The ancient Chinese divided the zodiac into four quadrants, each with its own ruler - the Green Dragon of the East, the Scarlet Phoenix of the South, the White Tiger of the West and the Sombre Warrior of the North. They believed that these, and the interaction of the five elements - wood, fire, earth, metal and water - governed human affairs and that together they demonstrated a unity in multiplicity, a harmony in divergence. Taking the same frame of reference, Liam d'Arcy Brown set out to travel to the four corners of the People's Republic in an attempt to reconcile modern China's seemingly irreconcilable extremes. His 10,000-mile journey took him to an isolated fishing community in the East China Sea, a tropical holiday resort on the tip of Hainan Island, a Muslim city on the Silk Road and a riverside village in remote Manchuria. In each, he discovered aspects of China that the wider world seldom glimpses. Yet despite the astonishing contrasts of her physical and social geography, the variety of her peoples and the tangled web of her many histories and possible destinies, some constants remain. Pork buns steaming in a bamboo basket, gold Chinese characters pasted to a doorway on a red paper diamond, empty crates of beer bottles, a battered thermos flask stencilled with the Double Happiness symbol - all these endure.