China scholar and photographer Sidney Gamble

P&G family member helped guide the Republic of China

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Durham, North Carolina -- Procter & Gamble began selling shampoo in modern-day China exactly 20 years ago, but the family's ties to the mainland began a century ago. Sidney Gamble, grandson of P&G's co-founder James Gamble, visited China several times starting in 1908, when he was just 18, until 1932.

A sociologist, China scholar and avid amateur photographer years, Sidney Gamble documented his extensive travels during one of the most fascinating periods in China's history in over 5,000 black-and-white photographs. The images depict a breathtaking scope of life in China, including monuments such as temples, Buddha statutes and the Great Wall, as well as the everyday life of peasant farmers, rickshaw drivers and school children.

Mr. Gamble traveled from Liaoning province in the northeast to Guangdong province in the south and to the western edge of Sichuan province along the border of Tibet. He also documented events such as the flood of 1918 in Tianjin, student demonstrations in 1919 in Beijing and, in 1925, the state funeral of Sun Yat-sen, the president of the Republic of China, also known as the father of modern China. The photographs came to light when Mr. Gamble's daughter, Catherine Curran, discovered the collection at the family home in 1984, 15 years after her father's death.

This summer the entire collection has been opened to the public for the first time through The Duke University Libraries. The searchable collection is online at

The launch of Mr. Gamble's photo collection coincides with Procter & Gamble's 20th anniversary in China, said Ed Rider, P&G's corporate archivist at the company's global headquarters in Cincinnati.

Mr. Gamble not only took the photographs in China, but managed to process the nitrate negatives in the field, sometimes washing the film with river water, which can be seen on close-ups of the images today, said Karen Glynn, the visual materials archivist at Duke University, who assembled the collection online over the past six years.

Sidney Gamble never worked for P&G, but his family connections gave him the financial means to work on a variety of humanitarian and social causes. Although Mr. Gamble was a Christian, he was not lured to China as a missionary, like most western activists during the same period.

"He was a phenomenal guy who was from a religious family but who also believed in reform. He was a social scientist," Ms. Glynn said.

After graduating from Princeton University with a bachelor's degree in literature, he studied economics at the University of California at Berkeley with Paul Taylor, a progressive agricultural economist and the second husband of Dorothea Lange, an influential photographer who documented the pain caused by the Great Depression in rural America.

Mr. Taylor, who integrated institutional economics with cultural and ethnographic concerns, and Ms. Lange are credited with improving conditions for migrant workers in California. The pair had a profound effect on Mr. Gamble, who returned to China to put their methods to work for the Republic of China.

He devoted his life to the study of Chinese urban and rural society and completed the first social survey of Peking, as Beijing was then called, and several other cities. His reports detailed minute data such as the price of a taxi ride and the cost of clothing a family with five children.

"Anyone studying the anthropology of China was using his work up until the end of the 20th century," said Ms. Glynn. He helped China evolve from "an old dynasty to new republic, providing information to help new government move into modernity. The information he provided helped create a public school system and transportation system."

He also taught economics at Chinese universities and, with Chinese educator (and fellow Princeton alumnus) James Yen, helped found the National Association of Mass Education Movements (MEM) in 1926.

A mass education movement based in Ding Xian, a village south of Beijing, the MEM connected poor rural students with volunteer teachers--one of whom was Mao Zedong, who became the leader of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The photographs provide a rare and valuable glimpse into China's first steps as a modern power.

"Because Gamble was not a professional photographer, but rather a social scientist conversant in Chinese, his photographs of Chinese people engaged in the daily activities of life are like no other photographs of the period," said Nancy Jervis, VP of the China Institute in New York. "They are a stark reminder of what has been gained and lost in the years since."
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