China, 1850-1950

July 19 2012

Charming BBC slideshow of pre-’49 China, from an archive being assembled by Robert Bickers at Bristol University.

“The archive is a collaboration between scholars at the University of Bristol, University of Lincoln, the Institut d’Asie Orientale and TGE-Adonis, [and] aims to locate, archive, and disseminate photographs from the substantial holdings of images of modern China held mostly in private hands overseas.”

Site: Historical Photographs of China,

Book (2007).

There are more images of peace than of war.


BBC article paraphrase, my links:

“Old photographs are rare in China. Archives were lost through war, invasion, revolution. Mao regarded the past as a time to be erased. The Cultural Revolution finished the job. Families had to destroy their records before the Red Guards came and found evidence of a bourgeois, counter-revolutionary past. Holiday snapshots, studio portraits of weddings and babies, all were incriminating. One might have drunk coffee in a café, à la mode. Most surviving photographs are with foreigners whose families took them out of China.

“Bickers started by putting online a list of British policemen who had worked in the Shanghai Municipal Police. Relatives then sent him photographs. Photographs by one of the SMP, William Armstrong, show plump and contented, not starving, peasants in the ’20s. The Chinese Maritime Customs is another large collection. Photographs by G Warren Swire record the trading interests of Swire. British businessmen, missionaries, customs officers and police worked in remote places. Photographs by a Chinese politician and diplomat, Fu Bingchang, show the Kuomintang élite. In 1949, Fu went into exile in France. Others record childhoods spent with servants, as parents attended to their business and social lives.

“Slideshow includes voices of Tita Hayward and Audrey Gregg, who lived in China as children, Robert Bickers and Jamie Carstairs from Bristol, and Fu’s son and granddaughter.”


Another site: Visualising China,

This is “a JISC-funded project to allow users to explore and enhance more than 8000 digitised images of photographs of China taken between 1850 and 1950. It allows access to many previously unseen albums, envelopes and private collections and also major collections such as Historical Photographs of China, the Sir Robert Hart Collection and Joseph Needham’s Photographs of Wartime China. These have many sub-collections and albums.”

Visualising China blog.


Shanghai in this blog.


One can find informal photographs of ordinary Russian life under Communism, at least from the ’60s onwards, though nobody in the West saw them at the time. We didn’t know what young Russians looked like. In China there is little before the death of Mao.


Rural woman with toddler, Taihu region, west of Shanghai, from Visualising China

Customs officials, Peking, c 1891, from Historical Photographs of China

Historical Photographs of China and Visualising China allow Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike republication of images. These two photographs appear in both.

2 Responses to “China, 1850-1950”

  1. […] he wanted to play tennis with his equals or rest his legs upon a long chair [see the picture in this […]

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