A Brief Essay by Minjie Chen (陈敏捷)
Wrapped in paper and tucked in the protective case of Tong Jian Zong Lei (通鉴总类), a Chinese history book, were four aging black-and-white photographs. With frayed edges and small stained spots, the pictures have nonetheless retained their sharpness, allowing us to see what a skilled photographer had captured through his curious lens one century ago in the hometown of Confucius. Fading handwriting on the back of each photo provided precious clues to their content and provenance.
The history book, compiled by SHEN Shu of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and printed in 1363 during the late Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), is part of the private Scheide Library collection housed in Firestone Library at Princeton University. The photos, according to notes on the back, were taken by a physician named Charles H. Lyon and presented to John Hinsdale Scheide (1875-1942, Princeton class of 1896) by Mrs. Lyon in January 1937.
The first photo is a portrait of a round-faced Chinese man in the official robe and headwear of the Qing Dynasty. If the ink note scratched on the back, “a descendant of Confucius,” is reliable, the subject of the photo is KONG Lingyi (孔令贻, 1872-1919). As a seventy-sixth generation descendant of Confucius in the male line of descent, Kong inherited the title “Duke Confucius” (衍圣公) from his father at age five. The note also indicates that Dr. Lyon, the photographer, is the “physician to the subject.” It is unclear how often Kong had sought Dr. Lyon’s medical expertise, but interacting with Westerners from afar and posing for photographs would not have been out of place for Duke Kong. European ambassadors and colonial administrators had paid visits to the Confucius Temple in Qufu (曲阜), Shandong Province, and had photos taken with the Duke, who lived in the Kong family mansion adjacent to the temple complex, as generations of the sage’s offspring had done. In a photo held at the National Archives in London, a slightly younger-looking Kong is seen with Reginald Johnston (1874-1938), a Scottish colonial officer who had escorted a portrait of King Edward VII to Confucius’s hometown (and who later became famous for having tutored China’s last emperor, Puyi).
What is remarkable about the portrait taken by Dr. Lyon is that it is a half-body shot of the Duke. During the late Qing dynasty, when cameras were still a novelty to the Chinese, it was taboo to photograph less than a full-body shot of a person, because it was deemed bad luck to have the subject missing arms, legs, or other body parts in photos. Was Kong informed of the outcome of his photo, and was he comfortable about it? As a physician, did Dr. Lyon hold any power of persuasion over Kong, assuring him of the harmlessness of a partial-body picture? At any rate, Lyon’s photograph offers a rare close-up view of the second-to-last Duke Confucius in Chinese history.
Three other photos were taken in and outside the Confucius Temple, where ritual ceremonies were performed every year to worship the sage. Photo no. 2 shows an arch named Que li (阙里), which stood outside the east wall of the temple. Confucius was believed to have started his teaching career in this neighborhood, hence the location of the temple. Photo no. 3 is a front view of the statue of Confucius in Da cheng dian (大成殿, meaning “the Hall of Great Achievements”), which was the architectural center of the temple complex. The statue was inaugurated in 1730 (the eighth year in the reign of Emperor Yongzheng), replacing an earlier one destroyed in a fire in 1724. The fourth photo focuses on the porch of the hall, which is guarded by limestone pillars carved with dragons riding clouds.
Lyon would never know that he had captured the image of vanishing cultural relics. In 1966, twenty years after Lyon died at age 72 in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution broke out in China, followed closely by the “Destruction of Four Olds” campaign. Confucius’s legacy was a prime target among the “old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits” to be condemned and eradicated from Chinese society, ostensibly to make room for a brand new world. Hundreds of Red Guards swept into the temple, mansion, and cemetery of Confucius in November 1966, smashing up statues, stone tablets, monuments, and numerous other antiquities. The tombs of Confucius and KONG Lingyi, who died in 1919—one year after Dr. Lyon left China—were both leveled. The Hall of Great Achievements was stripped of statues of Confucius and sixteen of his most famed followers, except for a broken head left among the ruins. The Internet is not short of violent images showing Red Guards in fervent action in Qufu. Online photos revealed that, before being reduced to debris, the 236-year-old statue of Confucius had been disfigured and disgraced by the “revolutionists” who had plastered strips of paper with blasphemous slogans all over it.
With the same determined pursuit for visual clarity with which he had taken Duke Kong’s portrait, Lyon had positioned his lens straight in front of the sage’s statue, taking in the exquisite latticed boards and a pair of lively-looking dragons about to untangle their bodies from the columns. Lyon’s photo is not the only one of the Confucius statue that was no more. However, compared with what we have found in print and digitized resources, his shot is clearly the one that best allows us a belated gaze into the (now ruined) entire shrine from a satisfactory angle.
MAO Zedong’s death in 1976 brought about the end of the Cultural Revolution. In spring 1983, barely five years after DENG Xiaoping had assumed leadership of China and introduced reforms, the government allocated 480,000 RMB (roughly equivalent to 560,000 USD today) for restoring all seventeen statues in the Hall of Great Achievements. Striving for faithful replication in shape, size, and detail, sculptors started their extensive preparation work by collecting information from written records, images, videos, and oral interviews with local residents. (Regretfully, the project team was not aware of Lyon’s superb shot.)
According to the restoration team, the only deliberate point of departure from the original statue was the sage’s facial expression. Launched in 1984, the new statue of Confucius gently smiles down at his worshippers. Local residents were reportedly happy with the reinstated, amicable-looking Confucius, commenting that they used to find his old statue “really scary” (Gong and Wang 62). Such a hearty welcome almost made the silver lining of the massive loss from the “Four Olds” campaign. However, with the aid of Lyon’s photo record, might the jury still be out on whether the old statue truly presented a forbidding expression?
We do not know much about Dr. Lyon and his family or about the couple’s relationship with John H. Scheide. Lyon was born in China to a missionary family possibly from Wooster, Ohio. He graduated with an M.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1898, and, as a member of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, went to the Philippine Islands in 1900. By 1902 he had become a medical missionary in Jining (济宁), Shandong Province, working as the chief physician of the Rose Bachman Memorial Hospital for Men, which was operated by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the USA. More than a century later, that hospital, now called the Jining First People’s Hospital, is still in business (and accepting patients of both genders). Lyon married Edna P. van Schoick in Shanghai on Dec. 19, 1902. The two met when Lyon visited Edna’s father, Dr. Isaac Lanning van Schoick, who had returned from a mission in China to his home in Hightstown, New Jersey (“Going to China” 9). Indeed, one of the places in which Dr. Van Schoick had been stationed was Jining, to which Edna was perhaps no stranger.
Lyon’s hospital was approximately 35 miles west of Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius. An excursion to Qufu on the back of a horse or donkey along the rural mud road could take several uncomfortable hours, longer if by sedan chair. With a healthy dose of curiosity and determination and the cool-headedness of a physician, Lyon helped preserve the image of what would be demolished by unprecedented political fervor.
One might question the appropriateness of a missionary visiting the temple of Confucius, who, after all, had been treated as a demigod in China. At a formal level, Western missionaries had studied the compatibility and divergence of Confucianism and Christianity, seeking understandings that would, they hoped, aid their evangelical work with the Chinese. On a personal level, anecdotal stories and individual cases suggest that missionaries might have considered the philosophy of Confucius with varying degrees of open-mindedness. Some may even have been influenced by long-term exposure to the ideas of the very people whom they had traveled across the ocean to convert. An especially “quirky” missionary of such a kind can be found in the film The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). Father Francis Chisholm (played by Gregory Peck) returns to his Scottish hometown church after having served the greater half of his life in China. He is heard giving sermons like “The good Christian is a good man, but I have found that the Confucianist usually has a better sense of humor.”
The digitized photos and their catalog record can be found by searching “Temple of Confucius in Qufu” (call number 3.1.19) in the library catalog.
We would like to thank the University of Pennsylvania Archives and the Philadelphia Free Library for offering generous and timely assistance in locating Charles H. Lyon’s biographical information for us. The East Asian Library of Princeton University kindly created a detailed bibliographical description of the photos.
1724: A lightning strike sparks a fire in the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong Province, destroying the statue of Confucius.
1730: The temple is restored after a five-year reconstruction project.
1872: KONG Lingyi, a seventy-sixth generation descendant of Confucius, is born in Qufu.
ca. 1874: Charles Hodge Lyon is born into a missionary family in China.
1877: As the first-born son of his family, Kong inherits the title “Duke Confucius.”
1898: Lyon graduates from the University of Pennsylvania with an M.D. degree.
ca. 1902: Lyon becomes a medical missionary in Tsining-Chou, China (now Jining of Shandong Province in northern China), serving as a physician at the Rose Bachman Memorial Hospital for Men.
1902: Lyon and Edna P. van Schoick are married in Shanghai on December 19.
1918: Lyon returns to the United States.
1919: Duke Kong dies in Beijing at age 47.
1937: Mrs. Lyon presents the photos taken by Dr. Lyon to John H. Scheide (Princeton class of 1896) on January 19.
1946: Lyon dies in Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
1966: Red Guards attack the Confucius temple, mansion, and cemetery, and destroy numerous antiquities, the statue of Confucius among them.
1983: The government funds the recovery of the Hall of Great Achievements, aiming for a faithful replication of the statues built in 1730.
1984: By August, all seventeen statues have been restored. The inauguration ceremony is held on September 22, speculated to be the 2,535th anniversary of the birth of Confucius.
“Charles Hodge Lyon.” Journal of the American Medical Association 131.6 (1946): 547. Web.
“Dr. C.H. Lyon Dies at Age of 72.” Philadelphia Inquirer Apr. 21, 1946: 10. Print.
Gao, Wen, and Xiaoping Fan. Zhongguo Kong Miao [Confucius temples in China]. Chengdu Shi: Chengdu chu ban she, 1994. Print.
“Going to China to Become a Bride.” The New York Times Oct. 25, 1902: 9. Web.
Gong, Yanxing, and Zhengyu Wang. Kong Miao Zhu Shen Kao [Deities in the Confucius Temple]. Jinan: Shandong you yi chu ban she, 1994. Print.
Kong, Fanyin. Yan Sheng Gong Fu Jian Wen [A history of the mansion of Duke Confucius]. Jinan: Qi Lu shu she, 1992. Print.
Pan, Guxi, et al. Qufu Kong Miao Jian Zhu [Architecture of the Confucius Temple in Qufu]. Beijing: Zhongguo jian zhu gong ye chu ban she, 1987. Print.
“Rose Bachman Memorial Hospital for Men.” Western Medicine in China, 1800-1950. Web. Apr. 19, 2013. <http://www.ulib.iupui.edu/wmicproject/node/336>.
Shandong Sheng wen wu guan li chu, and Zhongguo guo ji lü xing she Jinan fen she. Qufu Ming Sheng Gu Ji [Places of historical interest in Qufu]. Shandong ren min chu ban she, 1958. Print.
The Keys of the Kingdom. Dir. John M. Stahl. 1944. Film.