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|Joseph Francis Charles Rock|
|Died||1962 (aged 77–78)
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
|Citizenship||naturalized American (May 1913)|
|Nationality||Austrian (by birth)|
|Alma mater||Vienna Schotten Gymnasium and Universität Wien.|
|Other academic advisors||none|
|Author abbrev. (botany)||Rock|
If Joseph Rock were to apply today for employment in the several positions (Botanist, Professor.Linguist, or Plant Explorer) which he held, he would be rejected immediately because he did not have any qualifications for the post. He had no degrees, and only had about two years of college. (He received an honorary degree in the year that he died from the University of Hawaii).
He was born in Vienna, Austria, went to Egypt at the age of 10 with his father, and later wandered abut in Europe. But on an impulse, he emigrated to the United States in 1905 (New York) and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1907, where he eventually became an authority on the flora there. He first taught full-time (there were two others) at Mills College (now known as Mid-Pacific Institute), and was placed on leave in Sept. 1908 for health reasons (he needed to be out-of-doors). As the Territory of Hawaii's first official botanist, he joined the faculty of the College of Hawaii; the name was changed in 1920 to become the University of Hawaii in 1911, established its first herbarium, and served as its first curator from 1911 until 1920, when he left the college to spend the next few decades exploring the botany of Asia.
He began by hunting the Chaulmoogra tree in Burma, Thailand and Assam. From 1922 to 1949 he spent most of his time studying the flora, peoples and languages of southwest China, mainly in Yunnan, Sichuan, southwest Gansu and eastern Tibet. Many Asian plants that he collected can be seen in the Arnold Arboretum.
He was based near Lijiang in the village of Nguluko (Yuhu), and wrote many articles for the National Geographic magazine (see "Works and memory" below) about his expeditions to places such as Muli, Minya Konka (Gongga Shan), the three sacred peaks of Shenrezig, Jambeyang and Chanadorje in what is now known as Yading Nature Reserve, and the Salween (Nujiang) river. These articles brought him modest fame, and were said to have inspired the novel Lost Horizon, by James Hilton, about a fictional remote Himalayan community known as Shangri-La.
During the Ngolok rebellions (1917-1949) Rock witnessed repeated battles by the Ma Clique's Chinese Muslim army against the Ngolok Tibetans in Xiahe County and Labrang Monastery. The Ma Muslim army left Tibetan skeletons scattered over a wide area, and the Labrang monastery was decorated with decapitated Tibetan heads. After the 1929 battle of Xiahe near Labrang, decapitated Tibetan heads were used as ornaments by Chinese Muslim troops in their camp, 154 in total. Rock described "young girls and children"'s heads staked around the military encampment. Ten to fifteen heads were fastened to the saddle of every Muslim cavalryman. The heads were "strung about the walls of the Moslem garrison like a garland of flowers."
Rock was cherished for his eccentricities, as well as his knowledge of botany and of ethnic minorities. He always travelled with a complete set of silverware, which was laid out for him at mealtimes. He also travelled with an canvas bathtub, which his servants filled with hot water so that he could enjoy that most European of luxuries: a good soak in the bath.
As a botanist, he had been preceded to Yunnan, one of the most interesting botanical hotspots in the world, by other, more accomplished botanists, in particular Jean Marie Delavay, George Forrest and Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti, another Austrian, all of whom discovered and scientifically described many more plants than Rock did. Nevertheless, Rock's contributions to botanical knowledge were significant.
In 1949, shortly after the communist takeover, Rock had to leave Lijiang, centre of the Nakhi country, on a chartered plane together with the traveller and author Peter Goullart. They then had to leave China. He then returned to Honolulu where he died in 1962.
Plants named after him
The spectacular Rock's Peony Paeonia rockii is named after Rock.
Rock produced a 1,094-page dictionary, numerous scholarly papers, and two histories of the Nakhi (Naxi) people and language of northwestern Yunnan, which have been widely used for the study of Nakhi culture, language and religion. These books are out-of-print and, consequently, command very high prices in the rare book markets.
The most important of his written works are:
- The Ancient Nakhi Kingdom of Southwest China. 2 vols., illustrated. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1948.
- A Nakhi-English encyclopedic dictionary. Rome: I.M.E.O., 1963.
- His National Geographic magazine articles:
- "Hunting the Chaulmoogra tree" (1922) 3:242-276 (Also published separately).
- "Banishing the Devil of Disease Among the Nashi: Weird Ceremonies Performed by an Aboriginal Tribe in the Heart of Yunnan Province" (1924) 46:473-499
- "Land of the Yellow Lama: National Geographic Society Explorer Visits the Strange Kingdom of Muli, Beyond the Likiang Snow Range of Yunnan, China" (1924) 47: 447-491
- "Experiences of a Lone Geographer: An American Agricultural Explorer Makes His Way through Brigand-Infested Central China En Route to the Amne Machin Range, Tibet" (1925) 48: 331-347
- "Through the Great River Trenches of Asia: National Geographic Society Explorer Follows the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salwin Through Mighty Gorges" (1926) 50: 133-186
- "Life among the Lamas of Choni: Describing the Mystery Plays and Butter Festival in the Monastery of an Almost Unknown Tibetan Principality in Kansu Province, China" (1928): 569-619
- "Seeking the Mountains of Mystery: An Expedition on the China-Tibet Frontier to the Unexplored Amnyi Machen range, One of Whole Peaks Rivals Everest" (1930) 57:131-185
- "Glories of the Minya Konka: Magnificent Snow Peaks of the China-Tibetan Border are Photographed at Close Range by a National Geographic Society Expedition" (1930) 58:385-437
- "Konka Risumgongba, Holy Mountain of the Outlaws" (1931) 60:1-65
- "Sungmas, the Living Oracles of the Tibetan Church" (1935) 68:475-486.
- Gongga Shan, a mountain in Sichuan which (due to poor measuring equipment) Rock erroneously thought for a time to be the highest in the world.
Chock, Alvin K. 1963. "J. F. Rock, 1894-1962." Taxon 12(3):89-102.
- Michael Aris (1992) "Lamas, Princes, and Brigands. Joseph Rock's Photographs of the Tibetan Borderlands of China", China Institute in America, New York City
- Sutton, S.B. (1974) "In China's Border Provinces: The Turbulent Career of Joseph Rock, Botanist Explorer", New York
- Gore, R. (1997) "Joseph Rock (1922-1935): Our Man in China" National Geographic Magazine 191: 62-81
- Goodman, Jim (Caravan Press 2006) "Joseph F. Rock and His Shangri-La"
- Frain, Irène (Fayard 2006) "Au Royaume des Femmes", isbn 978-2213622590, notice bnf 40999356
- Frain, Irène (Maren Sell 2007) "A la recherche du Royaume", isbn 978-2-35004-070-7, notice bnf 41008902
- Film: "A King in China" - A People and Places Production © 2003, Paul Harris (director)
- "Botanist, famed explorer honored at UH Manoa: Herbarium to carry name of Joseph F. Rock". 2009-03-06. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- National Geographic, March 1922
- Dean King (2010). Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival (illustrated ed.). Hachette Digital, Inc. ISBN 0-316-16708-8. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
- Paul Hattaway (2004). Peoples of the Buddhist world: a Christian prayer diary. William Carey Library. p. 4. ISBN 0-87808-361-8. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- Gary Geddes (2008). Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things: An Impossible Journey from Kabul to Chiapas (illustrated ed.). Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 175. ISBN 1-4027-5344-6. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- "Biographical Records of the Royal Mu Family". World Digital Library. 1931. Retrieved 2013-06-20.
- "Author Query for 'Rock'". International Plant Names Index.
- Rock's contribution to the study of the Naxi language
- In the footsteps of Joseph Rock: a photoblog
- Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation: Joseph Rock
- Joseph Rock's photos
- Joseph Rock's photographs of China
- Book review
- Joseph Francis Rock Collection at the Smithsonian Institution Archives