ML 137998

AudioDateDownLeftRightUpCloseReportGallerySettingsGiftLanguageGridListMapMenuPhotoPlayPlusSearchStarUserVideo

Interview :04 - 22:46 Play :04 - More
Audio »
More
Video »
Browse
species »
Mike Edwards  

Age/Sex
Identification
Solicitation
Behavior
Note

 

100%

 

 

 

Joseph Rock  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
4 Jan 1999

No locations found with lat/long
    Channels
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Recorders
    Microphones
    Accessories
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Dual-Channel Mono

National Geographic Century
Radio Expeditions
Don Smith/ Mike Edwards

DS
00:00:27 Identify yourself.00:00:30

ME
00:00:31 My name is Mike Edwards. I¿m a writer for National Geographic. I¿ve worked there for thirty years.

DS
00:00:37 And you recently wrote a story about Joseph Rock. That¿s kind of unusual isn¿t it a magazine publishing a story about one of it¿s own writers? 00:00:45

ME
00:00:46 We¿ve done a little bit of that as we get toward the millennium just looking back on some of the people who really made a big contribution to the Geographic and Rock is one of those people.

DS
00:00:57 He was important to the Geographic I guess.00:00:59

ME
00:00:59 Well Rock worked basically from 1920 to until 1949 in South Western China. He was an explorer. He was an adventurer. He was a scientist. He brought back really fascinating articles and sensational pictures of life in a very remote part of China that had never been developed. There were no paved roads. There were no automobiles. He did all his travels by horseback, big caravans.

DS
00:01:35 He was kind of an interesting looking person.00:01:44

ME
00:01:45 Rock was not a big man. He was about five feet seven but he liked to dress up in local costumes and ya know, huge fur hats and silk robes that he found in that area and it was almost in a sense, going native.

DS
00:02:06 He traveled in style.00:02:07

ME
00:02:08 Rock traveled in grand style. He traveled virtually in caravans because the mountains that he was passing through were infested with bandits and highway robbers and so forth. His caravan would be maybe fifteen or twenty horses and mules. He would be riding a horse um, and fifteen or twenty hired workers, servants, mule skinners and maybe a hundred or even two hundred local militia that he would hire just for protection so that he would be surrounded by this huge band of armed men. He did travel in style. He took a battery powered phonograph with him and he would play opera records when he got to some monastery. He would play opera for the monks. La Boheme, (?). He carried a portable bathtub. It was rubber, collapsible bathtub that he got from Abercrombie and Fitch and table linen, silver. He was probably the only man in that province who ate with a knife and fork but he insisted on being very proper about his camp.

DS
00:03:22 You¿re trying to find that bathtub.00:03:24

ME
00:03:25 Tried to find the bathtub, the problems that we ran into was that in the village that he lived, people don¿t know what a bathtub is it was very hard to explain what we were looking for.

DS
00:03:42 Go back and talk about who he was. Where did he come from? 00:03:48

ME
00:03:49 Rock was born in Austria. He was the son of a servant actually to a Polish count and he bumped around in the world a little bit, ended up in the United States, became an American citizen. Ended up actually in Hawaii and Rock was an amazingly self taught, versatile man. Something that he learned in Hawaii was botany and that was his ticket to China and to Burma, Laos, his first trip. He was looking for a tree called the ¿ (laughter aside).. Rock was looking for the Chula Mogra tree. It was believed that an extract from the nut of that tree was good for curing leprosy. And the US Department of Agriculture wanted seeds to plant in Louisiana to see if was might grow that tree. And that was his ticket, botany, plant collecting, and then in 1921 he shows up at the Geographic and there¿s a little note in the Geographic¿s archives there from Gilbert Grovenor who was editor then which says Mr. Joseph Rock called here today regarding an article about hunting the Chula Mogra plant. Rock had brought a manuscript and some photos that the Geographic ended up buying and after that,¿ after that Dr. Grovenor wanted to send Rock back to China and did and we called him the leader of the National Geographic¿s expedition in Hunan Province, southwest China and Rock basically stayed there from 1922 up until 1949.

DS
00:05:45 He must have had some interesting expense accounts.00:05:47

ME
00:05:48 Rock had some wonderful expense accounts, not only because he was hiring these local militia guys with guns to protect him when he was on his expeditions but when he was in a city he would put on his white shirt and suit and tie and he would hire local bearers with a sedan chair. So if he were calling on the local monarch or what not he wanted to go in style. His expense account would show sometimes for fours bearers and sedan chair, 2 dollars, that he had spent that day for his transportation.

DS
00:06:28 They don¿t have expense accounts like that anymore do they?00:06:30

ME
00:06:32 Not much, no.

DS
00:06:33 He went about armed.00:06:35

ME
00:06:36 Rock carried forty-five pistols with him. This part of China that he was in was virtually lawless. It was small kingdoms, there was no control from Beijing of this part of China. It was infested with bandits, caravan robbers and Rock carried forty-five pistols with him. When he got into some little community where he wanted to be able to move around without problems he might make a present to the local potentate of a forty-five caliber pistol. This was a US Army 45. There¿s an interesting episode in Rock¿s diary where he describes being in a village where he knows that bandits are going to attack and he¿s living in a monastery and he¿s probably going to have to make a run for it. He packs up chocolate and long underwear and some condensed milk and his two forty-fives. He¿s prepared to shoot his way out if he has to. Nothing came out of that episode but that was the sort of man that he was and that was the sort of place that he was operating in.

DS
00:07:52 He was in fact, attacked a few times.00:07:54

ME
00:07:55 He was attacked.. at least two running battles where his caravan was attacked on the trail. At least one maybe more of his escorts were killed.

(Asides from Jessica)

DS
00:08:56 Rock didn¿t try to blend in at all.00:09:01

ME
00:09:02 No, Rock was, Rock enjoyed dressing up like the locals but he was a very different person. He had a short temper. There¿s an incident that he describes in his diary when a Chinese man comes into his, comes into the room where Rock is and sits down without being invited to sit down and Rock grabs him by the scruff of the neck and throws him out the door. Rock was that sort of person. He was imperiast, demanding. The people who lived in the village where he was, the people that I visited a couple of years ago still remember Rock and they remember his short temper. He would explode and his diary is full of local references to the inadequacies of the local people, everybody. He hated the Chinese. He hated the Nashi minority people who were basically his employees and he hated missionaries. He fell out with everybody. Rock was very much a loner and a difficult man to get along with.

DS
00:10:10 He didn¿t have many friends.00:10:11

ME
00:10:12 Well, he had a few. He did have a few friends among local people. I think, my feeling is after talking with some of the people that remember him is that they excused his temper. They understood that he would cool off after a little while. Also, they thought of Rock as sort of the local physician. When somebody was sick in that village they inevitably came to Rock and he might have some medicine, he might not but there¿s still stories there that he cured my grandmother, that sort of thing. And he gave these people things that were important to him. Some of the things that are still in the village, ya know Rock left in 1949 but if you find the local dentist, whose not the local dentist he¿s just a trained character. He still had a pair of pliers that Rock left, for pulling teeth. Rock did these simple small things for these people and they meant a lot to these people and they meant a lot to his helpers.

DS
00:11:16 He did a lot for the Nashi people.00:11:18

ME
00:11:19 Rock was self trained. He got there as a botanist but he was living among people who are called the Nashi. It¿s a small minority, maybe today it¿s 300,000 people in Hunan Province and they had a very interesting religion which he recorded. They also had a writing system, a kind of a pictograph system and nobody had ever documented that. Rock ended up writing not only a history, a huge history of the Nashi people but he also wrote a dictionary which has something like 1,100 pages and that¿s his great legacy
to these people and he¿s remembered in China today very much so for these contributions.

DS
00:12:11 Let¿s talk about the National Geographic stories.00:12:16

ME
00:12:18 Rock was a pompous writer. He once thought that he should be allowed to fill up an entire issue of the magazine, one whole. He thought that he could write a whole issue on China and he sent back manuscripts that were just enormous and long discourses into Chinese history which had nothing to do with the subject at hand which might be Shemenistic practices by the Nashi people or a trip to some mountain range. And it just drove the editors mad in Washington to try to deal with these manuscripts and as he got edited, the more he got edited, the angrier Rock got. So it was a very difficult kind of stand-off situation.

DS
00:13:05 He was a fairly decent photographer.00:13:07

ME
00:13:08 One of the things that is really to Rock¿s credit is that he was not only a decent photographer but he worked in color. He did the first pictures of this part of China in color and he was not using little rolls of 35mm film. He was using 5x7 glass plates. This is what was called the autochrome process. It was a primitive color system. These plates had to be shipped to him from the United States. Somehow they would get there most of them intact, some of them broken. He would expose them. It was a terrible system. The best exposure you could have was about one second in bright daylight and if he was photographing people they would have to be dead still. Rock also processed his film and under the most ghastly conditions you could think of, putting a ten up under some trees and trying to heat the chemicals up to 65 degrees F using wood or cow dung or whatever for fuel, trying to keep the temperature constant. He would have an assistant who was shooing away flies so they wouldn¿t light on the emulsion and yet he produced remarkable pictures, pictures of mountain ranges that no one in the west had ever seen. Ya know, mountains 25,000 ft. high. Wild bizarre dances in temples where people are wearing skeleton masks and so forth. It was just sensational photography and the Geographic still has about 600 of his photographs that came back from this time in China.

DS
00:14:57 You said he was difficult to get along with. Did he have any romances? 00:15:07

ME
00:15:08 Good question., good question. He was loner, he was never married. He may have had friends, lady friends outside of China, we really don¿t know. He would leave China every couple of years and live it up in a big way in Austria or maybe he would go to Harvard. And be entertained at Harvard and tell his wonderful stories there. But he was a loner and in his diary, we have most of his diary, he is so lonely at times. There¿s an entry in 1937 and it¿s New Year¿s and he¿s all alone and he¿s playing his opera records and he¿s weeping because he¿s so lonely and that¿s Rock all the way through his experience in China, he¿s a loner.

DS
00:16:00 Rock wasn¿t too impressed when he returned to the United States.00:16:06

ME
00:16:07 Well, it¿s interesting, even in the 1920¿s he comes back to Washington and the traffic just, he thinks the traffic is terrible. No telling what he would think if he were here today. He would walk down the hall and there was a very sympathetic picture editor at the Geographic and he would walk down the hall and talk to him and he would talk ¿I just can¿t wait to get back to Hunan Province. Get me away from this.¿ And so inevitably he would go back and start on one of his great expeditions again.

DS
00:16:37And when he got back he¿d realize why he didn¿t like the place in the first place I guess.00:16:41

ME
0016:44 There¿s a kind of a culture shock thing that works with people like Rock, being alone and having very high standards and being very demanded, being demanding and the consequence of that is that you just get mad at everybody and Geographic writers and photographers experience that when they¿re out for a couple of weeks or maybe six months but Rock was there for years so you can imagine what his diary said about some of the people that he lived with.

DS
00:17:14 Chote Chaba, he wasn¿t impressed with him.00:17:21

ME
00:17:22 Well, I think that he was intrigued by Chote Chabba because this man was so naïve. This is the monarch of a little kingdom of Mule tucked away in the mountains that kingdom had existed for hundreds of years pretty much independent of China and Chote Chabba was an enormous man. He was about 6 ft. 2 and a great big fat fella. He would ask Rock questions like ¿Where is the United States, is that near Germany?¿ and ¿You have your binoculars, can you see through mountains with those binoculars?¿ and this man was just wonderfully naïve and Rock records that the food was terrible when he was visiting Chote Chabba, that the cakes were like rocks and the cheese was full of goat hair but he looks around and notices that the dishes are either of very fine porcelain or, the cups, the cups were gold and he was very impressed I think with that aspect of Chote Chabba.

DS
00:18:24 During the revolution he didn¿t care for the Communists did he?00:18:32

ME
00:18:33 He didn¿t like the Communists, he didn¿t like Chiang Chi Shek. It was a pox on both your houses kind of situation. He thought that Chiang was ineffectual and he thought that Communism would be a terrible the regime would be terrible. He finally left after 1949. Inevitably he would have had to leave unless he took Chinese citizenship or something and Rock was not about to do that. He goes back to Hawaii and is sort of a gentleman botanist there and spends the rest of his life, he died in 1962, spends the rest of his days collecting plants in Hawaii, doing some work for the museum there.

DS
00:19:18 Will we ever see his likes again?00:19:20

ME
00:19:21 That¿s hard to say. I think that Rock was very much one of a kind but the one thing that Rock had was tenacity ya know the willingness to go on these huge horseback expeditions and travel a 1000 miles in China and spend a year at it. The Geographic would not pay for that today¿(asides) It¿s hard to imagine that any organization would pay for any trip like that today, for that sort of long term exposure to a place. So maybe there will be some Joseph Rocks but not likely.

DS
00:20:12 You¿ve traveled quite a bit for the NGS. What¿s next?

ME
(Summarized) Well I¿m working on Marco Polo, another traveler. Follow Marco Polo¿s route. Spent 6 wks in China following Marco Polo. Going to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

(00:22:47)

Close Title