Exhibition Proposal

Visions of China

The World War II Photographs of Dr. Clinton Millett

These photographs by Dr. Clinton Millett (1910-1964)) are the oldest known color photographs of China. Dr. Millett, who was a doctor in the U.S. Army during World War II, created the images while stationed in Kunming, a city in southern China in 1945. His photographs are extremely rare because color photography was not introduced in Kunming until 1979. Dr. Millett fell in love with the landscape surrounding Kunming and photographed the scenery and everyday lives of the Chinese people who befriended him. His images offer a rare glimpse of life in China before Communism.

The people of Kunming did not know that Dr. Millett’s photographs existed until 2004 when his son Gregg, a Niskayuna resident, planned a visit there to retrace the places his father photographed during World War II. When the pictures were first displayed in China, hundreds of thousands visited the exhibit. Dr. Millett’s original photographs were donated to the National Museum of Chinese History in Beijing in August 2005, in recognition of their importance to the Chinese people.

-- Background --

In 1945, during World War II, Dr. Clinton Millett was a U.S. army doctor stationed in Kunming, China. While in Kunming Dr. Millett took Kodachrome slides of thecountryside and the Chinese people going about their daily lives.

In May 2004 Dr. Millett’s son, Gregg Millett,and great-granddaughter, Krystal Millett-Garrison, took the coloredpictures back to Kunming for an exhibition. Gregg and Krystal were met at the airport by TV cameras, photographers and reporters. More than 300,000 people came to see the 1945 colored photographs during the one-month exhibition at the Yunnan Provincial museum.

Following the first Kunming exhibition, the principal organizer of the exhibition, Mr. Jin Fei Bao, published a book of the letters and photographs of Dr. Millett and held a second exhibition. He also produced a 60-minute TV documentary telling the story of the exhibition. The documentary was broadcast throughout China by China Central Televison.

Curators from the National Museum of China in Beijing ventured to Kunming to inspect the now famous photographs and declared them to be the oldest known color photographs of China. A third exhibition was held at the National Museum in August 2005. The original 152 Kodachrome slides were given to the National Museum of China by the Millett family.

In September 2005, the first museum exhibition in the United States of Dr. Millett’s China photographs, Visions of China, was held at the Schenectady Museum in New York. Soon after the Schenectady opening a complementary exhibition opened at the New York State Vietnam Memorial Gallery entitled The China/Burma/India Campaign of World War II: An Army Doctor’s Legacy.

-- Exhibition History --

  • May 2004 – Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming, China

  • November 2004 – Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming, China

  • August 2005 – National Museum of China, Beijing, China

  • September 2005 – Pingyao International Photography Festival, Pingyao, China

  • September to February 2005/6 – Schenectady Museum, Schenectady, New York

  • October to April 2005/6 – New York State Vietnam Memorial Gallery, Albany, NY

-- General Exhibition Description --

A selection of approximately 60 of Dr. Clinton Millett’s World War II photographs of China that were displayed at the Yunnan Provincial Museum in May 2004 (up to 152 photographs from 1945 could be used).

A selection of about 20 photographs taken by Dr. Millett’s great-granddaughter Krystal Millett-Garrison during her visits to Kunming in 2004 showing how the city has transformed into a metropolitan center with 3.5 million people (several hundred 2004 photographs are available)

A large exhibition poster from the Beijing Exhibition.

Banners from the China Exhibitions

Introductory Panels from the Schenectady Museum, Vietnam Memorial Gallery, the Yunnan Provincial Museum and the National Museum of China

Selections from Dr. Millett’s letters home during World War II as photo captions

One-hour CCTV (China Central Television) documentary (on DVD or VHS) about the 1945 photographs, WWII and the role of the Flying Tigers and the return of the photographs and the exhibiton in 2004.

Eight minute looped video presentation showing footage taken by Gregg Millett during his 2004 visit to Kunming, which captures the energy and emotional response of Kunming people to the old photographs exhibition.

Optional Interactive elements, arranged by the exhibiting museum, such as Chinese chess, mahjong, kite flying and Chinese traditional games for kids or costume dress-up.

Space Requirements: 250 to 600 linear feet

Expenses: to be determined depending upon size of exhibition and location

Items Related to Exhibition for Sale:

Old/New Photo Note Cards (packs of ten) -- $10
Book, 1945 Is Waiting for You (in Chinese) -- $20
Photograph Prints: 1945 (11x14 -- $100); 2004 (11x14 -- $80)

-- Complementary Programs --

One or more of following presentations can be given in conjunction with the Visions of China Exhibitions:

Visions of China:
Burma Road and the War Years

The Burma Road and the War Years -- slide/lecture that presents many aspects of the China/Burma/India theater of World War II including the role of the Flying Tigers, the Hump lifeline, the building of the Ledo/Burma Road, Merrill’s Marauders, Wingate’s Chindits and the roles of General Joseph Stilwell, Chaing Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung.

A Trip Across the Burma Road – A slide/lecture using the photographs taken and the letters written by Dr. Clinton Millett on his 17-day trip across the Ledo/Burma Road in March, 1945.

The China Legacy -- Slide/lecture of the story of the return of Dr. Clinton Millett’s 1945 colored photographs to China in May 2004 and the subsequent and on-going building of a USA/China friendship bridge.

Chinese TV Documentary (60 minutes, in Chinese, with English commentary) -- Presents the background of World War II in Yunnan and tells the story of the return of the 1945 photographs and the deep emotional response of the more than 300,000 people who attended the first exhibition of the photographs at the Yunnan Provincial Museum in Kunming, China.

Visions of China: Then and Now

Visions of China: Then and Now -- Slide/lecture of the dramatic changes that have taken place in China over the past sixty-five years with the 1945 photographs of Dr. Clinton Millett being contrasted with recent photographs taken by his great granddaughter, Krystal Millett-Garrison; his granddaughter, Kim Millett-Ashley; his nephew Jesse Millett; and his son, Gregg Millett.

The China Legacy -- Slide/lecture of the story of the return of Dr. Clinton Millett’s 1945 colored photographs to China in May 2004 and the subsequent and on-going building of a USA/China friendship bridge.

Chinese TV Documentary (60 minutes, in Chinese, with English commentary) -- Presents the background of World War II in Yunnan and tells the story of the return of the 1945 photographs and the deep emotional response of the more than 300,000 people who attended the first exhibition of the photographs at the Yunnan Provincial Museum in Kunming, China.

Additional China-Related Presentations

China in Color One-Hundred Years Ago -- Slide show of the digital images of photographs (glass slides) taken in China around 1911. These photographs were transferred to glass, hand-painted, and projected through magic lanterns. The magic lantern technology, beginning in about 1650, evolved into the moving picture projector. This presentation is accompanied with a narrative from the book "China Through the Stereoscope" published in 1900 by James Ricaltin.

Through the Counsel's Eyes -- A documentary of the French Counsel in China, Auguste Francois, from 1896 to 1905. Francois was an avid photographer, and with one of the first movie cameras, lent to him by the famous Lumiere brothers, he documented the historic events and everyday life he saw around him. From the Journal of Film and History: "The strength of this documentary rests on the magnificent collection of Francois' photographs and films...striking, compelling, charming, extraordinary! They hold ethnographic and historical interest...and may be of benefit to historians of film in addition to researchers interested in the study of colonialism or the history of modern China." This fifty-minute documentary contains about ten minutes of what are probably the first moving pictures taken in China.

Native Cultures of Yunnan – Of the 56 different ethnic groups of China, 26 of them are represented in the southwest province of Yunnan. This slide/lecture will show the amazing variety of native cultures that exist in Yunnan today. The presentation is based upon a rare collection of photographs, taken over the past twelve years, by Jin Fei Bao of Kunming and Gregg Millett's visits to two Miao villages near Kunming and a visit to a Mosuo matriarchal village on Lugu Lake in northern Yunnan.

School Programs – All of the above presentations can be adapted for elementary, secondary and college groups.

Biographical Sketches

Gregg Millett, son of Dr. Clinton Millett, studied at Dartmouth College, The University of Nebraska and received his Ph.D. from Stanford University with concentrations in political science and social studies education. In addition to being a teaching and research assistant at Stanford University, he has taught at the University of Texas in Austin, Pan American University in Edenburg, Texas and Universidad Centroamericana in Managua, Nicaragua. He founded and directed the Singles Outreach Support Network in Albany, New York and currently is involved in what he likes to call The China Project.

Krystal Millett-Garrison, great-granddaughter of Dr. Clinton Millett, received her Associates degree cum laude, in Photography from the Sage College of Albany. Krystal has a self-proclaimed thirst for life that inspires both her photography, work, and travels. Currently, Krystal is working and studying in Alaska.

-- Participant Responses --

  • This is just a short note to say how much I enjoyed joining you for the opening of the exhibition of your father’s photos at the National Museum on August 12, 2005. The photos give abundant testimony of the respect Americans had for the Chinese people during the war.
    Donald M. Bishop, Minister-Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs, Embassy of the United States of America, Beijing, China.

  • This moment will be remembered forever.
    Things have changed through the years.
    Now is a serious moment in front of our temple.
    Sharing our feelings with friends from across the seas.
    Chun Fa, Chief Monk of the Hauting Temple, Kunming, China -- May 2004
  • Dear Mr. Gregg Millett,
    Thank you and your family for the gift of 152 colored slides, taken by your father, Mr. Clinton Millett, during 1944-45. On behalf of the National Museum of China, we offer you this certificate in appreciation for supporting Chinese culture and the National Museum of China. Yours sincerely
    Guo Xiaoling, Director, National Museum of China, Beijing
  • We FINALLY got to the museum today and were in AWE of those marvelous pictures. The exhibit far exceeded what we thought it would. You have not only made a marvelous contribution to the Chinese people, but how this is going, to the whole world.
    Betty and Owen Sutton, Schenectady, New York

  • Thank you so much for the lovely and impressive presentation last Sunday. I wanted you to know that we all enjoyed and were impressed by the stunning pictures and your first hand illustrations. Many people were inspired and started to think about visiting Yunnan. For many of the Chinese WWII baby boomers like myself, Kunming is not just another city in China. Kunming means a lot of emotional ties, because many of our parents and grandparents stayed in Kunming for long or short period during the wartime. My grandmother was even buried in Kunming, when the family ran away from the Japanese invasion in chaos, and traveled thousand miles away from its home base near Beijing. The war split families, and put people together, my parents met in a college which was set in Kunming by the government to take care of thousands of students who all ran away from the Japanese and were striped down to nothing by the war. There were so many stories during that difficult wartime. Again, I would like to thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us. Having the presentation at our house is a small way to pay tribute to Dr. Clinton Millett, his legacy to people in Kunming, and the friendship between Chinese and American during the war will be always remembered
    Lucia Nyeu, Niskayuna, New York

-- Exhibition References --

Dr. Lee Scott Theisen, Director of the Schenectady Museum, Schenectady, New York
theisen@schenectadymuseum.org; (518) 382-7890 Ext. 228

Robert Allyn, Director of the New York State Vietnam Memorial Gallery, Albany, New
robert.allyn@ogs.state.ny.us; (518) 473-5546

Donald Bishop, Minister-Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs, Embassy of the United States of American, Beijing, China
bishopdm@state.gov; US Embassy, Beijing, 17 Guanghua Road, Beijing, China 100600

Huang Yihuang, Co-Director of the Pingyao International Photography Festival, 2005

Jin Fei Bao, General Manager of the Yunnan Canghai Culture Art Development Co. Ltd.
manager@toptrip.cc; Telephone: 0086-871-5411309

-- Presentation References --

Ilene Frank, Program Director, Schenectady Museum. Scheduled China Presentations for the Schenectady Museum.
frank@schenectadymuseum.org; (518) 382-7890 Ext. 256

Ken and Lucia Nyeu. Hosted a home-based private China Presentation.
knyeu@nycap.rr.com; (518) 783-8150

Wang Wendai, President of the Chinese Community Center of the Capital Region of New York. Hosted China Presentation at the Chinese Community Center.

Star Chen, teacher at Belmont High School, Belmont Massachusetts. Hosted China Presentations for Chinese language classes

Additional references are available including from the Schenectady Public Library, The Clifton Park Library, The US-China Peoples Friendship Association, The Schenectady Kiwanis, The Unitarian Church of Schenectady, The Capital District Humanist Society, The Albany Institute of History and Art and the 2005 Veteran’s Reunion of the World War II 528th Fighter Squadron.

If you are interested in this exhibition please contact
Gregg Millett (gmillett@nycap.rr.com)
Schenectady, New York
(518) 785-0445

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