Kunming Huayang Academy for Language and Culture

GoKunming Articles

1930s China through the lens of Joseph Rock: The Naxi people

By in Features on

Sze-chung bpo ceremony for the prolongation of life Undated
Sze-chung bpo ceremony for the prolongation of life Undated

"Two Ngaw-la, or spirits of victory, with face paint, eagle claw, sword, and helmets with pheasant feathers next to an altar with a statue of Mùan-llü-ddu-ndzi, the father of the Naxi."

For the next several weeks GoKunming will publish a series of articles featuring photography by Joseph Francis Charles Rock, the Austrian-American author, geographer, linguist and botanist who explored western China extensively in the 1920s and 30s. We'll begin in southern Yunnan and then make our way north and then west, seeing what caught Rock's fancy as he moved through the countryside.

Rock's photo titles are often extremely brief, so, wherever possible we will include his field notes or parts of corresponding diary entries under each image. On this journey with Rock, we first went to Simao (思茅) — today called Pu'er (普洱) — and then moved on to Dali (大理) and Lijiang (丽江). Our fourth gallery is of the Naxi people (纳西族) who live in and around Lijiang. Rock was enraptured by them, spending more time in Naxi villages than he did anywhere else in China. He was especially interested in dongba — which he often wrote as "dto-mba" — a curious word which can refer to the Naxi language, their holy men, religion and some cultural traditions.

Rock's photo titles and descriptions use a Romanization system he possibly invented on his own. For instance, he often writes 'Lijiang' as 'Lichiang', while in other places the names are inconsistently spelled. We can forgive him, as his photos provide an amazing view of southwest China as it existed 90 years ago. The pictures and text published here with permission. Special thanks to the Yenching Library at Harvard University for graciously allowing us to use them. An enormous collection of Rock's China photos are available through Harvard's HOLLIS image database.

Naxi man with drawn sword wearing traditional Hli-khin warrior's armor made of rhinoceros blades lacquered red and helmet of iron segments at the foot of the Lijiang snow range Undated
Naxi man with drawn sword wearing traditional Hli-khin warrior's armor made of rhinoceros blades lacquered red and helmet of iron segments at the foot of the Lijiang snow range Undated

"Armor dating from the days of the Sung dynasty or earlier. Made of Rhinoceros hide. Photographed at Nda-za gko eastern slopes of Li-ch'iang Snow Range, N.W. Yunnan."

Sze-chung bpo ceremony for the prolongation of life Undated
Sze-chung bpo ceremony for the prolongation of life Undated

"Scene from the Naxi Szi chung bpö ceremony for the prolongation of life showing men with sword and gong dancing around Muan-llü-ddu-ndzi, father of the Naxi, depicted as an old man with a white beard."

Human and animal figurines sculpted from barley flour and butter dough for use in a Naxi religious ceremony Undated
Human and animal figurines sculpted from barley flour and butter dough for use in a Naxi religious ceremony Undated
Naxi family performing a Muan bpo ceremony outdoors near Lijiang February 1931
Naxi family performing a Muan bpo ceremony outdoors near Lijiang February 1931

"Na-khi Muan bpo or propitiation of heaven ceremony. Every family that is clan of one name, as Li, Ho, etc., has its own place of worhship called Muan bpo da."

Naxi dto-mbas with headdresses, knives, and musical instruments performing a religious ceremony in the courtyard of Joseph Rock's house Undated
Naxi dto-mbas with headdresses, knives, and musical instruments performing a religious ceremony in the courtyard of Joseph Rock's house Undated
Naxi Llü-bu in a trance wearing a red turban with prayer papers and offering a chicken near Lijiang 1931
Naxi Llü-bu in a trance wearing a red turban with prayer papers and offering a chicken near Lijiang 1931
Naxi altar with tree branches and inscribed k'o-byu Undated
Naxi altar with tree branches and inscribed k'o-byu Undated

"Dter-la-llü k'o for the propitiation of souls who have died unattended, that is by accident or suicide. They become 'olter or headless demons."

Six Naxi k'o byu with animal figures Undated
Six Naxi k'o byu with animal figures Undated

"The larger k'o-byu given to the Nagas for animals hunted and killed."

Naxi Llü-bu with a gong and wearing a red turban with prayer papers about to go into a trance near Lijiang 1931
Naxi Llü-bu with a gong and wearing a red turban with prayer papers about to go into a trance near Lijiang 1931

"Moso sorcerer at Likiang performing."

Members of a Naxi funeral procession carrying a coffin out of the village of Nv-lv-k'ö with the Lijiang Snow Range in the background Undated
Members of a Naxi funeral procession carrying a coffin out of the village of Nv-lv-k'ö with the Lijiang Snow Range in the background Undated
Two Naxi swimmers wearing inflated goatskin floats standing next to a goatskin raft used as a ferry for crossing the Yangtze River Undated
Two Naxi swimmers wearing inflated goatskin floats standing next to a goatskin raft used as a ferry for crossing the Yangtze River Undated
Nine houses of the Nagas altar erected for the Naxi Naga cult Ssu-ddü-gv ceremony Undated
Nine houses of the Nagas altar erected for the Naxi Naga cult Ssu-ddü-gv ceremony Undated
Detail of a statue of the nine-headed demon monster Sso-na-ngv-gu used in a Naxi Dto na k'ö ceremony performed in the courtyard of Joseph Rock's house Undated
Detail of a statue of the nine-headed demon monster Sso-na-ngv-gu used in a Naxi Dto na k'ö ceremony performed in the courtyard of Joseph Rock's house Undated

"Front view showing: serow, pig, bear (left); rabbit, donkey, ghost (center); ghost, crow, dog (right)."

The Dto-na-k'o ceremony. Li-chiang Undated
The Dto-na-k'o ceremony. Li-chiang Undated

"Naxi dto-mbas dancing with swords around a statue of the demon monster Sso-na-ngv-gu prior to setting him on fire in a meadow near Li-chiang."

Three Hli-khin women of the Tso-so La T'u-ssu family Undated
Three Hli-khin women of the Tso-so La T'u-ssu family Undated

"Tso-so women of chief's household."

Naxi dto-mba reciting from the book Shi-lo ssaw at the sacred grotto Shi-lo ne-k'o on a mountain in the Bber-dder District in northwest Yunnan Undated
Naxi dto-mba reciting from the book Shi-lo ssaw at the sacred grotto Shi-lo ne-k'o on a mountain in the Bber-dder District in northwest Yunnan Undated

"The founder of the Bon or his later reincarnation is said to have lived there. North of Li-ch'iang in Chung-tien territory, Yunnan."

Village and mill on a river near Lijiang with Yulongxue Shan in background Undated
Village and mill on a river near Lijiang with Yulongxue Shan in background Undated
Joseph Rock (in light-colored suit) and crowd standing in front of the Kunming, a Ford Tri-motor airplane, at the landing field north of Lijiang 1936
Joseph Rock (in light-colored suit) and crowd standing in front of the Kunming, a Ford Tri-motor airplane, at the landing field north of Lijiang 1936

"During my brief sojourn in my old village... thousands had come. Many had come to see me Li-ssu-shiang, the lama from Yü-fung Ssu, the old village headman from Nv-lv-k'o, Li-wen-kao, Ho-ssu-tsang, Lau-rü,... the old woman I operated on on a gangreened [sic] foot, the man who had been stabbed and whom I healed.... We returned to the plain [sic] surrounded by a mob. I gave a last handshake to Li-ssu-chin and Lau-rü, the two boys who had been with me to New York and Washington. Li-ssu-chin could hardly speak."

© Copyright 2005-2018 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Share this article

Comments

Last photo, who is the scientifical looking guy with the white beard to the left there, could that be Peter Goullard? Looks a bit too old for that or...

According to his own book Peter Goullard was not yet in the area in 1936 so it has to be sombody else.

Good point mengna, but that year sounds suspicious. To have a plane in Lijiang in 1936, maybe Scally could check this again.

He came to Lijiang in 1942 well after the age of the Ford tri-motor.
His only mention of using a plane was when he together with Rock was kicked out in 1949 and this picture is far to relaxed for this with to many non Chinese in the picture.

Well, was there any place to land an airplane in Lijiang 1936. The old airport there, on the way to Mt. Yulong was built during WW2. Is someone trying to say anyone flew over the windy mountains there with that plane and landed on the Dongba steppes as tourists, sounds like Lost Horizon fiction.

On the website "In the footsteps of Joseph Rock" its the same year there, 1936, and mentioned:

"Hired by Joseph Rock to fly from Kunming to see the Yulong Xueshan mountains."

If thats true, then it was one hell an adventure, and Rock had a lot of "face" after that.

Anyway looks like he got a new camera here. Much better picture quality then in previous photo sets.

Login to comment Register to comment