Bosshard in China 博薩特在中國

Documenting Social Change in the 1930s 記錄一九三零年代的社會變遷

Florian Knothe and Peter Pfrunder 羅諾德、彼得.普夫倫德

ISBN : 978-988-19025-3-5

History Distributed for HKU Museum and Art Gallery 香港大學美術博物館

May 2018

156 pages, 9″ x 10.625″, over 150 b&w illus.

  • HK$200.00

Bosshard in China offers a comprehensive sweep of black and white photographs and documentary films produced by Swiss photojournalist Walter Bosshard. Living and travelling extensively in China from 1933 to 1939, Bosshard was one of the earliest journalists to record this critical decade in Chinese and world history.

Walter Bosshard (1892–1975) was a pioneer in the field of photojournalism. A master of both the word and the photographic eye, he made a name for himself as an adventurer and bridge builder between Asia and Europe, reporting on key political events and daily life. Today, his photographs and films are a rich source of information for understanding global history, specifically the visual memory of China between 1930 and 1950.

Soon after entering the field of international photojournalism, Bosshard was given two dream assignments. In 1930, he spent several months in India reporting on the growing unrest and independence movement. He succeeded in capturing private moments from the daily life of the usually camera-shy Mahatma Gandhi, along with several of his close colleagues. A year later, he scored another resounding success, this time with photographs from an airship headed to the Arctic. Based on these reports, Bosshard became a star attraction. In August 1931, the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung even included his portrait on the front page. The story focused as much on the adventurous photojournalist as on the expedition’s scientific mission.

Walter Bosshard’s first assignment in China was in 1931. In April of that year he travelled to Nanjing in time for the opening of the Chinese National Assembly on the 5th of May. 475 deputies from every Chinese province had gathered in Nanjing, then the capital of China. For his essay in the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, Bosshard succeeded in meeting with notable military and political personalities, including Chiang Kai-shek, his wife Soong Mei-ling, the Panchen Lama and the highly influential ‘Young Marshal’ Zhang Xueliang, who controlled Manchuria and was integral to solidifying forces in the country. Bosshard’s reports from Nanjing were the start of a long and intense engagement with China. Two years later, in 1933, he settled in Beijing, where he lived until 1939.

From a journalistic viewpoint, the most exciting events took place in 1938. Walter Bosshard was one of the few foreign eyewitnesses when Japanese troops marched into Hankou on 26 October 1938. For approximately four months prior to that, he had lived through the almost daily air attacks by the Japanese and observed the city’s agony—a defining experience that he dealt with in an unpublished 247-page novel.

A shorter, but perhaps more crucial episode for his career took place in May 1938, when Walter Bosshard succeeded in visiting the already legendary Mao Zedong in his compound in Yan’an. Agnes Smedley, an American journalist and sympathiser with the Chinese Communists, was able to obtain a letter of recommendation from Zhou Enlai, Mao’s representative in Hankou.

In the years that followed, writing became more important for Bosshard, as photography gradually slipped into the background. During the Second World War he continued to work as a photojournalist, also outside of Asia.