As a Chinese poem goes, “So long as we remain friends in the heart, we will feel like neighbors though East and West apart.”Dr. Sidney McPhee and I have been friends for many years. About ten years ago, introduced by Dr. Zheng Guanping, Dr. McPhee made his first visit to Hunan Normal University, and I presided over his lecture on the comparative study of Chinese and American education. In the lecture, he shared his understanding, experience and love of China. As expected, the lecture was enthusiastically received by the students. At that time, he gave me the impression of being sincere, cheerful, erudite and jovial with amazing insights and great familiarity with the Chinese culture.That pleasant meeting not only contributed to the subsequent friendly cooperation between Hunan Normal University and Middle Tennessee State University, but also the precious friendship between us. So when he requested a foreword from me for this book, I accepted with great honor and pleasure.
As one of the 50 most influential African-Americans, Dr. McPhee became the 10th President of Middle Tennessee State University in 2001. President McPhee has had the honor and privilege to have met former President Barack Obama in a one-on-one setting which has been one of the highlights of his life. Early in his career as President, he was nominated by former President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as a member of the Council for the National Endowment of Humanities. With his outstanding horizon and perspective, he successfully forged MTSU, a regional university, into a comprehensive and influential university over 20 years, during which the university fostered several Nobel Prize winners. With each of my many official visits to the MTSU, I was able to see amazing changes there. The outstanding achievements he and the MTSU made together over the years are definitely stimulating.
He is also a passionate photographer who loves to share his photos with friends. Since his first trip to China in 1999, he has travelled to more than 150 places in China, ranging from metropolitan cities to remote villages. At his photo exhibitions, people all over the world could see the beautiful landscapes, architectures combined with tradition and modernity, the diversity of Chinese gourmet food as well as the friendly and warm-hearted Chinese people. A book with his 200 photographs titled China: Through the Eyes of an American University President, featuring the splendor of a rising and confident China going to the world, was published in July 2012 by Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, which was warmly received internationally.
Dr. McPhee told me that he liked the smiles, kindness and confidence of the Chinese people. To provide a representation of China with new vigor and depth, his camera lens focused on different ethnic minorities in different regions of the country, weaving a tapestry of China: the Tibetan worshipers’ prostrating, the heart-warming welcome wine tasting ceremony of the Miao people in the western Hunan Province, the 100-person-feast of Dong people in Guangxi Autonomous Region along with many other customs and practices of other Chinese ethnic minorities. Over the trips, he was more than an observer or recorder, but instead, he actively experienced different cultural practices: at Mount Huang, he shouldered the loaded carrying pole for the porter; he tried acupuncture and cupping when he suffered from the discomfort in the shoulder; he volunteered to play a role on the stage when watching a performance; he tasted the tea and wine prepared by the people in different regions. We can see, with each photo, there is a story about China, speaking to the readers his understanding of the Chinese ethnic minorities and his love of the Chinese ethnic cultures, and presenting a contemporary China “creating great miracles”. I admire his devotion to the undertaking from the bottom of my heart.
As Dr. McPhee writes in this book, the power of a picture can be worth thousands of words. I believe, what he wants to express here, is that only when a work of art conveys the most basic feelings and emotions of humankind can it touch the hearts of its audience and readers.So I think Dr. McPhee’s photographic work not only presents the peoples and cultures of ethnic minorities in China, but also carries a message with a deeper meaning: despite the unique and special qualities of each individual, we all share as fellow inhabitants of the same planet the same longings for kindness, peace and happiness.
（By: Dr. Jiang Hongxin, Professor, PhD. Supervisor and President of Hunan Normal University）