John Speakman

Professor John Speakman

Graduation day July 2010

In field in Qinghai-Tibet (March 2011)

In beijing botanic gardens (Spring 2012)


(all photos by John Speakman except where indicated)

Trip #1: Summer 2005 - Beijing, Xian and Guilin


Great wall at Badaling. Badaling is the closest section of the wall to Beijing, lying about 70 km north-west of the city. It was originally built in the Ming dynasty between 1368 and 1644. This section of wall was refurbished in both the 1950s and 1980s. Close to the chairlift the wall is mobbed with tourists. You have to walk a long way to get to sections of the wall like this where there are no people.

Great wall at Jinshanling. Jinshanling is about 130 km north of Beijing and is a mostly unrenovated section of wall. It gets far fewer tourists than the Badaling section. It is possible to walk about 10km along the wall in this section to Simatai.

Some sections like the following are very steep. Just like climbing the face of a crumbling brick wall.

In some places the wall is threatening to fall apart completely.

This is what the rennovated section at Jinshanling looks like.

Xian - Terracotta warriors (summer 2005)

Discovered in 1974 by peasants digging a well the terracotta army dates back to about 210 BC and the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The pits containing the terracotta army lie about 1.5 km from the burial mound of the emperor which has yet to be excavated. It is thought that there may be many other pits yet to be discovered completely surrounding the burial chamber.

Guilin - Li river

Li river, fishing boat, Guilin. Some fishermen on the river still use cormorants to catch fish.

Trip #2: Summer 2006 Beijing, Shanghai, Lushan


Lushan was the site of two major meetings of the Chinese communist party, in 1959 and in 1970 both of which played a major role in the direction taken by the CCP. Reflecting this strong link to the party most of the buildings in Guling the main village in Lushan have red painted roofs.

The first important meeting in Lushan started on July 2nd 1959 after the first disastrous year of the great leap forwards. A key problem with the great leap was that two activities were simultaneously imposed on the population. First there was a demand to increase agricultural production, and second there was a directive to increase steel production. To facilitate the latter, so-called backyard furnaces were built which allowed people to smelt down any waste iron they had into ingots for reuse. To grow more crops people amalgamated into communes and changed age old planting practices to try and increase productivity. As a strategy this may have worked if the major part of the workforce (i.e. all the men) had not been busy operating the backyard furnaces. As a result much of the harvest was left rotting in the fields. This was exacerbated by the fact commune leaders had lied about how much productivity they had achieved, to save face, and taxes were levied on these claims rather than on the actual harvests. The meeting in Lushan aimed to address these problems. At the start of the meeting Chairman Mao allowed the delegates to split into small groups to discuss what had happened and how to rectify it. After a week however this liberal attitude started to backfire on Mao because criticism of what had happened started to criticise him as architect of the great leap, which expanded into a more general critique of Mao's lifestyle. This culminated in one of the politburo, the defence minister Peng DeHuai, writing a letter on the 14th July detailing all the shortcomings. Peng was one of the original long marchers and one of the few members of the politburo who was not afraid of Mao. The letter was circulated to the delegates of the meeting. On the 23rd July Mao addressed the meeting and accused Peng and several others of being an anti-party clique. This led ultimately to their dismissal from the politburo and imprisonment. He was replaced by Lin Biao, another veteran of the Long March, who was later to collect Mao's thoughts together and publish them in the famous little red book, and would feature greatly in the second important Lushan meeting. The great leap forwards policy continued, resulting in many millions of deaths from starvation – estimates vary between 10 and 25 million.

The second important meeting in Lushan happened about 10 years later in late August 1970 during the cultural revolution. At this stage Mao was chairman of the communist party, but had previously been obliged to resign as president of the Chinese republic, a post that had then been occupied by Liu Shaoqi. During the early years of the cultural revolution Liu was imprisoned, leaving the president of the republic position vacant. This suited Mao well as it meant there were no rivals to his authority. Mao wanted the presidential position to lapse. At the Lushan meeting Lin Biao proposed that the position of president of the republic be reinstated, with Mao as president but with him as vice-president. This would secure his position as number 2 in the hierarchy and Mao's successor. Lin knew that Mao could not hold both positions, meaning he would become the president. Lin had substantial support from others at the meeting, demonstrating his growing power. Mao however was displeased, and the Lushan meeting broke up on the 6th September 1970 without anything resolved. The relationship between Mao and Lin that had endured for 40 years, festered for a year during which Lin's son hatched a plot to assassinate Mao. Eventually Lin and his wife and son fled China in September 1971, the plot to assassinate Mao having been revealed to the authorities by his daughter. Their escape flight to Russia crashed in Mongolia killing them all.

Sources : Li, Z (1996) The Private life of Chairman Mao. Arrow books Ltd, London. Chang, J. and Halliday, J. (2005) Mao the unknown story. Random House London.

White bird against red roof, Lushan, Jiangxi, China (summer 2006)

1000 steps gorge, Lushan, Jiangxi, China (summer 2006)

Lushan, Jiangxi, China (summer 2006)

Five peaks, Lushan, Jiangxi, China (Summer 2006)

Beihai park, Beijing, China (summer 2006)

Trip #3: Summer 2007 Beijing, Xining, Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou


Jiuzhaigou is an area of outstanding natural beauty in Northern Sichuan province. It consists of three valleys studded with more than 100 small lakes. The lakes are stunning colours and in many of them the water is so clear you can see right to the bottom of them.

Panda lake, Jiuzhaigou, Szechuan, China (summer 2007)

Jiuzhaigou, Szechuan, China (summer 2007)

Shenzueng stockade, Szechuan, China (summer 2007)

Jiuzhaigou, Szechuan, China (summer 2007)

Jiuzhaigou, Szechuan, China (summer 2007). In the following picture what you can see in the water is not just a reflection of the trees but the actual bottom of the lake.

Pearls shoals waterfall, Jiuzhaigou, Szechuan, China (summer 2007)

Szechuan dancing girls (Tsabo village) Jiuzhaigou (summer 2007)

Plateau Pika (Ochontona curzoniae) study site I Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, China (summer 2007)

Plateau pike study site II, Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Pika are visible in the foreground (summer 2007)

Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, China (summer 2007)

Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, China (summer 2007)

Just outside Xining in Qinghai is the monestry of Ta'er Si or in Tibetan Kumbum. It was built in 1577 and is one of the six sacred monestaries

of the yellow hat sect of tibetan monks.

Prayer wheels, Kumbum monastery, Xining, Qinghai, China (summer 2007)

Monk of the yellow hat sect, Kumbum monastery, Xining, Qinghai, China (summer 2007)


Great wall at Mutianyu about 90km North east of Beijing. The wall at Mutianyu is also mostly rennovated (where the rennovation stops there is a barrier and a guy stopping you progressing further). It has far less tourists than Badaling.

Trip #4: Summer 2008 - Beijing, Xining, Shanghai, Putuoshan, Yunnan

Xining, Qinghai

Tibetan woman – Qinghai plateau. June 2008

Pika study site II. Qinghai plateau June 2008

Plateau Pika (Ochontona curzoniae). Qinghai plateau. June 2008


Euploea Butterfly, Sancha He, Yunnan province, China, July 2008

Tropical rain forest canopy, Sancha he, Yunnan, China, July 2008

Wild Asian elephants, Sancha he, Yunnan, China, July 2008. This was a group of nine elephants including a very small baby that we watched for about 3 hours at the Sancha he reserve. Apparently we were quite lucky to see them as they only are seen on about 1/30 nights.

Bulang woman, Yunnan, China, July 2008

Bulang village, near Chinese-Burmese border, Yunnan, China, July 2008

Bulang village, near Chinese-Burmese border, Yunnan, China, July 2008

Akha village, Chinese-Burmese border, Yunnan, China, July 2008

Trip #5: Winter 2008 (Hong Kong)

Looking towards HK island from Kowloon (December 2008)

Silvermine bay, Lantau island, Hong Kong (winter 2008)

Lantau island, Hong kong, Winter 2008

Trip #6: Winter 2009 (Qinghai-Tibetan plateau - pika winter project work January 2009)


Tibetan girl Pika study site II Qinghai plateau January 2009

Pika study site II Qinghai plateau January 2009 (after fresh snow)

Tibetan woman Pika study site II Qinghai plateau January 2009

Trip #7: September 2009 (Qinghai-Tibetan plateau - pika autumn project work)

Pika study site II

During the summer on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau many of the local Tibetan yak herders move into tents in the mountains. As the summer draws to a close they collect yak dung and dry it out in the autumn sun to use as fuel over the winter.

Tents adjacent to pika study site II (September 2009)

Tibetan woman breaking up yak faeces to dry in the sun.

Tibetan polecat (Mustela eversmanni) digging into Spalax burrow on the pika study site II.

Pika feeding (pika study site II : September 2009)

Trip #8: February 2010 (Qinghai-Tibetan plateau - pika winter project work)

This trip was not very successful because between the trip #7 in september and the current trip pika study site II has been poisoned by the Chinese authorities and almost everything was dead. We therefore spent much of the trip trying to locate a new site that was not likley to be poisonedin future. In the end we found a new site (Pike study site III).

Young Tibetan boy with his dog.

Young Tibetan man at pika study site III. Hole in ground in front of him is a pika burrow.

Old Tibetan lady. Pika study site III

Tibetan woman. Pika study site III.

The life of the Tibetan people living on the grasslands in very harsh. There is a community based charity in Tibet that is run by local Tibetan women. It is called SHEM.

Shem Women's Group - empowering Tibetan women and their communities through grassroots development

SHEM take in charitable donations from around the world. They use this money to provide support to local communities.

As different communities have different needs there is a wide variety of projects that

are sponsored by the group.

Each project is managed by a local woman.

If you would like to donate to SHEM their website is

Trip #9: May 2010 (Qinghai-Tibetan plateau - pika project work)

Another not very successful trip because of poisoning by the authorities. Although managed to get some wrk done using doubly-labelled water at study site III.

DeHua Wang at pika study site III

Mr Hu, the expert pika trapper.

Storm coming, pika study site III

Old tibetan woman, pika study site III

Trip 10: June-July 2010


Liaocheng, Shandong province

Drs Zhi-jun Zhao and Jing Cao, Liaocheng University


Stone forest (Shilin) near to Kunming, Yunnan

Between the stones there are many butterflies


Bai woman

Pagoda in woodland, Dali

Woodland, Dali, Yunnan

Fire festival, Dali, Yunnan

Lijiang ancient city, Yunnan

Old Naxi women, Lijiang ancient city

Old naxi man, Lijiang ancient city

Naxi woman on street corner, Lijiang

Trip #11 October-November 2010

Beijing and Qinghai-Tibetan plateau (Haibei and Goulou). Pika winter field work.


Pika burrows in deep snow.Pika study site II. November 2010

Mountains in snow, Pika study site II

Tibetan house and prayer flag, pike study site III November 2010

Releasing Pika at study site III. Photo taken by Qingsheng Chi

Goulou, November 2010

Pika study site 6 (3900m)

Young monk entering prayer house (Goulou)

Tibetan farm (Goulou)

Watchtower (Goulou)


Dinosaur outside National Museum of Natural History Beijing

Trip #12 February-March 2011

Beijing and Qinghai-Tibetan plateau (Haibei and Goulou). Pika winter field work.

Took two students Paula Glover and Olivia Robertson

Success at last! we recaptured 6 pikas that had been implanted with transmitters in October-November at the Dawu site (pika site 4) in Goulou.

Yellow river in Goulou

Tibetan woman in BaiJiu shop in Dawu town dressed up for a night out.

Frozen lake - pika study site 6

Driver from Xining. At pika study site 6.

Tibetan fox. Pika study site 6. (Photos by Paula Glover).

Sky burial site on hill above pika site 6

Pika. At study site 6.

Tibetan woman in Dawu market with embroidered bonnet on. Many of the women in Dawu wear these bonnets and the orange and blue beads jewellery. The position that the bonnet is worn in indicates a womans marital status.

Vulture on carcass of dead yak in frozen river bed. On way back to Xining.

Trip #13 April 2011


Mary with cherry blossom tree. Olympic park. Beijing

Birsds nest stadium. Beijing.

In a cafe in the 798 art district. Beijing.

Trip #14 August - September 2011

In August 2011 I took up a position as a '1000 talents' Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing. My employment contract is now for a shared position between Beijing and Aberdeen.

Beijing, Shanghai, Wuxi and Hanoi (Vietnam)

Sunset over mountains Beijing August 2011. View from our apartment.

Insects on flowers in the gardens at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Beijing (Sept 2011)

Praying mantis (Mantodea sp)


Hanoi, Vietnam (Sept 2011)

Street scene

Flower sellers

Trip #15 September - December 2011


Trip #16 January 2012


Trip #17 February - June 2012

Beijing, Xining,

February - Beijing Hutong

February - Xiangshan : fragrant hills park

March - Beijing botanic gardens

Enormous Sculptures at sunset in the Olympic forest park

April - cherry blossom

May - Olympic forest park

Trip #18 August 2012-October 2012
Beijing, Xining,

Trip #19 November 2012-January 2013

Beijing, Hanoi

Trip #20 January 2013 - April 2013