China Revealed by Basil Pao Weidenfeld & Nicholson, HK$425 The subtitle of Basil Pao's epic China Revealed doesn't bode well for anyone with Middle Kingdom fatigue. With the overwrought promise of 'A Portrait of the Rising Dragon' comes the threat of teeming hordes of hyperbolic observations, statements of the obvious, and bad puns bastardising the Great Wall, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and all the rest. What follows in the next 384 pages then is a pleasant surprise. China Revealed is an intimate, thrilling, and thoroughly original exploration of what China is today and the author's place in his nation, most immediately through superb photographs but, no less importantly, through Pao's engaging prose, in which he deftly weaves his life-story-thus-far with both the history of his ancestral homeland and a travelogue with some first-class reportage. It's a testament to Pao's many talents that he keeps it all seamless and fresh. Pao's blending of narrative flow and historical detail is captivating. It's illuminating to recall that during the Cultural Revolution the cost of a rail ticket to anywhere in China was a Red Guard armband, a Mao badge and a copy of Mao's Little Red Book, but astonishing to learn that when, as a young child, the last emperor of China, Puyi, complained of the stuffiness of the imperial court, his father, the prince regent Chun, countered with the unwittingly prophetic words: 'It'll all be soon over'. How do we learn of this nugget? Pao recounts playing Chun's one-line role in the 1987 biopic The Last Emperor. China Revealed is to a great extent Pao revealed, but without so much as a hint of self-aggrandisement. Unlike many wandering Sinophiles, none of his yarns sounds implausible. And his account of how he overcame his severe case of cultural schizophrenia is a life-affirming journey, not just across all of China's provinces, but also across the universe of the displaced Chinese soul. Pao's early years and his move to the west - Britain for his schooling, the US for work in the music industry - are thoughtfully recounted and provide ample exposition for the mammoth undertaking that was Pao's year-long China Revealed sojourn. The breadth of Pao's photographic work is stunning. There's a wealth of emotion in these pictures: the joy of a Kashgar horseman on his steed as it breaks into a gallop, the proud revolutionary smiles of domestic tourists at a Long March battle site, and the embarrassment of a forlorn-looking ex-Gurkha Nepali guarding Greco-Roman 'ruins' in period costume, next to a Macau casino. After the visual delights of this book and six engaging chapters - history lessons that weave in and out of Pao's own life - comes a final treat. In the form of a written coda at the end, Pao ruminates about his life, his China odyssey, current affairs and his fondness for Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club. China Revealed is as much about the native son as it is about the nation. Pao is revealed as a fearlessly adaptable chameleon, who blends in with more ease than he ever hoped for when his heart first yearned to return. And whose unblinking eye sees everything.