Photograph, black and white silver gelatin print, 'Funeral procession at the foot of Zhengyang Gate Watchtower', by Hedda Morrison, Peking, China, 1933-1946
The mourners pass the Zhengyang Gate watch tower. All along the path of the funeral procession - through the city gates, along streets, past temples and bridges - symbolic paper money was scattered to ensure prosperity in the afterlife. This custom began in the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Morrison captures the moment when the discs of symbolic paper money, important for the afterlife, have been thrown into the air. The figure in the lower-right foreground is visually counterbalanced by the procession, and the arcs of the tram tracks contrast with the strong geometric lines of the gate.
The Zhengyang Gate (Straight Towards the Sun Gate) Watchtower, also known as the Qianmen (Front Gate) was the central and most important gate of the Tartar or Inner City and lay on the central north-south axis of the Imperial City. It was orginally built in the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle, completed in 1419 and renamed Zhang Yangmen. The original structure had an outer enceinte and four gates. The outer gate was only opened for the emperor when he travelled to the temples of Heaven and Agriculture to worship. Prior to 1900 the inner gate was closed each evening at dusk with the sound of a gong struck from outside the guard room.
The watchtowers were burnt down during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion but later rebuilt. In 1916 the outer enceinte was dismantled and the gate modified to accommodate the increase in traffic in the inner city (Arlington, LC & Lewisohn, W. 'In search of Old Peking', pp. 211-213).
This is one of a large number of photographs that were taken by Hedda Morrison (1908-1991) during her years of residence in Peking (Beijing), China 1933-1946.
Exhibited in 'An Asian experience: 1933-67', organised by the Asian Studies Association of Australia, Fisher Library Foyer, University of Sydney, 12-30 May 1986.
Reproduced in Hedda Morrison, 'A photographer in Old Peking', Hong Kong, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 115, with the caption: 'White was the colour of mourning, worn by both members of the family and by funeral functionaries here throwing paper money into the air to appease the spirits. Paper money was also burned as it was believed that in the hereafter it would be miraculously converted into real currency'.