Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Paper Road

The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of West China and Tibet

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 376
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Paper Road
    Book Description:

    This exhilarating book interweaves the stories of two early twentieth-century botanists to explore the collaborative relationships each formed with Yunnan villagers in gathering botanical specimens from the borderlands between China, Tibet, and Burma. Erik Mueggler introduces Scottish botanist George Forrest, who employed Naxi adventurers in his fieldwork from 1906 until his death in 1932. We also meet American Joseph Francis Charles Rock, who, in 1924, undertook a dangerous expedition to Gansu and Tibet with the sons and nephews of Forrest’s workers. Mueggler describes how the Naxi workers and their Western employers rendered the earth into specimens, notes, maps, diaries, letters, books, photographs, and ritual manuscripts. Drawing on an ancient metaphor of the earth as a book, Mueggler provides a sustained meditation on what can be copied, translated, and revised and what can be folded back into the earth.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95049-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)

    Zhao Chengzhang unrolled a sheet of paper. It was special paper, large and nearly transparent, purchased in Burma. This enterprise was all about paper. Each time he walked out the city gate, one of his mules carried a full load of paper, textured and absorbent, made of a dwarf bamboo that grew in thickets on the lower mountainsides. Piles were sold in every market town in the province. When he reentered the city after weeks or months of rough travel, he led a string of mules carrying stacks of paper neatly bundled and pressed between boards. Folded into each sheet...

  7. PART I

    • 1. The Eyes of Others
      (pp. 39-60)

      A man is suspended over the river. Leather straps bind him to a half cylinder of bamboo that slides on a rope of twisted bamboo strands greased with yak butter. Having plummeted to a point over the river’s center, he will haul himself to the opposite bank, hand over hand. The edges of the strands are sharp, so the crossing is painful as well as physically demanding. The photograph was included in Acting Consul G. Litton’s secret report to the British Foreign Office on his journey to the Upper Salween River.¹ It is filed in the archives of the Royal...

    • 2. Farmers and Kings
      (pp. 61-86)

      From the cobbled streets of Lijiang town, or Dayanzheng, Forrest could see the magnificent Yulong range gleaming in the northern sky. He walked toward the peaks, passing through several hamlets. The last and most substantial was Baisha, where a periodic market was held. After this, the valley narrowed and grew barren. The road skirted the eastern flank of the range, climbed a pass, and then descended to the gorge of the Yangtze river. This was the road toward the Zhongdian (Gyaltang) plateau and beyond. But if he walked straight toward the peaks instead of around them, he took another path,...

    • 3. The Paper Road
      (pp. 87-117)

      They must have found his incessant scribbling strange. They did not write as they walked, and they wrote little if anything about what they collected. They knew that this landscape had already been written long ago and many times. Perhaps they sensed that he was getting it backwards. They could no more imagine the land without writing than he could: for them too texts were part of the earth. But in a different way.

      For him, walking generated writing. This region of the earth, especially the parts that mattered to him most, was largely blank. Writing was the absolutely essential...

    • 4. The Golden Mountain Gate
      (pp. 118-146)

      Forrest was accustomed to a dialectic of what one might call practices of beauty and practices of sublimity. He devoted enormous labor and attention to creating the most precise possible assemblages of words and things. Scouring Yunnan for material to assemble into his exquisitely crafted and meticulously documented creations, he displayed to excess qualities that LorraineDaston argues natural scientists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century demanded of themselves: “painstaking care and exactitude, infinite patience, unflagging perseverance, preternatural sensory activity, and an insatiable appetite for work.”¹ This ethos of heroic, disciplined objectivity was the foundation for his class aspirations—...

  8. PART II

    • 5. Bodies Real and Virtual
      (pp. 149-178)

      In 1934, during twenty-eight years of wandering west China, Joseph Francis Charles Rock made a brief trip to England. He clipped an obituary of an old friend from a copy ofThe Times,three years old, and pasted it in his diary. On the facing page, he pasted a photograph, two decades old, and wrote this caption: “Joseph Rock (standing) with his older friend Fred Muir at the Haw[aii] Sugar Planters’ Exp[eriment] St[ation], Honolulu. Photographed in our home in Liloa Rise (Breaside), Honolulu in the spring of 1913, while our phonograph playedSpiritu Gentile,Caruso singing.”¹ Rock’s parents had long...

    • 6. Lost Worlds
      (pp. 179-210)

      An archipelago of tiny states was scattered through these border regions. Most had paid tribute to China, Tibet, Burma, or Siam for centuries while governing their own affairs with little practical outside interference. Within China’s twentieth-century borders, a surprising number survived into the Republic, though all were subject to new policies bringing them increasingly, if sporadically, under the supervision of regional governments. From the perspective of the Chinese state, they were what remained of the once extensive system of native hereditary chieftanships(tusi zhidu),instituted during the Yuan and reformed repeatedly in the Ming and Qing, through which the Imperial...

    • 7. The Mountain
      (pp. 211-242)

      He spent his life developing a singular cartography. The earth, for him, was layered with names, bones, histories, and genealogies. The master concepts that guided perceptual intervention in the earth were contiguity, proximity, and singularity. To record the earth adequately was to measure distances by the pace of feet, human and animal, to trace out routes, rivers, and watersheds on earth and paper, and to search for places with a distinct and unclassifiable existence. During his long adventure in Gansu and the Tibetan region of Amdo in 1924–1927, he made many maps of what he imagined to be uncharted...

    • 8. Adventurers
      (pp. 243-264)

      They stand in a courtyard in Chone in May 1925. Two orderly rows of six, those in back on packing cases offset precisely to allow them to appear between the shoulders of those in front: the photographer was a meticulous autocrat. All in the back but one have their arms crossed: this too was probably at the photographer’s bidding. They are all dressed alike: double-breasted jackets, sturdy trousers, new boots—a mass purchase with expedition funds, still creased from the shop shelves in Old Taozhou. They must have needed the clothing, especially the boots, very badly. They had just survived...

    • 9. The Book of the Earth
      (pp. 265-290)

      He had seen many of the old books, with their strange, vigorous script, and he even owned a few. Yet he had paid little attention to them. Six years of travel with the young men from Nvlvk’ö and long periods of living in their village had not changed his mind about dongba rituals: they were nonsensical drivel and a great waste of time and energy. In late 1929, this changed abruptly. He and the twelve adventurers from Nvlvk’ö had completed a two-year-long expedition funded by the National Geographic Society. They had gone to Muli in April 1928, where Cicheng Zhaba...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 291-324)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-340)
  11. Index
    (pp. 341-361)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 362-362)