Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Paper Gatherer

An unexpectedly long and unavoidable absence from posting is now colliding with the start of an expected absence. I plan to return to posting in early July. In the meantime, I’ll sign off with this small item, which caught my attention after I’d read a scene in Victor Segalen’s novel René Leys in which a gentleman in the streets of early 20th century Peking extracts a piece of paper from a pile of horse dung:

From Genthe’s Photographs of San Francisco’s Old Chinatown, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 1984, p. 66:

Plate 52. “The Paper Gatherer.” The Wenhuashe, or “Society of the Splendors of Literature,” hired this man to collect any refuse paper with writing on it. It was considered a crime for any paper with writing on it to be tossed away. This attitude reflected a deep cultural respect for literature and learning. The paper gatherer picked up scraps from the streets and sidewalks, and stopped at deposit boxes located throughout Chinatown. He would bring the paper to special incinerators, and the ashes would be sent on boats to be tossed into the ocean outside the Golden Gate… The practice ended shortly after the earthquake. 

Back in two or three weeks – best wishes to all.