible. It allowed her to engage people in casual conversation to learn more and answer villagers’ questions. These moments were mutually precious and enjoyable. This photo was taken in the southwestern province of Yunnan. The un-mortared stones used for building the dwellings reflect the custom in China of building one’s home out of whatever materials are at hand, be it adobe mud, thatch, bricks or just rocks. In the countryside, people build their own homes, often with fellow villagers pitching in.
#204-022 In spite of her reaction to my photography, I never got any anti-foreigner reactions from the people, only from the heavily indoctrinated police and the military. Any suspicion, if it occurred, was a sort of an instinctive reaction from having been subjected to decades of anti-foreign propaganda. But as soon as I spoke Chinese, all suspicions evaporated into a positive exchange. The woman is wearing a surplus Army uniform of a kind that is sold everywhere and used as regular clothing. There is no red star on her military cap for that would indicate she is part of the military. She would be considered well dressed as her clothing is new. Farmers were and still are obliged to sell a certain amount of their crops to the state at state-determined prices; never fully understanding that this is a form of taxation. They don’t see that the difference between what the state pays for the crop and what the crop might bring on the open market is essentially a tax.
#204-003 In 1979, people in northern Shaanxi Province were still living in caves. In the countryside, one-cylinder tractors converted to mini-trucks were slowly replacing pony carts that have been in use for over 2000 years. For hundreds of years, the combination of China’s government policies and the extreme and vast remoteness of the country made a white foreigner a rare visitor. These girls are surprised to see a foreigner and greeted me with amusement and puzzlement. But when I spoke out in fluent Chinese there was a warm response and hospitality.
#190-009 Her head covering tells us she is a member of one of China’s 55 or so national minorities. She has expertly embroidered her brightly colored scarf far more flamboyantly than any Han woman would dare which is common among the minorities. The Han are China’s dominant majority and bearers of China’s historical culture.
#190-004 China’s population includes over 50 different nationalities, all speaking different languages, wearing different clothes and dwelling in distinct districts. Historically discriminated against by the dominant Han majority (over 90 %) they have gradually been pushed from the more fertile flatlands to ever higher mountain areas. Most are located in Southwestern China. The PRC government has worked to make amends for treatment by past governments, and more recently is finding them of great value to the tourist industry. This was taken near the Jinsha River in Yunnan where many Miao people live. The women tend to wear native dress while the men prefer simple work clothes.
#190-003 China’s population includes over 50 different nationalities speaking different languages, wearing different clothes and dwelling in distinct districts. Historically discriminated against by the dominant Han majority (over 90 %), they have gradually been pushed from the fertile flatlands to the ever-higher mountain areas. Most are located in Southwestern China. The PRC government has worked to make amends for prejudiced treatment by past governments. More recently, the PRC is finding them of ever-greater value to the tourist industry. This photo was taken near the Jinsha River in Yunnan where many of the Miao people live.
#189-002c West Lake is the centerpiece of what is regarded as China’s most beautiful city, Hangzhou. In 1979 almost the entire shoreline was blocked off from the public by government agencies that had eagerly seized shoreline properties for themselves as retreats for their highly placed employees. By the late 1990’s these villas were removed and most of the shoreline opened to the public as tourism had become a major business in China. The hills in the suburbs are covered with tea plantations. The Dragon Well, famous and well known, is in those hills. It is the namesake of the famous tea known as Dragon Well Tea.
#187-006a Sanya fishermen on this southern beach of Hainan Island enjoyed a quiet isolation until Chinese Tourism exploded beginning in the late 1990’s. Now the beaches are lined with swank tourist hotels. The island is promoted in Japan as China’s Hawaii. In 110 BC, the Han dynasty established a military garrison here and later abandoned it in 46 BC as too expensive to control. About that time Chinese from the mainland began migrating here. The island was considered such a primitive wilderness that it was considered by the throne as a suitable place for exiling court officials who had displeased the emperor. In 1945 the Chinese Nationalist government took full control and the island became one of the last places taken over by the communists.
#187-003 Sanya fishermen on the southern beach of Hainan Island enjoyed a quiet isolation until Chinese Tourism exploded beginning in the late 1990’s. Now the beaches are lined with swank tourist hotels. The island is promoted in Japan as China’s Hawaii.
#175-037 This mountain town of Lijiang in Yunnan Province is one of the most interesting places in all China. Previously remote and reachable only by two days of hard driving over jarring roads, it now has a highway that has made it a popular tourist destination. Home of the Naxi people with their own language and writing system, it is distinctive not only for its culture and scenic beauty, but also for its system of water channels that run down every street, all of them flowing with clear mountain spring water.
#175-034 These people carry their heavy loads long distances to reach the market in the mountain town of Lijiang, home to the Naxi minority. It may be a 2-3 day journey to return to their mountain villages. In 1987, it took me two twelve-hour days of hard driving on bumpy dirt roads to get to Lijiang. Deeply remote, there were no hotels and only one government hostel. However, its very isolation preserved its fabulously interesting culture and spectacular scenic vistas. During WWII, the Flying Tigers had a landing field here. Today, it is a major tourist attraction.
#175-024 The old and the young are often seen together in China while the children’s parents are working. This grandmother and grandson are on a pilgrimage to a Buddhist site in the mountains.
#171-019 On the left is a walkway built for tourists across the face of the cliff. China’s spectacular Huangshan National Park has many such paths made by workers who were suspended by ropes to drill holes for the horizontal supports. Over the years many improvements have been made in the park to make ever more spectacular areas accessible as China modernizes and promotes its tourism.
#171-015 The famous “Sea of Clouds” in China’s Huangshan National Park can be seen in the early morning light. The park rises dramatically from the surrounding flat land of rice fields and is famous for paths suspended on laterals protruding from sheer cliffs. Two rudimentary hotels on the peaks accommodate overnighters; as does a village of tents. The park is just hours west of Shanghai by highway; and thirty minutes by air.
#161-033a This is the front of a rural school in Hubei Province in central China in 1991. As a result of longstanding government policies that restricted foreigners, these youngsters had never seen a foreigner before. Regardless, I was politely received and the children happily posed for this picture. They had a natural and reserved curiosity.
#159-031 Xishuang Banna is in Yunnan Province where it borders on Burma and Laos. The harvested pineapple crop is being hand-loaded on to shallow-draft boats for transporting into town. Family members and villagers are mobilized to the task of bringing the harvest from the fields to the riverbank for loading into the boats. Lacking a boat dock, farmers wade out into the stream with their baskets of pineapple. Climate, crops, housing and lifestyle in this area blend together the Southeast Asian and Chinese cultures. In this era (1980s), there were no facilities for post-harvest storage so there was a great rush to get a harvest to market. An American professor of food science at UC Davis estimated that almost half of China’s perishable crops at this time were lost for want of proper storage facilities.
#159-029 In the Xishuang Banna region of Yunnan, China, dwellings and clothing are similar to those in nearby Southeast Asian countries. The custom of older children caring for the younger is centuries old all over Asia. Throughout China there is a distinct variety of ways of carrying an infant in a sling on the back to keep hands free for work. The child being carried is wearing a tiger-striped hat to frighten off bad elements and to protect the child. In days past children would wear some sort of amulet around the neck that was to serve the same purpose—something to keep the child tethered to this earth and not carried away to the netherworld. Children often went barefooted in the southern countryside for shoes were not necessary in the warm climate. Straw sandals were common and later on canvas and rubber shoes identical to those manufactured for the Peoples Liberation Army were used. Leather shoes were scarce, expensive and unnecessary in the 1980s.
#159-019 Xishuang Banna is in Yunnan Province where it borders on Burma and Laos. The harvested pineapple crop is being hand-loaded on to shallow-draft boats for transporting into town. Family members and villagers are mobilized to the task of bringing the harvest from the fields to the riverbank for loading into the boats. Lacking a boat dock, farmers wade out into the stream with their baskets of pineapple. Climate, crops, housing and lifestyle in this area blend together the Southeast Asian and Chinese cultures. In this era (1980s), there were no facilities for post-harvest storage so there was a great rush to get a harvest to market. An American professor of food science at UC Davis estimated that almost half of China’s perishable crops at this time were lost for want of proper storage facilities.
#159-014a The Dai and Han people are the majority in the Xishuang Banna region of Yunnan, China. They mostly live in the mountains and are socially dominant. The non-Dai ethnic minorities live in the basins. The architecture, language and culture in the Xishuang Banna region have similar characteristics of the Tai peoples. Traveling on a country road you can expect yak in the north, buffalo anywhere, sheep, an overturned truck, a flock of school kids or a herd of cattle. More than once I saw drivers doing motor overhauls right on the road.
#159-013 In Xishuang Banna, near the border with Burma, the pattern of life has not changed much in the last 100 years except for the advent of rural busses and the introduction of electricity. The architecture and the carefully terraced hills are of Southeast Asian origins. Very often, the children care for these large animals.
#159-012 In spite of the rapid modernization of China, the traditional patterns of farm life remain unchanged in the remote areas such as Southern Yunnan Province. This photo was taken in Xishuang Banna, a minority area in southwest China near the Burmese border. Houses here more closely resemble those throughout SE Asia than they do traditional Chinese architecture. The question is how long will it remain unaffected.
#153-014 This woman is proud for having both a boy and a girl during the one child policy era. Her home was no worse than anyone else’s. For nearly 40 years of Mao’s rule, investment went to heavy industry and not into housing. Since people could not own their homes there was little incentive for maintenance.
#153-006 Several villages in a region, about half the size of an American county, are organized into a marketing network. On specified days of the month, each village, in rotation, will host the region’s market day. Buyers and sellers will flock to the designated village and for that one day, the village becomes filled with people, baskets, carts and ponies with crops and merchandise of all kinds on display. Market days are very festive. When the traders come from the surrounding areas, the teamsters have an area set aside as their parking lot for carts and animals. This is an opportunity for the teamsters to gamble, gossip, exchange local news or just relax and smoke. After market day the waste from the animals is collected and used as fertilizer. Human and animal waste is always recycled.
#151-003 This is an aerial view of China’s far western border in the Uighur “Autonomous” Region. It is not truly autonomous at all, for China rules the region with an iron fist because the Uighurs sees China as an occupier. There is continual unrest in this region and the unrest predates the 1949 establishment of the PRC. The old Silk Road traversed this area and crossed these mountains into the Middle East and Europe. Before the Western “discovery” of the sea routes to China, this Central Asian route, once traveled by Marco Polo and was China’s “front door.”
#141-002 This exceptionally well-built log cabin is in the Yunnan Mountains located along the upper reaches of the Golden Sands River that eventually becomes the mighty Yangtze. China still has frontiers in western Yunnan and the far northern reaches of Heilongjiang Province on the Russian border. The constructions of dwellings usually reflect the abundance of materials in the local area. Structures like this often double as a store and living quarters combination.
#140-028 After 1949, when Mao took control of China, property was confiscated from landowners, divided up among the farmers and communes were formed. During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, schools were closed and students were forced to work on the communes along with the farmers. A commune is a collective made up of military-like units of 30,000 people and sub-divided into Work Brigades down to Work Teams. These collectives, highly unpopular and less productive than small farms, were abandoned in the 1980’s. It was one of Mao’s great failures. Many of my wife’s relatives were forced to work on the communes. Brothers and sisters were intentionally separated from each other and assigned to different communes located hundreds of miles away. Not knowing when they would see their homes again, many workers died from a combination of depression and poor medical care. Most simply accepted their fate and adjusted to their conditions. Others were made stronger in character in their will to survive. In the photo is a rotary winnowing machine. The Chinese invented it in the second century BCE, 1,800 years before it appeared in Europe.
#139-032a On a remote and rocky dirt road in the mountains of Sichuan, I came upon this easy-going truck driver plucking out a tune by the roadside for his own amusement. Drivers were a relatively privileged class in China. That explains his wristwatch. Travel in this era was restricted; one needed a letter from one’s production unit to buy a long-distance bus ticket or a train ticket. Air travel was even more restricted and favored people of high rank. The communists knew that freedom to travel freely around China had been essential for their organizing, fomenting and then leading their revolution to gain power. Party organizers had met secretly in hotels, which is why after they gained power they so closely monitor hotels in China. Guest lists must be turned in to the police every night. In 1979 the hotels even held guests’ passports until they departed just in case the police wanted to inspect or confiscate them. This driver is whiling away his time while waiting for an accident to be cleared or an argument over right-of-way to be settled. Either could take hours. That explains how I came to take the photo, i.e. my vehicle was also stalled in the same traffic jam. Travel would give someone like a truck driver opportunity for all kinds of graft and access to rare commodities. Shoes from factories often manage to leak out the back doors. A driver could buy up these shoes, put it in with his authorized load and take them to an area where shoes were scarce and thereby fetch a high price and so on. Giving a ride to someone unauthorized to travel could provide a small profit, enough to buy a wristwatch or a nice musical instrument.
#139-010 This elderly Lamist monk living in Lijiang escaped years earlier from Tibet during the invasion by the Peoples’ Liberation Army. Many great monasteries, some housing up to three thousand monks, were dynamited and completely destroyed.
#133-018 Why such massive sculptures? Same reason the colossal cathedrals in Europe were built: to be awesome and enduring. Imperial patronage for Buddhism waxed and waned with wooden monasteries subject to intentional destruction, usually by fire. These sculptures were built to last. Originally they had wooden protective shelters but they deteriorated or burned. Now the art is subject to weathering and air pollution. Over the years, American and European collectors looted many but most remain intact and are being restored by the PRC government.
#133-014 Datong in Shanxi province was a grimy coal-mining town in north China with coal dust everywhere. From the third to sixth century CE, it was a famous center for Buddhism and well known as far south as Ceylon. It was unpleasant to be there but the colossal Yungang statuary is there and well worth the effort to see it.
#131-002a A tugboat shepherds six barges with quarried stone to urban building sites downstream on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. It 1979, everyone in China was organized like an army and assigned to units. In China, as in any army, everything is organized around a unit and nothing exists outside a unit. From 1949 to 1979, everyone and every activity were organized into a Danwei, or unit. No matter what you sought to do, whether to buy socks in a store or buy train tickets, the first question you were asked is, “What’s your unit?” A unit upstream would be assigned by the government with the task of breaking up stones in a rock quarry and loading them on to barges. The barges would belong to another unit that would have many barges in its command. The unit would be tasked with the responsibility of hauling cargo. The rock unit would pay the barge unit, just like a business would in a capitalist economy. The buyer of the stones would be the construction unit in the city and they would pay the rock unit. But unlike private companies in a Capitalist country, a China unit does not have to make a profit because the government runs things. You can see what this leads to. So if a hotel is full of guests, the employees have to work hard making beds, cleaning rooms, etc. If the hotel is empty, everybody can sit around and drink tea, smoke and read the newspaper. Either way, the employees get the same pay because the hotel can be indifferent to the profit and loss ledger. Very often in the 1970’s and 80’s, we’d be told that there were no rooms when in fact the hotel was near empty. The great weakness of the Chinese Socialist System was the lack of material incentives. When China opened up to the western world in 1979, tourists began streaming in wearing good shoes, carrying expensive cameras and spending wads of money. Chinese citizens began questioning as to why their Socialist system and all the Socialist countries in the world were so much poorer
#130-074 In this northwest village of Yanglia Gou, people lived in caves. Children went to school in a cave that was dark because the lone light bulb was not turned on to save on the electric bill. My university students contributed their own money to the village chief to pay the electric bill for a year. Later in the day I saw the chief gambling with wads of bills.
#130-054a In areas of China that modernization has passed by, one can still find villages where itinerant musicians and storytellers perform for donations. This blind musician is entertaining in the Shaanxi hamlet of Yangjiagou.
#130-028 Converting hills into Yanglia Gou farmlands requires carrying water uphill by hand in this arid region of northwest China. Desperate for farmland, the Chinese here have been able to make this area productive.
#130-026a Musicians perform in the Shaanxi hamlet of Yangjiagou in northwest China. In areas of China where modernization has passed by, one can still find villages where itinerant musicians and storytellers, often blind, perform for donations.
#130-013a Immense tree-planting campaigns have not successfully prevented desertification in China’s west. Desertification has destroyed entire villages and swallows up over 1,000 miles annually. The expansion of the Gobi desert is one of the fastest on earth and causing major problems for China.
#123-031 On Erhai Lake in Yunnan Province, families depend on boats for both home and livelihood. These boats are well over 100 years old dating back to the Qing Dynasty.
#122-044a Pigs are particularly valued in China since before the beginning of the earliest dynasties. They are self-sufficient and allowed to be turned loose to forage on their own. One needs to be prepared to encounter these animal anywhere such as this cyclist steering well clear of this particularly large pig. Contrary to expectations, I found pigs in China, on the streets and farms, to be surprisingly clean.
#122-012a People really watched their pennies and never failed to count their change. This man is intensely scrutinizing the seller’s hand scales. Even the most common, everyday purchases such as these scallions required a stint of energetic haggling from both sides.
#120-043 Boys and girls generally did not play together. These are all boys. In the rivers, only the boys swam. Both were friendly, inquisitive and had no problems with having their picture taken. The summer is hot in China’s continental climate and there was no air conditioning in 1979. Kids stripped down to the bare minimum to keep cool. Of course where there was any swimmable place the kids swam but I never came across a public swimming pool anywhere in those days. In 1979, lots of people moved bamboo beds out on to the sidewalk at night and slept there because their dwellings were just too darned hot.
#120-038 By standards of the time, this is a very nice farmer’s one-room home. He has a pigsty just outside the kitchen door; the roof is weather tight, a concrete slab counter and stove. The village well is nearby as is the public toilet. There is a road into town with bus service. I’ve been in farmer’s homes far less roomy than this. (Only half the room appears in the photo.) Like other similar homes there is just a single low wattage light bulb.
#116-012a This is a tie-dye station where women bring their prepared fabrics to undergo the process and then be hung up to dry on huge, tall racks. Yunnan is famous for its blue and white tie-die fabric.
#116-004a These Sanyi women, at a trading post in Yunnan Province, collect materials for embroidering to take home to work on. They then bring their finished work back to the trading post to exchange for cash. A trading post also serves as a socializing center.
#115-002 This bamboo raft is carrying cargo down the Xiang River in Hunan Province. A scientific study in England proved that oar sweeps like these are much more energy efficient than rowing oars. It was China’s use of bamboo rafts that led China to become the inventor of watertight compartments for ocean going vessels. Every ship that sails the oceans today is based on 2nd century CE Chinese maritime architecture that was brought to Europe by Sir Samuel Bentham in the late 1700’s. Marco Polo described them 1295 but no one paid attention.
#115-001 Mao famously said “Women hold up half the sky,” a slogan intended to elevate the status of women and also to justify including them in the labor force. This woman has heard Mao’s call. The downside for women was that while they were expected to work on a par with men, they were still saddled with childbearing responsibilities and housework. Worse, women were criticized if they stayed home and criticized for not staying home if they worked full-time.
#109-010a This lady is hobbling on tiny bound feet in the courtyard of what was once the home of a prosperous landowner. The revolution following WWII expropriated the property. The compound became the site of a commune or labor brigade when China collectivized in the early 1950’s. A tattered bulletin board to the woman’s right usually posted government propaganda. The binding of feet was outlawed in the early years of the Republican government under Chiang Kai-shek.
#094-022 This gathering is at a minority trading post located between Shaping and Dali in Yunnan Province. My wife, Loretta Gibbs, has attracted their attention, as foreigners were very rare at this time in this region. The colorful design of the women’s clothing has not changed over the millennia.
#088-029a This lady is sitting beside the main footpath in the village of Lijiang in Yunnan Province. She is waiting for customers. When I asked for a certain thing she had ran out of, she said, “Wait here. I’ll run home for more.” She hadn’t the slightest qualms about leaving her merchandise untended with a stranger. This trusting behavior was common in the countryside.
#088-025a The central market in Lijiang, Yunnan Province as it appeared before development as a tourist center. Note the small stools put out for customers. Great weights could be carried by a single slice of a bamboo pole which, pound-for-pound, is stronger than steel. For the people living in the surrounding remote mountain villages and hamlets, it is a 2-3 day shopping trip.
#088-013 The man and the woman at the storefront are wearing garments made of sheepskin. They are of the Naxi minority in the mountain town of Lijiang in the Yunnan area. Yunnan is known for its Naxi minority population.
#085-002a The caravans on the old Silk Road traversed these mountains that separate Central Asia from Europe. It is just north of Kashgar, the ancient trading oasis where China-bound travelers exchanged horses for camels and Europe-bound, the opposite. The old bazaar that was still there in 1979 has been razed and modernized. The camels are gone and the animal trading has been booted out of town.
#053-030a LONG LIVE MARXISM-LENINISM blares this overpowering slogan on the building but it is unlikely anyone in this remote mountain town has much grasp of the texts. Some didn’t know who they were. Maoism and Marxism didn’t leave an indelible mark on all of the Chinese population, which tells us something about the persistence of culture. It also is a statement of how difficult it will be to inscribe democratic values in a culture steeped in hierarchy and deference to authority.
#049-022 This is the main highway between Sichauan’s and Sngpan in Gansu Province. In 1980, this route was not for the faint-hearted. This one lane road had two-way traffic and no guardrails. Emergency help was hours away. These beautiful high-grasslands once belonged to Tibet.
#049-018 This is a typical country ferry scene on the Li River in Guilin. The area was peacefully quiet and undisturbed in 1979. Modern bridges have now displaced many of these centuries old man-powered ferry systems. Today, the karst formations are a popular tourist attraction.
#049-016 New bridges with beautiful arches have replaced country ferries such as this on the Li River near Guilin. The lush bamboo grove on the left is one of 40 different specie of bamboo in China.
#049-015 Water buffalo are wonderfully patient, obedient and hard working. These animals are well suited to the small plot farms of China’s south. Today, this Guilin landscape attracts many tourists who marvel at the karst limestone formations.
#046-039a This is the main Yunnan highway from Dali to Shaping. It is also a highway where the old China collides with the new resulting in many tragic accidents due to mixed traffic. Ponies have been used in China for over 2000 years. It is only natural for them to run the center of the road.
#043-094 As a rule, in the countryside people live in hamlets, villages or small towns. But once in awhile I would come across a family living as outliers hidden away from society. There was no one around to ask about the purpose of the Y shaped tree stump.
#043-079 The centrally planned economy under Maoist rule over produced tractors and under produced trucks. The local solution was to convert a tractor to a truck using a welder’s torch. The exposed pulleys on the tractor have caused countless accidents in China. A lifetime of unrelenting hard work, childbirth and a lack of calcium very likely are the cause of this elderly woman’s stoop.
#043-067 It’s summer but everyone is bundled up in this village in northern Heilongjiang Province. It is near the Amur River that marks the border with Russia. This is where the Manchu minority dwelled before they conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty that lasted from 1644 to 1911 when the Republican revolution de-throned them. Under the PRC, this region was where people were originally exiled to and later became a new frontier for populating and development. Here, the winters are harsh, the soil fertile and the forests magnificent.
#043-027 These elders are sitting in front of the entrance to the Finance Bureau of the Lunan District government in the Zang minority area. The Zang are one of the 55 or so national minorities. They are just resting there, not waiting to see anyone inside. Although they are Chinese nationals, their dialect is not one many foreigners like me can speak.
#043-023a In China’s countryside, you buy liquid goods such as soy sauce by taking your own empty bottle to the store to be filled from a bulk vat. This cheerful young girl is happy to see me. I asked her and others why and she replied, “It means we’re in a new time now if foreigners are coming to our country. It will be a better time.” The building in the background indicates she is part of a commune work brigade. Such collectives were formed in the mid-1950s. In 1979, individual leased plots were introduced and much favored by the farmers over the collectives.
#043-011 China’s one child policy was difficult to enforce in the countryside. Families with two daughters but no son are considered unfortunate. That means there is no male to carry on the family line. Worse, from the traditional Chinese point of view, daughters are an economic loss because they marry off to another family after the expense of raising them. Subsequently, government propaganda urged farmers to cherish their daughters.
#043-006a A Miao minority young girl with her distinct skirt fabric and design is a model of patience while waiting for a bus. In the background are women with sacks of their grain products waiting for buyers.
#036-005 From this western oasis on the edge of Dunhuangthe, the Silk Road split into the northern and the southern routes to skirt the dreaded Taklamakan Desert to the west. Arriving caravan people gave thanks for their safe passage or prayed for the same if outbound, hence the oasis became an established religious center. Caves here feature magnificent 7th century art preserved by the desert’s dry atmosphere.
#026-119a The closest thing to organized sports in ancient China was the annual Dragon Boat Festival that often saw teams from different villages competing against each other. In agricultural societies festivals tend to occur at regular intervals throughout the year. In fact, the word for festival in China is the same word for the regularly spaced knots on bamboo. The festival is believed to have originated in the death by drowning of a loyal official, Qu Yuan, who was banished for his honest criticism of his ruler in the third century BCE. Local people, it is said, raced out on the water in boats to save him, and when they realized he had drowned, they took meat in rice balls, wrapped them in bamboo leaves and dropped them in the river to lure fish away from the revered man’s body. Always ready to turn any occasion into an opportunity for dining, this is said to be the origin of the famous Zongzi dish, which are prepared exactly like what was put into the river so many centuries ago.
#026-109 The mighty Yangtze River originates at a Tibetan glacier then flows through Yunnan Province through deep ravines where it is called the Golden Sands River. Some mountains here were not summited until the 1980’s.
#026-051 These little Yunnanese ponies wear a leather ring of bells around their neck that jingle with each step. You hear caravans of them every morning as they head into Kunming with produce from the surrounding countryside. Ponies have always played an important role in Chinese culture and have existed before the earliest dynasties.
#026-030 Small children too young to work the fields were put to the task of minding immense animals ten times larger than they.
#023-013 This remote mountaintop outpost is literally the end of the road. It has a several shops to serve the scattered farms that scratch out a living in the few places where there is arable land. China, about the same landmass as the United States, has only a small fraction of arable land that the U.S. has. This little outpost hamlet is the starting point for a mule journey up the mountains out of sight to the right. At the top of a mountain is small Daoist monastery just big enough for two or three monks perched on a cliffside overlook. Such sites, chosen by the monks for their remoteness, were not spared the onslaught of the communist political movements that swept over the country from 1959 to 1979. At the time of my visit, one monk led a lonely existence trying to rehabilitate the monastery. The persistence of ancient Daoism after all that China has endured is truly remarkable.
#023-006 This is a typical country village railroad crossing where the safety bar is hand operated. Trucks were used as buses and personal autos rare. Pony carts, bicycles and walking were the main modes of transportation. Trash seen on the left was common in public spaces.
#022-035 In the 1980’s and 90’s, I never saw toys of any kind in any of the villages I visited. I gave this this child some bubble fluid and it attracted a crowd that responded with expressions of puzzlement and glee. Traditionally, China did not manufacture toys. They were either homemade or fashioned one at a time by local craftsmen as a part-time occupation in the off-season. Toys tended to be interactive, such as tops you needed to spin or a kind of horizontal yo-yo both of which required technique that needed to be learned. Organized sports such as baseball or soccer teams did not exist. The closest thing to organized sports was the annual boat race competitions during the Dragon Boat Festival. All that has now changed with the expansion of free enterprise and the introduction of professional teams.
#015-215 This is Shaping in Yunnan Province, an area where many people of the Bai minority dwell. People are streaming to the village market that is just an open space on the edge of town. Several villages and towns in a district are linked in a marketing network so that on alternating days of the month, a different village will host the market. Market days in a village are always very festive.
#015-214 Women not only work in the home and in the fields, but they do much of the marketing as well. They carry heavy loads over considerable distances to get to the market town. The headgear tells us these are minority women in Yunnan Province.
#015-185 Buses and trucks shared the streets with family carts. There were very few automobiles then and people were unfamiliar with vehicles on the roads and streets. This resulted in accidents that took many lives. In my annual visits to China I never failed to see numerous fatal accidents, many involving children and whole families.
#015-147a The patches on the boy’s clothing are not an affectation. Everything is patched rather than discarded, including pots, pans and even porcelain. Being a rare foreigner, the two girls respond to me with curiosity.
#015-140 Aba in Sichuan Province was part of Tibet until it was appropriated by the PRC after 1949. This is highland pastureland populated by Tibetans who shepherd large herds of yak. Yaks are protein sources and pack animals. They transport all the possessions of the nomadic families as they shift with the seasons from one pasture to another. The area suffers from overgrazing. The men, women and children are all marvelous equestrians.
#015-087 Rural villages are linked in a marketing network such that market day rotates from one town to another on different days of the month. Here, people are streaming in to the village of Shaping in Yunnan Province to buy or to sell. The market is held on any large open dirt space on the edge of town.
#014-062a Anthropologists regard the Tibetans as nomads but the Tibetans don’t see themselves that way for they are at home wherever they are. They move with the seasons to grazing pastures for their yak herds. Overgrazing was a serious problem that was ignored by the government during my trips to the highlands in the 1980s.
#014-027a A Tibetan family moves their yak herds from one pasture to another as the season changes. They do not consider themselves nomads because they are at home wherever they are.
#010-006a Li Jiang, in Yunnan Province, is where the Naxi minority people live. Those living in the nearby mountains carry enormous loads long distances to do their marketing here at the town center. A typical shopping journey from a remote mountain village may be a 2-4 day journey.
#005-047 These Qing Dynasty fishing boats date back to the 1800’s. They are still in use on Lake Erhai in Yunnan Province. It is common for many families live on these ancient vessels.
#005-029a China has over 50 national minorities with their own language, culture and apparel. Usually, only the women wear their native costume while the men tend to wear work clothes. Yunnan Province in the Southwest China is populated with many minorities.
#001-111a This man lost his leg in a farming accident. Safety in farms and factories were not an issue. Everywhere that I visited in China, unprotected saws, giant pulleys without covers and tractors with dangerous exposed moving parts were common. In a country claiming the benefits of socialism, I was surprised to see many people begging and needing medical care.
#001-109 For the first thirty years of the PRC, infrastructure investment did not extend to the deep countryside. Bridges were often in dangerous disrepair until after 1979.
#001-072 Sidewalks in China are used for sales and manufacturing. This family of three generations is making leather horse and mule collars and bridles in western China
#001-065 This Tibetan woman is riding a yak in Sichuan Province. A large portion of Sichuan Province was carved from the territory of Tibet and remains largely populated by Tibetans when I was there in the 1980’s. The Yak is a vital element in Tibetan life. It produces meat, milk and transportation. Overgrazing is a conspicuous problem in the highland pastures because of poor conservation management by the government.
#4051-D-881 The absence of bridge infrastructure in this 1957 Taiwan countryside meant there was a steady market for this ferry boatman who was a marvel of dexterity in the manipulation of his oars. In Shaoxing China, the ferry boatmen oared their boats with their feet.
#4051-D-498I n the drab monotony of country life of Xiang River, Hunan Province, the excitements brought by the various festivals during the year were eagerly anticipated. Here a crew is practicing for the races associated with the Dragon Boat Festival in the fifth month of the Lunar calendar.
#4051-D-495 These country folks are waiting for the ferryboat powered by a hand sweep at the stern. The charge was a few pennies. From 1949 to 1979 emphasis was on developing heavy industry. After 1979 and particularly in the 1990’s when the newly liberalized economy roared into new life, attention was given to investment in infrastructure projects such as highways and bridges.