Before They - Photography Project by Jimmy Nelson

VIII. China

All journeys Ethiopia Indonesia + Papua New Guinea Kenya + Tanzania New Zealand Mongolia Siberia - Yamal Nepal China Vanuatu Argentina + Ecuador Namibia India Siberia - Chukotka The Netherlands Archive South Sudan French Polynesia Peru Chad
Tibet – nowadays part of China - is where the Before They Pass Away project was born long before Jimmy even knew it. When he was eighteen, he ran away from life. Two years earlier, Jimmy's world had changed overnight. He had woken up one morning and all his hair had mysteriously fallen out. This had changed him not only physically, but also emotionally. He felt different from everyone else. Not long after, he dropped out of university and headed east for Tibet to figure out who I was.
"Returning to the place that triggered my love for indigenous cultures was a rollercoaster ride of mixed emotions"
Jimmy had the romantic idea that Tibet should be part of the project, because that is where it had all started for him. But in a sense it was unfulfilling, because the majority of what he had seen and come to love back in ’86 was no longer there. Comparing the pictures he had taken on his first trip with the more recent ones, it becomes painfully clear there was a lot more of the pure Tibet back then than there is today. But deep under the surface the spirit is still very much alive.



View tribe ›
The approximate 5.5 million Tibetans are an ethnic group with bold and uninhibited characteristics. Archaeological and geological discoveries indicate that the Tibetans are descendants of aboriginal and nomadic Qiang indigenous cultures. The history of Tibet began around 4,000 years ago.
“Better to see once than to hear many times”
Prayer flags, sky burials, festival devil dances, spirit traps, rubbing holy stones, all associated with Tibetan beliefs, evolved from the ancient shamanist Bon religion. The costume and ornaments communicate not only the habits, but also the history, beliefs, climate and character of the people.



View tribe ›
Yangshuo County is a county under the jurisdiction of Guilin City, in the northeast of Guangxi, China. Its seat is located in Yangshuo Town. Surrounded by karst peaks and bordered on one side by the Li River it is easily accessible by bus or by boat from nearby Guilin. Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method in which fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in the Li river. Historically, cormorant fishing has taken place in Japan and China since about 960 AD. 
Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method.
To control the birds, the fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird's throat. This prevents the birds from swallowing larger fish, which are held in their throat, but the birds can swallow smaller fish. When a cormorant has caught a fish in its throat, the fisherman brings the bird back to the boat and has the bird spit the fish up. Though cormorant fishing once was a successful industry, its primary use today is to serve the tourism industry.



View tribe ›
In the Southern Chinese province of Guiyang there is a small number of exceptionally remote and traditional villages of the Miao tribe. The first one Jimmy visited was the Miao LangDe.
Despite China’s extraordinary advances in the modern age, the authorities have begun to realize the cultural importance and potential value of this heritage.