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Restoring John Thomson’s grave

31/05/2018

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Defend Wuhan!

16/05/2018

‘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 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.

Defend Wuhan!

16/05/2018

‘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 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.

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

27/04/2018

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.

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.

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: 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.

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 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.

[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.

 

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

27/04/2018

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.

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.

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: 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.

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 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.

[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.

 

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

29/03/2018

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.

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).

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).

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

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.

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.

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).

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.

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).

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.

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.

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

29/03/2018

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.

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).

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).

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

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.

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.

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).

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.

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).

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.

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.