Northwest China

Journey to
China's Far West

by Rick Gore
Photographed by Bruce Dale

40 pages

National Geographic

March 1980

Kazak mother and children, northwest China by Bruce Dale © Nat Geo Mag
On my first trip to China in 1979, I travelled to some remote regions in the far northwest. Bus travel was not very reliable and we often broke down a couple times per day. Parts fell off the engine, we got flat tires, you name it. I soon realized what a great opportunity this was for I would get out of the bus and ask the driver to pick me up down the road. Some times I walked several miles and on this particular day, I walked into a village that probably hadn't seen a foreigner in 25 years. I smiled and photographed the above Kazak mother and her chldren as they sat in front of their mud walled house - the children seem to show just a trace of suspicion as the mother comforts the younger while the older leans very gently against her mom.  
Torchlit relayrunners celebrate the anniversary of Mao's Long March. We were riding in a bus when this scene approached us. We stopped and I jumped off the bus long enough to make a couple frames as they ran past.
 I made this picture from the window of a bus as I traveled in northwest China near the Soviet Union. I got out of the bus farther up the road and made some additional pictures. None were as good as this first one. I was careful to select a seat directly behind the driver and had worked out a signal with the driver as to when I wanted him to slow down. The harder I squeezed on his neck, the slower he went. This Han Chinese family from the crowded east has been relocated to the Taklamakan Desert in northwestern China, to help swell the population in a sensitive area near the Soviet Border. This kind of riding is illegal in large cities such as Beijing. In rural areas such as this, it is OK. If you look closely, you can see additional struts at the front wheel to strengthen the front fork. This type of bike is commonly known by Chinese as a "family bike" and is ordered as such.
The citizens of the town of Zhongwei heard there were Americans coming -- the first in at least thirty years. They stood in the rain to get a glimpse of us and we all felt overwhelmed.
A bespectacled eler of Lanzhou looked at me with the same curiosity I saw in him. This photograph ran on the cover of the magazine for this same issue.