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Old Kunming: Natural disasters nothing new to southwest China

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Editor's note: GoKunming is publishing 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 Yunnan at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Year: 1900
Subject: Refugees from Sichuan
Location: Unknown location in Kunming


In general, life in southwest China is much less arduous than it was a century ago, but natural disasters can still strike with little notice - as this year has demonstrated to catastrophic effect. This year southwest China has experienced a massive winter storm, a catastrophic earthquake near Wenchuan in Sichuan, and the more recent tremor that destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes in Sichuan and Yunnan.

More than a hundred years ago, Auguste François bore witness to the tragedy of the flooding of Luzhou in Sichuan. The people in the photo above are refugees from the flooding of the Jinsha River, which eventually becomes the Yangtze River.

That these refugees even made it to Yunnan is little short of a miracle. These seven extremely poor people had barely enough clothing to cover themselves, and included two elderly and one child in their ranks.

Moreover, some of the refugees are missing toes, likely due to leprosy (麻风病), and the child's belly is bloated from undernourishment. The sad scene is an unforgettable illustration of the Chinese phrase yi bu bi ti (衣不蔽体) or "not enough clothing to cover oneself".

Related articles:

Auguste François, Yin Xiaojun and Kunming at the end of the Qing Dynasty

Relocated pandas suffering from post-earthquake stress

Yunnan contributing to earthquake recovery effort

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