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Past Event

Saturday University: Botanical Exploration of China

Apr 27 2019

Seattle Art Museum

Plestcheeff Auditorium

10 AM – 11:30 AM

The Golden Mountain Gate: Text and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of Southwest China
Erik Mueggler, University of Michigan

This talk examines the scientific collaboration between the Scottish botanist George Forrest and China’s most accomplished botanical explorer of the 20th century, a farmer from northern Yunnan Province named Zhao Chengzhang. For nearly three decades, George Forrest employed Zhao Chengzhang and a team of Naxi-ethnicity men to explore the gigantic mountain ranges of Northwest Yunnan for alpine flowers. Under their guidance, Forrest attempted an unprecedentedly detailed map of correspondences between species and geography over the region. The key to this goal, he thought, would be the “center of origin” of Rhododendron, up beyond the mountains where Yunnan meets Tibet.

The Naxi men had their own highly developed sense of this rugged landscape. When they buried their dead, purified their houses, or healed their kin, they listened to ritualists read manuscripts describing detailed routes taken by ancestors, spirits, and demons. Among these routes was the “road of the dead,” which worked northwest and ascended to the “Golden Mountain Gate.” Forrest believed a “paradise of Rhododendrons” would be found there, a place he longed to reach before his own death.

About the Presenter

Erik Mueggler is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, a cultural anthropologist who works in China with minority peoples of the Yi and Naxi nationalities. His work is on local histories of socialism and reform, histories of natural history, practices of death and dying, and endangered language documentation. His books include The Age of Wild Ghosts: Memory, Violence and Place in Southwest China (University of California Press 2001) and The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of West China and Tibet (University of California Press 2011). He received a MacArthur Fellowship (“genius grant”) in 2002.

Please note: South Hall doors open at 9:30 am.


MAR 16

A Southern Chinese Tradition of Bonsai: The Lingnan School of Penjing

MAR 30

Is a Chinese Garden a Collection?


The Charisma of Wild Mushrooms: Matsutake and the Forest Revitalization Movements in Japan

APR 20

A Forested State: Eucalyptus, Empire and Portuguese Landscapes

APR 27

The Golden Mountain Gate: Text and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of Southwest China



Full series tickets: $53; SAM members $28
SAVE: winter and spring series: $120; SAM members $62
Individual lecture tickets available at the door: $11, SAM members $6; free at the door for students with ID
Please arrive to your seat 10 minutes before the program starts, or your seat may be released.
Photo: Courtesy Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh

The Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are located on the ancestral land of the Coast Salish people.