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A Map and History of Peiping…

  • Author: DORN, Frank (artist)
  • Publisher: Peiyang Press Ltd, Tientsin-Peiping, China
  • Date: 1936
  • Dimensions: Map sheet (unfolded): 87 x 76 cms / slipcase: 14 x 19 cms / booklet: 13.5 x 18.5 cms


A Map and History of Peiping [1936]: American artist Frank Dorn’s captivating pictorial celebration of mid-1930s Beijing

About this piece:

A Map and History of Peiping, formerly known as Peking; capital of provinces, princedoms, and kingdoms, since 1121 B.C…..

Colour-printed lithograph map, originally folded but now flattened and backed with museum-quality archival tissue for better preservation & presentation. Two short tears in upper left side (where originally bound into accompanying booklet) and upper centre of sheet (along line of top right vertical fold), intruding from sheet edges into image but expertly & invisibly closed and repaired on verso, the original tears now barely visible on recto image, except on very closest inspection. One panel of printed letterpress (listing advertisers) on map verso, not visible on recto. In all a well-preserved & very attractive example, here offered with the accompanying 22-page explanatory booklet, authored by Dorn & in fine condition, enclosed in original yellow card wrappers & bound along spine with original strip of bright yellow cotton tape. The booklet sliding into outer card slipcase, the map’s decorative cartouche & full title reproduced on its front cover. The slipcase somewhat worn and soiled with two short splits & separations to joints along base & on upper right edge.

This entertaining and attractive pictorial map of the Chinese capital, Beijing (formerly known as Peiping between 1928 & 1937) was designed and published in Peiping in early 1936 by the American military officer, artist and cartographer, Frank “Pinky” Dorn [1901-1981].

A native of San Francisco, Frank was the only son of Walter E. and Ellen (O’Reilly) Dorn. He revealed his artistic inclinations at an early age, beginning junior classes and later attending night school at the San Francisco Institute of Art between 1915 & 1918. In June 1919 he enrolled at West Point Academy as an army cadet, graduating in March 1923 and subsequently being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the 15th Field Artillery at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In early 1926 he was posted to the 24th Field Artillery at Camp Stotsenburg in the Philippines. Subsequent postings included Fort Sill, OK and in 1934, following promotion to the rank of Captain, he joined the US Military Attaché’s Office in Peiping as language officer and assistant attaché.

By this time Dorn had already honed his talents as a pictorial cartographer producing three amusing & rarely seen pictorial maps which unsurpisingly reflected the locations of his military postings during this period.

In 1936, The Field Artillery Journal drew special attention to:

CAPTAIN FRANK DORN, FA…because: He has enlivened the walls of many garrison quarters with his pictorial, historical, and very amusing maps of Fort Sill, Fort McKinley and Fort Stotsenburg; and because he has recently added to this list the ancient city of Peiping, China, where he is now a language student.

Of the above three maps, the first to be published was in fact that of Camp Stotsenburg (now Clark Air Base)…”being a map of a part of the Military Reservation of Camp Stotsenburg, Province of Pampanga, Philippines Islands, drawn by order of the commanding general of said post for the guidance and enlightenment of the ignorant and uninitiated, in the direction of the trails, points of interest, inhabitants and history of the vicinity… completed on this twentieth day of April in the year of the occupation Twenty-nine” [1927].

In the same year, Dorn also designed & published a companion pictorial map of Fort William McKinley (now Fort Bonifacio) in the Philippines. The map was presumably compiled during his posting there between June and September 1927 as an instructor to the Philippine Division Communications School.

And then four years later: “A Map and History of the Military Reservation of Fort Sill, Oklahoma now known as the Field Artillery School, showing Topographic Features, Inhabitants, Surrounding Territory, Flora, Fauna and Characteristics as they truly are and should be from Ancient Times to those of Today…Completed for the Information, Guidance and Enlightenment of all Concerned on this Tenth Day of March in the Year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Thirty-one” [1931] .

Dorn was resident in the Chinese capital from 1934 to 1939, where, as noted, he devoted much of his time to studying the Chinese language. As well as travelling extensively around the country, he also became an increasingly accomplished chef and a discerning collector of Chinese antiquities. In 1935, his first novel, Forest Twilight, was published in England. It was set set amongst the mountain peoples of the Philippines and had been written during his previous posting to the Academic Division of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill.

As he writes in his autobiography, in January 1936….

“I started to research material for the pictorial map of Peking…Visits to palaces, temples and parks led to more of the same; reading one book led to another. Before the map was anywhere near completed, I was hooked, but good, on the history of this fascinating old city….After over two months of steady work, the map was reproduced in large numbers by the German-owned Peiyang Press of Tietsin. They also printed it on silk scarves that were lapped up by tourists….”

(quoted in MacLean Collection Curator of Asian Art, Tongyun Yin’s paper, A Cartographic Portrait of Early Republican Beijing: Frank Dorn’s 1936 Map of Peiping, presented to the New York Conference of Asian Studies, Oct 2016)

Indeed Dorn’s map was primarily targeted at the visiting Western tourist to whom he presents an alluring picture of this ancient city with its unique cultural heritage and age-old traditions and rich array of historical buildings and attractions.

The map’s full title is: A Map and History of Peiping; formerly known as Peking; capital of provinces, princedoms, and kingdoms since 1121 B.C.; in 1264 A.D. the capital of the Mongol Empire of Kublai Khan; made the capital of the Ming Empire and built as it is today by Yung Lo in 1421; continued as the capital of the Chinese Empire through the Ming and Ching Dynasties; and now a city which will live long in the memory of man as one of the greatest the world has ever known. Completed on this fifth day of February in the year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Thirty-six.” 

It appears in a large decorative cartouche at the bottom centre of the map, flanked by figures representing the Mongols, Manchus and Han Chinese, the three principal ethnicities of Republican China. The historical names for Beijing are inscribed in the ribbon border below the title, whilst above it fly the flags of the Qing Empire, Chinese Republic & Chinese Nationalist Party. Dorn’s name in both English and Chinese (Dou Eren) appears in the bottom left corner.

The map includes the principal buildings of both Outer and Inner Cities, encompassing such attractions as the Temple of Heaven, The Hall of Classics, the Temple of Confucius and the Forbidden City whilst also highlighting many important sites outside the ancient walls that comprised the so-called Tartar and Outer Cities. These include, amongst others, the Yellow Temple, the Altars of the Sun, Moon & Earth, the Thirteen Storey Pagoda and the Marco Polo Bridge. Included also is the distinctive Legation Quarter (centre right), where all foreign countries maintained their diplomatic missions and embassies. Nearby are many places reserved exclusively for foreigners, such as the Peking Club, numerous Western-style hotels and a number of notable tourist emporiums, curio & antique shops such as the wonderfully named Camel-Bell-Furs (owned by American Helen Burton [1891-1971]), Asiatic Arts (F Saizeau),  the Shoemaker Art Looms & the Fette and Nichols Rug Companies, whose details & addresses also feature as advertisers on the verso of the map itself.

The focus on tourists is also evident from the prominence given to such features as the city’s golf & race courses and zoo visible beyond the western city walls, along the left side of the map. Dorn also distorts both the scale and projection of the map for the benefit of the visiting tourist to enable him to accommodate the famous Ming Tombs (some 31 miles north west of Beijing), the Summer Palace and parts of the Great Wall, which are depicted in the upper left corner of the map.

Contrasting with the age-old buildings and the vignettes of heavily laden camel trains, probably unchanged in centuries, evidence of the City’s increasing modernity can be seen in the network of encircling railways and the crowded steam train which puffs southward through the Outer City, as well as in the stylish open-topped motor car which narrowly avoids a speeding cyclist outside the Shun Chi Men Gate.

A pictorial border around the bottom of the map presents attractive illustrations of a Chinese Funeral and Chinese Wedding. Above the latter, a series of amusing vignettes provide a potted history of the City from its foundation in 1121 BC to its 1936 status as the “Cultural Capital of China”.

The accompanying 22-page booklet provides a brief historical description of the City, a list of the principal Chinese dynasties and a detailed exposition of the principal historical sites and points of interest on the map itself.

During the Second World War, Dorn served as aide to US General Joseph Stilwell. The pair formed a highly effective and well-matched partnership especially following their deployment in China after Pearl Harbour to provide US support for the Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese. It was relationship sorely tested during the harrowing retreat that soon followed, as they and some 100 compatriots were forced to abandon Chiang and, in May 1942, make their way out of Burma through the lower Himalayas to India, following the defeat of both the British and Chinese Armies, events vividly recorded in Dorn’s later book Walkout [1971]. Following subsequent deployments in China and Okinawa, Dorn returned to the US in 1946, where he was assigned to the staff of the Army Information School at Carlisle Barracks, PA. He later moved to the Army Department’s Information Division in Washington in 1949, becoming deputy chief of worldwide operations.

With the rank of Briagadier General, Dorn finally retired in 1953 and moved to Carmel, CA where he re-kindled his love of art and writing. During the ensuing three decades he penned numerous books on a wide variety of subjects, including cooking, the Forbidden City, his wartime experiences with Stilwell, the Sino-Japanese War (1937-41) &c, as well as holding several immensely popular one-man art shows in Europe, Mexico and the US. In 1964, he married Phyllis Moore Gallagher, the widow of a well-known Washington attorney.

Dorn died in July 1981, following the death of his wife three years earlier. The couple are interred beside each other in the National Cemetery at Arlington (Section 5 Site 7019-1).

Dorn’s personal archive & private papers are now preserved in the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University.

Refs: David Rumsey Collection; West Point Memorial