China in Transition
    Pictures of life in China during the transition from the last dynasty to the modern world.
Stan Neumann's Home Page
In 1908, George Bradford Neumann travelled to Chengdu, China to help with the establishment of West China Union University (WCUU). They started during the final years of the Qing dynasty, the last of the Chinese Dynasties. When the revolution broke out in 1911, the westerners were evacuated to the Jiansu province on the coast, where George helped to organize relief for the famine underway in that region. With the advent of the Republic of China, and some small degree of stability, they returned to Chengdu in 1912, and stayed until 1924 (except for a year sabbatical in the US from 1915-1916). One of the valuable things that George brought back was a collection of hand-colored glass slide photographs capturing a cross section of life in China during a particularly momentous period - the transition from the classical world of the dynasties to the modern world.

Pictures of Daily Life      Portaits and Group Pictures     Images of the Campus     Images of the Region      Family-oriented pictures     

Chengdu's name means "establishing a capital" and for centuries it was the political and cultural capital of one of the richest, but most isolated, agricultural areas in the world. Chengdu is today a city of nearly thirteen million, and much of the old city you see here is now replaced by subways, high speed rail and high rises.
Click on the thumbnail images for a full-size image.
Chengdu City Wall
Chengdu was surrounded by this high stone wall, nine miles in circumference. Chengdu's first wall was built in 311 BCE making the city almost as old as Rome. All but a small part of the wall was demolished in the fifties to simplify travel.
South Gate from Inside the City
South Gate was the most important of the four gates leading through Chengdu's wall into the city. First widened and then demolished, the site of the old south gate is now a complex of roads and flyovers.
South Bridge
The old city of Chengdu was surrounded by rivers, and visitors came to the old South Gate over this bridge. The new South Bridge, bordered now by fancy restaurants and hotels, is the most important of the bridges into downtown Chengdu.
South Gate from South Bridge
Each of Chengdu's four city gates was actually a series of two gates in walls which enclosed a 'no man's land.' Guests were welcome: enemies could be easily attacked. Because of their circular form, people referred to Chengdu's city gates as "moon gates." The people in the foreground sell small items on South Bridge.
Interior of a Temple
The interior of a large very rich Buddhist temple. This may be the Wenshu Yuan, the temple to Manjusri that is today Chengdu's largest Buddhist temple, but Chengdu had a great many temples in the early twentieth century and many of them have not survived.
Liu Bei Temple at Wuhouci
Chengdu and Sichuan played an important role in the wars that following the end of the Han Dynasty (206BCE-220CE) that were immortalized in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Zhuge Liang, Premier of the state of Shu, was noted for his wisdom and loyal service to Liu Bei, the Emperor of Shu. This series of temples remains a popular destination in Chengdu.
China in the teens still enjoyed a simple style of life, and presented a great attraction to foreigners (and photographers) for picturesque elements. In Sichuan, the attraction of the non-Han peoples who live in the western mountains was especially strong. "A group of us white folks.decided to go on an exploratory trip into the border region between China and Tibet, a region which is left blank on the maps of Asia because so very little is known about it." GN
A yellow roofed pagoda somewhere in Sichuan. Scenes like this epitomized Asia for most westerners and were a regular item in slide lectures by missionaries.
View of a Large Lineage Graveyard
This photo shows an enormous lineage graveyard ideally suited according to fengshui in a grave-shaped valley with heights behind and water in front. The lineage hall is on the far hillside. Life in rural China was traditionally organized by what anthropologists call lineages, large kinship based organizations that owned and managed estates. The leadership of these lineages was in the hands of the lineages oldest males and funerary practices and compilations of generational records were important legitimizations of their authority.
Two River Boats on the Yangtze
The Yangtze was still the "main street of China" in the early twentieth century, and boats like these made the trip from Shanghai to the base of the Three Gorges at Yichang pleasant. The larger boat with dollar signs on its stacks bears the name, "Alice Dollar" and in Chinese "American Merchantman."
Nan He in Qionglai
The Nan He (South River) made Qionglai (/chong-lie/) an important cultural and commercial center from early times. River traffic was Qionglai's mainstay well into the twentieth century.
Roadside Shrine
The combination of a small roadside shrines to a local deity and a lone tree was common in China. The shrine and the tree both have sacred meaning.
Large Water Wheel
Water wheels like these were used all over China to draw water from a lower to a higher level for irrigation. The take-off for the wheel is the gutter and sluice at the top right. A pair of sedan chairs indicates scale.
Tibetan Village
A Tibetan village high in the mountains that rise about a hundred miles west of Chengdu. Through the ages, the ethnic groups in the mountains have presented an almost irresistible attraction to missionaries and reformers including Han Confucians and western Christians.
A stepped mound
A walled garden River with Elevated Foot Paths
The gorge of this tributary of the Min River high in the mountains is bordered on either side by footpaths, often the only way into the deep mountains of Sichuan. The path on the near side of the river has been set into the sheer walls of the gorge. You can see the scale by the small figures on the near path.
A local covered bridge

Much of the commentary is courtesy Patrick Dowdey, of the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University and was prepared for an exhibition of these pictures at the Center in 2010.

Please mail comments, corrections or suggestions to Stan (at)

hits counter