I had the unique opportunity in 1975 to tour border areas of China, with a delegation of 22 American minority community activists to meet and learn from Chinese National Minorities, from Dongbei (NE), home of the Man People, to Xinjiang (W), Uighur Autonomous Region, Muslim, to the Autonomous Prefecture of Xishuangbanna (SE/SW), Dai Autonomous Prefeture the self governing land of Tibetan and SE Asian Peoples. This tour was requested by the Maoist Chinese government to introduce a nation-wide cross-section of America’s 1/2 dozen minorities to China’s 54 (or a good representation of them). At the time, China’s majority Han People (94% of total population, what we foreigners normally call “Chinese”), still recovering from a century of foreign domination and exploitation, Civil War, WWII, Korean War, and Mao’s own disastrous social campaigns were allotted only one set of ubiquitous clothing, the signature baggy pants, Mao jacket and cap in the 3 recognizable colors of blue (people), green (military), and gray (cadre).*
This preamble of mine to the photos shared of vanishing indigenous people of our world is meant to give some background to the fact that during the excesses of Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 1966-76, the National Minority People throughout China, though going thru the same turmoil and upheaval as the rest of the country, were the only Chinese People allowed to keep their own National dress, jewelry (lots of silver) and customs. Many times the only way of distinguishing one minority group from another was from their distinctive dress and bling! Although I took many photos of the people, it was not my focus during this unprecedented opportunity of discovery (and unfortunately many I did take have been lost or destroyed in the years since, in addition I definitely had not the artistic acumen and ability of this photo artist!). But I did get to see many indigenous, tribal people in China, some in urban settings mingling with the monochrome colors and unisex style of the majority people in their multicolored and infinitely varied hats, bags and other accouterments. It was very jarring and otherworldly experience, being mainly in a monochrome culture at the time, and brought to mind a glimpse of what the mingling of Indian tribes, soldiers, cowboys and all the many and diverse people thrown together in our Far West of our mountains and Great Plains in the 19th Century!
* One other unexpected side effect of the singular dress; being in the PLA, work in the fields, department store, office or hospital was no longer looking at these things to assess an individual. You only had the face to examine. It became clearer immediately that the individual was solely judged by facial recognition, no other distractions interfered. The faces would have been a great photo exploration allowed of the China of that time ! Later it reminded me of the Qing Di terra-cotta army buried in Xian where each individual face is immediately recognized in the singular uniform and grey/brown earth color of the clay.
****This post is taken from Facebook and is a preamble to a shared post from Mongolia Live. The text with original post and photos is as follows:
Photographer spends 6 months traveling alone to photograph Siberia’s Mongolic, Turkic and Tungusic peoples. For the past 9 years, photographer Alexander Khimushin has been traveling the world, visiting 84 different countries. Three years ago, inspired by the idea of documenting remote cultures that are slowly disappearing due to globalization, he began his The World in Faces project. Seeking out small, ethnic minority groups around the world, Khimushin shoots incredible portraits that both honor and immortalize their culture. #MongoliaLive