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     

Click on the thumbnail images for a full-size image.
From the old:
Geomancer at Work
Although he does not carry a compass, this man has the measuring tools associated with a man who kandi, "looks at the land." Westerners would say he is practicing fengshui, the system used in Asia to locate graves and building sites according to the qi or vital energy of the land.
To the new:
Missionaries emphasized physical exercise and sports and thought the mostly sedentary life of educated Chinese was one of the causes of the poor state of Chinese society.
The normal method for carrying heavy weights was the shoulder pole How Foreigners Travelled < Travel in early twentieth century China was difficult. One of the main issues in the fall of the Qing for Chengdu had been diversion of funds to build a railway to the rest of China. That railroad wasn't opened until 1954. In the twenties, travel from Beijing to Chengdu took five to six weeks: by rail to Hankow (Wuhan), then Yangtze steamer to Yichang, small boat through the Three Gorges to Chongqing, and finally sedan chair to Chengdu.
Travel by sedan chair was common in Sichuan where there were few wheeled vehicles. Here a foreigner with his dependents and luggage are being carried through a system of rice paddies. Most of the missionaries at WCUU travelled the 200 miles from Chongqing to Chengdu by sedan chair for security.
Another view of a chair car, reserved for people of importance, including westerners - Carrying the westerners in chairs actually made the caravan safer, since it was clear that here was someone of great importance. Sichuanyi
In Sichuan, they call local people 'Sichuanyi," and these photos provide a rare glimpse into the interplay work, beliefs and leisure (always an important concern for Chengdu people) that contributed to the still overwhelmingly rural social life.
"It is almost impossible to go into a Chinese street without seeing interesting things." GN, 3/2/19
Street Scene in Chengdu The flag in this photograph was used by Sun Yatsen's Republicans to represent the democratic revolution that led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. The five stripes represent the five major nationalities in China, red for Han, yellow for Manchu, blue for Mongol, white for both Hui and Uyghur and black for Tibetan. Chengdu played an important role in the overthrow of the Qing.
Sugar Mill Near Leshan, Sichuan
A man feeds cane into a sugar mill turned by a pair of oxen. Sugar was only one of the many cash crops grown in the rich soil and warm moist weather of Sichuan
Tibetans in a Saw Mill
Heavy lumber like this from the western mountains was an important resource in Sichuan. The three women on the left are Tibetans from Ma'erkan based on the headdress of the closest of the women. This photograph was most likely taken in the Min River valley that leads into the mountains above Chengdu.
Everything a Farmer Needs
From his pigs, winnowing machine, mats to dry and sort the rice, a plow, a dou to collect the grain and of course a water buffalo, here is everything a well-equipped farm household needed. Along with a lot of sons.
The family probably lived in the buidling in the background
These men are fishing with small rake-like nets mounted on long poles in a typical Sichuan scene.
Irrigating the fields, using people power Irrigating the fields, another view
Man in a Tobacco House
This one-armed man enjoys a pipe of tobacco while he sits on a narrow Sichuan style stool in a tobacco house similar to Sichuan's famous teahouses. A crowd has gathered to look at the photographer.
Daoist Priest
This man is a local priest. It seems most likely he is Daoist, but his robes are not decorated in symbols typical of Daoism and his headpiece is Buddhist. He epitomizes the syncretic spiritual beliefs of China.
The altar of a temple Meeting to Celebrate the End of WWI
The meeting in this photo is most likely related to the movement to protest the Versailles treaty, a movement referred to as the May Fourth Movement and seen as the beginning of the progressive student movement in China. The Chinese fought with the Allies in WWI and welcomed its end. Shandong Province had been colonized by the Germans, and Chinese expected its return at the Versailles Peace Conference, but it was awarded instead to Japan raising patriotic feeling in China to a high pitch.
"We are watching the news which comes from the Peace Conference with a great deal of interest, especially in regards to the news which concerns the interests of Japan and China. I wish that China might get a square deal. Perhaps she will, but it will not be Japan's fault if she does." GN, 3/2/19
Note the mix of western and Chinese faces and dress. Also note the incorrect coloring of some of the flags (the American Flag is Red, Yellow and Green!)
Front of Row Houses The back of the same row houses
Sheep in the Upper Min River Valley
The Min River waters the Chengdu basin, and its upper reaches in the mountains are mostly non-Han ethnic. Han Chinese seldom raise sheep. This type of sheep is raised mostly by Qiang (/chang/) people. Families built houses with towers for protection and surveillance in these areas where bandits were common.

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.

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