2001 to 2007
10,000+ MILES by TRAIN


Thanks for dropping by. 

For me, the "Chinese Currents" metaphor conveys a sense of the incredible scale and complexity of change that the people here have had to navigate through since the flood gates of economic development were finally forced open.  The economic "sea-change" over the past 30 years has, in varying degrees, affected and continues to affect all 1.3 billion Chinese people.  The extent of the social change that has been driven by this force has to be seen to be believed. 

The "sea-change" has been mostly good.  In fact mostly very good indeed.  Tens of millions have been lifted out of poverty.  Hundreds of millions have witnessed an amazing increase in their disposable income.  And also, much further upstream, there are now more than a million people who have accumulated wealth in excess of 10 million yuan.  This group are powering the development of the private sector, as well as the incredible growth in the luxury brand category.

As with all "sea-changes", however, there is also a large degree of unpredictability, not to mention disorientation.  As a society shifts from "fairness" (everyone in the same boat, having very little) to increasing inequality when neighbours who used to have as little as everyone else suddenly and conspicuously have more than those next door then discontent is inevitable. 

This "proximity of inequality", as I call it, is the most dangerous current on China's development voyage, because the increasing "closeness" of inequality has a far bigger effect on the psyche  and, in particular, on people's notion of status and well-being than inequality per se.   

In the 25 years since my first visit, I've been lucky enough to journey to all of China's 34 provinces, municipalities and regions, and to more than 100 cities.  

I love to photograph what I see, and write about what I see and hear.  My longest trip was a 35-day 10,603-mile rail journey from Beidaihe to north-eastern China, then to Tibet, and from Tibet to southern and then eastern China, and back to where I started from.  A series of articles that I wrote along the way, about how some of the people I met are coping with the sea-changes in their lives, are posted at FAST FLOWING:  

There's the story of the young lady who sells Ferraris in Dalian; a blogger in Beijing; a market stall trader in Haerbin who sells Santa Clauses; a national hero who runs the country's biggest sports brand; the auditor who tragically overdosed on hospitality; the school student who eats his way through the Pizza Hut menu; some of the migrant workers who built the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium; the cook at a panda reserve in Sichuan; and quite a few others.  

More recently, I've written 80 articles (about 80,000 words) that I've published in the 2012 to 2008 sections. And I've also taken many thousands of photographs (some of which appear in the UNDER THE BRIDGE section).

On my travels I am always keen to listen to local people telling their own stories of what has changed in their lives over the years, and what they think is likely to change in the near and not-so-near future.   I try to go that extra mile to find out what excites and inspires them, and what washes over them.  The key question I continue to ask myself is, how are the sea-changes here reshaping people's lives, opinions and also their relationships with brands?

My constant exposure to the complexity and magnitude of China's changing currents continues to remind me that, even though so much water has passed under the bridge since my first visit in 1988, my learning curve is as steep as ever.  

I am also keen to explore the wilder side of China (my wildlife photographs are posted in the Birds in China section).  As well as finding more than 890 species of birds in China (and photographing more than 600 of the species), I've also been lucky enough to see a Giant Panda in the wilds of Sichuan province and the very sadly now extinct Yangtze River Dolphin in Jiangxi province.

I dream that the children I see on my travels will  in say between 20 and 40 years from now also be able to experience the joy of seeing a Giant Panda in the wild.  This would indicate that China, as well as the Giant Panda, is enjoying a bright future...

...That's because the degree of success (or otherwise) of vulnerable species, and the habitat and ecosystems they depend on, tends also to be a good gauge of a country's human development.  


My name is Steve.  My Chinese name is Shi Jin. 

I first came to China 25 years ago.  I've lived here for a total of 17 years.  This is my 15th year in Beijing. 

Students of the Chinese classics will recognise my Chinese name from Outlaws of the Marsh (also known as The Water Margin).  This 14th century book, attributed to Shi Nai'an, tells of the heroic deeds of a band of 108 brothers-in-arms who fought against Song dynasty corruption and injustice).  The story of Shi Jin is recounted in chapters 2 and 3.

My wife gave me this name because, she told me, I reminded her of the eponymous Chinese Robin-Hood-like hero. 

I particularly wanted to know what qualities I share with such a legendary figure.

Is it, I asked her, that I too am... courageous? 

If that's not it, what about... determined... principled... fair-minded?   

Or is it just that I'm resolute...brave... or perhaps even dashing??

She stared at me for a while, impassively.  And said nothing.

Clearly spoilt for choice, I thought.  

It wasn't until I found this drawing of Shi Jin posted on the Internet, that I managed to gather the necessary insights to work out the real inspiration behind my wife's choice of name....

...We're both bald.


Anyhow, back to the writing and photos:

Your feedback is most welcome.. 

If you wish to use any of the photos or publish any of the articles, please note that they must not be published in any medium without prior consent.  Please let me know what you wish to use and how you wish to use it and I will send you a quote for a licence. 

All licence fees are to be directly donated to a village school in Guizhou, one of China's poorest provinces.  The school was set up by a friend of mine, who continues to be its main benefactor.  I'll send you the school's bank account details with the quote for the licence.  

Thanks and best regards.


Steve (aka Shi Jin)