China – Between the Walls

My idée fixe of following the Great Wall from the border of North Korea to China’s remote west involved travelling mostly across terrain that at the time was not officially open to foreigners. The journey, therefore, was technically a forbidden one and this had implications for what was left for me to photograph en route to the walls. It was not me who took the decisions. It was a matter of chance.

Under the conditions in which I was travelling (my equipment included a 4×5″ camera), it was as difficult to get to the walls as it was to remain invisible on the way there, since I frequently had to ask for the whereabouts of something which had more often than not disappeared, whether submerged by the reservoirs built during the Mao years, dismantled by the PLA to built barracks, or simply forgotten.

In addition, entire regions hadn’t seen a foreigner for decades, and the children in remote villages none at all. This resulted in my arrest and detention combined with the duty to write self-critical letters, the imposition of a ban on certain routes, and even the enforcement of some stopovers, and hilarious detours. Sometimes my onward journey from where I had been stopped became possible simply because it was impossible that I had surfaced there at all. On the move again in the loess plateau, ice and snow had made the winding road slippery as soap and the Yellow River ferries were not where we had been told to look for them.