China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Westerners have often misread and misunderstood the Chinese and their culture. For instance, we tend to forget that, while most of Europe was muddling through the ‘Dark Ages’ around the year 500 AD, China had already been a flourishing civilization for over a thousand years.
The west tends to think of China’s people in terms of the Han Chinese majority when in fact, a wide range of ethnic minorities lives within its borders. This has proven to be a controversial and enigmatic issue for the Chinese government as some of these ethnic groups chafe at Chinese authority. Tibet is the most obvious example.
One of China’s most restive areas is the far western province of Xinjiang. Situated at the crossroads of central Asia, Xinjiang is a massive territory that shares borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It’s a harsh, windswept land of vast open spaces, big skies and astonishing beauty, where high desert plateaus are ringed by Asia’s great mountain ranges—the Himalaya, the Karakoram, and the Pamirs.
The dominant ethnic groups here are the Uyghurs and the Kyrghyz, semi-nomadic Turkic peoples who have squeezed out a living in this part of Asia for centuries. They are master horsemen and yurt builders, embracing a way of life little changed over the centuries.
Many of these ethnic minorities have found themselves at odds with the central government. Their Muslim culture and nomadic traditions aren’t an easy fit in a communist country ruled by a government in far-off Beijing. There’s a general feeling of being under the thumb of an ethnic Han Chinese majority whose language and culture are alien to them.
In choosing images for this collection I wanted to highlight some of these ethnic minorities and their culture. I also tried to include images from lesser visited parts of China, particularly Guangxi and Yunnan provinces in the southwest. Guangxi is a frontier province in the far southwest that borders Vietnam. It is home to the Zhuang people, China’s largest ethnic minority.
Guangxi is also where you’ll find the iconic Chinese landscape of verdant limestone towers rising up from lush green fields. The city of Guilin sits astride the Li River and is the heart of this region.