Restoring John Thomson’s grave

Jamie Carstairs, Historical Photographs of China Project manager, has joined the committee seeking to restore photographer John Thomson’s grave. Here he explains why.

An ad hoc group has come together to try to raise the funds needed to restore the grave of John Thomson (1837-1921), whose final resting place is in a south London cemetery.  The badly eroded headstone marking his grave has fallen over and is lying flat on the ground. The inscription is barely legible. Surely we can do better than this to preserve the memory of a man whose photographs of China, amongst other places, so shape the way we picture the nineteenth century.

The fallen over grave stone of John Thomson, who is buried alongside his wife and his son Arthur, in Streatham Cemetery, Tooting, London. Photograph by Terry Bennett.

The fallen over grave stone of John Thomson, who is buried alongside his wife and his son Arthur, in Streatham Cemetery, Tooting, London. Photograph by Terry Bennett.

The pioneering Scottish photographer geographer and traveller, John Thomson, is rightly acclaimed as probably the greatest of the nineteenth century photographers of China.  His ten years’ work as a photographer in Asia led to the publication of Illustrations of China and Its People in 1873/4.  In four volumes, 200 fine documentary and portrait photographs are enhanced with Thomson’s astute and informative text.

Gochi, a young Baksa woman, Taiwan, 1871. A photograph by John Thomson, which was published in his Illustrations of China and Its People, Vol. II, Plate IV 'Types of Pepohoan' (1873/4).  Maxwell Family Collection (Mx01-076), courtesy of Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

Gochi, a young Baksa woman, Taiwan, 1871. A photograph by John Thomson, which was published in his Illustrations of China and Its People, Vol. II, Plate IV ‘Types of Pepohoan’ (1873/4).  Maxwell Family Collection (Mx01-076), courtesy of Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

A scan of Thomson’s stereoscopic negative numbered 770. 'Gochi, a Baksa girl 1871'. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

A scan of Thomson’s stereoscopic negative numbered 770. ‘Gochi, a Baksa girl 1871’. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

A portrait of Gochi. Thomson’s negative numbered 782. 'Pepohoan girl, Baksa, Formosa, 20 years old.' Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

A portrait of Gochi. Thomson’s negative numbered 782. ‘Pepohoan girl, Baksa, Formosa, 20 years old.’ Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

In 1878, further social documentary photographic work resulted in Street Life in London. Adolphe Smith provided much of the text, which is presented in a similar style as in Illustrations of China and Its People. Street Life in London brought to bear ‘the precision of photography in illustration of our subject’ – London’s poor – memorably personified as ‘Caney’ the Clown, the ‘Crawlers’ and the Flying Dustmen.

Thomson also photographed in Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Cyprus. He was a member of the Photographic Society (later the Royal Photographic Society) from 1879 and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.  Thomson taught photography to Isabella Bird, who also photographed in China in the mid-1890s.

John Thomson’s photographs provide a rich and lasting visual legacy of later nineteenth century Asia – and of London. It seems only right that we should restore his grave in London as a fitting memorial to the man himself.

If you would like to donate to renovate Thomson’s grave, you can make a contribution via JustGiving, at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/johnthomsongravestone

Many thanks from the restoration committee: Terry Bennett, Michael Pritchard, Jamie Carstairs, Betty Yao.

Buddhist monks playing chess, Temple of the Five Hundred Gods, Guangzhou. Edward Bowra Collection (Bo01-099), courtesy of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs.

Buddhist monks playing chess, Temple of the Five Hundred Gods, Guangzhou. Edward Bowra Collection (Bo01-099), courtesy of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs.

The exhibition of superb large prints from Thomson’s glass negatives: China and Siam Through the Lens of John Thomson, is on at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London. Admission free. Exhibition ends on 23rd June 2018!

Yang-May Ooi interviewing Betty Yao at the exhibition 'China and Siam Through the Lens of John Thomson', at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Yang-May Ooi interviewing Betty Yao at the exhibition ‘China and Siam Through the Lens of John Thomson’, at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Recommended books:

China and Its Peoples in early Photographs – An Unabridged Reprint of the Classic 1873/4 Work by John Thomson (Dover Publications, New York, 1982).

Victorian London Street Life in Historic Photographs by John Thomson (Dover Publications, New York, 1994) – an unabridged republication of Street Life in London.

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Defend Wuhan!

‘Defend Wuhan’, banner on wall, Wuhan, 1938. HPC Miscellaneous collection, Bi-s166 © 2018 Historical Photographs of China

We spotted this on Ebay, and bought it along with a small group of prints evidently taken in Wuhan during the Sino-Japanese war. They came from an album of prints that was being sold, page by page. A little research provided us with the owner’s name. Briton Leslie Reginald Frederick Shrimpton (1910-1964) served with the Royal Navy on the Yangzi River gunboat HMS Falcon in 1937-39. The photographs are undated, but must have been taken during the period before the fall of Wuhan to the Japanese army in the summer of 1938. The ship was certainly in Wuhan in June 1938.

Shrimpton’s other photographs, as far as we could see them on Ebay, were unremarkable, some were purchased from photographers, but others are not taken by professionals. He may have taken them, but at the very least he selected them for his album, his eye  evidently caught by these large banners and posters. Such records of the visual propaganda on China’s streets and buildings that underpinned Nationalist China’s dogged resistance to the Japanese invasion are quite rare. It prompts us to reflect on what else might yet be in homes overseas, in the care of families like Shrimpton’s, and what else they might yet offer us by way of records of China’s past.

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‘With a Camera in Yunnan’: the Ethnographic Expeditions of Fred W. Carey, RGS #2

PART 2 – COLLECTING AND DISPLAY

In this second blog, Dr Andrew Hillier explores how the International Exhibition in Paris (1900) provided this young Customs man with the opportunity to collect local costumes in Yunnan but how their acquisition and display raises further questions about imperial activity in China’s borderland areas.[i]

In Search of Costumes

Having developed at least some understanding of the people to the south of Szemao (also spelled Semao or Ssu-mao, now Simao), in March 1899, Carey set off once again, this time ‘striking south-west, through a region never before traversed by Europeans, along a road followed by cotton caravans coming up from Bulma’.[ii] Travelling without ‘a comrade’, his caravan comprised seven pack-animals with two muleteers, a servant, a coolie who carried his ‘snap-shot camera’, and a soldier – ‘a picked man from the Prefect’s Yamen’ to whom he entrusted his shot-gun.

The main purpose of this more extensive expedition was to gather ‘as much interesting material as possible’ for the International Exhibition due to be held in Paris the following year. Although, as on previous occasions, Sir Robert Hart (the Inspector-General of the Chinese Maritime Customs) played a part, the Zongli Yamen (roughly, the equivalent of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs), appointed a French diplomat, C.E. Vapereau as Commisaire-Général to oversee its organisation.[iii]  Whilst the expedition provided Carey with the opportunity to put his knowledge of Yunnan’s diverse cultures to good effect, it also raises questions as to whether this was a further exercise of imperial power, particularly given the methods he used to obtain the items.

Almost immediately, he was negotiating to purchase ‘the pretty costume of the “Hua Yao Pa I” women’ but, as he explained in his RGS paper, he had to do so ‘without exciting suspicion as to [his] motives’, as they did not want them to be removed from the village.

The ‘pretty costume’ of Hua Yao Shans, exhibited in Paris at the International Exhibition. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-26 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

The ‘pretty costume’ of Hua Yao Shans, exhibited in Paris at the International Exhibition. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-26 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Arriving in Panang, he was keen to buy a costume belonging to the Akka women, which included an elaborate head-dress. Again, they were reluctant to part with it because it was vested with religious beliefs but, eventually, the headman relented. The next morning, ‘followed by a crowd of villagers, [he] appeared, bringing a complete dress with the hat’, telling Carey that nearly all the women in the village had been engaged in making it over-night.

A similar request a few days later in the Kawa region was rebuffed, but he struck lucky in the market at Meng Lien, where he ‘obtained several curiosities, including the gala dresses of the Kawa and Lohei women’ and purchased ‘without difficulty’ another of the Shan costumes, ‘trimmed with silver and elaborately embroidered’. As before, he covered an extraordinary distance, taking short cuts which were too steep for the mules, snapping pictures as he went and compiling notes and short vocabularies of key words of the various languages he came across. After thirty-three days, he was back at the Customs House, boasting a large collection of items.

The International Exhibition

These had to be transported, first by mule and then by river to Shanghai, for onward shipment to Paris. The catalogue for the China Pavilion lists seventeen items of tribal clothing as coming from the area around Szemao, most of which presumably emanated from Carey’s efforts.  They are identified simply by reference to the name of the particular tribe – for example, costumes de femme Shan: tribu Lu: Ētats Shans Chinois – and without any ethnographic explanation or context, save in the case of the Kawa, where a distinction is drawn between tribu civilisée and  tribu sauvage.[iv] Participation in previous exhibitions had been opposed by the Chinese elite, because they had no say in the selection of the items to be displayed, many of which were chosen (principally by the CMC) with an emphasis on their ‘primitive’ aspects. However, the Paris exhibition was different. As we have seen, Vapereau had been appointed by the Chinese government, and this was with a view to displaying the progressive aspects of the country’s industry and culture. [v]

If there was a problem, it was in the lack of any explanation in the catalogue in relation to the items that were displayed. Divorced from their context and deprived of their spiritual or ‘superstitious’ significance, these emblems of tribal identity lost their original meaning, but it is unclear how they were perceived by visitors to the Pavilion and what new meaning they may have acquired.

The costume worn by the ‘Pa-I’ or ‘coloured bodice’ Shans and exhibited in Paris, consisting ‘of a turban embroidered with gold thread, a short tight-sleeved jacket, a long white petticoat, and a coloured skirt’. In the RGS article, the photograph is captioned, ‘Pa-I’ Shans Playing at the love-game of throwing coloured balls’, Carey adding that he was ‘pelted with the love-missiles whenever[he] appeared in the valley. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-08 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

The costume worn by the ‘Pa-I’ or ‘coloured bodice’ Shans and exhibited in Paris, consisting ‘of a turban embroidered with gold thread, a short tight-sleeved jacket, a long white petticoat, and a coloured skirt’. In the RGS article, the photograph is captioned, ‘Pa-I’ Shans Playing at the love-game of throwing coloured balls’, Carey adding that he was ‘pelted with the love-missiles whenever[he] appeared in the valley. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-08 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Akk’a woman, Shan States. Another of the costumes exhibited in Paris. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-02 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Akk’a woman, Shan States. Another of the costumes exhibited in Paris. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-02 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Whilst press coverage of the exhibits seems to have been limited, the traditional Chinese buildings were praised, even if it was the French who received the plaudits, one review stating that ‘la section Chinoise etait admirablement presentée par M. Ch. Vapereau’.[vi]

‘Le Palais Chinois’ from "Le Panorama: Exposition Universelle [de] 1900" (Paris: 1900). Note the depiction of ‘Chinese visitors’. (Image courtesy of University of Bristol Library, Special Collections).

‘Le Palais Chinois’ from Le Panorama: Exposition Universelle [de] 1900 (Paris: Librairie d’Art, 1900). Note the depiction of ‘Chinese visitors’. Image courtesy of University of Bristol Library, Special Collections.

However, just as the Exhibition was opening, news was arriving of the Boxer Uprising and these events, culminating in the Siege of the Legations, must have overshadowed any interest in the China Pavilion. They probably also overshadowed Carey’s paper, which, timed to coincide with the Exhibition, was read to the RGS in February 1900.  Reflecting the Society’s position as an important imperial institution, a number of speakers, in the ensuing discussion, referred to their time in the region, a Major Yate speaking of his work demarcating the border and annexing the southern Shan states. Published in the Society’s journal, the paper and the discussion implicitly reinforced the legitimacy of Britain’s presence to the south of the border and its right to explore and map those parts that remained China’s sovereign territory and classify the peoples living there.[vii

An Abiding Interest

Worrying though the events of the Uprising were, they did not diminish Carey’s interest in the region and its peoples. He continued to travel extensively, photographing festivals, funerals and exotic female ‘fashions’.

‘The delight of the small boys … is the Dragon, a fearful animal, wonderfully made with wicker basket work and coloured cloth. Each of the vertebra …is supported by a man’. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-24 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

‘The delight of the small boys … is the Dragon, a fearful animal, wonderfully made with wicker basket work and coloured cloth. Each of the vertebra …is supported by a man’. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-24 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Carey was also interested in simple agricultural implements, such as a water- wheel for irrigating the fields and an ingenious ‘labour-saving device’ for skinning rice, both of which he displayed in the lantern slides that illustrated his talks.

A Shan water-wheel used to irrigate the fields. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-16 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

A Shan water-wheel used to irrigate the fields. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-16 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

A rice-skinner: ‘… a wooden log, hollowed at one end, and with a piece of hard wood fastened through the other. The log is evenly balanced and a stream of water is directed onto the hollow end, which sinks down under the weight of water, empties itself and rises again. The other end falls continually onto the grain and loosens the husk’. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

A rice-skinner: ‘… a wooden log, hollowed at one end, and with a piece of hard wood fastened through the other. The log is evenly balanced and a stream of water is directed onto the hollow end, which sinks down under the weight of water, empties itself and rises again. The other end falls continually onto the grain and loosens the husk’. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

After a slow start, Carey’s career was beginning to progress. In 1900, he was appointed Assistant-in-Charge and, because no consular official was prepared to serve at Szemao, he enjoyed the unique distinction of being temporarily appointed the treaty port’s consul. Even in this remote area, it was, in his words, an ‘exceptionally critical and dangerous’ time, and one in which he ‘succeeded in upholding British prestige’.[viii] In December 1901, Carey began his first period of furlough and, whilst in England, he delivered his paper to the Camera Club.[ix]  Compared to the RGS, this was a very different audience, one which would not have had the same ethnographic interest nor have necessarily subscribed to the imperial ethos inherent in the exercise. The content of the paper, however, was similar and, at a time when demonization of China was coming into vogue, the tone is relatively free of imperial condescension.

On his return, he was appointed Acting Commissioner at Sanduao, a small port in Fujian. It would be another sixteen years before he achieved his first full appointment at Ningbo. Heavily involved as co-chairman of the Chinese-Foreign Famine Relief Committee, on leaving, he was hailed as the city’s ‘best-loved Commissioner’.[x] Transferred to Swatow in 1925, Carey retired two years later. Sadly losing much of his money in what turned out to be a fraudulent investment scheme, he returned to China to work for the Fairey Aviation Company and died after a short illness in Shanghai in January 1931.[xi]

Apart from the odd snippet of information, we know little of his life after he left Szemao. It is clear from his talks, including one he gave on the BBC radio in 1922, that he never lost his fascination for the region and its people, but, although he served as Assistant Commissioner at Tengyueh (Tengchong), Yunnan, from 1909 to 1911, he does not seem to have taken any further photographs, another puzzle in the life of this enigmatic Customs man.

On one view, Carey was a typical late Victorian explorer, seeking and recording archaic peoples before they became extinct and gathering information to further Britain’s empire project. If photography was one way of asserting power over these people, collecting and displaying their costumes at an International Exhibition was its logical extension. However, with its complex ethnic mix, the borderland of Yunnan had its own special characteristics and was a region where the Qing was still powerful. Whatever view is taken of Carey’s methods, not least the concealment of his intentions when taking photographs and collecting costumes, he had a genuine interest in these people, who were so very different from the Chinese, and the preservation of their identities.  Far from wanting ‘to insinuate alien forms of practice into their everyday life’, he believed that their culture needed to be respected and preserved. But that was not because, applying Darwinian principles, he saw it as evidence of ‘primitive man’. On the contrary, he saw it as vibrant and existing in its own right but in danger of being absorbed and hybridised by the rapidly- expanding Chinese population and of losing its own ‘geographic imaginary’. The problem was that one of the main threats to their identity stemmed from the demarcation and imposition of new borders in Yunnan, an exercise in which the Chinese, British and French were all engaged.[xii]

Where to draw the line between what was acceptable scientific inquiry and racial condescension will always be problematic. As Sadiah Qureshi has emphasised, this was ‘a period when who could be a legitimate contributor to the making of natural knowledge and what counted as science were being re-forged’ and recognising this ‘pliable disciplinary landscape’ allows for a better understanding of ethnological and anthropological practice at this time. This, I suggest, is the context in which we should look at Carey’s explorations and the work he carried out.[xiii]

Much of Carey’s life remains a puzzle, not least, why he first joined the CMC only as a member of the Outdoor Staff. Moreover, for all his ethnographic interest, there remains the question of how this apparently gregarious young man should have not only survived but, seemingly, relished his four years in such a remote out-port. It is a truism that travel is a form of self-discovery and it may be that, in seeking to understand these alien cultures, he found a way of understanding himself.[xiv] If so, this may explain why he then stopped taking photographs. When he left Yunnan, he may have decided he no longer needed his camera.

[i] For the first blog, see http://visualisingchina.net/blog/2018/03/29/with-a-camera-in-yunnan-the-ethnographic-expeditions-of-frederic-w-carey-rgs/.

[ii] See the map in the first blog. Save where otherwise stated, quotations are from the paper read on his behalf to the Royal Geographical Society, ‘Journeys in the Chinese Shan States’ The Geographical Journal (15) May, 1900, pp. 486-515.

[iii] Hart later acknowledged that Vapereau made ‘an excellent job’ of planning the China Pavilion and its display, Hart to Campbell, 4 October 1896 (1038), Fairbank, The I.G. in Peking.

[iv] Chine: Catalogue Special des Objets Exposes dans La Section Chinoise à L’Exposition Universelle de Paris, 1900 (Paris: Charles Noblet et Fils, 1900), p.104 and see also pp. 91 and 133: https://archive.org/stream/chinecataloguesp00unse#page/100/mode/2up/search/szemao

[v] Hyungju Hur, ‘Staging Modern Statehood: World Exhibitions and the Rhetoric of Publishing in Late Qing China, 1851-1910’, Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, (2012), pp. 2-7 and 11-35, especially, p.34.

[vi] Exposition Universelle Internationale de 1900 à Paris: Rapport général administratif et technique, Vol. 5, (Paris: 1902), pp. 48-49, which also includes photographs of the China Pavilions. https://archive.org/stream/expositionuniver05expo#page/48/mode/2up/search/chinoise  The China Pavilion is not mentioned in Richard D. Mandell, Paris 1900: The Great World’s Fair (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967).

[vii] Robert A. Stafford, ‘Scientific Exploration and Empire’ in Andrew Porter (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, iii. The Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 294-319 at pp. 295- 302.

[viii] Lo Hui-Min and Helen Bryant, British Diplomatic and Consular Establishments in China, 1793-1949, vol. 2, 1843-1949 (Taiwan: SMC Publishing Inc. 1988), p.399. Many thanks to Robert Nield for this reference. For Carey’s telegram offering ‘to accept acting appointment’ ‘to protect British subjects apprehensive of trouble in the absence of the British consul’, see Carey to Marquess of Salisbury, TNA 405/93, 18 July 1900.

[ix] “‘With a Camera in Yunnan’, A Lecture delivered by Mr Fred W. Carey, FRGS, 2 April 1903”, The Journal of the Camera Club (17) November 1903, pp. 138- 145.

[x] North-China Herald, 24 May 1924, p291, ‘Notable Work in Famine Fighting’, NCH, 18 August 1923, p.449.

[xi] Obituary, NCH, 1 January 1931, p.50.

[xii] James Hevia, English Lessons: The pedagogy of imperialism in nineteenth-century China

(Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 21; Sao Saimong Mangrai, The Shan States and British Annexation (Ithaca, NY., Cornell University, 1965), Amiria J.M. Henare, Museums, Anthropology and Imperial Exchange (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p.210; see also the report of Carey’s talk in Ningbo, ‘The Hundred Tribes of S.W. China’, NCH, 16 February 1922, p.434.

[xiii] Sadiah Qureshi, Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 270-284, quote at p.280.

[xiv] Cf. Douglas Kerr and Julia Kuehn, ‘Introduction’, in Kerr and Kuehn (eds), A Century of Travels in China: Critical Essays on Travel Writing from the 1840s to the 1940s (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007), pp. 1-11 at p.5.

 

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‘With a Camera in Yunnan’: the Ethnographic Expeditions of Frederic W. Carey, RGS #1

Drawing on a collection of photographs taken in Yunnan at the turn of the twentieth century, in this, the first of two blogs, Dr Andrew Hillier discusses what these images tell us about ‘the imperial gaze’ and the mind-set of a young Customs man in a remote treaty out-port.

PART 1- EXPLORING

A Remote Out-Port

The borderlands of Yunnan were as culturally remote from China’s coastal treaty port world as they were strategically sensitive during the last decades of the long nineteenth century. With British-occupied Burma (Myanmar) to the west and ‘French Laos’ comprising Annam and Tonkin, to the south, the Chinese authorities were keen to protect their borders from any further encroachment by the European powers. Britain and France, for their part, were equally keen to penetrate the ill-defined frontier and establish further spheres of influence and ‘the great highway to China’.[i]

Yunnan Scenery. Cottrell Family Collection, Co-s128 © 2008 Joan Edith Clara Cottrell.

Yunnan Scenery. Cottrell Family Collection, Co-s128 © 2008 Joan Edith Clara Cottrell.

As part of this strategy, the French established a treaty port at Szemao (also spelled Semao or Ssu-mao, now Simao), which lay close to the Laos border, and, in 1896, the British opened a consulate in the city, and the Qing a Maritime Customs station. However, the lack of other Europeans and any commercial prospects made it an unattractive posting. Sir Robert Hart, the Inspector-General, accepted that it was totally unsuitable for married staff in the Chinese Maritime Customs (CMC) and, after the British consul, G.J.L. Litton, had narrowly escaped being killed by local tribesmen, the consulate was closed and moved to the slightly less remote city of Tengyueh (Teng chong). [ii]  It is, therefore, all the more surprising that Fred W. Carey (1874-1931), who was appointed to the Customs station when it opened, actually seems to have enjoyed the four years he spent there.

Fascinated by the landscape and the tribal people, Carey was an accomplished photographer and also an enthusiastic, if amateur, ethnographer. Supported by two articles, his images provide an exceptional record of the borderland area, lying to the south and south-west of the city, and the diverse peoples that lived there. [iii] However, given the imperial context, they also raise questions as to the purpose and effect of his activities, both as a photographer and as a collector of cultural artefacts.

Having joined the CMC in 1891 at the age of nineteen, Carey had spent the first four years as a low-grade tide-waiter at Mengtze (Mengzi), another Yunnan border station where F.T. Carl was the Commissioner. Although a junior member of the (blue-collar) Outdoor Staff, he must have done well, because, when Carl was appointed Szemao’s first Commissioner, he was transferred to the Indoor Staff and appointed Fourth Assistant. This may also have been due to a family connection, because in a letter referring to the transfer, Hart noted, obliquely, ‘Curzon wrote about him’. [iv] Certainly, in this photograph, most probably taken in London, when he was on leave in 1902, Carey comes across as a suave young man. Puzzlingly, shortly before he took up his appointment, Carey was awarded Le Chevalier d’Ordre Imperial du Dragon d’Annam. Along with two Outdoor men, one European and one Chinese, this completed the Customs House staff.

A portrait of F.W. Carey by Maull and Co., a fashionable London firm, which had an arrangement with the RGS to photograph its members for the Society's records. Presumably taken when Carey was on leave in 1902, it confirmed his standing as an amateur ethnographer of empire. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

A portrait of F.W. Carey by Maull and Co., a fashionable London firm, which had an arrangement with the RGS to photograph its members for the Society’s records. Presumably taken when Carey was on leave in 1902, it confirmed his standing as an amateur ethnographer of empire. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

The caption is problematic. In Carey’s writing, on the back of the photograph, it reads, omitting the phrase in brackets, ‘Group of [Chinese and] Customs officers at the official opening of the Semao Customs house’. On the front, written on the mount, presumably by the RGS, is the same caption but with the addition of the part in brackets. This would seem more accurate as, plainly, this is not the staff of the Customs house, save for Carl, in bowler, and Carey, in boater. In uniform on the left is the French Consul, Pierre-Rémi Bons d’Anty. The official in the centre may be the Daotai with other local officials and staff in the local bureaucracy. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

The caption is problematic. In Carey’s writing, on the back of the photograph, it reads, omitting the phrase in brackets, ‘Group of [Chinese and] Customs officers at the official opening of the Semao Customs house’. On the front, written on the mount, presumably by the RGS, is the same caption but with the addition of the part in brackets. This would seem more accurate as, plainly, this is not the staff of the Customs house, save for Carl, in bowler, and Carey, in boater. In uniform on the left is the French Consul, Pierre-Rémi Bons d’Anty. The official in the centre may be the Daotai with other local officials and staff in the local bureaucracy. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Situated on a fertile plain, some 4600 feet above sea-level, Szemao had a population of some 15000, predominantly Chinese.[v] Like all Yunnan cities, it was surrounded by a thick perimeter wall, originally constructed to protect it from the tribal people (as contemporaries would describe them), whose culture – religion, buildings, dress and way of life – were markedly different. Whilst the Customs House seems to have been reasonably elegant, the same could not be said about the rest of the city.

Custom House at Szemao; bales of cotton from the British Shan States sit outside. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Custom House at Szemao; bales of cotton from the British Shan States sit outside. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Buffalo carts on a road in Szemao. There was also a striking contrast between Chinese architecture and that of the tribal people. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-20 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Buffalo carts on a road in Szemao. There was also a striking contrast between Chinese architecture and that of the tribal people. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-20 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

A Chinese temple. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

A Chinese temple. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

A Shan temple. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-06 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

A Shan temple. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-06 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

A Shan house. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

A Shan house. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

In Search of Tribal Culture

Carey soon decided that he wanted to explore these cultures. As he later told the (London) Camera Club, when he first arrived, he would obtain two or three days’ leave and ‘with a comrade visit the neighbouring hills in search of pictures…We would sleep out in the open, near water and pass the time shooting and exploring in very happy fashion’, a time that is captured in these images.

Late afternoon on the Nam Kham River. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-09 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Late afternoon on the Nam Kham River. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-09 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Bridge and Shen Lo (Water Pavilion), Szemao. Note the two Europeans on the bridge and how their distinctive clothing will have conveyed their ‘otherness’ to the local people. According to Carey, ‘all foreigners travelling in these regions are treated as officials’. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-13 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Bridge and Shen Lo (Water Pavilion), Szemao. Note the two Europeans on the bridge and how their distinctive clothing will have conveyed their ‘otherness’ to the local people. According to Carey, ‘all foreigners travelling in these regions are treated as officials’. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-13 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Puyuan River and fisherman. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-15 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Puyuan River and fisherman. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-15 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Soon this developed into a more serious interest, generated no doubt by the Darwinian quest for ‘primitive’ peoples and ‘the passion for collecting objects and artefacts’ that was a feature of the period. [vi] In December 1898, Carey made the first of two expeditions that would form the basis of the paper that was read to the Royal Geographical Society in February 1900, supported by lantern slides and a detailed map he had drawn. [vii]

Sketch map of the Chinese Shan States or Sip Song Panna, from a drawing by Fred. W. Carey, 1899 © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Sketch map of the Chinese Shan States or Sip Song Panna, from a drawing by Fred. W. Carey, 1899 © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

In part, a travelogue and in part, an ethnographic study, the paper describes the complex ethnic identities of the various peoples that sprawled across southern Yunnan and into the adjoining countries: the Lolo (or Yi) and Kawa into Burma, and the Shan into the British Shan States (lower Burma) and French Laos, to the east of the Mekong river. Given the new imperialism that was sweeping across China, we have to ask how much this activity was designed to produce ‘knowledge about indigenous peoples and their social practices’ that could be deployed ‘to manage, monitor and re-organise [them]’, in the words of James Hevia.  Moreover, by bringing these people within the ‘gaze’ of his camera, how much was Carey reinforcing a form of imperial appropriation, as some commentators would suggest? [viii]

Snapping

Whatever the answers, Carey’s enthusiasm was almost palpable, as he set off,

Though the muleteers raised hopes of an early start by putting in an appearance shortly after daybreak on the morning of December 4, 1898, there was, of course, the usual delay; for, after strapping all our belongings on to the saddle-frames, they disappeared, and we saw no more of them for several hours. To the inexperienced this kind of thing is trying; but good temper and patience are as indispensable to the traveller in Yunnan as an absence of nerves. These mental qualities, with some silver, a few tinned edibles, and a camp-bed, may be considered necessities; if, in addition, the traveller possesses a knowledge of the customs and language of the country, he is splendidly equipped.

As expected, the muleteers (‘mafus’) arrived and the caravan – Carey, his all-in-one servant/ ‘boy’/cook, together with a ‘coolie’ and a soldier – got started. Heading for the tea district of I-Bang, the purpose of the expedition seems to have been to identify the production levels of the various plantations and to map the likin stations, which collected the local goods- in-transit tax, which now formed part of the security for the Japanese Indemnity loan. Carey’s main interest, however, was in ‘snapping’ and classifying and, although the weather was initially poor, he was soon busy with his camera. As he explained in his RGS paper,

the Chinese regarded it with a good deal of suspicion, there being a widespread belief in Yunnan that foreigners have an instrument (chao pao ching) by means of which they are able to discover hidden treasures, and carry away the luck of a place in the shape of precious stones. But having seen the Likin Weiyuan go through the ordeal of having his portrait taken with equanimity, they were reassured …

However, this was not entirely frank, as he told the Camera Club,

the photos are in nearly every instance snapshots, taken without the knowledge of the victims. Indeed, had they guessed what I was doing … or the use I intended to make of them this evening, I should never have been able to obtain a single picture. [ix]

This does not mean that he was unwelcome. Invited to spend his third night in one of their houses, he ‘delighted’ the Lolo villagers when he played ‘some simple tunes’ on his banjo. ‘The young girls … started dancing outside the house, and though the only illumination came from my candle-lamp and some pine-wood torches, they kept it up until a late hour’. Free of any ‘immodesty’, the dancing was looked on as ‘a healthy amusement to be indulged in by both sexes’.

Lolo villagers dancing, near Szemao. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-10 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Lolo villagers dancing, near Szemao. Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-10 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Carey was particularly interested in their clothing and, as he prepared to cross the Namban river, he managed to snap a woman from the Yuan Penjen tribe (whom he decided were part of the ‘Woni’ race). Their costume, he wrote

is very striking, consisting of a cloth hood, an open jacket, and a pair of short white trousers reaching barely to the knee. But the most important, though the least noticeable, part is their coloured cloth gaiters. These the women are obliged to wear, as without them it is believed they would be able to fly away, leaving their husbands and sweethearts sorrowful.

Yuan Penjen Woman. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Yuan Penjen Woman. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Although ‘the idea was simply to obtain an illustration of the costumes’, the resulting photograph is overlaid with multiple meanings. Conscious of the ‘gaze’ of this western official, the woman was powerless to prevent her picture being taken (and it was an act of ‘taking’). Transposed from her familiar surroundings, she has been objectified and racialised as a ‘native’ in a remote and exotic landscape, with her clothing vested with superstitious beliefs. Used as an illustration for the RGS paper, captioned and archived, the image embodied an act of appropriation. [x]

Caravan of mules and ponies swimming a river. ‘… our luggage was piled up on a bamboo raft, on which we also crossed. The animals were urged by the muleteers into the water, and were made to swim across under a shower of stones and profanity.’ Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-29 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Caravan of mules and ponies swimming a river. ‘… our luggage was piled up on a bamboo raft, on which we also crossed. The animals were urged by the muleteers into the water, and were made to swim across under a shower of stones and profanity.’ Frederic Carey Collection, FC01-29 © 2011 Ann Kinross.

Covering up to 25 miles each day, much of it uphill, and sometimes on foot, after just under five weeks, he returned to Szemao, arriving back on Christmas Day. He had travelled without any European companion and we do not know who, if anyone, was there to greet him on his return, with whom he celebrated Christmas and what sort of inner resources  he had to sustain him in this remote out-post  He seems to have been gregarious – at other ports, he took part in amateur theatricals and he would later marry and have four children. Yet here, there was almost no scope for any social relations, at least ones that complied with the conventions of the Customs Service. A question that applies to so many officials in the out-ports, it remains one of the enigmas of Britain’s intimate empire. [xi]

Returning with photographs, data and his findings, Carey had at least begun to formulate an understanding of the ethnic make-up. Whilst there were no more than five or six distinct ‘races’ in Yunnan, there were, he estimated, nearly a hundred differently-named ‘tribes’, which could be roughly categorised by location, customs, appearance and, to some extent, language.  However, it was the knowledge that he had built up about their costumes that most interested Carey and this would be at the heart of his second expedition, when he set off three months later, as we will see in the next blog.

[i] Robert Bickers, The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (London: Allen Lane, 2011), pp. 256-262.

[ii] Letter, Hart to Campbell, 22 March 1896 (1013), John K. Fairbank, Katherine Frost Bruner, Elizabeth Macleod Matheson (eds), The I.G. in Peking: Letters of Robert Hart, Chinese Maritime Customs, 1868-1907 (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975), P. D. Coates, The China Consuls: British Consular Officers, 1843-1943 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 316-318; a Sino-British agreement providing for trade with Burma was concluded on 4 February 1897.

[iii] At the same time as Carey was photographing this border area, James George Scott, the British Commissioner of the Burma-China Border Commission was making an extensive photographic record of the tribes to the west, including the Wild Wa (see British Library Manuscripts, Photos 92). There is no record of the two men ever meeting, although Carey does refer to the Commission in his RGS paper.

[iv] Letter, Hart to Campbell, (1026) 5 July 1896, Fairbank, The I.G. in Peking and see Catherine Ladds, Empire Careers: Working for the Chinese Customs Service, 1854-1949 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), p.131-137.

[v] The Chronicle and Directory for China, Japan etc for 1898 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Daily Press, 1898), p.243. Many thanks to Robert Nield for this reference.

[vi] Amiria J.M. Henare, Museums, Anthropology and Imperial Exchange (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p.210.

[vii] Fred. W. Carey, ‘Journeys in the Chinese Shan States’ The Geographical Journal (15) May, 1900), pp. 486-515. For the images at Historical Photographs of China, see https://www.hpcbristol.net/collections/carey-frederic and for the relevant section of the RGS on-line catalogue see https://rgs.koha-ptfs.co.uk/cgi-bin/koha/opac-search.pl?idx=kw&q=carey&offset=0&sort_by=pubdate_dsc  077043-077141. Twelve of the original 38 lantern slides survive (RGS 236232) Many thanks to Joy Wheeler, Information Officer (Photographs), RGS, for her assistance in relation to this blog.

[viii] James Hevia, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-century China (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003), pp. 20-21, E. Ann Kaplan, Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film and the Imperial Gaze (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. xvi-xvii, Eric Mueggler, ‘The Eyes of Others: Race, ‘Gaping’ and Companionship in the Scientific Exploration of South-West China’, in Denise M. Glover and Stevan Harrall (eds), Explorers and Scientists in China’s Borderlands (Washington: University of Washington Press, 2011), pp. 26-56 at pp. 52-53; for a discussion as to how much this sort of ethnographic exercise reflected an ‘Orientalist’ approach, see Margaret Byrne Swain, ‘Pére Vial and the Gni-p’a’, in Stevan Harrell (ed.) ​Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), pp. 140- 185.

[ix] With  a Camera in Yunnan’, A Lecture delivered by Mr Fred W. Carey, FRGS, 2 April 1903, The Journal of the Camera Club (17) November, 1903, pp. 138-145 at p.141. For Chinese suspicion of Western photographers, see James R. Ryan, Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire (London: Reaktion Books ltd, 1997), pp.143-145.

[x] Cf. Mueggler, ‘The Eyes of Others’, p.53 and Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (2nd ed.) (London: Routledge, 2008), p.71; for the importance of photography to the RGS as an imperial institution, see Ryan, Picturing Empire, pp. 22-23.

[xi] Ladds, Empire Careers, pp. 145-147.

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An image by Fu Bingchang is one of 1001 ‘must see’ photographs

A woman in a swimsuit sitting on a rock. Photograph by Fu Bingchang. Fu Bingchang Collection, Fu-n597 © 2007 C. H. Foo and Y. W. Foo.

A woman in a swimsuit sitting on a rock. Photograph by Fu Bingchang. Fu Bingchang Collection, Fu-n597 © 2007 C. H. Foo and Y. W. Foo.

This poised portrait of woman wearing a swimsuit, sitting on a rock by the seaside, has been selected for publication in 1001 Photographs you must see before you die.  The photograph was taken by Fu Bingchang (Foo Ping-sheung, 1895-1965) in the 1920s. Fu was a diplomat and Nationalist politician, as well as an accomplished portrait and landscape photographer. The woman may well have been a friend of Fu, whose portraiture, especially of women, is excellent. The image is from one of ten negatives that have survived from the shoot; the negatives had been stored in a trunk in Lincoln until digitised by the Historical Photographs of China project in 2007. We are delighted that Fu is being recognised as a photographer of note.

Page 245 of "1001 Photographs You Must See Before You Die".

Page 245 of “1001 Photographs You Must See Before You Die”.

1001 Photographs you must see before you die was produced by Quintessence Editions and published internationally in many languages in September 2017. The general editor Paul Lowe is an award winning photographer, course director of the Masters Programme in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at University of the Arts London, and consultant to the World Press Photo foundation in Amsterdam. The book features 1001 of the world’s most important photographs, from the earliest images from the 19th century to the most recent images of the 21st century.

Cover of "1001 Photographs You Must See Before You Die".

Cover of “1001 Photographs You Must See Before You Die”.

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Ian Gill on photographs and family history

While reading journalist Ian Gill’s articles in the South China Morning Post on his search into the history of his China coast family, we were struck by the place of photographs in that story and invited him to tell us more.

Search for My Genealogical Holy Grail
Family lived in treaty ports from end of the Opium Wars till Communist ascent

By Ian Gill

It was a short question, out of the blue, that led to the discovery of my genealogical Holy Grail — photographs of my English great-grandparents and grandparents who had settled in Hong Kong and China from the 1860s.
“Do you know Duncan Clark? He is the grandson of another Duncan Clark who was a tidewaiter with the Customs in Chefoo.”
The query was from Robert Nield, author of two books on China’s treaty ports, and it was as if he had doused me with a bucket of icy water. It awoke a memory of my mother saying her aunt Annie, sister of her father Frank Newman, had married a Scot named Duncan Clark.

Consular records show that, indeed, Anne Elizabeth Victoria Newman, 22, did marry Duncan Clark, 36, at St. Andrew’s Church on Chefoo’s waterfront on April 6, 1893. The couple also made the short trip up nearby Consulate Hill to sign the marriage register at the British Consulate. Annie’s two brothers, Frank and George, also signed the registry, her younger sister Ellen would surely have been maid-of-honour, and a talented singer, James Glassey, no doubt sang in church.

The Newmans in the 1890s. Frank is on far left, Duncan and Annie Clark are fourth and third from the right. Image courtesy of Graham Clark.

The Newmans in the 1890s. Frank is on the far left, Duncan and Annie Clark are fourth and third from the right. Image courtesy of Graham Clark.

Just over a year later, there were further celebrations under St. Andrew’s picturesque castle-like tower, when Ellen Eliza Maud Newman, 20, tied the knot with James Arthur MacFarlane Glassey, 26, on June 4, 1894. The two marriages cemented ties that already existed between the Newmans, Clark and Glassey. Frank Newman and his new brothers-in-law were colleagues in the Imperial Maritime Customs and the three were also on the customs rowing team. But signs were appearing that these inter-family connections might be loosening. One week after Ellen’s wedding, a notice in the North-China Herald announced that “The Family Hotel”, which had been owned by their late parents, Edward and Mary Ann Newman, was being discontinued as a family enterprise and sold off to a syndicate of buyers.

It wasn’t long after this that the Glasseys and the Clarks left the tiny treaty port of Chefoo. Duncan and Annie moved to Weihaiwei for business opportunities when it became a British territory in 1898. Annie would deliver six children before dying on November 16, 1906, at age 36 of broncho-pneumonia and nephritis, but Duncan would go on to remarry — the governess — have two more children, and make a fortune.

James and Ellen Glassey were transferred to Amoy, he became a customs assistant examiner, and they moved to glamorous Shanghai. They attended George Newman’s wedding to Dorothy Carozzi at Shanghai Cathedral in 1904 but, the following April, James was not listed among the guests at the customs fancy dress ball at which Ellen wore a “Swiss girl” costume. Perhaps he was unwell, for he took unattached leave from the customs and died of blackwater fever or malaria on September 15, 1907, a month shy of his 40th birthday.

Leaving one boy behind at school, Ellen took her younger son Jim to Japan, where she worked as a governess before resettling in America in 1911. Jim found my mother after returning to China after the war and our families have been in touch ever since.
But we lost contact with the large Clark clan — until Robert Nield asked his question while we were discussing Chefoo. The younger Duncan, it transpired, had helped Nield with his research and was living in Coventry, England.

I realized that Duncan might be able to add significantly to the story of my family’s involvement with treaty port China that began when my great-grandfather Edward Newman arrived in Hong Kong around the end of the Opium Wars and ended with my mother being evacuated from Shanghai shortly before the Communist takeover in 1949. Duncan was surprised to receive my call but was cordial and agreed to meet. By coincidence, I was headed to England with my family on a tour of universities and Coventry was on the schedule. I was thrilled at the prospect of meeting my cousin but nervous, too, as I had high hopes but little idea as to how things would turn out.

Up to that point, my conduit with my forebears had been my mother, Louise Mary “Billie” Gill, M.B.E., who died in 2006. As well as being a gifted raconteur with a phenomenal memory, Billie was a scrupulous keeper of family records and mementoes. She had become a Newman by adoption. In Changsha, a few weeks after her birth in 1916, she had been taken in by Frank Newman, Acting Commissioner with the Chinese Post Office, and his Chinese wife, Liu Mei-lan. Marylou, as she was called, joined two daughters: Jessie, 12, and Dorothy (Dolly), also adopted, from Central Asia.
My mother, who was known as Billie for most of her life, had an extraordinary background. Ethnically Chinese, she was raised as a Eurasian — and regarded herself as one – but, in speech and manners, became more British than many Britons.

My mother Billie - from abandoned Chinese baby - to M.B.E. Courtesy Gill family.

My mother Billie – from abandoned Chinese baby –
to M.B.E. Photograph by Josepho Shick, Shanghai, courtesy Gill family.

She loved her parents and kept their photographs in silver frames in our living room. One treasured legacy of Mama was the black-and-gold ceremonial jacket she had worn for her wedding. Mama, who in her photograph wears a dark Chinese gown and has flattened hair, was warm-hearted and expressive. She was a devoted mother who, though foot-bound, took Billie as a child to mahjong games and the Chinese opera and waited at the door at home until she returned from school.

The photograph of Billie’s father shows him in formal dress with a wingtip collar and tie, and a slightly quizzical expression under thick eyebrows. He was an unusual Englishman who was born in Hong Kong, raised in Chefoo, spent his working life around China and retired in Tsingtao. He disregarded British social norms by taking a Chinese wife and adopting two non- Caucasian daughters. This would not have had a positive impact on Frank’s career in customs and the post office, but he earned the admiration of foreign communities, judging from a laudatory letter to the newspaper, and the respect of the Chinese who gave him several awards, including a silver star, for his services. His final position was Postal Commissioner in Chungking. Along his extensive travels, he became a scholar of calligraphy and antique curios. He gave talks and wrote articles about rare coins.

Frank Newman, Shanghai studio, date unknown. Image courtesy of Duncan Clark.

Frank Newman, Shanghai studio, date unknown. Image courtesy of Duncan Clark.

Frank sent Marylou to schools like St. Joseph’s and Shanghai Public School for Girls, where she excelled at studies and played hockey. But her privileged education came to an abrupt end in 1932 after Mama told her that her father, who had been absent for long periods, would not be returning. I have written about Frank Newman’ s complicated love life, and his relationship with a Russian woman.

Becoming a breadwinner at 16, Billie started as a teletypist for Reuters and a few years later became office manager for a new magazine, T’ien Hsia (Everything Under Heaven), that acted as a cultural bridge between east and west. Financed by the Chinese government, its editorial staff included intellectuals like Wen Yuan-ning, Lin Yutang, John Wu and T.K. Chuan, who had attended graduate schools in the west. Billie also met contributors like the American journalist, Emily Hahn, with whom she became a lifelong friend. The erudite magazine reflected a unique period of intellectual openness and international exchange that was interrupted when the Sino-Japanese war reached Shanghai in 1937.

Billie would have had more souvenirs of Shanghai between the 1920s and 1940s had not her life been disrupted several times in war and peace. She was seconded by T’ien Hsia to work for Shanghai Mayor O.K. Yui and was a newscaster for the government radio station XGOY) when Shanghai fell in August, 1937. Fearing she might be on a Japanese “black list,” she joined her colleagues in fleeing for Hong Kong. She had intended to return for Mama, but her mother died a few weeks later of a heart attack. A grief-stricken Billie returned to Shanghai and was on her way to Mama’s flat in Hardoon Road when she was interrogated by Japanese soldiers on Garden Bridge. The incident traumatized her and she had her mother’s belongings auctioned off in haste before returning to Hong Kong.

Billie was working for the Chinese Government Information Office, including being seconded to W.H. Donald, the Australian journalist who became an advisor to Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang, when the Japanese attacked Hong Kong in December, 1941. She became a prisoner of war in Stanley Internment Camp, going into camp with a baby boy and little more than she could carry. She came close to a nervous breakdown after losing her son in a drowning mishap on Stanley’s Tweed Bay beach. In the aftermath of the tragedy, her friendship deepened with an English journalist who would become my father.

Her upheavals continued after the war. She conceived me in Stanley and, after leaving the camp destitute, delivered me two months later in New Zealand. We spent a year in England with Emily Hahn and her husband Charles Boxer at their Dorset home, before Billie received a job offer from Hollington Tong to work again for the Chinese government in Nanking. We arrived during a period of hyper-inflation and hardship before she joined the United Nations Information Centre in Shanghai in early 1948. After a few more turbulent months, during which Billie nearly died from spinal meningitis, we were evacuated to Manila shortly before the Communist takeover in 1949.

Billie did walk me through her life in China. In 1975, we went to Hong Kong and Taipei to meet many of her childhood friends and ex-colleagues from Shanghai. We returned to Shanghai only in 1993 and, even then, she fretted the authorities might not allow her to leave. Shanghai had erased some of the more obvious reminders of colonial rule such as the race track but had yet to undertake large-scale redevelopment and much of Mum’s Shanghai was still there. Finding it was problematic, however, as streets and houses had aged prematurely through neglect and over-crowding and were difficult to recognize. Yuyuen Road, for example, had been a wide, leafy avenue with rickshaws, bicycles and the occasional motorcar in Mum’s memory, but was 60 years later a cacophonous mass of traffic.

Billie and her friend Edie had dinner with Pembroke Stephens (left) of The Daily Telegraph and O'Dowd Gallagher of The Daily Express.

Billie and her friend Edie had dinner with Pembroke Stephens (left) of The Daily Telegraph and O’Dowd Gallagher of The Daily Express.

Incredibly, she recognized T’ien Hsia’s railed balcony on which she stood when Daily Telegraph correspondent Pembroke Stephens shouted that Japanese troops were approaching in 1937. From there, she found her much-changed house further down Yuyuen Road. When Mum stood outside and talked animatedly, people gathered, including a tall, white-haired woman who spoke perfect, educated English. Margaret Lin was older than mother, had lived in the lane all her life and had been educated at McTyeire School for Girls. She and Mum hit it off instantly and Margaret joined our search. Without her, and amid the steady rain and the heavy traffic, we wouldn’t have found half the places that we did.

House at 3 Kiangwan Road, Shanghai, near the railway station where the Nationalists arrived in 1927.

House at 3 Kiangwan Road, Shanghai, near the railway station where the Nationalists arrived in 1927.

Each location triggered an anecdote. At 3 Kiangwan Road in Hongkew, Billie peered into the front room and described the wedding reception for her sister Jessie on June 26, 1926, and how it ended abruptly when the groom, Jimmy Jamieson-Ellis, collapsed and was taken to hospital. A few months later, Billie remembered, Nationalist troops arrived via the Shanghai- Hangchow railway station around the corner and Frank moved the family to the International Settlement for safety. At Yuyuen Road the following year, Jimmy died of scarlet fever on July 19, 1927 and, a few nights later, all the lights mysteriously came on in the house and Jessie swore that Jimmy appeared to say goodbye. We also visited the former United Nations offices in Whangpoo (Huangpu) Road where Billie had started work in 1948 in a career that lasted until 1976, and for which she received an M.B.E. in 1977.

I started to entertain wild hopes that Duncan Clark might bring pictorial as well as anecdotal depth to our family’s close association with “Britain in China” that stretched back to Edward Newman career’s with the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company in Hong Kong during the 1860s. I have photographs of steep, narrow Old Bailey Street, where Edward and his family lived opposite Victoria Gaol, which is still there, and I retraced his steps down the hill to where the P&O offices had been on The Praya. Among the more amazing possessions my mother retrieved through our American cousins were a Masonic apron and patent which her grandfather Edward Newman had received at the Zetland Lodge in Hong Kong in 1872. I wrote about the Newmans’ bold gamble in 1873 when Edward and Mary Ann resettled in Chefoo, where they would own and run “The Family Hotel” while raising four children, including the son who would become “Uncle Frank” to the offspring of Duncan and Annie Clark.

Over tea and sandwiches, I met grandson Duncan Clark at his home in June 2016. A thickset, dour man with a Scottish accent, Duncan was hospitable and generous in sharing his extensive family knowledge. He handed me an envelope with photographs of “Uncle Frank,” together with carefully- typed captions. They portrayed a young Frank I had not seen before. One showed a youthful, clean-shaven Frank with mustachioed Duncan Clark and James Glassey in a customs rowing team. Another depicts Frank in the attire of a gentleman jockey, complete with cap, holding the reins of a pony. This supplements an 1895 North-China Herald report on the Chefoo Races in which Frank won second place in the Duffers’ Derby on his own horse, a grey named Blossom.

Chefoo Chinese Imperial Customs rowing team. Frank Newman (far left), James Glassey (second from the left) and Duncan Clark (far right). Image courtesy of Duncan.

Chefoo Chinese Imperial Customs rowing team. Frank Newman (far left), James Glassey (second from the left) and Duncan Clark (far right). Image courtesy of Duncan Clark.

Frank Newman with a pony, Chefoo. Image courtesy of Duncan Clark.

Frank Newman won second place in the Duffers’ Derby in the 1895 Chefoo races. Image courtesy of Duncan Clark.

Duncan had no pictures of Edward and Mary, but he told me about another grandson of Annie and Duncan, Graeme Clark, who lived on the other side of the world. A burly retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Australian army, Graeme, 73, was also keenly interested in family history. He lived in Queensland and we were soon talking enthusiastically on the phone about our family intersections. When Graeme said he had a Newman family Bible, inherited from Mary Ann through her second son George, it produced another goose bump moment. I thought it was likely to be similar to the family Bible Mum had inherited through Frank but which she had, inexplicably, given away to a friend before leaving Stanley camp.

Holding the Newman Family Bible, with birth details of my great-grandparents Edward and Mary Ann Newman.

Ian Gill holding the Newman Family Bible, with birth details of his great-grandparents Edward and Mary Ann Newman.

Graeme had Parkinson’s disease, but was managing reasonably well. A few weeks later, however, his condition took a dive. It was now or never, I thought, and I flew down to Helensvale on the Gold Coast where I was welcomed as one of the family by Graeme, his wife Frances and their daughter Victoria. As soon as I saw Graeme’s Newman family Bible, I understood why Mum could not have carried hers out of camp. It was huge and weighed 8 kilograms. I needed both hands just to hold it. Importantly, the Bible contained a dedication from Mary Ann Newman to her son in large, clear handwriting.

Though Graeme could not recall seeing photos of our great grandparents, I began browsing through his family albums Then, on a page marked “Hong Kong 1800s,” I saw, staring out at me, one photograph with the caption “Maurina Newman and her baby Annie” and another with the name Newman Edward, followed by a question mark. Since the only Newmans from our family in Hong Kong were Edward and Mary Ann, I had found what I had not dared to hope for. The image of little Annie, born in 1870, sealed the matter beyond doubt.

Mary Ann Newman, with baby Annie, Hong Kong 1870. Image courtesy of Graeme Clark.

Mary Ann Newman, with baby Annie, Hong Kong 1870. Image courtesy of Graeme Clark.

Edward Newman in Hong Kong, 1870. Image courtesy of Graeme Clark.

Edward Newman in Hong Kong, 1870. Image courtesy of Graeme Clark.

The postcard like-images, taken by a studio photographer, offer a glimpse of their characters before they made their epic move to Chefoo. Edward, with his jaunty stance, comes across as a derring-do type, while a seated Mary Ann looks calm and grounded as she holds Annie firmly on her lap.

I sent Mary Anne’s handwriting to a graphologist in Canada without giving any details of her background. The analyst deduced from Mary Ann’s script that she showed “strong thinking skills and balance.” In addition, she possessed “ability to organize. She can pull ideas, people or materials together into a functional force to get things done.” Interestingly, this jibed with Mary Ann’s experience as assistant manager at the Docks Hotel, part of the P & O complex, in Southampton. I also found two signatures of Edward Newman, one on the Masonic patent in 1872 and another when he registered his daughter Ellen’s birth in 1874 at the British Consulate. They were not a lot to work with but the graphologist noted that Edward’s signature extended significantly beyond the space allocated on the form. “It is normal for writers to respect margins. Edward does not,” she noted. “This is often an indicator of someone who may want to eliminate barriers between himself and the outside world; can be effusive in speech and obtrusive in manner; and could have a fear or a dislike of empty spaces. Edward has his own lifestyle and may be viewed by others as a bit of a non-conformist.”

Chefoo, from 'Temple Hill', 1900. Carrall Family Collection, Ca01-064, © 2008 Queen’s University Belfast.

Chefoo, from ‘Temple Hill’, 1900. Carrall Family Collection, Ca01-064, © 2008 Queen’s University Belfast.

To find other visual pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, my wife and traveled to Chefoo, today known as Yantai, on China’s Shandong peninsula. Chifu is now a seaside district of the large, sprawling city of Yantai whose population has soared to 7 million from the 10,000 inhabitants of the walled Chinese city that greeted Edward Newman on his arrival. We met local historian Victor Wei Chunyang, who is familiar with the Newman family story and spent days taking us around the old foreign area. The stench of night soil has long dissipated since the 19th century, but the customs house and quay where the Newmans disembarked, the narrow streets, post offices and trading houses are preserved or restored, as are the British, Japanese, French and Danish consulates on Consulate Hill. St. Andrew’s Church has been demolished, leaving a circle of concrete stumps to mark its location.

Chinese Post Office, Chefoo. Post card courtesy of Lin Weibin.

Chinese Post Office, Chefoo. Post card courtesy of Lin Weibin.

We took photographs but Victor Wei went one better, introducing us to his history- minded friends, including Lin Weibin, who has an extensive collection of postcards from the colonial era. Lin allowed me to photograph many of these postcards and credit them in articles, including this blog. It is thanks to Lin that I have images of “The Family Hotel”, both as a single-storey structure in its early days and later, after a second floor was added. I also have postcards of Chefoo’s East Beach where the hotel was located beside the China Inland Mission-built Chefoo School which the Newman children attended in the 1880s and 1890s.

"The Family Hotel" in Chefoo, owned by my great-grandparents. The C.I.M. Boys' School is on the right. Postcard courtesy of Lin Weibin.

“The Family Hotel” in Chefoo, owned by my great-grandparents. The C.I.M. Boys’ School is on the right. Postcard courtesy of Lin Weibin.

China Inland Mission Boy's School, Chefoo, 1898. Carrall Family Collection, Ca01-25, © 2008 Queen’s University Belfast.

China Inland Mission Boy’s School, Chefoo, 1898. Carrall Family Collection, Ca01-025, © 2008 Queen’s University Belfast.

Wei took us to Temple Hill where Edward and Mary Ann Newman were buried in 1883 and 1891, respectively. Their graves were destroyed along with others during anti-foreigner outbursts in the Korean War but Duncan Clark gave me a poignant photo of Frank Newman standing beside the tombstones of his mother and father.

Frank Newman beside the grave stones of Mary Ann Newman and Edward Newman. Image courtesy of Duncan Clark.

Frank Newman beside the grave stones of Mary Ann Newman and Edward Newman. Image courtesy of Duncan Clark.

Researching my family story turned unexpectedly into a grand adventure. It was magical to bond with long-lost cousins, and just in time, too, for Graeme Clark died not long after we met. I am indebted to my friend Victor Wei, of Yantai, who has shown great interest in my family. He unearthed much information about Frank Newman as well as interesting illustrations. One is a photograph of one of Newman’s rare coins, now housed in the National Museum of China in Beijing. Another is a picture of the citation accompanying a silver medal Frank was awarded by the Shaanxi provincial military government in 1921 for helping to bring a measure of stability during a chaotic warlord-dominated period.

Ian Gill is a Manila-based freelance journalist who began his career in the UK and has spent the past 46 years in the Asia-Pacific region working on staff for publications including the Asian Wall Street Journal in Singapore, Asiaweek and Insight in Hong Kong, the Fiji Sun in Suva and the Evening Post in Wellington, interspersed with a 20-year career at the Asian Development Bank writing on development in the region. He has a diploma in French studies from Geneva University, a BA in economics from Sussex University and an MA in educational communications and technology from the University of Hawaii. He is married with a daughter at McGill University and a son headed for Auckland University.

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‘Finding Wee Paddy’ … and finding Riflemen Mellon, Howard and Delaney

‘Finding Wee Paddy’ is a new documentary that has its first showing on 21 October at the Metropolitan Arts Centre, Belfast. It tells the story of the relocation of the grave of Rifleman Patrick McGowan, Royal Ulster Rifles, who was killed by a Japanese aircraft while on patrol in Shanghai on 24 October 1937. Some of the photographs used come from the Malcolm Rosholt Collection, and the producers have been able to provide additional details we did not previously have for one set of photographs which showed a group of five Riflemen at their sandbagged Lewis Gun post.

Royal Ulster Rifles riflemen, with Lewis Gun, Shanghai. Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt. Malcolm Rosholt Collection, Ro-n1020, © 2012 Mei-Fei Elrick and Tess Johnston.

Royal Ulster Rifles riflemen, with Lewis Gun, Shanghai. Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt. Malcolm Rosholt Collection, Ro-n1020, © 2012 Mei-Fei Elrick and Tess Johnston.

Three of these men were killed by Japanese action, when shells landed nearby. James Mellon, manning the Lewis Gun; William Christopher Howard in the front row with a stick; and shirtless Robert Delaney. All were buried in the Bubbling Well Cemetery on 1 November, alongside Rifleman Joseph O’Toole, who was killed elsewhere the same day.

North China Herald, 10 November 1937, p. 13.

The fate of British War Graves in China, and in general of cemeteries established by foreigners there, is not entirely clear. Most cemeteries after 1949 were redeveloped or turned into parks (Bubbling Well is now Jing’an Park), and some were vandalised and destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Some inscriptions from former cemeteries were recreated on stones that now survive in the Song Qingling Memorial Garden on the site of the former New International Cemetery. Some details of this story and some lists of those interred can be found here.

Tickets for the film, made by Squeaky Pedal Productions, can be booked here.

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French Men of War at Pagoda Anchorage, Foochow, 1884

In this, the first of a series of posts by undergraduate finalists in history at the University of Bristol, Nicholas Barker reflects on a tense moment caught in a seemingly quiet image.

French Men of War at Pagoda Anchorage, Foochow, 1884 Oswald Collection Os01-116 © 2008 SOAS

French Men of War at Pagoda Anchorage, Foochow, 1884 Oswald Collection Os01-116 © 2008 SOAS

The stillness of this photograph masks a brutal reality. The anchored vessel in calm water suggests an inquisitive innocence. Yet, on closer inspection the photograph reveals a more striking image: an iron hull pierces the waterline and a French flag limps from the rear mast. This closer image is a more telling one. At 2pm on 23rd August 1884, Admiral Courbet opened fire on the Chinese Fujian fleet at Pagoda Anchorage, Foochow, marking the first engagement of the Sino-French War (August 1884 – April 1885). This relatively unknown conflict was the culmination of increasing French intervention in Indo-China driven by economic fantasies and amour propre.[1] The battle at Foochow was practically over in seven minutes as the modern French navy obliterated the Chinese. The Times correspondent called it ‘a sickening business’ and ‘a massacre’.[2] The French lost 6 men, whilst the Chinese dead numbered over 1,500.[3] The confrontation was even watched for professional reasons by British and American seamen: it was the first time that torpedo ships were used in combat.[4] Warfare had thus become a site for the display of technological innovation.

This photograph of the Duguay-Trouin epitomises the shift towards mechanized, technological destruction, with the marriage of military, industry and science. The vessel was a first-class iron cruiser, built in Cherbourg in 1879. It weighed 3,478 tons, was 294 ft long and carried five guns. This photograph was part of the collection of John Oswald, a tea trader and race horse owner based in Foochow. The positioning of the ship in the centre of the photograph emphasizes its magnitude and suggests a novelty to the vessel that was worthy of the viewers’ full attention. It was truly a symbol of European difference.

Yet, this was not simply a battle between unmatched fleets. It is not right to bracket all the Chinese vessels as ‘mere toy transports’, but instead important to appreciated that the Chinese did have some technologically advanced ships, including the corvette Yang-Wu.[5] Indeed, nine of the eleven Chinese vessels were of the ‘Foochow’ class, built by Prosper Giquel at the shipyard at Fuzhou and armed with Krupp guns.[6] Thus, whilst their armour was inferior, their artillery was supposed to be equal to the French. Technological difference was therefore not the only reason for the Chinese defeat. The disparity between the navies was also apparent in the proficiency of the seamen. Admiral Courbet received a note of congratulations from the international spectators on the bravery and professionalism of his men. It was claimed that whilst the French commander was embroiled in the thick of the fighting, his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Peilun, was seated in a sedan chair on his way to Kushan, a celebrated monastery overlooking the river.[7] Furthermore, the lack of co-ordination between the northern and southern navies disadvantaged the Qing. Li Hongzhang refused to send the Beiyang fleet to support the Fujian flotilla at Pagoda Anchorage. Thus, as Benjamin Elman has rightfully argued, the inadequacy of the late Qing Chinese navy was due to a multitude of factors, including poor armament, insufficient training, lack of leadership, vested interests and lack of funding, and low morale.[8]

This Chinese defeat has come to symbolise the failures of the ‘self-strengthening’ movement undertaken in China after the Taiping Rebellion. The ‘self-strengthening, movement’ (1865-94), backed by the statesman Li Hongzhang, was an attempt to develop China’s economic and military strength through the adoption of Western technology. An October 1884 article in The Times argued that the battle represented an ‘admirable example of the complete defencelessness of the coast of China, and this after the yearly expenditure of the fabulous sums of money for many years past’.[9] The correspondent went further, stating that ‘the country is rotten’, lacking ‘national feeling’ and steeped in ‘corruption’. Thus, the progressive reform attempts had failed to produce a military strong enough to repel Western encroachments. Indeed, the navy faced further budget cuts between 1885 and 1894, and further military defeats would ensue during the Sino-Japanese War (1895-96).

The Duguay-Trouin represents the aggressive European militarism which had come to epitomise Western interactions with the Chinese, especially in the Treaty Ports. These modern warships, efficiently crewed with good leadership, were symbols of difference and vehicles of power and influence. The warship, as both a symbol and instrument, was constantly used as a lever for trade and diplomatic prestige. Yet, the guns mounted on such vessels were not without purpose: they posed a real threat to China and were repeatedly used to inflict violence on her populace.

 

[1] Hans Van de Ven, Breaking with the Past (New York, 2014), 112.

[2] ‘France and China’, The Times, 25 Aug 1884.

[3] ‘France and China’, The Times, 25 Aug 1884.

[4] ‘The Bombardment of Pagoda Anchorage’, North China Herald, 29 Aug 1884.

[5] ‘Hostilities at Foochow’, The Times, 23 Oct 1884.

[6] ‘The Bombardment of Pagoda Anchorage’, North China Herald, 29 Aug 1884.

[7] ‘Hostilities at Foochow’, The Times, 23 Oct 1884.

[8] Benjamin Elman, ‘Naval warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1865-1895’, Modern Asian Studies, 38, (2004), 283-326.

[9] ‘Hostilities at Foochow’, The Times, 23 Oct 1884.

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Regimental Cartes de Visite

Following the copying of the Royal Hampshire Museum’s collection of China- related photographs by the Historical Photographs of China project, Dr Andrew Hillier shows how these can reveal the personal aspects of a regiment on campaign in empire.  

First created and patented by the French photographer André Disdéri in 1854, by the 1860s, cartes de visite had become an early form of social media, connecting family and friends, as well as constituting a means of networking. Within the empire, they were particularly popular as a way of maintaining links between home and abroad and were also regularly exchanged within the sociable milieu of a regiment. As such, they provide an important source of family, imperial and military history.

The Royal Hampshire Museum is fortunate in having an album of cartes, which belonged to an officer of the 67th, who served in China between 1860 and 1864, and contains pictures of his regimental colleagues. It therefore, supplements the Museum’s China collection which I discussed in my previous blog. We are grateful to the Museum for permitting us to copy these images which can now be accessed here. See also the George Atchison Collection for further photographs relating to the regiment’s China campaign.

According to an August 1975 annotation by the museum’s archivist, C. D. Darroch, the album of cartes was owned by Lieutenant-General Sir John Wellesley Thomas, KCB (1822-1908), although on the brass cover it is stated that it was ‘presented’ by Thomas (presumably to the regiment) in January 1867. Either way, he seems to have been the originator of the album which has, apparently, remained in the regiment’s possession ever since. Thomas who had already had a distinguished military career before serving with the 67th in the North China campaign in 1860. Wounded when commanding a half-brigade in an attack on the Taku Forts, he was mentioned in dispatches and appointed Companion of the Bath.

Lieutenant-General Sir John Wellesley Thomas, KCB, 1860s. Royal Hampshire Collection (RH03-02).

Lieutenant-General Sir John Wellesley Thomas, KCB, 1860s. Royal Hampshire Collection (RH03-02).

Two years later, promoted to colonel, Thomas captured Jiading (Khading) during the Taiping rebellion and left China when his regiment sailed for India in 1864, remaining its commanding officer until 1872. He retired in 1881 and was appointed Colonel of the Hampshire Regiment in 1882. He never married.

Album cover. Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum ref: M1503.

Album cover. Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum ref: M1503.

Detail of album cover, with text: "PRESENTED BY COLONEL J.W. THOMAS. C.B. / JANUARY. 1867 / SOUTH HAMPSHIRE 67."

Detail of album cover, with text: “PRESENTED BY COLONEL J.W. THOMAS. C.B. / JANUARY. 1867 / SOUTH HAMPSHIRE 67.”

There are some seventy cartes, six on each page –some have been removed and there are blank pages which may have previously held cards. Plainly the pictures were taken over a long period, some in Britain and some in India, where the regiment was stationed from time to time. Some seem to be personally signed which suggests they may have been exchanged as tokens of friendship during Thomas’ career. There are some twenty cartes of officers who, on the basis of their service records, we can assume served in China between 1860 and 1864, when the regiment sailed back to India.

Page of cartes de visite in Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum album M1503.

Page of cartes de visite in Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum album M1503.

The album includes a picture of John Eyles Blundell who, as we saw in my previous blog, assembled his own collection of photographs relating to China

John Eyles Blundell. Royal Hampshire Collection (RH03-81).

John Eyles Blundell. Royal Hampshire Collection (RH03-81).

The images are due to be made accessible on the museum’s web-site – and it is hoped that this may trigger a response from some of their descendants.

It would be interesting to know whether other regiments have similar albums of cartes. These pictures and the other images of the China campaign which can be viewed on Historical Photographs of China, together with the accompanying journals, show how this rich resource can provide a vivid picture of a regiment in empire, both in its military and in its more personal aspect.

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No Great Wall

The latest book to use one of our photographs on its cover has just arrived in the post.

Felix Boecking teaches modern Chinese economic and political history at the University of Edinburgh, and his volume, which grew out of the ‘History of the Chinese Maritime Customs’ project — as did Historical Photographs of China — is out now from Harvard University Press.

The very striking cover is derived from a photograph of the harbour at Chefoo — Yantai — possibly taken in the winter of 1936-37.

It came with a modest set of photographs from Dr Bill Sinton, whose parents worked for the China Inland Mission in Sichuan, where he was born in 1924. Sinton boarded at the Chefoo School in 1930s, and the photograph is one of a number of ships in the harbour, all of which show them caught fast in ice.

Barges and steamships in frozen harbour, Chefoo, Sinton Collection Si-s08 © 2010 Dr William Sinton

The calligraphy on the cover is by Chiang Kai-shek. So, by way of cross-linkages, this provides an opportunity to showcase another photograph from the wonderful Fu Bingchang collection of Chiang, and his calligraphy, carved in stone on Jinmen Island. The calligraphy itself dates from 1952. We would be grateful for information about the history of the inscribing of the stone.

Chiang Kai-shek, with slogan in his hand, carved in stone on Jinmen Island, Fu Collection, Fu-s158 © 2011 C. H. Foo and Y. W. Foo

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