Graham Earnshaw playing the guitar in China in the early 1980s.
I always took my guitar with me on the very rare, precious trips to the interior of the country. This photo was taken in 1980 in Napo County in Guangxi Province, close to the Vietnam border. We'd been taken there to see evidence of Vietnamese shelling following the China-Vietnam war the previous year. Music has proved time and again to be an effective way to reach across the gulf and make contact, create a bond and generate smiles. 

I moved to Hong Kong in 1973.

I taught myself Cantonese and got a job as a junior reporter with the South China Morning post, earning a pittance. I covered everything from dog shows to the beginning of the Vietnamese Boat People crisis in 1975. 

It was an era of firsts: I founded China’s first rock and roll band, the Peking All-Stars; I was the first person ever to play the kazoo on the Great Wall of China; and the first person to perform in a bar in Shanghai since the Great Leap Forward."

I also taught myself to read Chinese in order to be able to compete against local reporters. In addition, I started performing as a singer/guitarist in bars and restaurants (see my, and had some pretty odd jobs such as kung fu movie dubbing and movie extra.

In early 1979, China began its process of opening up, and I was posted to Beijing as the most junior of the three Reuters correspondents there, the youngest foreign correspondent to have been posted to that city. I lied my way into the job.

I was asked by the Reuters editor if I spoke Mandarin fluently, and I said yes. In fact, I spoke Cantonese fluently and could read written Chinese with little problem, but my Mandarin was distinctly ropy. However, I quickly got to grips with what was an extraordinary opportunity.

Graham Earnshaw poses with some young farmer boys on a walk in China.
This photo was taken in 2006 in the Dabieshan region of southwest Anhui Province. Since 2004, I've been walking across China. I started in Shanghai, and my last walk took me to a spot about 120km east of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. I met these boys on the road, and we got on very well, they invited me home for lunch with their parents, farmers in a valley on southern Anhui, one of the most remote parts of central China.
Graham Earnshaw in the Dabieshan region of Anhui.
This photo was taken in 2007 in the Dabieshan region of Anhui. I met a farmer on my walk through the area, who put me in touch with his son who was about to graduate in accountancy from a university in Beijing. I met the son and offered him a job, and later I returned to his home to meet the rest of his family. 

I was with the first group of foreign journalists to visit Fujian and Hainan.

I spent a week in Tibet in 1982 and was the first foreign journalist to witness and report on a sky burial. However, after a while, I decided that journalists were basically people who wrote about other people doing things, and it was time to do something myself.

So in 1997 I helped launch a bar/restaurant called Park 97, and built a web design and translation company which morphed over time into an entertaining incubator of entrepreneurial ideas, different bits of which are known under various names including SinoMedia Ltd, China Economic Review, and Earnshaw Books.

My jobs as a journalist, China correspondent and Asia Editor for various news sources over the years provided an opportunity for me to travel as widely in China as was then possible."

In 2004, I started a walk from Shanghai to Tibet, always resuming the walk from exactly the last place that I had stopped. I wrote a book on my experiences called ‘The Great Walk of China’, published in 2010, but the walk continues, more fitfully than before.

My plan is to walk beyond Chengdu, then walk south five degrees of latitude, and turn east, and return to the coast at around Xiamen, when I will have to decide whether to turn right and walk along the coast towards Hong Kong or turn left and go to Shanghai for afternoon tea. But there is no rush, as this decision point will probably not arrive until the year 2020.

Note: Graham is also one of the Leading Lights for the Generation UK: China Network. The Leading Lights are successful individuals who have benefited from their time in China. The Leading Lights are in the best position to demonstrate just how valuable experience of China can be, and why it is so important to remain connected with China and with others who are interested in China.