National Geographic : 1984 Mar
On Assignment HE HARDLY LOOKS THE AGE to be an old China hand, but a decade has passed since Wong How-Man first journeyed to the People's Republic. The difference now? "You can sense the increase in relaxation with the first steps you take in the country," he says. The Hong Kong native earned a journalism degree in 1973 from the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. After returning home and making brief trips into China, whet ting his appetite for the country, he married a Chinese-American and moved to Los Angeles. But his interest in China, and particularly in her ethnic minorities, persisted. In 1982 Mr. Wong and two Chinese drivers set out in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to challenge remote, precipitous country better suited to yaks' hooves than tires. In six months of travel despite an overheating radiator, dead batter ies, and occasionally getting stuck in the mud-Wong visited numerous ethnic groups like the Tu (right) of eastern Qinghai Prov ince. They fed him sumptuously, but his camp meals suffered from the lack of a pressure cooker. "At high altitudes I could only heat water to about 80°C [176°F], so my rice was only half-cooked," he explains. In the chilly hills of Guizhou Province, Wong photographs a woman of the Ge people dressing formally in his honor (below). Like many peoples, the Ge are classed by the Chi nese government as a subgroup of another mi nority, the Miao, although the Ge hope for full minority status someday. The touchiest issue, Wong found, concerns China's international border areas. "Where a people overlap a border, they will feel much closer to each other culturally than to faraway governments," he notes. "But I believe the au thorities are earnestly trying to allow these peoples autonomy. China may be backward in some ways, but not in minority policy."