Capturing a Vanishing China

June 23, 2011

I feel compelled to write about a one-star review that appeared recently of Tom Carter’s China: Portrait of a People.

In fact, as I write this post, Carter’s book has had 100 reviews. Eighty-eight earned five stars and eleven four-star reviews. There is only one one-star review.

My wife is Chinese and was born in Shanghai (discover the modern city) during Mao’s Great Leap Forward then was sent to a labor camp as a teen during The Cultural Revolution. When she first saw the photos in Tom Carter’s book, she said he is the first and only photojournalist to capture the heart and soul of China.

What she was talking about was the rural Chinese who have always been the invisible heart and soul of China. If it weren’t for those same rural Chinese, Mao and the Communist Party would have never won China’s Civil War.

What follows is the rambling, rant of a one star review written by someone calling him or herself Xuemin Lin.

Lin says, “Ignorance of all American who think that these photos show the reality China, you don’t know the truth. Tom Carter pictures can only show that poor farmers and rural areas. He ignoring the majority of China’s middle class and developed districts in urban life intentionally. We have a modern apartment and a beautiful new car and stylish clothes. Why Tom Carter just want to show the barefeet farmers and the minorities? His pictures make you believe we Chinese all are swarthy skin and the tooth is not good and make our homes in the mountains area. China’s economy has grown rapidly. The United States owes a debt to total billions of dollars to China. China will soon become a superpower in the world! Han people will lead Asia and then the world. So, do not believe that this book is shows the real China! Tom Carter in a planned way only want to show you the poor! I upload his video got from the Youku website so yourself can see his photos is not the good. Do not by this book I suggest!”

Lin claims that the majority of Chinese belong to the emerging middle class. Lin is wrong. China has a few decades to go until more than a billion people join the modern middle class lifestyle.

Even China’s leaders have admitted that China is not as developed as America or Europe and that China will never rival American super power status. The best China may attain is a regional military super power and a global economic super power.

To understand what I mean, you may want to read Amy Chua’s Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall.

It is a fact that China is modernizing at a pace never before seen in history and more than three hundred million Chinese now live in urban cities similar to Shanghai and Beijing and belongs to China’s middle class. However, that leaves about 1.2 billion people that have not yet joined that middle class and 800 million of those people still live as Carter shows us in his photos.

If China accomplishes its goal to modernize most of China and lift the majority of Chinese into the middle class, the world that Tom Carter captured with his photos will vanish. Our only reminder of that China will be his book.

What Lin’s one-star review really reveals is a shame among some Chinese that should not exist. China should be proud of its rural peasants because they have always been the backbone of China and those people deserve their moment in the sun or between the covers of China: Portrait of a People

When I visit China, I want to escape America for a few weeks but realize that I cannot escape the Golden Arches of McDonalds, or Starbucks, Pizza Hut and KFC, which is the worst thing China could adopt from America.  In addition, China has also inherited the obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer that come with this fast food, middle class, and motorcar culture invented in the West.


Some of America’s history captured in photos and song.

In addition, I’ve complained that China has no artist comparable to America’s Charles Russell or Bev Doolittle — great artists that captured the heart and soul of the America that existed before Europe and the industrial revolution arrived to fill the air with poison.

However, Tom Carter’s photos capture some of that world in China that will soon be lost. After China has paved over its past, without Tom Carter’s photos we would never know what that world was like.

Therefore, I ask the Xuemin Lins of China, “What is it you have against Tom Carter capturing what is fast disappearing as China becomes another middle class, smog choked clone of Los Angeles, London, Paris and New York?”

I prefer the China where people are practicing Tai Chi in the early morning fog.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.

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China’s Invisible Man – Liu Bolin

March 7, 2011

Thirty-eight-year-old Liu Bolin’s photo art reminds me of Bev Doolittle’s paintings.  I have one of Doolittle’s prints. The name Bev Doolittle is synonymous with the word “camouflage art,” which is what Liu Bolin is also known for except in photography.

However, Bolin, of Shandong, China, instead of painting on canvas, is the canvas and the settings are photos of actual locations with him as part of the setting.

Oddity Central says, “Liu works on a single photo for up to 10 hours at a time, to make sure he gets it just right, but he achieves the right effect: sometimes passers-by don’t even realize he is there until he moves.”

Mike Krumboltz writing for Yahoo News Weekend edition says of Liu Bolin, “Aside from looking cool, Bolin’s work does have a deeper meaning. Again, according to the Daily Mail, the living sculptures are ‘designed to show how we all can just disappear in today’s mass production world’.”

How is that different from prior to the industrial revolution and mass production?

I’ll tell you.

Before the industrial revolution when most people were illiterate peasants and invisible, only emperors, kings and robber barons were well known. Today, many common people may gain a worldwide reputation due to the Internet as Liu Bolin has done.

Discover Caressing Nature with Chinese Calligraphy

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.