At some point soon I hope to write up some notes from my experience looking around for photographs for my forthcoming book. Along the way I came across quite a few interesting bits and pieces, things that won’t make it into the book but seemed worth noting here at least. It turns out that the archive of the Royal Geographical Society in London has an excellent collection of photos from Xinjiang, and particularly from the Ili Valley region (catalogue here). These consist mostly of E. Delmar Morgan‘s photos from his trip in 1880, but include some later shots, which I would tentatively attribute to the British journalist and Labour politician M. Philips Price, who detoured into Xinjiang on his first trip through Russia.
In 1880, E. Delmar Morgan was travelling through Ili in the midst of the negotiations between the Qing and Russian Empires for the restitution of territory occupied by Russia in 1871. His photos depict Ili as a desolate region, showing that it still hadn’t recovered from the violence of the anti-Qing rebellion of the 1860s. One of the towns he visited was Samar, or Zharkent as it’s now known, which lies on the right bank of the Ili river. Samar was originally a Qing garrison town, and was more or less razed to the ground during the rebellion. It ended up in Russian territory after the Treaty of Saint Petersburg in 1881, and is now the centre of the Uyghur community of Kazakhstan.
While passing through, Morgan snapped a couple of interesting grave steles, commemorating Qing soldiers (known as bannermen because they were organised into “banners”) who lost their lives during Jahangir Khoja‘s assault on Kashgar in 1826. Both of these bannermen belonged to the Manchu-speaking Sibe, a people who hail from from the north of Manchuria. The transplantation of the Sibe to the Ili valley took place in the 1760s, meaning that these men were probably third or fourth generation migrants. So, the steles commemorate Manchurian colonists, who fought and died to defend Qing-held Kashgar from Muslim rebels, and were buried in what’s now south-east Kazakhstan. They’re an interesting reminder of the scope of Qing imperium, from a part of the world where most such reminders have long been erased. Continue reading