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Dying in the Dying-field
Dying in the Dying-field

We have already published the above photo on this blog, just yesterday in fact, way at the end of Buttology 2. But we're reproducing it here, as it is possibly the most haunting photo we have ever posted. It deserves its own entry.

The photo is actually a stereograph, taken by the prolific traveller and photographer James Ricalton during a lengthy trip to China in 1900. Unfortunately, we can't find its twin. Published in China Through the Stereoscope: A Journey Through the Dragon Empire at the Time of the Boxer Uprising, Ricalton describes this “dying-field” and its occupants on page 62 thus:

Dying-places are ordinarily in homes or in hospitals, but this poor fellow has neither a home nor a hospital in which to die. We are here in a vacant space near the river—a sort of common littered with refuse and scavenged by starving dogs. It has been named the Dying-place, because poor, starving, miserable outcasts and homeless sick, homeless poor, homeless misery of every form come here to die. The world scarcely can present a more sad and depressing spectacle than this field of suicides; I say suicides, because many that come here come to voluntarily give up the struggle for existence and to die by sheer will force through a slow starvation. They may be enfeebled by lingering disease; they may be unable to find employment; they may be professional vagrants; they come from different parts of the city and sometimes from the country round about. They are friendless; they are passed unnoticed by a poor and inadequate hospital service; they become utterly discouraged and hopeless and choose to die. Their fellow natives pass and repass without noticing them or thought of bestowing aid or alms, and here it is not expected; they have passed beyond the pale of charity; it is the last ditch; they are here to die, not to receive alms.

A bit later, he directs the reader to another person in this wrenching scene.

This far-gone case of destitution and misery is not the only one in this last retreat of human agony; you see another in the distance, probably a new arrive, as he yet has the strength to sit erect.

Transfixed as we were with the man in the foreground, we hardly noticed at first the other figure in the background. Even the camera seems to have cast him aside.


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