I found one of my favorite books while moving last month, a photo book of the Chinese countryside - A Collection of Yue Baoqun's Photographic Works.
A man I knew in Xi'an arranged for a folk arts festival in his home village, about two hours west of Xi'an, every year. He planned a day of cultural activities - including Qin Qiang (Shaanxi-style opera), puppet shows, and a tour of the recently opened art gallery - to give his 10,000 person village an annual shot of activity and money from outsiders. The man I knew is big in the voluntourism industry in China. TV cameras, newspapers, government officials, and a couple minibuses full of foreigners were brought in to the village every spring for the festival.
I went to this festival in 2006, 2007, and 2009. I have very fond memories of going to this event. The mental image that is most strongly burnt into my mind is watching Qinqiang with several hundred villagers laughing and smoking pipes as the performers belted out their songs from the stage. I didn't spend tons of time in the countryside during my time in China. I really cherish the times that I did spend there.
On my second trip, I saw Yue Baoqun's book for sale at the art gallery's gift shop (hardly any village in China would have a gallery like this one has, it only has one because of the voluntourism aspect to the village). After flipping through the book, I was immediately convinced that it was worth its 68 kuai (about $10 or $11 at the time) price tag and got it.
Yue Baoqun is a photographer from Baoji, Shaanxi Province. Baoji is about a two hour intra-provincial train ride from my old home, Xi'an. Yue's book highlights photos of people from the countryside of Shaanxi, Shanxi, and Gansu Provinces. Yue's photos of the Chinese countryside are some of the best I've seen anywhere.
Here are a few of my favorites (I took these photos of the book myself, sorry about the quality, they really don't do the book much justice):
A man playing an erhu in rural Shaanxi Province
I remember seeing a huge blown up poster of this photo for sale at the gallery. It was 250 kuai (about $40). I regret I didn't get it. I love art featuring musicians performing.
Two portraits of Shaanxi farmers
Two photos of ethnic minorities from Gansu Provice
Yellow Hat Buddhist monks in Gansu Province
A farmer on the Yellow River in Shanxi Province.
It was hard for me to narrow down my favorite photos to just five. Just about every photo of this 80 page book is special.
The parts of China that Yue features in his book are some of the poorest in China. The people on the loess plateaus and imposing terrain of northwest China live lives unfathomable to those who've only seen the wealth of Beijing, Shanghai, and other large cities in China.
Yue's book gives the reader an intimate glimpse into a world that is often ignored when discussing "rising China." I think that seeing how people live outside of China's major cities is an important thing to understand. Not all of China has the luxury of being crazed over the new iPhone 4s.
I just did a few searches for Yue Baoqun (岳宝群) on Google and Baidu. I found his blog, but could only find this book for sale on the Chinese internet. If you can read Chinese, you can buy his book here. At 30 yuan (about $5), this is a steal. Yue Baoqun's photos and his book are incredible.