David Leffman, a photojournalist and travel writer, has been visiting China for almost 40 years. Over the years, he estimates that he has spent a total of four years in the country. As someone who has traveled extensively and written about various locations around the world, China holds a special place in Leffman’s heart.
Despite having visited many parts of China, Leffman’s favorite areas remain in the south and southwestern regions, particularly the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. He explains that he loves the landscapes, the unique history of the area, and the diverse peoples that inhabit it. In the past, these areas were often remote and far from the influence of the capital, which has contributed to their distinct character.
Leffman also enjoys the food in these regions, although he admits that the cuisine throughout China is generally excellent. He appreciates the wide variety of flavors and regional specialties found throughout the country.
One of the most significant changes that Leffman has witnessed during his many visits to China is the rapid modernization and development of the country. He recalls visiting cities that were once small and relatively undeveloped that have now become bustling metropolises.
Despite the changes, Leffman says that he still feels the country’s romantic allure. He is drawn to the rich history and culture of China, as well as the natural beauty of its landscapes.
As a writer, Leffman has written extensively about his travels in China, including his experiences in the country’s more remote regions. He has published several books on China, including “The Silk Road,” “China’s Southwest,” and “The Great Wall of China.”
Leffman’s work has helped to introduce readers to the beauty and complexity of China, and his writing often highlights the country’s unique cultural heritage. Through his work, he has also helped to promote sustainable tourism and conservation efforts in China.
Despite his many years of travel in China, Leffman says that he still has much to learn about the country. He is continually fascinated by the richness and diversity of Chinese culture and history and looks forward to continuing his exploration of the country in the years to come.
Through his travels and writing, David Leffman has become an advocate for China’s beauty, culture, and heritage. His work has helped to promote the country’s unique character and to raise awareness of the need for conservation and preservation efforts in China.
David Leffman has spent almost four years of his life traveling to China. As a photojournalist and travel writer, he has explored and written about destinations such as Iceland, Indonesia, Australia, and China. Having visited China extensively, Leffman says that the southern and southwestern regions, particularly the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, remain his favorite parts of the country due to their unique history, landscapes, and people. He adds with a laugh that the food in China is pretty good, but that can be said about most parts of the country.
Leffman’s years of writing about China have established him as someone with a keen eye for detail, a deep understanding of Chinese history, and an appreciation for traditional art, with a particular focus on woodblocks and folk embroideries. “I enjoy reading about all aspects of Chinese art,” he says, “but my focus is mostly on woodblocks and folk embroideries.”
Leffman’s interest in China began when he was a teenager in the UK. In 1980, he was studying art history and needed a topic for his thesis. He came across Japanese woodblock prints at an exhibition at Bristol University and became fascinated by their aesthetic. He taught himself how to cut and print woodblocks, not realizing until 1995 that the technique was actually invented in China and that the Japanese had borrowed the technique. From then on, he began collecting Chinese prints.
In 1982, Leffman saw the Jet Li movie Shaolin Temple and became interested in learning martial arts, especially tai chi. He finally traveled to China in 1985 thanks to a small inheritance that funded the trip. He convinced his tutors at the London College of Printing to let him travel during term time to undertake a photojournalism project.
His first visit to China, made during the early years of the reform and opening-up policy, left him feeling alienated, overwhelmed, filthy, and depressed, although he concedes that was mainly because he was determined to travel to less-developed areas and also because he spoke no Mandarin, making it difficult to arrange basic amenities. Subsequent visits were easier, as China was developing rapidly, and he addressed the language barrier by taking intensive Mandarin courses at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and Sichuan University in Chengdu.
Leffman’s experience in photojournalism in China paid off when the publishers of the Rough Guides travel series commissioned him to write about the southwest of the country. That first assignment sparked an ongoing fascination with Guangxi and the provinces of Guizhou, Sichuan, and Yunnan. He has also written guides to Hong Kong and Macao and even ghosted a cookbook for a Chinese author.
Leffman’s interest in China has been nurtured by his fascination with Chinese art, his love for martial arts, and his appreciation for the country’s unique history and culture. His extensive travels and writing have earned him a reputation as an expert on China and its many wonders.
David Leffman has been visiting China for almost 40 years, estimating that he has spent a total of about four years in the country. As a photojournalist and travel writer, he has traveled to various locations around the world, including Iceland, Indonesia, Australia, and China. Having traveled extensively in China, Leffman has a particular fondness for the south and southwestern areas, particularly the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, where he loves the landscapes, the unusual history, and the peoples. Woodblocks and folk embroideries are two forms of traditional Chinese art that Leffman particularly enjoys studying.
Leffman’s interest in China began when he was studying history of art in the UK in 1980. He came across Japanese woodblock prints at an exhibition at Bristol University and was fascinated by their aesthetic, which he found to be completely different from European art. He taught himself to cut and print woodblocks, but it wasn’t until 1995 that he discovered that the process had actually been invented in China and that the Japanese had borrowed the techniques. From that point on, he began collecting prints.
His interest in China grew in 1982 when he saw the Jet Li movie Shaolin Temple, which inspired him to start learning martial arts, particularly tai chi. He made his first trip to China in 1985, thanks to a small inheritance that funded the journey. He persuaded his tutors at the London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication), where he was studying photography, to allow him to travel during term time to undertake a photojournalism project.
Leffman found his first visit to China during the early years of the reform and opening-up policy to be “alienating, overwhelming, filthy and depressing.” However, subsequent visits became easier as China developed rapidly, and he addressed the language problem by taking intensive Mandarin courses in London and Chengdu. His photojournalism experience in China led to him being selected by the publishers of the Rough Guides travel series to write about the southwest of the country.
Leffman estimates that he has visited China more than 15 times since those early trips, often with his wife, spending his time traveling, observing, learning, and writing about the country. Each visit usually lasted about six months, occasionally broken into two blocks, but the longest was nine months.
In his latest book, Paper Horses, Leffman shares his love of woodblock prints. The book provides an overview of prints of gods from North China from about 100 years ago when the industry was in full swing. Almost every large town and city in the country was home to print shops where millions of the artifacts were effectively mass-produced every year. People either burned the prints or hung them in strategic locations to send their wishes to the relevant deities, imploring the gods to look kindly upon their endeavors and guarantee security, good fortune, full bellies, fruitful harvests, and other things.
Leffman wrote Paper Horses as an attempt to quantify his knowledge of the topic, which he had gleaned from a variety of sources over many years. He had been introduced to the confusing wealth of Chinese gods through the work of the late Keith Stevens in the UK, Ronni Pinsler, an avid collector of Chinese deity statues who lives in Malaysia and runs the website www.bookofxianshen.com, and the temples he had visited in China over the years. Leffman’s album of 80 deity prints a few years ago encouraged him to do his own research into specific gods, so he could understand what he was looking at.
Leffman’s wide-ranging interest in China is reflected in the articles he writes related to Chinese history, which are posted on his website, www.davidleffman.com, and frequently
David Leffman’s previous book, The Mercenary Mandarin, was a biography of William Mesny, a British adventurer who arrived in Shanghai as a penniless sailor in 1860. Mesny went on to perform a wide range of jobs, including journalist, newspaper publisher, social chronicler, bridge designer (one of his creations remains in use today), customs inspector, hotelier, and blacksmith. Leffman found Mesny to be a fascinating character because, unusually for a European at the time, he spoke fluent Mandarin, had two Chinese wives (at different times), and was genuinely untainted by notions of Western superiority. Moreover, Mesny knew many of the leading figures of his day, including Zhang Zhidong, China’s first industrialist, and was highly influential in the country’s development at the time.
During the 15 years that it took Leffman to research and write The Mercenary Mandarin, he followed Mesny’s travel routes around China. He was in a prime position to notice the rapid pace of development in China, which made his own journeys far easier than those of his subject. Mesny had to endure desert heat, intense cold that left him with frostbite, poor food, and even worse lodgings, all while precariously perching his ample frame on the back of a donkey as he crisscrossed the then-backward country.
Leffman notes that he has seen major changes in China on every trip since 1985, especially in infrastructure. For instance, it used to take days to travel from Hong Kong to Guilin (in Guangxi), involving a slow train to Guangzhou (in Guangdong province), an overnight river ferry to Wuzhou, then an eight-hour country bus ride to Guilin. In 2019, he caught a direct train from downtown Hong Kong to Guilin in just 3.5 hours – less time than it used to take just to reach Guangzhou.