Stunning 'Pop-Up' Photographs That Showcase China's Ethnic Diversity

The photographer Colette Fu has created 3-D images of people, costumes, and landscapes that define minority life in Yunnan Province. 
A photograph—morphed into a pop-up book—displaying rice terraces cultivated by ethnic Hani women. (Collete Fu)

Each of China’s 1.3 billion people are members of one—and only one—of 56 ethnic groups; those of mixed blood are not legally permitted to claim two. Over 91 percent of the population are Han Chinese, while the rest—numbering 105 million people—are referred to as "ethnic minorities."  While some ethnic minority groups have well-publicized clashes with the majority Han (most famously the Tibetans and Uighurs), the vast majority of the others are little known—even within China.

Nearly half of China's ethnic minority groups are native to Yunnan Province, an area roughly the size of California that borders Laos, Vietnam, and Burma, and a popular destination for both domestic and international travelers. The Philadelphia-based artist Colette Fu has spent years photographing minority groups throughout the province, from the high mountain ranges near Tibet to the tropical Red River valley. But, instead of presenting her work in a conventional style, Fu has upped the ante: she's made pop-up books. These aren't the simple, pop-up books that you owned as a kid, either: they're three-dimensional mosaics of people, artifacts, and landscapes unique to this corner of China.

Speaking to The New York Times in 2010, Fu described how she became inspired to use the medium: “My dad always wanted me to be an engineer. Now, ironically, I’m a paper engineer.” The following images are from Fu's most recent series, entitled We Are Tiger Dragon People 我們是虎, and represent a creative, beautiful glimpse into China's stunning human diversity. For a look at all of Fu’s work, please visit her website.

An Yi costume festival.

In a village populated by the Yao minority, married women wear these red hats. 

The script of the Naxi people, found in the Yunnan city of Lijiang, which is a UNESCO-designated heritage site.

Fu's description of this photo: “For their October New Year, the Hani people of Yuanyang celebrate with a Long Table Dragon Banquet where 3,000 tables are laid end to end along the street like the back of a long dragon.”

Girls of the Dulong minority, who reside near Yunnan’s border with Burma and Tibet, receive facial tattoos at puberty. Each clan within the minority uses a different design.

These are Tibetan prayer flags found near the Songzalin Buddhist monastery in Zhongdian, a small Yunnan city that the Chinese government renamed “Shangri-La” in 2001. According to Fu, the five colors of the flag represent five essential elements: fire, water, earth, air, and space.

Matt Schiavenza is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He is a former global-affairs writer for the International Business Times and Atlantic senior associate editor.

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