WILLIAMSTOWN -- One hundred years after Sterling Clark traveled through northern China to document and map the area, Chinese photographer Li Ju discovered a collection of photographs taken during that early 20th century expedition.
The photos, which were of the Loess Plateau in northern China, inspired him to seek out a copy of the book Clark co-wrote with Arthur de Carle Sowerby about that exhibition, "Through Shen-kan: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908-9." It wasn't long before Li began an expedition of his own in 2008, retracing Clark's steps through the region. During his expedition, which was undertaken over a period of about three and a half years, Li photographed the same
Li, through interpreter Joe Zhou, special assistant to the Clark for the China Initiative, said Friday that identifying the locations of some of the photos was a big challenge.
"There were little descriptions on the photos of where they were taken, but the descriptions said things like ‘village on the way,' " he said.
While some of the photos were of famous locations, others he had to study and memorize the details, he said.
"When I would pass a place, it would come to mind that it looked like a shape in one of the
He would then check the scene against a copy of the photo, he said.
"For the rivers and mountains, there have not been so many changes, but the cities and villages where the people are, there has been great change," he said.
That change is reflected in the exhibition titled "Then & Now: Photographs of Northern China," which compares and contrasts Li's photos with those taken during the Clark expedition. The exhibit is now on display at the Clark's Stone Hill Center.
Li said that as he repeatedly read "Through Shen-kan," he became inspired by the spirit of the Clark expedition.
"It was about scientific exploration; they weren't doing this for any profit," he said.
That scientific spirit has also resonated with Chinese citizens who have viewed the exhibition while it was on display at locations throughout China, Wang Jun, director of Art Exhibitions China, said Friday through interpreter Feng Xue.
"That photo exhibit made the Chinese people come to know Mr. Clark and respect him," he said
Wang was among a delegation of Chinese cultural officials who visited the Clark on Friday to view the three exhibitions the museum will host this summer focusing on China and the Clark expedition. The main exhibit, "Unearthed: Recent Archaeological Discoveries from Northern China," will be open to the public until Oct. 21.
Wang said "Unearthed" in particular gives people unique insight into the history of China through a single sarcophagus. The sarcophagus, which was found with several other objects, dates back to 477 A.D.
"These objects reflect the social culture of the time, which was based on agriculture," Wang said.
He added that he hoped visitors to the exhibition come to know about Chinese history and what is happening with archeology in China right now.
Over the last four years, the Clark has built a cultural exchange initiative with China. While "Then & Now: Photographs of Northern China" and "Through Shen-kan: Sterling Clark in China" were created by the Clark for presentation at the art institute, they have previously been shown in China at the Folk Arts Museum in Beijing, the Ningxia Library in Yinchuan, the Shanghai Library in Shanghai, the Hebei Provincial Museum in Wuhan and the Canon Gallery in Beijing. In addition, the Clark's tour of Impressionist paintings will open at the Shanghai Museum in September 2013.
Wang said he sees a promising future with more cultural collaboration between China and the Clark as well as other museums in the United States.
"The cooperation between China and the Clark, and many other museums in America, helps to encourage more cultural exchanges between America and China," he said.
It also provides a unique opportunity for people in both countries to learn about each other's history and culture, he said.
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