We were recently lucky enough to receive permission to republish color photos of Kunming in 1944 taken by Dr Clinton Millett. The photos offered a fascinating look at a Kunming that no longer exists.
Shortly after publishing the story, we found out that several photos from Paul R Burch, an American who arrived in Kunming a few months after Millett left the city, had accidentally been included in the Millett story and gallery.
While regretting the mixup, we were excited to discover a new source of old color photos of Kunming, as well as the interesting story behind Burch and his photos, which were included in public exhibitions in Kunming in 2004 and Beijing and Pingyao in 2005.
In the early 1940s Burch was an assistant editor at the magazine Chrysler Motor News, which was an in-house magazine for the 80,000 employees of Chrysler Corporation. From 1942 through 1945, Chrysler stopped producing cars for consumers and focused instead on war vehicles including tanks for the US military and trucks for the Chinese army.
After shifting its manufacturing focus, Chrysler started up a new magazine, War Work, which provided news from the war as well as stories from the company's factories in and around Detroit. Burch was sent to China via Kolkata – then known in the West as Calcutta – where he was to serve as an expert technician and part-time journalist.
Burch was responsible for making inventories of materials flown to Kunming from New York on the hundreds of Douglas C-54 transport planes that made the long haul, which included stops in Newfoundland, the Azores, Casablanca, Cairo, Calcutta and Karachi before flying over the Himalayas.
When he returned to Detroit in December 1945, Burch left several rolls of film shot in and around Kunming with Chrysler technicians. His work photos were developed in black and white, but his personal photos from his time in Kunming were developed in color.
GoKunming thanks Paul R Burch's son, Robert Burch, for providing us with dozens of photos his father took in and around Kunming in 1945. The photos can be viewed in the photo gallery Kunming: 1945. Here are a few of the shots we find most interesting:
It is somewhat counterintuitive to think that some parts of Kunming have become more green and spacious over the years, but that's exactly what's happened to this stretch of Zhengyi Lu in the center of downtown. The street is still a bustling commercial area, but today both sides of the street are tree-lined and shady.
Arhats on Xishan
Today, the sculptures of arhats – Buddhists who have attained nirvana and are not reborn after physical death into any world – found at Bamboo Temple are Kunming's best-known Buddhist statues. This shot of arhats at the Temple of 1,000 Gods on Xishan offers a look at what that temple's sculptures looked like decades before the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. Today it is generally forbidden to take photos of arhat sculptures.
In this shot of the old Yunrui gateway on Zhengyi Lu, one can see that the upper portion of the gateway's right side is missing. The story goes that the missing bit had been blown off by a Japanese bomb.
When Paul R Burch took this photo of a recently completed building, two stories was about as high as most buildings in the city stretched upward. Today the number of buildings this low within the second ring road is dwindling quickly, with new builds reaching 30 or more stories.