25 photos to make you re-think China

China is often shrouded in stigmas and stereotypes. From the outside heading in, I had an idea of what I expected to see. However, we found China to be a massive and multifaceted place, full of surprises. Here, we’ve selected some images that might help shift your thinking or broaden your perspective of China 2015.

Highway, Yunan Province: The roads in China are a breath taking work of engineering. Entering from Laos, where the road is so muddy our bus was often going up hills sideways to avoid bogging, the contrast was stark. In China, mountains and valleys are no obstical, the road continues straight, tunnelling through the mountains and bridging over valleys, for kilometers, if that's what it takes. The roadside reading "Descent for next 54km" is probably not in existence anywhere else in the world. They have special emergency breaking areas for trucks when breakpads get too hot on the constantly angled declines.

1. Highway, Yunnan Province: The roads in China are breathtaking works of engineering. Entering from Laos, where the road is so muddy our bus was often going up hills sideways to avoid bogging, the contrast was stark. In China, mountains and valleys are no obstacles: the road continues straight, tunnelling through the mountains and bridging over valleys, for kilometers, if that’s what it takes. The roadside reading “Continuous downgrade for next 54km” is probably not in existence anywhere else in the world. They have special emergency breaking areas for trucks when breakpads get too hot on the constantly angled declines.

Vegetable market, Kunming: This typically Chinese looking market was in an unexpected setting - an old factory!

2. Vegetable market, Kunming: This typically Chinese-looking market was in an unexpected setting: an old factory! The recycled space made for a great atmosphere.

Salinger Cafe, Kunming, Yunan Province: I was delighted to discover the cafe/bookshop culture embraced by the young Chinese of today. The atmosphere of these places is everything you want in a place to hang out: cosy, trendy and interesting. The bookshelves host a few texts in English as well as a very impressive selection of intelligent literature in or translated to Mandarin. The baristas are good and there were even Belgian beers on the menu. This particular cafe holds a film night every Thursday, featuring world cinema. On the weekends there is sometimes live music. The cafe is open all afternoon through till midnight, daily... I found myself wondering, why doesn't this exist in Melbourne yet???

3. Salinger Cafe, Kunming: I was delighted to discover the cafe/bookshop culture embraced by the young people of China. The atmosphere of these places is everything you want in a place to hang out: cosy, trendy and interesting. The bookshelves include some English texts as well as a very impressive selection of intelligent literature in, or translated to, Mandarin. The baristas serve good coffee and there were even Belgian beers on the menu! This particular cafe holds a film night every Thursday, featuring world cinema. On the weekends there is sometimes live music. The cafe is open all afternoon through till midnight, daily… I found myself wondering, why doesn’t this exist in Melbourne yet???

Wind farm next to the highway, Yunan: Renewable energy production is a regular sight in China's countryside. We saw solar power plants as well as wind farms.

4. Wind farm next to the highway, Yunnan Province: Renewable energy production is a regular sight in China’s countryside. As well as wind farms, we saw solar power plants, including some of the World’s largest. In the 5-year plans of the 21st century, ecology is a major focus for China (that doesn’t mean China’s way to being a clean country isn’t almost hopelessly long).

Luxian, Sichuan Province: China is a hitchhikers dream, as 95% of the cars on the roads are luxury brands. Audi, Lexus, BMW - you'll be riding in comfort and style through China!

5. Lizhou Ancient Town, Sichuan Province: China is a hitchhikers dream, as 95% of the cars on the roads are luxury brands. Audi, Lexus, BMW – you’ll be riding in comfort and style through China! Too bad you’re often scared for your life because of the bad driving. Head checks are not necessary, it seems, the other driver should be ready to break when you pull out for overtaking! Even the police seem to be speeding and talking on the phone while driving.

Liangshan, Sichuan Province: I had imagined China to be a place were people mainly live indoors and keep to themselves. However, we found the street and city squares filled with people and alive with happenings. Middle-aged women get together after work for free dance workouts (they call these 'Dancing in the square'), children rollerskate, and people hang out.

6. Xichang, Sichuan Province: I had imagined China to be a place were people work late, stay indoors and keep to themselves. However, we found the street and city squares filled with people and alive with happenings. Middle-aged women get together after work for free dance workouts (they call these ‘Dancing in the square’), children rollerskate, and people generally hang out.

Noddle shop, Luxian, Sichuan Province: coming to China, I expected everything to be mass produced in factories, but it's not the case at all. Here, in a small town, we stumbled upon a family-run noodle shop, were most of the process is still done by hand. The smell of fresh noodles was incredible.

7. Noddle shop, Lizhou, Sichuan Province: Coming to China, I expected everything to be mass produced in factories, but it’s not the case at all. Here, in a small town, we stumbled upon a family-run noodle shop, where most of the process is still done by hand. The smell of fresh noodles was incredible.

Chengdu, Sichuan Province: China seems to be making efforts to green its city streets. Here, you see a telephone tower disguised as a pine tree.

8. Chengdu, Sichuan Province: China seems to be making efforts to green its city streets. Here, you see a telephone tower disguised as a pine tree.

Temple, Luxhouzhen, Sichuan Province: The Cultural Revolution did a good job at erasing traditional Chinese religious rituals, and it's easy to feel like the shopping mall has long replaced the temple. However, with some digging we still managed to find a temple full of people in worship at a intricate ceremony. While rare, it can still be possible to find traditional China alive today.

9. Temple, Lizhou, Sichuan Province: The Cultural Revolution did a good job at erasing traditional Chinese religious rituals, and it’s easy to feel like the shopping mall has long replaced the temple. However, with some digging we still managed to find a temple full of people in worship at a intricate ceremony. While rare, it can still be possible to find traditional China alive today.

Lawn mowers, Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

10. Lawn mowers, Chengdu.

Cigarette vending, Chengdu, Sichuan Province: You know that arcade game where you try to pick up a prize by controlling a mechanical claw? Yes, in this case the prize is a packet of cigarettes... Let's hope it's targeted at adults! In China nearly every adult male you meet smokes. One of the favourite brands is 'China Pride' whose mascot is a Panda. Cute, right?

11. Cigarette vending, Chengdu: You know that arcade game where you try to pick up a prize by controlling a mechanical claw? Yes, in this case the prize is a packet of cigarettes… Let’s hope it’s targeted at adults! In China nearly every adult male you meet smokes. One of the favourite brands is ‘China Pride’ whose mascot is a Panda. Cute, right?

Longchuen, Chengdu, Sichuan Province: I was very surprised to see agriculture happening on large blocks on the outskirts of Chengdu, a city of 13 million. On one hand, it's very cool that some food is being grown locally. On the other hand, this is a city that suffers grey skies most days of the year due to the smog the city creates... If the water's not safe for human consumption, is it safe for human food production?

12. Longquan, Chengdu: I was very surprised to see agriculture happening on large blocks on the outskirts of Chengdu, a city of 13 million. On one hand, it’s exciting that some food is being grown locally. On the other hand, this is a city that suffers grey skies most days of the year due to the smog… If the water’s not safe for human consumption, is it safe for human food production?

Chengdu city, Sichuan Province: I spy a panda's bum.

13. Public art, Chengdu city: I spy a panda’s bum.

Market, Songpan, Sichuan Province: Yep, you see right - that's a lion's paw for sale! Chinese medicine never ceases to amaze me with its remedies. Chinese cuisine also features many animal parts we wouldn't usually consider eating in The West. I had chicken feet, duck tongue, cow stomach and pig brain, all of which were far better than they sound. Don't judge till you've tried it.

14. Market, Songpan, Sichuan Province: Yep, you see right – that’s a dried bear’s claw for sale! Chinese medicine never ceases to amaze me with its remedies. Chinese cuisine also features many animal parts we wouldn’t usually consider eating in The West. I had chicken feet, duck tongue, cow stomach and pig brain, all of which were far better than they sound. Don’t judge till you’ve tried it! If you eat meat, why discriminate?

Tibetan Platue, Sichuan Province: we found where the Window's wallpaper photo was taken! Everyone knows that China is the most populated country on earth, but what you don't realise is that almost half the country is unpopulated. Staying away from the east coast, we actually saw many empty spaces, with no sign of humans.

15. Tibetan Plateau, Sichuan Province: We found where the Window’s wallpaper photo was taken! Everyone knows that China is the most populated country on earth, but what you don’t realise is that almost half the country is populated very sparsely, if at all. Staying away from the east coast, we actually saw endless empty spaces, with no sign of humans. Chinese tourists from the city often take photos of the sky alone and send it to their friends on WeChat (the Chinese equivalent of What’sApp), as the sight of blue sky is so rare to them.

Hospital, Hong Xing, Sichuan Province: When we think of China, we usually think of the ultra modern and high-tech, however in rural areas of minority regions, things look quite different.

16. Hospital, Hong Xing, Sichuan Province: When we think of China, we usually think of the ultra modern and high-tech, however in rural areas of minority regions, things look quite different.

Main street, small town Amdo Tibet, Sichuan Province:

17. Main street, small town Amdo Tibet, Sichuan Province: China’s rush hour isn’t always as you’d picture it!

Young monks playing, Langmusi, Gansu Province:

18. Young Tibetan monks playing, Langmusi, Gansu Province.

Mosque, Langmusi, Gansu Province: Islam is such a big part of Chinese history that it's hard to distinguish mosques from Chinese Buddhist temples.

19. Mosque, Langmusi, Gansu Province: Islam is such a big part of Chinese history that it’s hard to distinguish mosques from Chinese Buddhist temples.

Hitchhiking, Qinhai Province: Despite this guy's bad rep in The West, seems he's still go some big fans in China. Many restaurants have posters of smiling a Mao and you don't have to look far to find his statue (likely in the main city square.)

20. Hitchhiking, Qinhai Province: Despite this guy’s bad rep in The West, seems he’s still got some big fans in China. Many restaurants have posters of a smiling Mao and you don’t have to look far to find his statue (likely in the main city square.)

Near the Grand Bazaar, Urumqi, Xinjian Province: You would never guess this photo is taken in China. There are streets in Urumqi where there is more Arabic and Cyrillic alphabet than Chinese characters. As the biggest city for 1000s of kilometers around, Urumqi is an important city in Central Asia.

21. Near the Grand Bazaar, Urumqi, Xinjian Province: You would never guess this photo is taken in China. There are streets in Urumqi where everything is in Arabic and Cyrillic alphabet, not a Chinese characters in sight! As the biggest city for 1000s of kilometers around, Urumqi is an important city in Central Asia.

Propaganda posters, Urumqi, Xinjiang Province: Urumqi has suffered bomb attacks in recent years, as the Uurgur minority fight for their independence. As well as installing a security guard and scanner at the entry to every shopping mall and train station (no liquids allowed on the MTS - that's no sip of water on the plus 40°C days that are common!), the government has also installed these posters, stylised in the fashion of traditional Central Asian art, showing the minorities working together to build a strong China.

22. Propaganda posters, Urumqi: Urumqi has suffered bomb attacks in recent years, as the Uyghur minority fight for their independence. As well as placing a security guard and scanner at the entry to every shopping mall and train station (no liquids allowed on the BRT – that’s no sip of water on the plus 40°C days that are common!), the government has also installed these posters, stylised in the fashion of traditional Central Asian art, showing the minorities working together to build a strong China.

Gobi Desert, Xinjiang Province: Emptiness. Not everywhere in China is so inhabitated... At least by people!

23. Gobi Desert, Xinjiang Province: Emptiness. Not everywhere in China is so inhabitated… At least by people! These guys have 2 humps, if you’re counting.

Street market, Urumqi, Xinjiang Province: Watermelons, bread, lamb kebabs... Urumqi feels more like Central Asia than China.

24. Street market, Urumqi: Watermelons, bread, lamb kebabs… Urumqi feels more like Central Asia than China.

Near Qinggil, Xinjiang Province: The landscape changed dramatically as we approached the Mongolian border. You can also see Arabic text on the road signs. It is common in China to see the minority language present on the street signs.

25. Near Qinghe, Xinjiang Province: The landscape changed dramatically as we approached the Mongolian border. You can also see Uyghur (or perhaps Kazakh?) text on the road signs. Chinese street signs often includes the language of the ethnic minorities of the different regions.

Highway rest area, Yunan Province: This might be my favourite photo of our trip. I think it speaks for itself.

Highway rest area, Yunnan Province: This might be my favourite photo of our trip. I think it speaks for itself.

Wendy Allan

About Wendy Allan

Wendy comes from Australia. She left her biomedical laboratory bench to explore other ideas of “wellness”. She is drawn to projects centred around community engagement & social inclusion. Passionate about education, food and bringing people together, Wendy sees her travel as a way to study these interests further.

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