By Patrick Scally in Features

For the past several weeks, GoKunming has published a series of articles featuring photographs by Joseph Francis Charles Rock, the Austrian-American author, geographer, linguist and botanist who explored western China extensively in the 1920s and 30s. We began in southern Yunnan and then made our way north and then west, seeing what caught Rock's fancy as he moved through the countryside.

His photo titles are often extremely brief, so, wherever possible we will include his field notes or parts of corresponding diary entries under each image. On this journey with Rock, we first went to Simao (思茅) — today called Pu'er (普洱) — and then moved on to Dali (大理) and Lijiang (丽江). Our fourth gallery was of the Naxi people (纳西族) who live in and around Lijiang.

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Lamas molding butter images at Yung-ning Lamasery Undated

Eventually, after more than ten years of extensive travel in western China, Rock visited Lugu Lake (泸沽湖) in Yunnan. Today the bucolic area is known for the oft-misunderstood Mosuo people (摩梭) living around the lake and its stunning backdrop, Lion Mountain (狮子山). Rock was of course interested in them, but was perhaps more enamored of the nearby Tibetan lamasery called Yongning (永宁寺), which still stands today.

Rock's photo titles and descriptions use a Romanization system he possibly invented on his own. For instance, he often writes 'Yongning' as 'Yung-ning', while in other places the name is inconsistently spelled. We can forgive him, as his photos provide an amazing view of southwest China as it existed 90 years ago. The pictures and text are published here with permission. Special thanks to the Yenching Library at Harvard University for graciously allowing us to use them. An enormous collection of Rock's China photos are available through Harvard's HOLLIS image database.

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Eleven masked dancers and two Black Hat dancers in front of the main chanting hall at Yung-ning Lamasery during the Dtor-ma (gtor-ma) Festival 1931

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Lu zo, a young tulku or recognized reincarnation of a Bodhisattva, mounted on a horse with decorative trappings and surrounded by attendant lamas and on-lookers during his installation as Lhasa Incarnation in Yung-ning 1931 or 1932

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Two Moso boys holding a cured pig in Yung-ning Undated

"Butchered, boneless, meatless pig, salted and kept ten years."

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Lamasery complex at Yung-ning showing Maitreya Hall (small hall with double-eaved roof) main assembly hall (largest hall) and lamas' quarters Undated

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Two masked dancers representing deer or Showa spirits posing with daggers at Yung-ning Lamasery during the Dtor-ma (gtor-ma) Festival 1931

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Six Li-su peasants afflicted with goiter in the village of Ba-ssu-ko 1931 or 1932

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Pavilion on the island of Nyo-ro-p'u in Yung-ning Lake with Lion Mountain in the background Undated

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Giant gilt clay statue of Maitreya Buddha flanked by two lama priests in the Maitreya Hall at Yung-ning Lamasery 1931 or 1932

"Three-story high Maitreya of Yung-ning Lamasery."

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House with roof shingles weighted down by rocks and vegetables in the Li-su village of Ba-ssu-ko 1931 or 1932

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Incarnate Lama Lu Zo (center) with his brother and sister 1931 or 1932

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Tibetan oracle or Srung-ma representing an underling of sPang-lung chhos-rje holding a sword and a bow at Yung-ning Lamasery Undated

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Abbot of Yung-ning, a Shao-fu; the Yung-ning Tsung-kuan, a Yun-shan; and a Tibetan incarnation (front row, left to right) at La-pa-ddü outside Yung-ning Undated

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Two masked dancers representing central and northern gShin-rje sngon-po, the blue Lords of the Dead, with scepter, scull cup, drum, and arrow at Yung-ning Lamasery during the Dtor-ma (gtor-ma) Festival 1931

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Installation of Lhasa Incarnation at Yung-ning 1931 or 1932

"He is the son of the Yung-ning Tsung-kuan or Governor."

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Young tulku and boy at a pavilion on the island of Nyo-ro-p'u in Yung-ning Lake Undated

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Two Nda-pa priests with musical instruments and other ritual objects performing a ceremony on the plain in front of the Yung-ning Lamasery Undated

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Two masked dancers representing jShe-tra-pa-la, the oracle of Sera Lamasery (left), and Ma-ha-ka-la or mGon-po phyag-drug-pa (right) posing with choppers and skull cups at Yung-ningLamasery during the Dtor-ma (gtor-ma) Festival 1931

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Lamasery building, tree, and lama priests at Yung-ning Undated