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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

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on 27 April 2012
Tom Carter's book `China - A Portrait of a People' is a breath of fresh air. As a post-doctoral researcher of Chinese affairs at the University of Tokyo, it is unfortunate to see so many books neglect the visual realities of life inside the world's most populous state. All too often, scholars and observers are bombarded with cold facts and descriptions which, though impressive in their detail, do not adequately portray the color, richness, diversity, and complexities of everyday life for the PRC's citizens. Carter's book does justice to the expression `A picture tells a thousand stories' with its carefully balanced and comprehensive montage of the daily joys, tragedies, routines, and hardships of the rising dragon's 1.3 billion people, 56 ethnic groups, and 33 distinct regions. Each colorful page is accompanied with a brief story about that page's characters and location as well as the author's hands-on accounts of his nationwide experiences over the course of four years. Of particular interest was Carter's stark and sometimes shocking visual portrayal of the evident challenges and contrasts within the rising dragon as China's leaders attempt with increasing difficulty to maintain one-party rule, to address the striking wealth divide, and to hold the state together amid unprecedented changes. The plight of a severely burned and uninsured factory worker (Page 26) sharply collides with the life of a tattooed and care-free urban teen depicted on Page 523. For all these reasons, this book goes beyond the word heavy and often generalized guides written from behind the safety of a western desk. As a teacher and a researcher, I would gladly recommend this book to those seeking a sincere understanding of those who make China what it is, its people.
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on 5 April 2013
Tom Carter has captured a superb overview of China and the SARs. In most of the inspiring 800+ photos, we bypass the usual tourist haunts and focus instead on the locals. With distinct sections for each region, the format supports the idea that China - with its rich and colourful contrasts - is more of a `civilisation' than a country.

What is most incredible about the collection is that the photos were taken with a totally inappropriate and amateur piece of kit - a 4-megapixel Olympus C-4000. This, in itself, challenges the pretentious notion that a photographer-is-only-as-good-as-their-equipment.

It may also be a clue as to how the photographer managed to capture the country in such intimate and natural detail. Looking like a tourist, as opposed to a professional photographer, has clearly resulted in better access and increased chances of encouraging his subjects to relax. Plus, I understand he uses very little post-processing.

Carter does not shy away from featuring soot-faced miners, beggars and prostitutes, though he errs towards the positive and the beautiful. Some may believe this to be unrepresentative of a country beset with environmental concerns, corruption and ongoing poverty. Others, however, would be fair to argue that the spotlight is far too often placed upon the negative, especially by Westerners and sometimes quite heavy-handedly.

`A Portrait' makes a refreshing effort to redress the balance, whilst still giving a fair overview of what is a vast, complicated and very diverse land.
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on 10 January 2011
I'll just state that this book should be used in all American schools as a personal introduction to China, or -- as the author explains -- "the 33 provinces of the fourth largest country in the world," which includes "56 different ethnicities, each with their own languages, customs and lifestyles."

CHINA: Portrait Of A People is an amazing book. No less remarkable for its unpretentiousness. The author and photographer, Tom Carter, is no crusty academic, and what he provides here is a personal (and personable) view: a voyager's log in part and what is essentially a superior example of guerrilla photojournalism. The book is divided into 33 chapters, one for each province, and before each chapter are his recollections of his difficulties traveling to the regions as well as episodes where Chinese individuals (see "I, Shen Mei Li," page 134) are allowed to speak for themselves, as well as fragments of poetry and other uniquely Chinese related material -- just enough to wet the appetite for the remarkable images -- some gritty, some even grotesque -- you are about to see.

Favorite images, sections? Hard to pick since there are so many. The photo-illustrated journey starts at Beijing ('the epicenter of the "center of the world,''' as Tom Carter writes) and concludes with Tibet ("Middle of nowhere, center of everywhere"). With more than 600 pages in between. (The images in this final section -- Tibet -- are among the most emotionally compelling and beautiful of the book.)

With a country as vast as China (and one as culturally and historically ancient), there's a lot to see and Tom Carter provides a vast array of images and views -- glimpses of a country on the cusp of a sweeping transformation: a great nation that still identifies as Communist while embracing new Capitalist ways. These photos then also provide historical artifacts as modernization plows away thousands of years of history.

The scope of this book is epic, yet broken down into satisfying sections. So it's user friendly. And again I would mention that the book's lack of pretension and self-conscious artiness lends it a down-to-earth charm. It's like a pilgrim's account of China experienced first hand and shared in photographs. And I found myself fascinated by certain details (the "hair salon girls," pgs. 28,169, 331 and the "double lucky" eyelids/cosmetic procedure), among other things.

Of the places I'd like to visit on account of this book, top of the list would be Tibet and places like the Portuguese-influenced Macau, and of course Beijing ("Chaoyang"). Then: remote Heilongjiang ("Harbin"), Inner Mongolia (which is one of the most beautiful sections of the book), coastal Shandong (birthplace of Confucius), Jiangsu (with its sad and bloody history of Japanese invasion), Fujian, Guangdong ("Dapu"), of course Hong Kong (for its urban, multi-cultural variety), Guangxi ( "Zhongliu"), Guizhou ("Zengchong"), Anhui ("Mukeng Zhuhai," the Bamboo Sea where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was shot), Hunan ("Zhangjiajie" and "Fenghaung"), Henan ("Song Shan" for its 800-year-old Shaolin temple and its ancient association with Kung Fu), Shaabxu ("Xi'an" for the Bingmayong vault), Gansu ("Hexi" and "Langmusi" for its Tibetan yet almost Peruvian-appearing culture), Sichuan ("Jiuzhaigou" and "Emei Shan"), Yunnan ("Lijiang"), and once again Tibet (particularly "Lhasa").

Need I say more? For the world traveler and romantic in us all, this book will infect you with
enthusiasm, excitement, and curiosity for a place. And I can think of no higher praise for a book.

CHINA: Portrait Of A People by Tom Carter. Highly recommended.
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on 4 August 2010
For all of us who have ever dreamed about taking time off of work/time out of our normal lives and travelling around an exotic country, the next best thing would be to buy this book! I came upon "China: Portrait of a People" quite by chance in a coffee shop cum book store, and promptly bought one for myself and one for each of my siblings. For me, this is no ordinary "coffee table" book. As the old adage goes, a picture IS worth a thousand words, and Tom Carter provides us with the most beautiful impressions of China, without overwhelming us with wordy captions. This is another of the book's strengths. True to the title, most of the photographs are of people: here a farmer with a smile of gold, there a small child wrapped against the cold. Their stories are in their eyes, and in the lines on their faces. I also got to thinking about the story BEHIND each portrait. The distances that Mr.Carter has had to travel, the challenges that he has had to face, and of course the hours and hours of trekking somewhere for that perfect shot. Not to mention the dust and the cold and the hunger and the bugs... I am quite sure that no other foreigner has travelled China as extensively as Tom Carter has, and he has given us this gift of his love for photography and for travel. Well done, indeed! I eagerly await any further work!
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on 3 August 2010
There are lots of books on China out there, including myriad photography books. Carter's book stands out because instead of focusing on landscape, architecture, or food, he shows the beauty and diversity of Chinese people. Those who have not traveled or lived in China, may not realize the amount of variety among the people--with this book you be able to fully understand and appreciate how unique each ethnicity is. Chinese people are not just simply Chinese.

In each province one can find many different ethnicities, each varied in appearance and fashion, traditions and attitude. Carter captures these differences beautifully in his book "China: Portrait of a People." He also managed to travel to every corner of China, illustrating everyone from Han to Tibetans to Uyghurs. If you have been to China or have any interest in the country, you will enjoy this book that gives such a wonderful insight into its people.
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on 23 August 2010
Rarely does a book of richly colored photographic images of a country and the people that inhabit that country on every page reveal so much of a culture that the book becomes an instant resource for fascinated travelers (real and armchair), students, teachers, and readers who care about the planet we call Earth. CHINA: PORTRAIT OF A PEOPLE is indeed what the title suggests: within the covers of this book are more faces sampling the 1.3 billion people who inhabit the 33 provinces and the 56 cultures of the vast country of China, faces that range from the new born to the elderly, the healthy to the suffering, the traditional culture bound with the new Westernized modern look, all placed within the context of the land and the life differences in one fascinatingly diverse country.

Tom Carter almost unintentionally created this brilliant book. His goal was to spend two years traveling across China, lingering long enough in each of the varied provinces to learn the customs, the people's way of life, the history that varies so greatly among the provinces (both ancient and recent - meaning within the last century), and capture the land and the people who dwell there with his camera. A young politician by training, Carter had already made a similar journey through Mexico, Central America and Cuba: this idea of earnest sociological, journalistic and humanitarian investigations was in place. In 2004 he traveled to the People's Republic of China as an English language teacher in Central China and in two year's time he resolved to learn more about the people who inhabit this divers and historically rich land: in 2006 he began his trek by every possible means of transportation traveling through every province, staying is many cities, soaking up the realities of life there that too often are obscured from tourists, committed to learning all he could, incorporating the splendors of the vistas from the Gobi Desert to the highest mountains of Tibet to the lush mountains and rivers and the seas and oceans that brush China's borders - and capturing it all on film!

Few of us realize how disparate are the various provinces of this great country. Carter shows us these variations of religions (Buddhism, Muslim, and variations within these, and more), farming, apparel, ritual, celebrations, animals, connections to the earth, the influence of the mass changes of Westernization on the beauty of the historically significant architecture, the lay of the land in the way it supports (and in certain cases dooms) its people, the forms of sport and entertainment, compassion and revolt, and the response of the people to the presence of an 'outsider'. Carter's photographic images were taken with Olympus Camedia C400 camera: more color saturation could not be possible than in the images we see here.

Another major aspect of this book is the presence on most pages of a few words by the author that so simply define the meaning behind each of the provinces and the people he has captured on film. Each section on each of the 33 provinces begins with a succinct description about the historical significance and the unique aspects of that province. At times there are bits of poetic moments shared, and at time the words of someone he met are shared. In all, then, this as complex a diary of a country as any book presented about he vast country that is China, an ancient and yet also very modern neighbor. Reading and absorbing this book will provide the reader with a true sense of the cultural riches of China: more important, the reader will feel an affinity for these people with whom we share life on the planet. Highly recommended to all readers. Grady Harp, August 10
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on 13 August 2010
If one picture is worth a thousand words, then this striking work is worth a million words. At 15.2 x 15.2 cms and 638 pages this book is more like a box of photos - a wonderfully diverse photographic exploration of China's people and culture.

The magic of photography is that it captures a glimpse in time that would otherwise be lost, an insight into another world. This is a book that belongs on the coffee table not the bookshelf. A treasure to be shared. Thank you, Tom Carter.
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on 2 July 2011
This book is an impressive, ambitious project. The photographs are breathtaking and the journalism is superb. I so delighted in this book that I purchased an extra copy to send to my father as a gift. My father also enjoyed flipping through the book immensely. Kudos to Tom Carter for a job well done and for the publisher, Pete Spurrier for having the insight and instinct to make this book a reality! Such a gift to us all.
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on 11 July 2010
If your image of the people of China is anything other than 1.3 billion unique individuals with loves, losses, joys, struggles, passions and pressures just like yours, then you need this book.

Breaking the stereotype of inscrutibility, the people in these pages look you in the eye in a moving gesture of shared humanity. They come from every province of this vast nation, reflecting the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of a land with every imaginable landscape, climate and level of development.

In a country isolated from the rest of the world for long periods of its history, breaking through the barrier of otherness can be a challenge for foreign visitors. Tom Carter hasethn done the hard work for you.

If you are planning a trip to China, you need this book. Not just because it will give you ideas of cool places to visit, but because you'll come wanting to light up people's faces with a smile that touches their heart.

Even if you have no interest in China whatsover, you'll still find these portraits uplifting and heartwarming.
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on 14 March 2011
A visually absorbing account of modern China that manages to reflect the effervescent dynamism of the emerging new superpower through the eyes and lens of a travelling photojournalist. Over 600-plus pages, Carter has successfully weaved together the titular `portrait' from a series of images ranging in subject from urban sprawl to bucolic serenity and seemingly everything in between; the one constant pervading this admittedly unwieldy volume being his unwavering focus on the faces and back stories that define a nation in the midst of rapid 21st-century development. This balance between poignant laments for the loss of an old China the West never really got to know and hubristic assertions of its now-imminent dominance is perfectly struck as Carter gets into the nooks, crannies and peepholes of a nation that, for now, still exists on the periphery of our cultural radar. Not for much longer.
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