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Background

My quest for Chinese irises growing in their natural habitat brought me to Lijiang in April, 1987. During my first walk around the old market square, my attention was drawn to a man in a handicrafts shop. He had a remarkable face and presence. Not speaking Chinese, I motioned to my camera and then to him. He came out into the natural light and stood proudly as I took his picture. I did not realise, at that moment, the importance of our meeting.

Later that afternoon, a man stopped me on the main street of Lijiang and started talking to me. The man turned out to be Hsuen Ke, the local English teacher; he, immediately, invited me to his house for tea. Over tea, he provided a short history of the Naxi, the local minority nationality, and of Joseph Rock, a botanist, who, after botanising in the region for many years, devoted his time to studying Naxi culture.

Several days later, Hsuen Ke organised for me to attend a concert of “Naxi Ancient Music”. The leader of the orchestra turned out to be He Yi An, the man that I had photographed in the market. Small world. Now that I had heard the Dayan Ancient Music Association play Dongjing (Taoist scripture) music, the following weekend Hsuen Ke and I bicycled out to Baihua to listen to the Ancient Music Orchestra play the same Dongjing music.

The following spring I returned to Lijiang to search for and photograph wild irises and to record Dongjing music played by the two orchestras. In February, 1990, I was in Lijiang recording Naxi folk music. On 15 April, 1991, I recorded He Yi An playing and chanting Dongjing music. That evening while listening to the recordings, I realised the importance of his life story.

The next morning, I asked him if he would share with me his life story. He looked at me and responded that he had been waiting for me to ask him. The material from my interviews over the next three years formed He Yi An’s biography which was published in May, 1996, as Song of a Water Dragon.

Just before my departure from Lijiang in 1990, He Yi An offered me his seven-volume Dongjing text. I now realise that he trusted me with it because he knew that, ultimately, I would fulfil his trust and share it with others. On my return to Kunming, I checked in to the Kunming Hotel; entering the fifth-floor dormitory, I was greeted by Chinese flute music. The musician turned out to be Helen Rees who was doing field work for her studies. We met again the following years in Lijiang; she was collecting material for her dissertation and I material for He Yi An’s biography. I had a mid-morning appointment with He Yi An and Helen met him in the evening. Helen’s dissertation was published as Echoes of History (Oxford University Press, 2000).

For various projects in the past several years, I have gained experience in scanning images and in transferring cassette tape music to CDs. I have scanned the seven-volumes of Dongjing texts (492 pages) and transferred recordings of Dongjing music performed, in 1988, by the Dayan Ancient Music Association and the Baihua Ancient Music Orchestra. The material is offered on three CDs under the title Everlasting Flowers.

Song of a Water Dragon, Echoes of History, and now Everlasting Flowers keep the energy of He Yi An continuously evolving.

After listening to Dongjing music on 17 April 1988 in He Guowei's courtyard in Baihua for several hours, I sought out the tranquility of Pujisi, a lamasery. After a twenty minute climb, I reached Pujisi and rested on a large rock. Looking down in front of me I noticed Iris tectorum looking back at me. Everything is caught up in the Eternal Tao.

Iris tectorum