Through Shên-kan. The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China 1908-9 - Robert S. Clark, Arthur De Carle Sowerby 1912 - T. Fisher Unwin, London - First Edition An exceptional and mostly unopened example of this celebrated and profusely illustrated account of Robert Sterling Clark’s thirteen month expedition across China’s northern frontier, covering nearly 2,000 miles of largely uncharted territory, primarily on mule and horseback. Beginning in Taiyuan in Shanxi province, Clark and his team, which included the young naturalist Arthur de Carle Sowerby, traversed “Shên-kan” (the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu), with the intention of creating a detailed topographical map of the expedition route, study the animals native to the region, and collect meteorological and geological data.

With over sixty-five photographic plates, six tipped-in colour plates, a map of the region outlined in colour, and a large folding map (96 x 51.5 cm) housed in a pocket at the rear.
  References: The Clark ( Czech, Asian Big Game Hunting Books 48. Cordier, Bibliotheca Sinica, 4041.

Large octavo (book size 26 x 20.5 cm) pp. [2] iii [1] 7-8, 247 [1]. In publisher’s yellow-orange cloth, spine lettered in black, front panel with vignette of horse and lettering in black, top edge trimmed others untrimmed.


A description of the exhibition held in 2012 by the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, to mark the centennial of the publication of ‘
Through Shên-kan’

Before he was an art collector, Sterling Clark was an explorer and adventurer. In 1908–9 he led an expedition across China’s northern frontier, covering nearly 2,000 miles of largely uncharted territory, primarily on mule and horseback. Beginning in Taiyuan in Shanxi province, Clark and his team, which included the young naturalist Arthur de Carle Sowerby, traversed “Shên-kan” (the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu). Over the course of the yearlong trek, they collected wildlife specimens and compiled scientific data of lasting interest and significance.

Three years later, Clark and Sowerby published
Through Shên-kan: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908–9. Part travelogue and part scientific record, the book greatly expanded Western knowledge of the terrain, climate, ecology, and culture of northern China. This exhibition marks the centennial of the publication of Through Shên-kan, bringing together equipment, records, and specimens from the journey and underscoring the impact and reach of the Clark expedition.

After graduating from Yale with a degree in engineering, Sterling Clark (1877–1956) was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Ninth Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. He served in the Philippines for six months before being mobilized to China in the summer of 1900 as part of the China Relief Expedition, an international force protecting Western interests threatened by the Boxer Rebellion—the militant Chinese nationalist movement opposed to the strong influence of Western powers and Japan. He fought in that conflict’s major engagement, the Battle of Tientsin [Tianjin], participated in the rescue of the foreign settlement in that city, and led his company as part of the official guard of the American-controlled zone in Beijing.

Clark spent nearly half his army service in China and the remainder at the War Department in Washington, D.C., where he researched and analyzed the military capabilities of the great world powers. While in the United States between his two tours of duty in China, Clark spent time reading accounts of other expeditions in Asia, seeking out a copy of William Woodville Rockhill’s
Diary of a Journey through Mongolia and Thibet in 1891 and 1892 and E. Huc’s Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China: During the Years 1844–1846. Clark’s army years provided his first exposure to Asia, and the experiences and knowledge that he gained there inspired his decision to mount his expedition to China.

Sterling Clark may have begun planning for the expedition while he was still an army officer, but his efforts accelerated in 1905 and 1906, when he purchased field equipment (principally in London) and began depositing funds for the journey in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. By autumn 1907, he had begun assembling an international team to join him on the trek. In Paris, he engaged Nathaniel Cobb, a college friend of Clark’s younger brother Stephen, as expedition artist. In India, he hired Hazrat Ali, a fifteen-year veteran of the Royal Survey of India. Three Britons joined the team in China: Captain H. E. M. Douglas of the Royal Army Medical Corps as the team’s physician, meteorologist, and entomologist; G. A. Grant as translator and general manager; and Arthur de Carle Sowerby as naturalist. Their intention was to create a detailed topographical map of the expedition route, study the animals native to the region, and collect meteorological and geological data.

The expedition initially set up camp on the outskirts of the city of Taiyuan in the spring of 1908. The expedition leaders established a baseline, the principal point of reference for the survey, and assembled a team of attendants and pack animals for the trek. Over the next nine months the team traversed the western mountains of Shanxi, forded the Yellow River, and followed the contours of the Loess Plateau along the north west frontier of China, all the way to Lanzhou in Gansu province. From Lanzhou they had planned to turn south along the Tibetan Plateau and return to the coast via the Yangtze River. Tragically, the expedition was cut short in June 1909, when the surveyor Hazrat Ali was killed by villagers while traveling alone to make mapping observations. The Chinese, British, and American governments recalled the expedition, and the team disbanded later that fall.

The principal achievement of the expedition was the creation of a detailed topographical map of the regions they traversed. The data for the map was collected by the surveyor Hazrat Ali until his murder in the mountains south of Lanzhou in late June 1909. The opening lines of
Through Shên-kan take special notice of the map and the methods used to ensure its accuracy. Clark kept meticulous notes and records of weather conditions, astronomical observations, and daily events. One colorful entry tells of how he was robbed on April 18, 1909: “Waked up in middle of night by board falling on floor. We both shouted I asked who it was. Man did not answer + vamoosed. Then only did we think it was a thief.... Trousers, with watch chain + keys; jacket + waterproof gone.” See Clark’s notebook online ( Many of Li Ju’s photographs are presented in a special installation, Then & Now: Photographs of Northern China, at Stone Hill Center in conjunction with the Through Shên-kan exhibition.

One of the expedition’s key objectives was collecting wildlife specimens, and the young naturalist Arthur de Carle Sowerby (1885–1959) led this effort. Born in Shanxi province to missionary parents, Sowerby was at the beginning of a long and distinguished career in China. The Loess Plateau, Ordos Desert, and the semi-arid mountains of Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu are home to many distinct ecosystems, and the animals collected by the expedition team remain important evidence of the region’s biodiversity.

Over three hundred animal specimens were collected, examined, prepared, and sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where they became some of the earliest examples of northern China’s diverse wildlife available for study in the United States. Eleven of the animal species collected by the team were later identified as new to science. A number of insect specimens were also collected and sent to the British Museum. Publication of these new finds quickly appeared in scientific journals, and introduced this data to a more general audience. The expedition recorded its progress and accomplishments through field notes, photographs, and diaries. As the expedition’s naturalist, Sowerby was responsible not only for collecting and preparing the animal specimens but also for writing the accompanying field notes—all of which he sent to the Smithsonian. His post-expedition duties included organizing the photographs and illustrations for
Through Shên-kan.

The impact of Clark’s expedition extended far beyond its original ambitions. In Sterling Clark, Sowerby found a lifelong patron: over the three decades following the expedition, Sowerby continued to explore China’s wilderness and collect specimens, sending over 2,300 mammals and birds to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., all with Clark’s anonymous support. When Sowerby bequeathed his research files to the Smithsonian in the 1950s, a photo archive—including over 140 images made on the expedition—found its way into the public realm. With the centennial of the expedition and through the efforts of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the story of the expedition has engaged people in China today: photographer Li Ju retraced the expedition’s route, rephotographing many of the sites a century later; historian Shi Hongshuai published the first Chinese translation and critical edition of
Through Shên-kan; and a television series and feature film were made and aired on China Central Television in 2009 and 2010.
  Condition: Near fine, rear hinge starting, light soiling to cloth.   Ref: 109406   Price: HK$ 8,000