Street Photography in China

Everything that is visible hides something that is invisible.Renee Magritte

I have been sorting through my photographs of China from 2003-2019. My first visit to China, I went to Beijing in July, 2003 – just after the WHO cleared the city for international travel after SARS. I want to share a few of my impressions and some street photography with you. According to Wikipedia: Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or inquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.

The street photographer can be seen as an extension of the flâneur, an observer of the streets (who was often a writer or artist).

It saddens me to read news of attacks on Asian people in America. At the same time, some blowhard media cesspools sputter out couched racism as if it is news. All these currents of negative energy throw shadows across the souls of too many people. We all are unique collections of culture, beliefs, experiences, millions of memories, and so much more. The photo above is a split second in a scene of farewell in the countryside of China. The group is waiting for a bus outside a village. The ubiquitous red/blue and white “workers’ luggage” at their feet is jammed with essential belongings. The van to the right is a countryside taxi. There is a small vegetable garden behind the ladies. These gardens are everywhere in China. This blink of an eye scene could take place anywhere in the world. Many of us have experienced such moments.

Here are a few scenes from Beijing in 2003. The city changed enormously for the 2008 Olympics and since that time.

My first day in China, I was stuck in the Forbidden City waiting for the rain to stop. Happily, I met a very friendly man who was a high school physics teacher. He had his twin son and daughter and his younger sister – Yanhua – with him. We had a nice chat for fifteen minutes. The little kids thought my camera was pretty funny. I met many warmhearted people in Beijing.

This marvelous family is from the province of Inner Mongolia. The father was a rancher, and he gave me a powerful hug. They had never met a foreigner before, and were especially happy to know I was an American. The daughter was in high school and wanted to practice her English with me. We had a very nice conversation.

I was invited to join a school outing at a commune on the Yellow Sea in Nan Dai Hu. The kids had a great time beating me at ping pong 🙂 The parents were very kind and Teacher Ping was a very impressive teacher who taught herself how to adapt her lessons for the Internet to teach – via email and BBS, during the SARS pandemic.

This is one of my favorite photographs of China. This is the road that runs along the west of the Zhang Nan Hai government compound. Back then there were much fewer cars and millions of bicycles. This was before China became the economic powerhouse it is today.

Bicycle parking lot. I really enjoyed seeing so many bicyclists. To this day, I still don’t know how people remember where they parked. Maybe the attendant reminds them.

This is out by Deshengmen Gate. I walked everywhere in the city. This day I think I walked 6-8 miles from my hotel to the Ancient Coin Market, which is in that ancient gate in the distance. This is near the 2nd Ring Road, which these days is packed with millions of cars. Personal vehicles were less common back then.

I took a photograph of this sign to remember my first encounter with locals on the street. On my first day in China, I was trying to figure out how to cross the street near the Forbidden City. There are fences on both sides of the broad street, and no crosswalks. An older man on a bicycle watched me for a minute as I paced back and forth. He said something in Chinese and repeatedly made a swooping gesture with his hand. Then he pointed at the sign. There was an underpass for pedestrians. I said xie xie (shay shay) – thanks and went about my exploring. I have to say it once again, the people of China were warmhearted to me. And as I became more familiar I learned how to ease through the streets and become part of what I call Everyday China.

Back in 2003, there were growing signs of affluence in the big cities of China. Pizza Hut was a luxury which I took advantage of on several occasions when I lived in China.

I will be posting more of my street photography in China, starting with when I moved there in 2007 and was a magazine and newspaper editor and university lecturer.

Be kind to one another and accept the people you meet every day as a unique expression of humanity – just like you. Peace.

Published by cewheeler

Writer/Artist:12 years in China – univ. lecturer: writing,poetry,culture; editor – magazine/newspaper & actor. 40 years students of the Tao. Traveler. Father. Read my books at:

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