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A photo from 1939

On the joys and the pains of doing research: I am currently putting the finishing touches (hopefully) on a book about Piedmontese travelers around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. And one of the perks of this job – that for reasons long to explain I am doing part-time and under less-than-optimum conditions, is that I get to go back to the library and the web, doing a final pass of research.

When the book turns its gaze to China, it’s of course like coming again back home – how many stories I have set in the Middle Kingdom? Ah!
But while I was trying to decide what to quote from Peter Fleming’s book about the Boxer Rebellion, I chanced on a photo that got me off on a tangent for about half an hour.

This is the photo.

I was gathering a few facts about the Jesuit presence in China – on the off-chance that some Piedmontese padre had sneaked below my radar, and could be added to the mix for a little color.
And really, wouldn’t it be good should the missionary on the motorcycle turn out to be from Turin, or Asti, or Novara?

But the photo’s caption only said it was a “Jesuit missionary” and gave the date as 1939. Indeed, it was a lot easier to get the motorcycle identified (It’s a Miyata Asahi AA) than the man riding it.

Finally, on a Chinese page, I found a short article that commented on the man’s similarity to a character from an Akira Toriyama cartoon – and the article identified the rider as “an Hungarian gentleman traveling through China in 1938”.

And so I decided to let the thing rest, until I’ll have the time to pursue my research more thoroughly in my spare time (of which, alas, right now I have none).

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