Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good Photos from 1910 - Shame About the Photographer Being a Pratt


He was pompous, a nasty gossip, in love with himself, a philanderer, overrated and generally nowhere near as brilliant as he and a few others considered him. But he remains popular with many as the myth dies slowly. I’m referring of course to that no-nothing, over-hyped windbag GE Morrison – ‘Dr Morrison of Peking’ as he insisted the Times by-line him. While researching my new book on journalists in China it became clearly evident that my long held suspicions that Morrison was almost a total fraud were well founded. He was one of the worst journalists on China who repeatedly missed the big stories and spent most of his time writing thundering pieces defending the British Empire (which after all he had really been hired to do) while covering up that he got all his China information from JOP Bland and Edmund Backhouse. He then sat back and relayed malicious gossip to the foreign office who used it to undermine more than one good man's career on Morrison's hearsay. Anyway you look at it Morrison is an idiot.

Yet the reputation has largely remained (even with photos such as this below showing Morrison acting the tit as usual in China) – Australians in particular for some strange reason still laud him even though he spent most of his time claiming to be Scottish, defending the British Empire and having not very much to do with Australia. Still, he did take a lot of photos when he was roaming around in China getting the story wrong and his shots of western China from 1910 are particularly interesting. Good then that Hong Kong University Press and Fujian Education Press have gathered them all together in a 2-volume set in both English and Chinese - G.E. Morrison's Journey in Northwest China in 1910, captioned & photographed by G.E. Morrison, Compiled & translated by Dou Kun & Helen Lo.

Morrison travelled in Kansu, Sinkiang and other provinces of Northwest China for half a year (from Jan. to July) in 1910. He took more than 1,000 photographs that showed the places, people and the progress of the Reform Movement of Qing Court during his journey. He then sorted and completed several albums totally in 658 photographs with brief captions. There are a lot of good shots of different minority nationalities, the achievements of the Reform Movement, e.g. the Provincial Assemblies, New Army and schools in western style, etc. and the life of the missionaries in the localities. Fortunately there are precious few pictures of the Great Morrison himself!

I reckon this is a couple of books worth having and they’re not an unreasonable price either (order through the HKUP site and you get a further 10% off -not bad in these days of capitalist collapse). As for Morrison’s bloated reputation I happen to know a few books are coming along (as well as mine) that rather seek to deflate him including one that reveals what a bastard he was to his wife repeatedly playing around with some nympho American heiress for years. Always remember that if Morrison was such a genius on China why did he end his career on the sordid low of becoming one of the chief foreign apologists and supporters of (in his post as official adviser) Yuan Shih-kai (left - looking almost as pompous as Morrison himself could when he tried) who, had he not fortunately died, could have derailed the entire First Chinese Republic and did indeed do more than anyone else to usher in the disasterous warlord period?

Enjoy the photos; don’t bother too much with the photographer.

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