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Monday, April 24, 2017

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Exhibition features diplomat's photos from rural China

Drawing from more than 1,600 photographs taken in rural China between 1913 and 1917, the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library is hosting an exhibition this semester based on the collection of the American diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray. The display, titled "Capturing China, 1913-1929: Photographs, Films and Letters of Diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray," will be on view from Friday, Oct. 5, through Friday, Jan. 18.

MacMurray (1881-1960), a 1902 Princeton graduate, was secretary to the American Legation in Peking from 1913 to 1917 and served as U.S. ambassador to China from 1925 to 1929.

The opening of the exhibition will be marked with a lecture by University of Pennsylvania historian Arthur Waldron titled "John Van Antwerp MacMurray and Chinese-American Relations, 1914-1935" at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, in 104 Computer Science.

The revolutionary turmoil of the young Chinese republic sharply contrasts with MacMurray's photographs of timeless landscapes, sites and rural scenes taken between 1913 and 1917. Visitors also can view 16 mm films that MacMurray shot in 1928, which include a trip along the Yang Tze river in January and February, as well as various street scenes in Peking and Kalgan. Letters, diaries and other documents from MacMurray's papers provide a context for the photographs and films on display.

The exhibition also documents issues MacMurray addressed during his second stay in Peking while serving as ambassador. Topics include contacts with warlords, the outbreak of the 1927 civil war and disagreements with his superiors at the State Department.
His recommendations to enforce existing treaties rather than make concessions to the Chinese Nationalists alienated him from his superiors and ultimately led to his resignation in 1929.

Also included in the exhibition are photographs and correspondence documenting MacMurray's relationship with I.V. Gillis, the Naval attaché in Peking when MacMurray met him in 1913, whose collections of Chinese books and manuscripts would be the genesis of Princeton's Gest Oriental Library.

The exhibition concludes with a notable memorandum that MacMurray wrote in 1935 concerning the situation in the Far East. Suppressed at the time, but later applauded for its analysis and insight, it was published in 1992 with an introduction by Waldron.

After his resignation from the State Department, MacMurray became director of the Walter Hines Page School of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University. In 1933 he re-entered the foreign service as minister to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and then served as ambassador to Turkey from 1936 to 1942.

The John Van Antwerp MacMurray papers were given to Princeton in 1965 by his children. This spring, his surviving children, Lois Starkey and Frank G. MacMurray (a 1940 Princeton graduate), donated the photographs and films on which much of this exhibition is based.

Hours for the exhibition are 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 7:45 p.m. Wednesday.

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