Yuan Shikai, Daoist

Another neat thing from Tales of Old China. They have a whole section of French Images, which mostly seem to be postcards and newspaper clippings from somewhere that they have scanned in. These can be quite frustrating, since they are undated and unless there is a caption it is often not at all clear what they are. It is doubly annoying since so many of them are good pictures. The standard Chinese method of photography at this point seems to have been collect a bunch of people (The Whampoa cadets, for example) line them up in front of a building and then move the camera back far enough to get the entire building in and reduce the people to dots. The French had a very different aesthetic that led to better pictures.
Here is one of them. It shows Yuan Shikai in what the caption says is a peasant’s outfit, although to me he looks more like a Daoist recluse. I think the caption is saying that the picture was taken while he was in disgrace, which would make it just before 1911. It’s a nice shot because while there are lots of pictures out there of Yuan as a general, there are very few that use him to show the changing ways the elite (and emperors) could present themselves. When I show this one to students they (well, some of them) immediately think of all the pictures I had shown them from Hal Kahn’s Monarchy in the Emperor’s Eyes, which showed Qianlong as a Manchu warrior, poet, Buddhist, Daoist, and martial arts-master.

1 Comment

  1. Needless to say the reading provides all sorts of teachable moments, from the stunning callousness of the foreign community to the foreign concern with the infectious nature of the Chinese. I particularly liked the way that they provided pictures of all the types of flies so the scientifically-minded Shanghailanders could classify their kills.

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