The title “Shaking Hands” is inspired by the “hand-shaking buildings” in big cities in China. In order to maximize their living area, the residents of these buildings independently reconstruct and expand each floor horizontally outwards. As a result, the distance between two buildings would be shortened to the point where two people could shake hands from opposite balconies. Driven by individual needs, this “organic” autonomous reshaping of the environment has become a common phenomenon in China. As someone who has lived in both big and small cities, I’ve seen so many refreshing and interesting “handshaking” phenomena. From a bizarre advertising design to a recycling tricycle overflown with stuff, from a simple flyer on the wall to the incredibly messy cables that go through streets and buildings. These individual actions often exist in the grey zone where censorship and surveillance cannot reach, and may easily be neglected because of their randomness. Yet when one observes them closely, one could see a unique sense of aesthetics emerging out of this chaos. In our continually progressing and constantly developing world, the tempo of our life is radically accelerated. “Convenience” becomes a keyword, a primary principle regarding technology or lifestyle. During my field trip, I realized that prioritizing “convenience” isn’t merely an individual, but also a collective phenomenon. For instance, there couldn’t be a better embodiment of human’s natural desire to expand their territory than those hand-shaking buildings. When I see all the innovative ways people hang and dry their clothes, how they paint advertisements as graffiti on the wall, and how a tricycle could carry an unimaginable quantity of things, I also see immense creativity involved when people are trying to achieve their goals. This process could often seem too pragmatic and unpolished, but it somehow binds people and their living space together closely, with no extra civility or politeness.


It has always been interesting to talk about how Chinese people interact with their environment. Firstly, due to the diversity of its culture, it is curious to visit a new place even for a native Chinese. Each time when you go somewhere you have never been before, you are immersed in such a unique environment that it will slowly influence how you see, listen, smell, eat and feel. The influence could be either strong and direct, or soft and slow. Even in big cities nowadays, the “authentic” local culture could be easily distinguished from that of the “outsiders”. Whether it’s superficial things like food, dialect, clothes, or it’s the intrinsic tradition and values, everything has significance and longevity in history. Secondly, underneath this diversity, that which seems so different could also resonant together as one—it’s the resonance of a single cultural root. I may have not set foot to a land and I may not know how the local traditions and food are like there. But it won’t be a problem for me to stay and build a life there. I can tell the pride people feel when they talk about being an original Beijinger or Guangzhouer, about the local traditions and how they came into being. The tolerance for diversity expressed by the people I encountered during my trip, is what touched me the most.


For many years, out of various reasons, I somehow neglected to explore my own culture. Living in a concrete jungle with the internet everywhere weakened the desire to care for other people, especially those I don’t know personally. In order to change this, I convinced myself to get on the road, taking pictures along the way. So comes into being the book you’re holding now. Most important thing is, I start to care now. People who manage fruit shops, travelers who are taking selfies everywhere, middle-aged women dancing on the town square every day, the guard who’s in charge of a parking lot…I’m curious about their life and thoughts, their past and their idea of future. I desire a handshake with the place I used to live, and that is why I make it the title of this photo album.


The last station of my journey was Guangzhou. The last day, on the way to the airport, the driver told me it was actually the first day of the test run for autopilot taxis. A few years from now, taxis that can fly and transport people on autopilot could very well become reality. To reach the other end of the world would be just a blink of an eye. While having to constantly relearn the world and the newest way of life, and trying to catch up with the speed of technology, I really wish to be able to explore and capture China at present through my camera lens.

© 2020 Yang Gu