1920s China through the lens of Joseph Rock: The wilds of Lijiang
By Patrick Scally in
"The Lichiang snow range as seen from the Village of Nguluke."
For the next several weeks GoKunming will publish a series of articles featuring photography by Joseph Francis Charles Rock, the Austrian-American author, geographer, linguist and botanist who explored western China extensively in the 1920s and 30s. We'll begin in southern Yunnan and then make our way north and then west, seeing what caught Rock's fancy as he moved through the countryside.
Rock's photo titles are often extremely brief, so, wherever possible we will include his field notes or parts of corresponding diary entries under each image. We first went to Simao (思茅) — today called Pu'er (普洱) — and then moved on to Dali (大理). Our third destination is Yunnan's Lijiang (丽江). Today a tourist playground, in Rock's day it was absolute heaven for a man who loved both botany and geography.
Rock's photo titles and descriptions use a Romanization system he possibly invented on his own. For instance, he often writes 'Lijiang' as 'Lichiang', while in other places the names are inconsistently spelled. We can forgive him, as his photos provide an amazing view of southwest China as it existed 90 years ago. The pictures and text are published here unaltered, with special thanks to the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library at Harvard University for graciously allowing us to use them. An enormous collection of Rock's China photos are available at Harvard's Visual Information Access database.
"The lower crops of the Lichiang snow range mostly composed of limestone. Elevation 15000-16000 feet."
"Primula Bessiana — Along a brook in boggy meadow, eastern flank of Lichiang snow mountains, elevation 10000 feet."
"The snow peak Sa tse to of the Lichiang snow range, as seen from an elev. Of 16000 feet."
"The Lichiang snow range as seen from halfway across the northern end of the Lichiang plain opposite Nguluke."
"Moso wizard from Nguluko on slopes of Lichiang snow range; he is in attitude of dancing the sacred Moso dance with sword and gong."
"The limestone crags and peaks below the actual snow peak of the Lichiang snow range, photographed at 16500 feet."
"The limestone crags and peaks below the actual snow peak not visible in this photo. The Lichiang snow range, 165000 ft. elev."
"The Lichiang snow range as seen from the big gulch 30 Li Nguluke."
"A native of Lichiang, met on the way to Lashipa on the Lo shin tung plateau."
"Looking up the main peak on the eastern flank of the Lichiang snow range, from the broad, dry stream bed."
"A wild plum found at the foot of the Lichiang snow range, northern end of the Lichiang plain."
"On the edge of the Mahoang Patze, an alpine meadow on the Lichiang snow range, an elev. of 12000 ft."
"Main peak of the Lichiang snow range 21,000 ft. in height, Trees in foreground Abies Forrestii."
"Pinus sinensis on the extreme northern end of the Lichiang plain."
"Tibetans encamped near the Peshive plain, 60 Li north of Lichiang. They came from Tachienlu, a distance of 25 days north."
"Lan Lee and Sin no (plant collectors) changing driers on plants collected on the Lichiang snow range in courtyard of my Moso house. Nguluko, Yunnan, China."
1920s China geography history Joseph Rock Lijiang mountains photography travel western Yunnan