Rev. Carter D. Holton was an American missionary working in Northwest China from 1923 to 1949. During that time, he documented the cultural life of many ethnic minorities in the Gansu 甘肃 and Qinghai 青海 regions. Known by the Chinese name Hai Yingguang 海映光, Holton and his wife Lora Newberry Holton (or Hai Mude 海慕德) were devoted to missionary work among Muslims in China and they left many primary recordings, including photographs that are digitized here.
The large photo collection left by Holton is not only a historical witness to the social and cultural life of the Tibetan-Gansu region, but also vividly displays interactions among different ethnic groups, including Tibetans, Qiang, Tu, Mongols, Salar, Hui, Dongxiang, Qargan, Bao’an, and Han Chinese. Furthermore, this photo collection provides a comprehensive picture on religious life among Tibetan Lama Buddhism, Han Chinese Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, and other religious dimensions during the Republic period.
The Tibetan-Gansu region is in most central part of inner Asia and is completely isolated from other parts of the world by deserts, mountains, valleys, rivers, and other natural barriers. The photo collection also documents a time that wars, ethnic confrontations, political turmoil, and other various social forces competed against each other, further preventing people from accessing the region. Holton’s photos provide us with rich information about the history of an isolated region.
Dr. Wang Jianping 王建平 from Shanghai Normal University, China, and a former visiting scholar at the Harvard-Yenching Library, has made a comprehensive survey of these photos and has written introductory reports on the collection and the life of Carter D. Holton. The essay and Notes of the Holton’s Photo Collection are available online (linked below). Based on Dr. Wang’s report we also created an online exhibition, which can be accessed below.
-- Feng-en Tu
Fong Fellow for East Asian Digital Scholarship