Collecting objects gives enormous pleasure to approximately one third of the population, providing such benefits as intellectual stimulation, the thrill of the chase, and leaving a legacy. On the other hand, the same pursuit can engender pain; for example, paying too much for an object, unknowingly buying a fake, or dealing with the frustrations of collection dispersal.
At the end of a network of quiet alleys just to the east of Beijing Railway Station sits Kuijiachang Hutong—Armor Factory Alley. Few stumble across it; you have to search it out. In imperial times, as the name suggests, this was an area dedicated to the manufacture of munitions and the paraphernalia of war. It is not stretching the historical association too far, I hope, to link the street’s former purpose to the explosive power of a work of journalism completed on this hutong in the 1930s, for few could dispute the international impact made by Edgar Snow’s 1937 work of reportage, Red Star over China.
This is the story of the Reeves Collection of botanical paintings, the result of one man’s single-minded dedication to commissioning pictures and gathering plants for the Horticultural Society of London.
There always comes a time when, as people age, events move from being “within living memory” to “history”. There is even more urgency to capture these voices in a place like China where, for reasons of war and turmoil, fewer voices were, on the whole, captured at the time.
It has been more than three decades since the passing of the great French economic historian, Fernand Braudel, but his adventurous influence runs deep in Angus Forsyth’s remarkable illustrated essay on the Silk Road—the lanes of transport between East and West that linked China, India, Africa and the Mediterranean before the era of motor vehicles. Braudel’s genius was in his ability to highlight the intimate detail against the grand canvas of history, and his approach to storytelling fundamentally shifted the way history is presented, whether in the curating of museum exhibitions or histories of leaders and transformative events. It’s the detail that counts.
In 2005, on the 600th anniversary of Chinese admiral’s Zheng He’s first voyage, 19-year old Mwamaka Sharifu was plucked from Kenya’s Pate island and granted a scholarship to study in China. She was, it was said, the descendant of a shipwrecked sailor from one of Zheng He’s fleets.
A war correspondent and overseas bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, Megan K Stack never had much occasion to concern herself with gender equality even when she married another foreign correspondent and the two moved to Beijing a decade ago. But their marital dynamics changed when Stack became pregnant. She quit her job and stayed home with the baby; her husband Tom became the sole breadwinner and continued to jet off to remote parts of China and other countries on assignment.