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China: Portrait of a People Paperback – July 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


One of China's most extraordinary explorers. --The World of Chinese

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 media shots that we are all familiar with. --China Daily

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

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

Capturing the diversity of [China's] 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. --South China Morning Post

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. --Asian Geographic Passport

A striking, kaleidoscopic vision of China's lands and people. --The Beijinger

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, CHINA: Portrait of a People is a very good place to start peeling back the layers. --Time Out Hong Kong

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

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, September 26, 2010

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, August 27, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 638 pages
  • Publisher: Blacksmith Books (July 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9889979942
  • ISBN-13: 978-9889979942
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 2.1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

An inveterate vagrant who flirts with pictures and words, Tom Carter spent 2 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 the editor of Unsavory Elements, an anthology about foreign expats in China. And he also co-authored a Chinese-language travelogue, The Farther I Walk, The Closer I Get To Me (走得越远,离自己越近), with his wife Hong Mei about their year backpacking together across India. 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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Z. Gorman on July 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
I am a Mainland Chinese who grew up during the 10 years of Cultural Revolution. At the end of my graduate study in 1986, I went on a hitch-hiking trip to Tibet with a friend of mine. We had 45 RMB Yuan, a camera, and 4 rolls of films with us. We spent a month on the road, riding in the back of coal-hauling trucks, on the make-shift engine cover in the front of old buses, in the back of tractors, climbing over hills, and riding on the back of horses. We slept in horse stables, tents, and sometimes, for 1.5 yuan a night, we got to sleep in a bed...

That was the highlight of my travel experience: 1 month, 4 provinces, and 100 photos.

Tom Carter has done this for 2 years across 33 provinces in China. When I looked at the photos in his book, my eyes were swelled with tears the whole time: His photos have so accurately and vividly captured the features and the characteristics of the people from this most diversed country in the world that I call my motherland! Without reading the captions, I can tell that that young man is from Guangxi, that girl is from Sichuan, and those folks are from Heilongjiang. I can hear them talk in their dialects. I can feel their hopes. I can touch their spirits... They have aroused my desire to talk with them and laugh with them again. They reminded me so much of everything I saw in my little excursion over twenty years ago. It was a journey down the memory lane but it is more. It tells me things that I have no experience of since I have been gone away for almost 20 years...

I have lived in the United states for many years. When I go to bookstores, I am naturally attracted to the sections where I can find books about China. I have not seen another book like this - so real and so recent, capturing all the changes that have happened in China in the last 20-30 years while at the same time showing the essence and heritage of the culture.

I hope more people will read this book.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Lloyd Lofthouse VINE VOICE on June 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
There are more than 1.3 billion people in China. Besides the majority Han Chinese, the population includes 56 ethnic groups numbering over one hundred million. Over the course of 2 years and 35,000 miles, photojournalist Tom Carter captured it ALL on film.

For their historical value alone, the 800+ photos in Portrait are priceless. I highly doubt if there will ever be another book about China like this one. Carter's anthropological-like study of China stands apart in its genre, as it focuses expressly on the PEOPLE of China. In addition to documenting the everyday life of "ordinary" people, Carter also backpacked to the most remote areas of China to observe reclusive ethnic minorities such as the red-turbaned Pai Yao minority of northern Guangdong and the resplendent Dong and Miao tribes of eastern Guizhou.

From Inner Mongolian nomads to newlyweds in Hong Kong, from the teenage girl living in Chengdu dressed like an American punk rocker to the soot covered coal miner in Southern Shanxi, Carter's camera documented the complexity and diversity of China like no other book ever has (or likely ever will). There is an old saying that a picture is equal to a thousand words. In CHINA: Portrait of a People, each picture is worth TEN thousand words, maybe more.

The consensus amongst backpackers is that China is probably the single most challenging country in the world to visit. As such, in order to reach certain locations, Carter had to travel on foot into some seriously rugged terrain. To get an idea what I'm talking about, consider that China, almost the size of the United States, uses only sixteen percent of its land for growing crops. The rest is either mountains or desert.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David I. Cahill on August 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
Based on the thumbnail image of the book's cover, even with the hot woman and the tasteful design, and knowing only it was some kind of photographic spread on China, I feared "coffee table book" - or worse, cheesy Chinese variety that would actually mar my coffee table, the sort you can find in the tourist bookshops with washed-out reproductions, incoherent English and sappy token displays of ethnic minorities dancing in their costumes.

The actual book, once in my hands, is unlike any other book I've seen, including those in the photojournalism genre. It has a surprisingly small trim size of only 6 x 6 inches, but at 638 pages and over 2 inches thick and weighing almost 3 pounds, it's not a small book (and probably better suited to hardcover than its fragile paper binding). The weight is legitimated on the inside with the high-quality paper stock and what I'd guess approaches 1,000 high-resolution photo reproductions, capturing the author's two years of traveling to every province of China frequently under spartan and the roughest of conditions. Each province is prefaced with a map and a concisely written pitch, along with beautifully succinct, haiku-like captions for many of the photos, demonstrating that the author's skills as a photographer are matched by appropriate writing talent. The descriptions and the variety of photographic subjects - rural and urban landscapes, ordinary daily objects transfigured by the camera, and lots and lots of unforgettable people - seem to form a narrative that pulls one along the lengthy book, though most readers will probably prefer to dip into it at random than go through the whole thing at one shot.
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