In the spring of 2016 I was doing dissertation research at the Sichuan Provincial Archives when I discovered a trove of letters between meteorological observers and their supervisors during the 1940s. Originally, I had planned to briefly consult the meteorological archives to get a sense of weather patterns in the vicinity of Kangding (or Dartsendo), but the meteorological record was an absolute mess: there was little data, but a lot of correspondence about personnel problems and missing or broken equipment.
I was particularly fascinated with the case of a young man with tuberculosis who joined the weather service in 1938, then suffered miserably from coughing fits during his time in Kangding, and pleaded for months with the Central Meteorological Bureau to be relieved from his position. There were many similar petitions from other personnel, and I realized that I’d found something rare: long, detailed testimonies from Han settlers who were absolutely miserable on the frontier.
I ended up devoting a whole chapter of my dissertation to the Kangding weather service, but it was a poor fit with the rest of the dissertation. Fortunately, I’ve spun it off as an article in a forthcoming special issue of The British Journal for the History of Science on meteorology in Asia. Included are two beautiful, full-color illustrations by artist Luodan Rojas–including the one in this post depicting Kangding during a winter storm in 1943. For now the article available on an open-access basis through Cambridge University Press’ FirstView feature:
“Frontier Atmosphere: Observation and Regret at Chinese Weather Stations in Tibet, 1939-1949.”