South of the clouds
February 23, 2007 10:07 PM   Subscribe

In the 1920s Joseph Rock, an Austrian-born botanist went to live in Lijiang, in Yunnan province. During expeditions over the next three decades he photographed shamans, trulku, petty kings, nomads, astounding scenery and flora and fauna across much of southwest China. He also studied the language and culture of the Nakhi people previouslywhose homeleand centred around Lijiang. A contemporary blogger is now posting some then-and-now images of the places and people Rock recorded.
posted by Abiezer (18 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The equally remarkable Russian Daoist doctor Peter Goullart, a sometime houseguest of Rock's in Lijiang, left a memoir of the Nakhi kingdom.
posted by Abiezer at 10:09 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lovely post, thanks very much.
posted by Wolof at 10:36 PM on February 23, 2007

What a fantastic post. Past and present, nature and culture, old and new technologies - wow. And that "photographed" link is just filled with gorgeous old photos. Thanks for posting this!
posted by mediareport at 10:41 PM on February 23, 2007

Wandering through this while sitting in the Beijing airport waiting for a flight home has created a small but interested crowd of over the shoulder readers. Thanks for the post.
posted by mss at 10:47 PM on February 23, 2007

What a wonderful post, Abiezer - thank you!
posted by madamjujujive at 11:17 PM on February 23, 2007

Thank you for this one. Incredible photos of 1920's Tibet and China...
posted by rmmcclay at 11:23 PM on February 23, 2007

Beautiful. Thank you!
posted by amyms at 1:14 AM on February 24, 2007

wow - theres a lot here- nice one.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:06 AM on February 24, 2007

Very cool, Abiezer, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:46 AM on February 24, 2007

Superb post.
posted by languagehat at 6:22 AM on February 24, 2007

DISCLAIMER: this comment is filled with nothing but shameless self-links to photos I took.

Great post timing - I just visited the Yunnan province a month ago. The town of Lijiang itself is a tourist hell-hole (its images of canal-lined streets are iconic in local and foreign guidebooks, and visitors descend in camera-wielding crowds like I've never seen before), but the surrounding landscape is absolutely, magnificiently, improbably grand. Outside the touristy areas of Lijiang, and to much lesser extent Baisha and Yulong Xueshan ("jade dragon snow mountain", where you can take a chairlift to 4650 meters and see some amazing flowing glaciers) there are few visitors to be found, and the locals are very friendly. Visiting in winter's moderate temperatures, hiring a bike and exploring around is highly recommended.

Anyway, along the visit I've learned a bit about Joseph Rock ("Rocker", according to one large sign), who was quite a character. The National Geographic articles do not give much detail about the logistics of his experiences. It's easy to imagine him as a humble botanist trekking with a mule and leather satchet through impassable terrain - but back in the day, the life of a NaGeo correspondent and famous writer was apparently a bit more lavish. He lived and traveled with a group of up to 100 hired mercenaries, to protect the expedition from bandit attacks. Having such a crowd necessitated quite a supply chain caravan, and Mr. Rock took advantage of it, packing the ten essentials, plus a few more (a full silver tea service, a 1.2 meter bras gong and collapsible bathtub being some famous examples). After Rock's death, many of these objects naturally passed to Naxi (pinyun romanization of above-mentioned Nakhi) villagepeople, where they are kept as heirlooms, and can probably be shown if asked nicely.

To see this post, after having gone to the area, is a real treat. I really want to go back and explore more - the area is both easily accessible (thanks to Lijiang's status as tourist haven) and also apparently wide-open to exploration. My hat is off to the person who is actually out doing all that. And thanks abiezer!
posted by blindcarboncopy at 6:34 AM on February 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Great post! My favorite pictures are perhaps these two.

blindcarboncopy, thank you for sharing your excellent pictures. They bring to mind my own trip to Yunnan in 2004. It seems that you didn't go to Shangri-la, please don't miss it if you go there again!
posted by of strange foe at 9:05 AM on February 24, 2007

The mountain is called, The Mother Of The Ganges. Funny how that language, is apparently the mother of our language, as well. Cryptic post # ~.
posted by Oyéah at 9:18 AM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lovely pictures blindcarboncopy and osf. I was lucky enough to visit Lijiang in the mid-90s, before the major earthquake and the airport got built and tourism really took off, though it was certainly going that way even then. A series called Beyond the Clouds had been shown on Channel 4 back in the UK and we students were all keen to try to find some of the people shown in it. Later that same trip went up to Zhongdian (as it was before getting rebranded as Shangrila).
Spring before last went trekking up sacred Minyak Gangkar (holiday snap), a far eastern outlier of the Himalaya in Kham that Joseph Rock brought to Western attention, for a while claiming it to be higher than Everest.
posted by Abiezer at 9:57 AM on February 24, 2007

Oyeah - how many letters?
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:35 PM on February 24, 2007

"the mother of the ganges" happens to be a googlewhack. dunno off the top of my head if Kali is the mother of goddess ganga, but that doesn't ring particularly true.

thinking more geographically, "mother of the ganges" is a semigooglewhack (2 results only), and lists the mountain Nanda Devi as another possibility. i would expect kailash to be more correct. no matter. they are close enough together.

"Maidi Gangga" - what makes you think it means mother of the ganges, apart from a transliterative similarity? without checking the map, i am pretty sure that yunnan is a hell of a long way from kailash. you'd have to cross to the other side of tibet, no? mai, in mandarin, can mean mountain range. di? um, unsure. de?

but yeh...chinese-indo-european? severely doubt that. tonality, grammar - utterly different.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:15 PM on February 24, 2007


On the same level as "aliens built the pyramids."
posted by languagehat at 5:06 AM on February 25, 2007

This is a fantastic post.
posted by serazin at 9:10 PM on February 25, 2007

« Older In this world, nothing is certain but death and...   |   Baby You Can Drive My Car Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments