A GLIMPSE INTO CHINA

Displayed as a photo exhibition at Asbury University Kinlaw Library Foyer and Z.T.'s Bistro from January-May 2017​, Asbury Theological Seminary B.L. Fisher Library from November 2017-January 2018, and Asbury University Student Center from January-April 2019

[Sponsored by the University of Kentucky's Confucius Institute and Asbury University's Global Engagement Office]

Artist statement:

​"Diversity" was not the first word that came to mind when I used to think of China, but I had the amazing opportunity to visit China in 2015 and see its array of life and culture for myself.  As a Chinese Malaysian, it was also an eye-opening experience to finally return to the land of my heritage. The diversity and commonality I found in the daily practices of the Chinese surprised and mesmerized me. Cityscapes line the skylines of rural villages. The elderly and young co-exist peacefully. Traditional values and the importance of community are still held dear in a culture of economic prosperity.  Witnessing daily life in different parts of China has heightened my appreciation of its rich culture. I hope this compilation of candid images, mainly taken in and around Shanghai and Beijing, will similarly give you a taste of the beauty and diversity of life in modern China.

Bustling Markets

MORNING; A street-side food stall, Shanghai

Vendors, who wake daily at the crack of dawn to make ready their fresh goods, gather along the streets. They gesture toward people passing by, yelling out prices and engaging in intense bargaining, which is a way of life in China. It is a lively start to the day.

A Tasty Breakfast

MORNING; A street-side food stall, Shanghai

The streets of Shanghai come to life early in the morning. It is hard to find a food stall that doesn’t make 小 笼 包 (xiao long bao), and not surprisingly, for these freshly-made traditional dumplings are known for their juicy, succulent flavor. Aromatic smells fill the air as families and friends engage in conversation around the breakfast table, chopsticks in hand.

Picture Perfect

MORNING; 朱 家 角 (Zhu jia jiao) Water Village, Shanghai

An artist working in 朱 家 角 Water Village, a popular tourist attraction, begins his day of work. His brush glides across the canvas with careful strokes, capturing the vivid scenery before him. He rivets his attention on his task, hoping to attract a curious visitor.

Worn-out Hands

NOON; 朱 家 角 (Zhu jia jiao) Water Village, Shanghai

As noon approaches, a hardworking boatman embarks on his daily routine under the scorching summer sun.  His noticeably worn-out hands steer the wooden boat with strength and ease.

Throwback

NOON; 朱 家 角 (Zhu jia jiao) Water Village, Shanghai

A replica of an old Chinese pagoda awaits at the edge of the lake. The picturesque view provides a scenic window into ancient China, a land rich in cultural heritage.

Long Shadows

NOON: Next to the Olympic (Bird’s Nest) Stadium, Beijing

As the sun casts hard shadows on the ground, crowds start to gather beside public attractions.

Families, energetic young children, tour groups, and a diverse array of hats and umbrellas are common sights in the midday afternoon.

The True God of the Chinese

MIDAFTERNOON; 天 坛 (Tian tán) The Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Unbeknownst to many, even people from China, the ancient Chinese used to worship one God named上帝 (Shàng dì). A plaque dedicated to this Creator-God lies at the center of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, located at The Temple of Heaven. Stories surrounding上帝 are incredibly similar to descriptions of the God of the Bible. In fact, Chinese emperors and priests used to perform rituals at this hall of prayer that parallel Jewish rituals. Before Buddhism entered China from India and before ancestral worship, records clearly show the Chinese worshipped one God.

A Glimpse

MIDAFTERNOON; 故 宫 (Gù gōng) The Forbidden City, Beijing

The Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, lies in the heart of the modern city of Beijing. It once served as the imperial home of 24 of China’s emperors, an exclusive mansion cut off from the public eye. Now, robust seas of people crowd in daily. Amidst jostling backpacks, we get a glimpse of one of the imperial buildings.

The Great Wall

MIDAFTERNOON; The Great Wall of China, 居 庸 关 (Ju yong guan) section, Beijing

The Chinese have a saying, 不到长城非好汉 (bú dào Cháng chéng fei hao hàn) or “He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man.” This idiom has come to mean that one becomes a hero when he or she is able to overcome any difficulty. Though it is, sadly, a myth that the Great Wall can be seen from space, it is still a magnificent sight to behold with the naked eye. Originally a defense against China’s invading neighbors, the Great Wall’s construction began in the 5th century B.C, and various sections were added to it throughout a period of 2000 years.

Friendship

EARLY EVENING; Hutong alleyways surrounding the Forbidden City, Beijing

Children run along sidewalks, playing and chatting energetically after they are dismissed from school. Are these three girls sisters or close friends? We can’t tell as we only get a quick glance at them out the side bars of a moving trishaw. But they seem to be sharing a secret, and we probably wouldn’t be let in on it anyway.

Cityscapes

EARLY EVENING; 上 海 滩 (Shàng hai tan) The Bund, Shanghai

Towering skyscrapers line China’s modern cityscapes. Huge crowds congregate at elaborate shopping malls to window shop, a common evening pastime.

Winding Down

EARLY EVENING; 頤和園 (Yí hé yuán) Summer Palace, Beijing

As the heat of the day dies down and the weather feels cooler, scores of elderly people gather together in diverse places, socializing over a game of cards or Chinese chess. Competitively, they cheer for sides and lightheartedly poke fun at each other. The relaxed atmosphere provides a well-deserved rest after a day of hard work.

Look Up

EVENING; Town Marketplace, Beijing

Camera in hand, I look around the marketplace searching for an intriguing subject—and I find one. A little boy, dressed in neon green jacket, walks around in a world of his own. His mysterious expression speaks volumes.

Sweet and Sour

EVENING; Town Marketplace, Beijing

A young girl enjoys a traditional treat called Tanghulu 冰糖葫芦 (bing táng húlu). Sour hawthorn berries are coated in a sweet sugar glazing to produce a delicious snack that possesses medicinal qualities, an added bonus.

Pretty Please, Mom...

EVENING; Town Marketplace, Beijing

Large crowds make it easy to miss individuals-especially small ones. Sitting along the sidewalk,

I manage to spot a young boy, who seems to be pleading with his mother for goodies sold in the colorful store in front of him. His mournful expression gets raised finger in response.

Smartphones

EVENING; Hutong Alleyways surrounding the Forbidden City, Beijing

The widespread effect of technology is evident in China, an already robust and economically prosperous nation. Both the young and old carry devices around. To escape the crowds, some seek out somewhat amusing hideouts to spend some “introvert” moments with their smartphones, whether to play Candy Crush, Tetris, or watch the newest drama.

Ni Hao!

EVENING; Hutong alleyways surrounding the Forbidden City, Beijing

Riding on trishaws along ancient Hutong Beijing alleyways give a glimpse into traditional Chinese life. This seasoned driver carries out his daily duties with a smile. Spotting well-known faces as he passes by, he calls out “你好 (ni hao)!,” the Chinese equivalent of “Hello! How are you?”

A Photographer's Paradise

DUSK; 上 海 滩 (Shàng hai tan) The Bund, Shanghai

Armed with cameras and smartphones, people stream to the shoreline to capture the jaw-dropping horizon.

The sunset’s bold array of colors makes a perfect background for silhouettes.

Reflections

NIGHT; 上 海 滩 (Shàng hai tan) The Bund, Shanghai

At night, the city comes to life in a brand new, refreshing way. Lights reflect off buildings into the water, ships graze the harbor, and people relax along the shoreline amidst the serenading buzz of music and entertainment.  What a perfect end to a day filled with adventure.

© 2020 by Eliza Tan