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Tuesday, February 23, 2016, 11:52

Gift to embassy offers glimpse of 1930s China

By Chen Weihua in Washington
Gift to embassy offers glimpse of 1930s China
A photo from the 1930s shows the Bund area along the Whangpoo (now Huangpu) River of Shanghai. (Provided to China Daily)

The Chinese embassy in Washington received a special, retrospective gift on Friday from a retired US Foreign Service officer.

The gift, a set of 24 black-and-white photographs taken in China in the 1930s, was presented to Wu Xi, deputy chief of mission of the Chinese embassy, by Richard Garrison of Arlington, Virginia.

The photos, which cover street life and scenes in major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macao, had belonged to Garrison's mother, Stella Garrison, who died more than 10 years ago.

Each photo includes a description of about 300 words. The text with a photo of a street in Canton (now Guangzhou), describes Canton's people and tells how automobiles were introduced to the city. Another, a stunning view of the Great Wall, tells the history of the wall, including how it was used to defend against "barbarians" and then fell into disrepair.

The description on yet another photo, which shows a man operating a hand mill to grind soybeans, talks about how important soybeans were to Chinese as a source of protein, fat and calories, calling it the "poor man's meat and poor man's milk."

There also is a vivid scene of Chinese workers in rice paddies, and another showing the ruins in Shanghai's Zhabei area following the attack in January 1932 by the Imperial Japanese Army.

All of the photos were made and published by the Keystone View Co, a major distributor in those days of stereographic images, according to the embassy's website.

Richard Garrison said he doesn't remember seeing the photos as a child. He said his mother "must have kept them because she enjoyed looking at them".

Stella Garrison, who was a teacher in a country school near Tecumseh, Nebraska, as well as in other parts of Nebraska, was in possession of the photos for decades after she got them from the state superintendent's office. She used the photographs to teach her students about China and expressed a wish that the photos should eventually be returned to the Chinese, the embassy said on its website.

She and her husband finally visited China in the mid-1980s.

"My mother said she was surprised, shocked and pleased when my father said, 'Let's go to China,'" Richard Garrison recalled. "They enjoyed it."

His parents were able to make a side trip to visit a Chinese school. They also told their son how intensive agriculture was in China. "Every part of the land is used - nothing seems to be wasted," Garrison recalled his mother saying.

As a Foreign Service officer, Richard Garrison traveled four or five times to China. He marveled at the changes in China and the contrast when compared with the photos.

Gift to embassy offers glimpse of 1930s China
A caravan of camels stands outside the city walls of Beiping (now Beijing).

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