Greetings from China. I just got back from the first weekend of the Shanghai Literary Festival and was introduced to a lot of great books about China, where I am currently working as an English teacher.
I found it not a little ironic, however, that most of the authors at a Chinese book festival were westerners as opposed to Chinese. I’m not sure if this has to do with the language barrier, political censorship/repression, or if just that the sponsors of the fair feel that books written by caucasians have a greater appeal to other caucasians.
One of the most fascinating new books I heard about while at the festival was CHINA: Portrait of a People by Tom Carter. Mr. Carter, a travel photographer, has received alot of publicity for supposedly being “one of the only foreigners in the history of China to have traveled across all 33 provinces in China.”
This big, fat book of photos is proof that, yes, he has actually been to every province in China, but as I am an avid backpacker myself, I could not help but question the *logistics *of his geographical bragging rights. The book specifies that Mr. Carter spent “2 years backpacking 56,000 kilometers and visiting over 200 cities and villages across China.” Considering that China is 9.6 million square kilometers, 160 cities and countless smaller townships and villages, how is it at all possible that Mr. Carter was able to navigate this much landmass within such a short time frame? It took Mao Zedong and the retreating Communist Army over 370 days just to get through a mere 8,000 miles in southwestern China during their “Long March.”
Furthermore, Mr. Carter claims that he only traveled by railway, bus, walking, hitch-hiking and the occasional 4x4 expedition. He supposedly did not ever travel by plane after arriving in China, which makes his claims even more unfathomable. I’ve been on busses and trains in China, and believe me, just getting from one city to the next takes a hair-pulling amount of time.
Lastly, even if Mr. Carter has in fact seen as much of China as he claims, is he truly the only foreigner to have ever done so? Marco Polo knew Asia better than most, and according to Polo’s book, he saw plenty of China as well, but is it really possible that even the great Polo was bested by Tom Carter?
My thinking is that if Mr. Carter really has seen this much of China, he’d have been headhunted by National Geographic by now, or at least sponsored by the China National Tourism Administration as the posterboy of inbound tourism, not living in poverty and obscurity in some rural Chinese village (or so goes the rumors about him).
Sorry, I know this is a protracted question, and I don’t suppose there’s many Straight Dope experts on China, one of the most mysterious and mind-baffling countries in the world. I am not at all discounting Mr. Carter’s book or his stunning photographs; as a geography nut, I’m just trying to determine if his claims are logistically possible, because I can’t seem to wrap my head around it :smack: