Duke exhibit offers insight to early 20th century China

Jun. 06, 2014 @ 08:10 PM

No doubt, Sidney Gamble’s primary motive for spending so much time in China was ideological.

An active leader in the Christian-focused YMCA, the Princeton University graduate worked as a missionary among the Chinese people.
But Gamble also had training as a sociologist and a passion for photography.
A collection of more than 5,000 Gamble images is available in the Duke University Libraries digital collection. Some also are on tour in Asia this year, bound ultimately for Duke Kunshan University in November.
The exhibit, co-curated by Duke archivist Luo Zhou and professor Guo-Juin Hong, includes about 200 slides. Among them are hand-colored “glass lantern” slides that depict life in early 20th century China. Gamble made several trips to Asia between 1908 and 1932. Eventually, he published a book called “Peking: A Social Survey.”
He collected slides for presentations, but he offered a different set of images depending on his audience.
For the general public, Zhou said, he might focus his selections on landscapes and architecture. But when addressing academics, Gamble showed more of the people and how they lived.
“He paid attention to their regular everyday life,” Hong said. “The modernization of their schools, their prisons, their orphanages.”
Gamble’s photos earned acclaim from British historian Jonathan Spence. Spence described the images as “vigorous, ebullient, unsentimental, and starkly, yet never cruelly, illustrative of the deep and real suffering that lay at the heart of China’s long revolution.”
Hong, an associate professor of Chinese literature and culture, said that above all, he is glad that every image from Gamble’s collection is available to anyone online in the digital collection.
“What I’m most proud of is that everything is digitized and it’s free to anybody who wants to see it,” Hong said. “These are the super high-resolution images, too.”
It’s not clear whether Gamble himself colored any of the lantern slides, but Zhou suspects that he at the very least oversaw the process.
“I find the colors in these images strikingly true, suggesting that they were done by someone familiar with the scene or the culture,” Zhou wrote in a blog post for Duke’s libraries website.
She’s been working with the images since January 2008. The exhibit started in Beijing last summer. This month, color images are set to appear in the Shanghai Archives’ museum.
“With these images, you can see his genuine love and interest in these people and their culture,” Zhou said.

To view Sidney Gamble’s glass lantern slides online, visit the Duke University Libraries digital collection website.


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