From Shanghai to Shangri-La: Zhuang Xueben and China's Ethnographic Frontier


Henry Luce Foundation/ ACLS Program in China Studies Postdoctoral Fellowships




"From Shanghai to Shangri-La" focuses on the life and work of Shanghai photographer Zhuang Xueben, whose explorations and photography of the Sino-Tibetan frontiers in the 1930s and 1940s provide one of the broadest and most striking visual records of the region and its diverse peoples. While his ethnographical photographs were widely circulated in different venues across Republican-era print media, they slowly disappeared after 1949, and remained forgotten until Zhuang was rediscovered in the 21st century as a hidden master of Chinese photography. This study explores this lost-and-found story and examines the material and cultural history of Zhuang’s frontier photography. Situating the productions and reproductions of Zhuang’s ethnographic photographs of the Sino-Tibetan frontiers within global and local histories of photography, popular print culture, and ethnography, this book project tracks the diverse paths through which China’s ethnographic frontier was envisioned, constructed, and reimagined at several distinct historical moments.