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Stories of Joseph Rock

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Stories of Joseph Rock

Stories of Joseph Rock
In May of 1922, there was an odd westerner appointed by the US Department of Agriculture to China, thousands of miles away from his home. His job was to conduct a botanic research and specimen collecting in Hengduan Mountain range. However, this person was deeply attracted by the wonderful local conditions and customs. He changed to research the Naxi culture. He, was the "father of Naxiology", the famous Joseph Rock (1884-1962).

Rock lived in Lijiang between 1922 and 1949, becoming the world's leading expert on Naxi culture and local botany. More than his academic pursuits, however, he will be remembered as one of the most enigmatic and eccentric characters to travel in western China.

From 1922 to 1935, Professor Rock wrote nine articles continuously in National Geography. These articles vividly reflected the geographic condition and ethnic culture of northwest Yunnan, with Lijiang as the center. Intending to explore the mysteious mountains, along with his strong interest in culture of Naxi people, Rock lived in Lijiang for twenty-seven years. Lijiang had become a hometown in his heart. Even wen he was seriously sick in bed before his death, he'd rather choose to pass away in the flowers in Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Rock was not the first westerner that came to live in Lijiang, but he was the only westen scholar who studied Naxi culture omnibearingly at that time. He predicted that the Naxi culture was an integral part of the world civilization. He gained teh Naxi people's friendship and respect because of his braveness and sincerity. In this place far away from his home, he found enthusiasm of work and a home for his heart. Lijiang had become the only that he missed till the end of his days.

Rock was born in Austria, the son of a domineering father who insisted he enter a seminary. A withdrawn child, he escaped into imagination and atlases, discovering a passion for China. An astonishing autodidact, he taught himself eight languages, including Sanskrit, he began learning Chinese at 13 years of age. He somehow wound up in Hawaii, and in time became the foremost authority on Hawaiian flora.

Asia always beckoned and he convinced the US Department of Agriculture, and later Harvard University, to sponsor his trips to collect flora for medicinal research. He devoted much of his life to studying Naxi culture, which he feared was being extinguished by the dominant Han culture. He became National Geographic magazine's "man in China" and it was his exploits in northwestern Yunnan and Sichuan for the magazine that made him famous.

He sent over 80,000 plant specimens from China, two were name after him, along with 1,600 birds and 60 mammals. Amazingly, he was taking and developing the first color photographic plates in his field in the 1920s. Tragically, container-loads of his collections were lost in 1945 in the Arabian Sea when the boat was torpedoed.

Rock's caravans stretched for half a mile, and included dozens of servants, including a cook trained in Austrian cuisine (who was fired and rehired on every trip), trains for pack horses, and hundreds of mercenaries for protection against bandits, not to mention the gold dinner service, a battery-powered gramophone player and a collapsible bathtub.

Rock lived in Yuhu village (it was called Nguluko when he was there) outside Lijiang. Many of his possessions are now local family heirlooms.

The 'Ancient Nakhi Kingdom of Southwest China' (Harvard University Press, 1947) is Joseph Rock's definitive work. Immediately prior to his death, his Naxi dictionary was also finally prepared for publishing.

China tours inclusive of visiting Lijiang


Lijiang + China Tours

Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-la Tour from $896.00
Spring city of Kunming, Stone Forest in Lunan, traditional architecture complex of Bai minority in Daili, tranquil Lijiang old town, mysterious remote land of Shangri-La (Zhongdian).
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Tiger Leaping Gorge Trekking Tour from $394.00
Carrying a bag, walking among people in different colors of skin and speaking different languages, you are at the Tiger-leaping Gorge, the world famous place for people to travel on foot.
5 days Read Details
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