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Sunday, 22 June 2008

Peter Goullart, Joseph Rock and Tribal Wives

The Heading East Blog featured the marvellous photography of Zhuang Xueben.

There is a huge resource of old images of China and Tibet, starting with British Photographers in Central Tibet
(Spencer Chapman is a highlight here).

Tibet has been romanticised at least partly by the absurd myth of Shangri-La (as featured in James Hilton's novel, Lost Horizon), a paradise where nobody ever grows old and wisdom and peace reign supreme.

Hilton's notion of Shangri-La emerged at least partly from the photography and writing of Joseph Rock (whose images you can see here).

Joseph Rock lived near Lijiang in Yunnan, and he recorded the people, flora and fauna of the region for National Geographic.

Hilton borrowed a few of these ideas for Lost Horizon and the result is - Lijiang is the real site for the mythical Shangri La.

Nice line for a travel story and one that the Chinese have lapped up - since the 1996 earthquake in Lijiang, tourist numbers have risen from a few thousand annually to a few million - and Lijiang has been tranformed from a lively and beautiful regional market town for Yunnan minority people to a sanitised showpiece of the Naxi people teeming with Chinese hotels, restaurants and tourists.

Joseph Rock was a marvellous but mad photographer and you can find his images here and in Colour here.

And if you want to find a record of what the places he photographed look like now, go to the In the footsteps of Joseph Rock blog.

Best of all you can read about Joseph Rock and the culture of Yunnan in Peter Goullart's magnificent record of Yunnan market-life Forgotten Kingdom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Joseph Rock's National Geographic articles have been republished by Caravan Press, as well as a short biography. Peter Goullart's _Land of the Lamas_ (_Princes of the Black Bone_ in Britain) is also interesting reading.