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The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of West China and Tibet

The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exploration  of West Chi
Erik Mueggler
University of California Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 361 pp., $29.95

The subject of this book is the records of Chinese landscapes by plant explorers in the first half of the last century. In 1906, a Scot, Botanist George Forest, hired villagers as guides into the range of mountains in northwest Yunnan, China. The purpose of Forest’s trip was to collect specimens to add to the lucrative plant trade to Europe and particularly to Britain. Chief guide on this and later expeditions by Forest and later by the Viennese American Joseph Rock was Zhao Chengzhang from the small Chinese village of Nvlvk’ö. The author speculates that Zhao must have had at least a few years of education in one of the public elementary schools. Despite the modicum of formal training, Zhao is considered the person responsible for the paper documentation of their arduous trips into western China and Tibet. The maps that he created report on the spatial experiences they encountered. “The activities explored here transform individual spatial experience into more abstract and comprehensive visions of the earth and the social life in which it involved.” Illustrated with archival photographs and drawings of plants and people, this work provides the reader with a remarkable look into another place and culture in a time gone by.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden