Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mountaineering in China, compiled by The People's Physical Culture Publishing House

Mountaineering in China, compiled by The People's Physical Culture Publishing House, documents for Western audiences in photographs the early successes of the Chinese in their home ranges up to the first ascent of Shishapangma in 1964. Along with the photographs are photo captions and a short text on each of the expeditions, in English. Like Another Ascent of the World's Highest Peak: Qomolangma (about the 1975 Everest expedition) and A Photographic Record of the Mount Jolmo Lungma Scientific Expedition (1966-1968), this book's photos are approximately thirty percent journalism and seventy percent propaganda. However, this earlier book (before the Cultural Revolution) seems more innocuous in its representations than either of the others, tending towards superficial images such as climbers holding a bust of Chairman Mao or a large group of climbers holding a flag on a summit. The book includes images from expeditions to Minya Konka, Amne Machin, Mount Everest, Kongur, Mustagh Ata, and Shishapagma.

Everest gets two chapters, one covering the expedition, and a second covering the final assault. The photos of Base Camp are awe-inspiring, with enormous barracks tents in addition to an even larger mess tent. The crowds of people in the photos are amazing for the time, wearing relatively equal outfits of a mix of decent (windproofs) and frightening (boots) gear. There are a couple of photos of climbers climbing to the North Col taken with a pretty good telephoto lens. Photos on the North Col show their camp to be on the Col proper. Photos unfortunately stop just shy of the Second Step. The final assault chapter tells the standard story of Liu, Wang, Chu, and Gonpa in longer prose than other chapters, namely because the only photos are of the post-ascent celebrations. I'm curious if they were inspired to continue on to the summit through the night more by true ambition (either personal or for the country) or by a fear of returning without success. There's actually a photo showing an assault team, with a caption that says "We'll not come back until we have conquered Mount Jolmo Lungma!" I found the earlier chapter, about the expedition and build up of camps on the mountain, more interesting, simply because I already know the story of the final assault quite well. Also of interest, the mountain has incredibly little snow for their climb. If ever there was an opportunity to happen across climbers and equipment of the past, they would have had it.

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