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Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection: Quentin Roosevelt II

In 1941 the Library of Congress obtained a major portion of its Naxi manuscript collection—1,073 Naxi manuscripts—from Quentin Roosevelt II, Harvard graduate and grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1927 Quentin Roosevelt II’s father, Theodore Roosevelt Jr (son of the president), acquired several Naxi manuscripts during a trip to China. It was not until a decade later, during a trip to China by Quentin and his mother, that Roosevelt’s fascination with the Naxi people and their culture began, kindling his interest in the manuscripts that had been sitting in his attic for ten years.

In 1939 Quentin Roosevelt II visited Lijiang Prefecture during which time he collected the bulk of the manuscripts that he later donated to the Library. His visit was arranged by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and with the help of Protestant missionaries. Roosevelt’s article “In the Land of the Devil Priests,” Natural History 45 (April 1940): 197-209, reports on his trip to China. He noted that Naxi manuscripts were ". . . extremely rare . . . and the art of making the books has died out." According to Roosevelt, "the writing, unlike anything known elsewhere, resembles superficially the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics." Based on the materials that he acquired, Roosevelt wrote his undergraduate thesis on the Naxi at Harvard.

In 1941 Roosevelt joined the U.S. Army. In 1942 while serving in North Africa, he was severely wounded by machinegun fire from a low-flying German fighter plane. He survived the attack and by the end of the war had been awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star, and Croix de Guerre among other medals. He died in a plane crash near Hong Kong in 1948.

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[Theodore Roosevelt with rifle in rowboat on river.]

Roosevelt China Expedition, 191-?. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Kermit Roosevelt Collection. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-120237.

Caption Below

The author examining prayer wheels which are set up in the interior.

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