Rock was the son of an Austrian manservant who ended up as major-domo to a Polish nobleman, Count Potocki. His mother died when he was 6. At 13, already under the spell of an imaginary Cathay, he taught himself Chinese characters. ...
... Yet, though he introduced hundreds of new or rare plants to Western gardens and sent off thousands and thousands of herbarium specimens, he never wrote a paper on the botany of China.
Instead, he gave his life to recording the customs, ceremonies and the unique pictographic script of his Nakhi friends. Lijiang was the only home he ever knew; and after he was booted out, he could still write, in a letter, "I want to die among those beautiful mountains rather than in a bleak hospital bed all alone."
His book "The Ancient Na-Khi Kingdom of South-West China," with its eye-aching genealogies and dazzling asides, must be one of the most eccentric publications ever produced by the Harvard University Press.
Here is a stretch of his embattled prose:
"A short distance beyond, at a tiny temple, the trail ascends the red hills covered with oaks, pines, Pinus Armandi, P. yunnanensis, Alnus, Castanopsis Delavayi, rhododendrons, roses, Berberis, etc., up over limestone mountains, through oak forest, to a pass with a few houses called Ch'ou-shui-ching (Stinking water well). At this place many hold-ups and murders were committed by the bandit hordes of Chang Chieh-pa. He strung up his victims by the thumbs to the branches of high trees, and tied rocks to their feet; lighting a fire beneath he left them to their fate. It was always a dreaded pass for caravans. At the summit there are large groves of oaks (Quercus Delavayi) . . ."
No wonder Ezra Pound adored it!
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