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Between two worlds: a photo essay

In a remote corner of Tibet, life goes on as it did a thousand years ago, far from the transformation boom taking place in China's sprawling cities

The photographs on these pages were taken by an anonymous photographer who has spent the past ten years living and working in a quiet and remote region of Tibet. Both the photographer and the subjects of the photographs do not wish to reveal their identity. These pictures were not taken for any commercial purpose, and no one involved ever expected them to be published. They are different from the stereotypical images of Tibet: they record a true picture and the unfamiliar beauty of a civilisation that is often brutally represented and misinterpreted. - Ai Weiwei

From the photographer:

Since 2005 I have been taking pictures of the daily lives of Tibetans. These images are from the remote area of Kham, in Garze County, Sichuan. The local groups have largely retained their nomadic tribal tradition and beliefs, and their lifestyle has remained almost untouched by outside civilisation. For thousands of years, they have been wearing the same style of clothing, going through the same daily routines, performing the same rituals and believing in the same religion. Against the backdrop of rapid urbanisation and vast transformation in China, these images offer a sharp contrast and reflect the struggles of the Tibetan people between tradition and change.


(Tibetan women wearing traditional headdresses of silver, coral and amber that is woven into their braids. This type of head covering is worn across the Kham region)

(A large Buddhist monastery in Kham)

(A woman milks a dzo, a male hybrid of a yak and a cow)

(Nomads walk across a fenced hillside)

(Nomad families drink tea in a shared tent)

(A monk doctor takes the pulse of a woman in traditional dress, a sheepskin-lined brocade chuba)

(A warm welcome at a pop-up noodle cafe)

(The daily routine at a nomad encampment)

(A pilgrim with a Tibetan Buddhist mala, made up of 108 prayer beads)

(Nomads pack up their tend as they make ready to move on. The woman is wearing a chuba but the man is in western dress)

(A nomad family at home. The nomads' tends are made with thick yak hair to withstand strong winds. Their diet consists of barley, yak meat, cheese and tea mixed with yak butter)

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Ai Weiwei guest-edit