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Ranbu Xiang: From cloth to potatoes

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Editor's note: Every week for the remainder of 2008 GoKunming will publish photos from the collection of Auguste François (1857-1935), who served as French consul in south China between 1896 and 1904, during which he spent several years in Kunming. The photos have been provided by Kunming resident and private collector Yin Xiaojun (殷晓俊). GoKunming thanks Yin Xiaojun for providing us a glimpse of Kunming at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Year: 1901
Subject: Foreground - Xima He (洗马河, 'Horse-washing River'), background – Honghua Fu (洪化府, 'Honghua Palace')
Location: Ranbu Xiang (染布巷), facing east-southeast, about 100 meters west of Green Lake Park's west gate

Background:

In 1901 Auguste François took this photograph of an area familiar to many people today known as Ranbu Xiang (染布巷), or 'Cloth-dyeing alley'. Ranbu Xiang is located roughly 100 meters west of Green Lake park's west gate, at the bottom of Qianju Jie as it comes down from Wenlin Jie.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Ranbu Xiang was actually a small river known as Xima He (洗马河), or 'Horse-washing River'. Area residents would dye cloth and then dry it in the sun – large pieces of cloth can be seen drying on the ground in the background.

After the dyed cloth was dry, it would be washed in Xima He, which flowed out of what is today Green Lake Park. Xima He wasn't only used for washing cloth – on the right there is a woman holding a urinating toddler, a practice that can still occasionally be seen in downtown Kunming.

In the background is Honghua Fu (洪化府) or 'Honghua Palace' the guandi (官邸), or official residence, of the infamous Wu Sangui (吴三桂). Wu Sangui is one of the most famous characters from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, primarily because he is considered a traitor to both.

In 1644, while serving the Ming Dynasty, General Wu opened the gates at Shanhaiguan, Hebei province, allowing Manchu troops to enter what was considered Han China at the time. Soon thereafter, the Manchus established the Qing Dynasty and gave Wu the name Pingxi Wang – or more simply, king of Yunnan.

During his time in Kunming, then known as Yunnan-Fu (云南府), Wu built Honghua Fu on what is now the west side of Green Lake Park. During this time, he paid tribute to the Qing while building his own army and preparing to revolt, which he did in 1674, when he declared the founding of a new incarnation of the ancient Zhou Dynasty. Wu made Hengyang, Hunan the dynastic capital and named himself Emperor with the name of his reign being Zhaowu (昭武). He was succeeded by his son Wu Shifan (吴世璠), whose reign was entitled Honghua (洪化). This reign came to a quick end after defeat by the Qing.

The image directly above is a photograph taken in May, 2008 by GoKunming – 107 years after François decided to photograph Xima He and Honghua Fu. Today there is no trace of the stream, there is only the Haoshun Lu Farmers' Market. Many Kunming residents refer to Ranbu Xiang as 'Potato Alley' (洋芋巷, Yangyu Xiang), due to the large number of snack shops offering fried potatoes there.

Honghua Fu is survived by Honghua Qiao (洪化桥) and Honghua Xiang (洪化巷), a road and an alley on the east side of the Kunming Grand Park Hotel (formerly Harbour Plaza Kunming).

Today, the area formerly occupied by Honghua Fu is now home to the Jiangwu Tang (讲武堂), a former military academy and training facility known for its distinctive yellow color (see photo below) and vast interior courtyard. The Jiangwu Tang was formerly known as the Wubei Xuetang (武备学堂).

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