Rank Badge Beasts

David Leffman Uncategorized Leave a Comment

This hand-coloured Chinese woodblock print from Yangliuqing, a famous craft centre outside of Tianjin city in northern China, came up recently at auction. The title, wenjing wuwei (文經武緯) literally means “civil warp, military woof” – the idea that civil and military departments should work closely together to govern the country. In reality, civil officials, who were only appointed after years …

Hallock’s Gods

David Leffman Uncategorized 1 Comment

It’s unusual to be able to date old Chinese woodblock prints – the same designs were often used for decades, and the cheap paper that they’re printed on ages badly (I’ve got a sun-bleached stove god print with a calendar for 1989, which looks at least a century older). However, I do know that the three prints below all date …

Miao Clay Whistles

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There are very few rural temples in southeast Guizhou. Most people here are from the Miao ethnic minority, not Han Chinese; they have their own beliefs, and don’t build the usual Daoist-Buddhist-Confucian complexes you find elsewhere in China. However, all of Guizhou’s towns began life as Chinese military outposts or trading centres, not Miao settlements, and there are a few …

Yang Yuke 杨玉科

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Yang Yuke (杨玉科; 1838–1885) was an ethnic Bai warlord from Yingpan village in Yunnan province. During the Muslim Uprising (1856–73) he raised a private army and fought on the Chinese side against the rebels, under the mentorship of general Cen Yuying. It was Yang’s forces that finally captured the Muslim capital, Dali, and executed their rebel leader Du Wenxiu in …

Fengdu

David Leffman Uncategorized 2 Comments

In 2010, I was with Narrelle on the south bank of the Yangtze river in Fengdu, one of the towns that was demolished and completely rebuilt higher ground to cope with rising water levels after construction of the Three Gorges Dam. The point of coming here was that over on the north bank is Ming Shan, a row of hills …

The Birdsville Races

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I wrote this piece for the book “World Party”, after a weekend at the races in 1993. Looking back, there are no photos of the races themselves, or even a horse. Oh well. Come September, locals flee the dusty desert township of Birdsville, as a six-thousand-strong crowd descends for a weekend of hard drinking – and, if they sober up …

Rams, Cabbages and Murder

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On 17 November, 1874, the Peking Gazette – which published official statements from the Chinese court – made the following announcement: “The Court of Censorate forwards another appeal lodged on behalf of a woman of the Yuhang District in Zhejiang, complaining that her husband has been falsely accused of murdering a man named Ge Pinlian, the accuser being his wife, …

Cicadas, paper horses, and Chinese gods

David Leffman Uncategorized 2 Comments

Here’s some background to my first ebook, “Paper Horses: Woodblock Prints of Chinese Gods from 1930s Beijing”, which you can find via Amazon or Apple Books. In 2020 I bought an album containing seventy-nine “paper horses” (紙馬) – simple woodblock prints of Chinese folk deities – from a dealer in the United States. Each print was numbered with a sticker …

Across Guangxi By Boat

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In March 1879, after spending nearly two years on the road between China and Europe, Mesny left the southern metropolis of Guangzhou to head home to his wife in Guizhou province, a journey of perhaps 1000km. Renting a roomy daobazi (刀把子) or “knife-handle” houseboat, named after the shape of their sterns, Mesny followed the Xi river to Wuzhou before turning …

Cats, Rats, Marriage and Messages

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“The Rats Marrying Off Their Daughter” (老鼠嫁女) was a popular theme for Chinese woodblock prints during the nineteenth century, and different designs were produced by studios all over the country. The title of this one, from Yangjiabu in Shandong province, translates freely as “A misfortunate rat got married in town; The groom was a cat, who swallowed her down”. The …