Talk: A Day at the Races: Shanghai, 1941

Please join us for Professor James Carter’s discussion of photograph and its uses in studying modern Chinese history. Professor Carter will provide the keynote address of our postgraduate workshop, ‘Snapshots in Time: Photography and History in Modern China’, which is co-organised by the University of Bristol History Department and the Historical Photographs of China Project. A wine reception will follow the talk.

Cover of Shanghai by Ellen Thornbeck, illustrated by Friedrich Schiff (Shanghai, 1940)

Cover of Shanghai by Ellen Thorbeck, illustrated by Friedrich Schiff (Shanghai, 1940)

In the autumn of 1941, the Shanghai Race Club hosted what would be the last Champions’ Day before Japanese armies occupied the International Settlement. The scene was a study in contradiction: the Race Club limited membership to ‘whites only’, yet welcomed Chinese owners who had been displaced by the war; the race track was a potent symbol of European power, yet most of those in attendance were Chinese; the races were at the peak of their popularity just as the curtain was about to ring down. Using photographs of that day enables historians to piece together an understanding of the unique society that always existed on the edges of empires, never more precariously than during the Lonely Island period of 1937-1941.

James Carter is a professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University, where he works on the interactions between China and the West during the modern period. His research moves away from state-to- state relations to focus on the everyday actions of individuals. His most recent monograph, Heart of Buddha, Heart of China, investigates the life Tanxu, a Buddhist monk, to explore some of the most turbulent periods of twentieth-century China. Professor Carter is currently working on a history of Shanghai on the eve of the Second World War as seen through the last Champion’s race (12 November 1941) at the Shanghai Race Club.

Time: Thursday, 23 June, 4PM – 5.30PM

Location: University of Bristol, 43 Woodland Rd, Reception Room

For more details contact the workshop organiser: Dr Sabrina Fairchild sabrina.fairchild@bristol.ac.uk

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‘So this is fame’! Margot Fonteyn in China

Today sees the unveiling by the blog’s colleague Ronald Hutton of an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the flat in London’s Covent Garden where Margot Fonteyn lived when Prima Ballerina of Sadler’s Wells Ballet.

The blog knows her better as Peggy Hookham, who lived in Tianjin, and then Shanghai, between 1927 and 1933. Peggy was 8 when she arrived in China when her father began working there for British American Tobacco, and she was 14 when her mother brought her back to Britain to help her pursue a career in ballet.

Peggy Hookham in Romer-Peeler School performance, The China Press, 31 May 1931

Peggy Hookham in Romer-Peeler School performance, The China Press, 31 May 1931

In Shanghai she studied at the Romer-Peeler School, and with Carol Bateman, whose career later included an unexpected stint teaching dance in a Japanese internment camp in Hong Kong. The Russian refugee community at Shanghai included dancers and musicians as well. Amongst these was, former Bolshoi performer George Goncharov, with whom Peggy and another young Shanghai dancer, June Bear, later better known as June Brae, also took lessons.

If you nose through the newspapers, you can spot Peggy Hookham in action in various amateur shows in Shanghai in the early 1930s. Here she is in February 1931 in a low-quality scan from The China Press.

We were delighted to be able to copy a set of family photographs which included Peggy and her family in Tianjin, Shanghai and in Hong Kong, where her father’s work took him for several months at one time. But as well as images like these below of Peggy with an unidentified Chinese girl, or with her parents, including this nice portrait of mother and daughter, we also seem to have what is surely one of her earliest reviews.

Peggy Hookham, with an unidentified Chinese girl, Tientsin, c.1928. Hh-s010.

Peggy Hookham, with an unidentified Chinese girl, Tientsin, c.1928. Hh-s010.

Hilda and Peggy Hookham, Shanghai, July 1931

Hilda and Peggy Hookham, Shanghai, July 1931, Hh-s175

This comes in the form of a name card, from a Mrs W.T.L. Way, which indicates that they are ‘At Home’ — receiving guests — weekly at 5 o’clock on Thursdays:

Dear Mrs Hookham / Do bring Peggy along on Monday next at 4.30 as I am asking other children if she could do her pretty dance  I should be glad. I’ve a gramophone – if you can bring Records / Kind regards Lily Way

Invitation from Mr & Mrs W.T.L. Way

Invitation from Mr & Mrs W.T.L. Way, Tianjin, Hh-s261

William T.L. Way was a local British businessman, stalwart several-times Chairman of the Tientsin Club, member of the Country and Race Club, and freemason. He had arrived in the city in 1887, and like his wife, Elizabeth Alice, known as Lily, was the child of a Master Mariner. Off Peggy went, it seems, for in pencil on the card her mother (we assume) then wrote: ‘So this is fame!!!  The Ways are an one of the oldest families in Tientsin, their house backs onto the Astor House, & faces the Bund.  It is one of the first houses built in Tientsin.’, and then there follows the review: ‘Peg went & did her dance very nicely.’ And that of course is precisely what she carried on doing.

Invitation from Mr and Mrs W.T.L. Way, Tientsin. Hh-s260.

Invitation from Mr and Mrs W.T.L. Way, Tianjin. Hh-s260.

 

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Jon Chappell on burning opium in Nanning

A guest blog from Jon Chappell, who recently secured his PhD at the University of Bristol, on ‘Foreign Intervention In China: Empires And International Law In The Taiping Civil War, 1853-64′. Jon is currently working on a British Inter-university China Centre Cultural Exchange Partnership with the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, and from August will be teaching for a year at NYU Shanghai.

Burning opium at Nanning in 1920, Hedgeland collection, he03-076, © 2007 SOAS

Burning opium at Nanning in 1919, Hedgeland collection, he03-076 © 2007 SOAS

Sometimes the revolution is a tea party. This seemingly festive photograph represents the culmination of a radical campaign to rid China of opium. In 1906 the Qing dynasty and Britain agreed on a deal to enforce full prohibition of the drug’s use within ten years. The British would end imports of opium from British India if the Qing state could end the harvesting of opium poppies in China. Although the Qing fell in 1911, the agreement was maintained. By 1919, the last warehoused stocks of opium were being destroyed in Shanghai. This photograph, taken at the Nanning customs house, possibly records a similar event, or it may record the destruction of opium confiscated by the customs service as it was smuggled around the country. Either way, the destruction of opium was an event to be recorded, as the rows of onlookers, seated in front of the confiscated cache, suggest. In fact, the picture is a more sedate version of the opium burning celebrations held at the start of the suppression campaign.

The popular and government support for the suppression of opium was not just linked to the drug’s troubled history within the Qing empire. Although the Qing had initially resisted foreign opium imports, sparking an ‘opium’ war between Britain and China, by the early twentieth century it had become a dependable source of revenue for an otherwise faltering state. Between 1900 and 1906, when the suppression campaign began, duties on opium imports accounted for between 40-45% of customs revenues at Fujianese ports. The decision to prohibit the drug was, therefore, not an easy one. China’s problem with opium was partly an image problem. The Shanghai newspaper Shenbao proclaimed in 1906 ‘Since most of our countrymen wreck themselves by smoking opium, they represent our nation – a listless nation.’ Educated, mobile and nationalistic Chinese elites were only too aware that for many abroad, this image was China.

Opium smotking, H.E. Peck collection, pe01-068, © 2008 Dr. Elizabeth Hensel

Opium smoking, H.E. Peck collection, pe01-068, © 2008 Dr. Elizabeth Hensel

The image above, a posed photograph of an imagined typical scene in an opium den where men lay down to enjoy their pipes with prostitutes represented for many abroad why China was weak and could not be taken seriously internationally. Chinese nationalists internalised this message. The result was the prohibition campaign, launched despite the revenue derived from opium. The reality of opium smoking in China may, however, have been far more prosaic. The below image of scholars at their pipes contravenes many of the myths that circulated about opium addiction. The man in the front left is hardly a starved addict, while the scrolls on the back wall suggest that these men were part of an educated elite which took to the pipe as much as the poor. Recent scholarship has, in fact, suggested that the majority of opium smokers were harmless recreational users of the drug, particularly as smoking is a far less potent way to consume opiates than the pills or syringes now in use.

Smoking opium, from an album in University of Bristol Library Special Collections, UB01-04, UB01-04

Smoking opium, from an album in University of Bristol Library Special Collections, UB01-04, UB01-04

The Nanning opium burning marked a watershed. By 1920 central government authority had already splintered and within 10 years local warlords were deriving as much as 25% of their income from opium taxes. This income both attracted warlords to power and sustained their internecine conflict. Similarly, the prohibition of opium led to high prices and, this led to increasingly organised criminal networks with the power, and revenue, to corrupt governments. It is just possible that the effects of the cure were worse than the disease.

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David Woodbridge on Gulangyu and Xiamen

Our latest guest blog comes from David Woodbridge, who received his PhD from the University of Manchester. He was subsequently a postdoctoral fellow at Xiamen University, where he worked with the Gulangyu International Research Centre. He is currently working at the John Rylands Research Institute, at the University of Manchester, where, supported by a British Inter-university China Centre Cultural Engagement Fellowship, he is looking at the Chinese collections in the John Rylands Library.

Sw07-102

Reclamation works at Amoy, c.1921, by Warren Swire: G.W. Swire collection, sw07-102 © 2007 John Swire & Sons Ltd

This photograph, taken in 1920, provides an interesting insight into Xiamen’s distinctive semi-colonial arrangements. As one of the original five treaty ports, Xiamen (Amoy) acquired a British Concession in 1852. This consisted of a stretch of foreshore about 200 metres long and 70 metres wide, running along the harbour front, and housing the offices and warehouses of the foreign businesses that operated in the city. The photo is taken looking out from this Concession, across the old harbour. In the distance can be seen the island of Gulangyu (Kulangsu). Covering an area of around 2km², this small island became the preferred place of residence for Xiamen’s modestly-sized foreign community. Xiamen itself, and particularly its walled city, had quickly gained a reputation among foreigners for being dirty and disease-ridden. Therefore, Gulangyu, being in close proximity to the harbour but separate from it, became the favoured site for foreigners to make their home.

In the years that followed, Gulangyu’s foreign community increasingly sought powers to shape the development of the island in a manner more to their liking. Finally, in 1903, the Qing agreed to reconstitute Gulangyu as an international settlement. This was modelled on the international settlement in Shanghai, with the governance to be in the hands of a municipal council elected by local ratepayers. Unlike in Shanghai, however, provision was made for Chinese representation, with one Chinese councillor to sit alongside the five to six foreign councillors. This new arrangement was viewed by many as embodying a more progressive model for the ordering of Sino-foreign relations.

Amoy in the late 'eighties, J.O. Oswald Collection Os01-021. Photo from an album kept in the School of Oriental and African Studies Archives, London (SOAS reference MS 380 876/1) © 2008 SOAS

Gulangyu in the late 1880s, J.O. Oswald Collection Os01-021. Photo from an album kept in the School of Oriental and African Studies Archives, London (SOAS reference MS 380 876/1) © 2008 SOAS

Under this new regime Gulangyu’s development proceeded apace, with modern infrastructure and facilities being put in place. In addition, the island’s status kept it outside of the fierce feuding that afflicted southern Fujian during the warlord era. Consequently, Gulangyu’s population grew, and the new arrivals included many Chinese businessmen returning from Southeast Asia, whose wealth became embodied in large and elaborate residences on the island.

Meanwhile, the British Concession was increasingly becoming a site of contention. Beginning in the 1870s, attempts were made at land reclamation immediately in front of the Concession, something captured in the first photograph, above. The legal status of the reclaimed land was ambiguous, and in 1921 it became the source of a dispute that led to a boycott of Butterfield & Swire, who had sought to construct a pier connecting their lot in the Concession directly to the harbour. The boycott spread to Shanghai and Shantou, and resulted in an embarrassing climb-down by the British authorities, who had to retreat from their original, hard-line opposition to the protesters.

Gulangyu also became targeted by anti-imperialist protests. Chinese representation on the municipal council, while originally intended as a progressive measure, became a source of grievance, as protesters campaigned for a balance of representation on the council that better reflected the larger Chinese population on the island. The number of Chinese councillors was increased to three in 1927, but tensions remained in the international settlement’s administration.

Amoy new bund, 1933, by Warren Swire, G.W. Swire collection sw08-089 © 2007 John Swire & Sons Ltd.

Amoy new bund in front of the former British Concession, following completion of reclamation work, 1933, by Warren Swire, G.W. Swire collection sw08-089 © 2007 John Swire & Sons Ltd.

The British Concession in Xiamen was returned to Chinese rule in 1930, one of a number of concessions given up as the British sought to reduce its colonial presence in China in the wake of the Nationalist Revolution. Gulangyu, however, remained an international settlement until 1941. Its population of Americans, Europeans and Japanese, as well as local and overseas Chinese, produced a unique political and cultural character that made it one of the more eclectic of China’s colonial spaces during the Republican period.

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David Bellis on Warren Swire’s second visit to Hong Kong, 1911-12

In this, the second of a series of blogs, David Bellis explores the photographs taken by G. Warren Swire on his trip to Hong Kong in 1911-12. Because John Swire & Sons was headquartered in London, each year one of the Swires directors made a trip ‘Out East’ (in company parlance).

The highlight of Warren Swire’s first visit to Hong Kong was the construction of the new Taikoo dockyard at Quarry Bay. On his visit four years later, he could show it as a going concern. He took several photos of ships under repair, both up on the slips and down in the dry dock:

Repairing a ship's stern, Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw07-149.

Repairing a ship’s stern, Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw07-149.

Steamship in dry dock at Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong. 1911-12. Sw07-142.

Steamship in dry dock at Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong. 1911-12. Sw07-142.

 He also visited the ship-building yard to watch a new ship being launched:

Ship being launched, Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw07-151.

Ship being launched, Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw07-151.

Launching a ship, Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw07-152.

Launching a ship, Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw07-152.

 He didn’t note the name of the ship, but the title of the photo below says they’re gathered at the launch of the “Circe”:

Launch of the ship 'Circe', Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw17-001.

Launch of the ship ‘Circe’, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw17-001.

Here’s how the newspaper reported it:

LAUNCH AT TAIKOO DOCKYARD.

Yesterday the Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Company launched a handsomely modelled steel screw steamer for Messrs. Alfred Holt & Company’s Singapore and Delhi trade. The vessel is of the awning deck type, the principal dimensions being 200 feet long overall, 31’-6” beam, and 21’-6” deep to the awning deck. Accommodation for a number of passengers is fitted up amidships, with dining saloon. The officers’ and engineers’ rooms are situated aft in a steel house on the awning deck; the crew being berthed forward, and the petty officers aft. The ‘tween decks are arranged for carrying steerage passengers, and open spaces are fitted up for the carriage of cattle. Triple-expansion engines of the builders’ own make will be installed, steam being supplied from a large single-ended boiler, capable of driving the vessel at a speed of 12 knots. Electric light is fitted throughout. The gross tonnage of the vessel is about 800. As the vessel left the ways she was gracefully christened ‘Circe’ by Mrs. Swire.

The Hong Kong Telegraph, 6 March 1912, page 4.

If any maritime experts are reading, does the description of the ‘Circe’ match the ship shown being launched?

[UPDATE, 1 June 2016: The ship being launched has now been identified as the Tencho Maru.  See http://gwulo.com/node/32554#comment-36392]

‘Circe’ was built for Alfred Holt & Co., a company that worked closely with Swire’s. Other photos from this visit show their Holt’s Wharf, across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui:

Holts Wharf godowns, Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw07-116.

Holts Wharf godowns, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw07-116.

Back to the Taikoo dockyard, and my favourite photo from this visit:

Hong Kong from Mount Parker, with cable car, 1911-12.  Sw17-023.

Hong Kong from Mount Parker, with cable car, 1911-12. Sw17-023.

It’s a rare view of the cable car that ran up here to Quarry Gap, the pass between Mount Parker and Mount Butler. Old maps show the pass named Sanatorium Gap, which explains the need for a cable car: up at the Gap, situated to catch the cool breeze in summer, stood the Taikoo Sanatorium. Warren shows us the Sanatorium building, and its view out over the Tai Tam reservoir:

Taikoo Sanatorium, Mount Parker, Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw07-124.

Taikoo Sanatorium, Mount Parker, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw07-124.

View from Mount Parker, Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw17-024.

View from Mount Parker, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw17-024.

He took several other photos looking out from a high vantage point:

View westwards (2) from Taikoo, Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw17-013.

View westwards (2) from Taikoo, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw17-013.

View eastwards from Taikoo, Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw17-014.

View eastwards from Taikoo, Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw17-014.

They’re titled ‘View westwards from Taikoo’ and ‘View eastwards from Taikoo’, which doesn’t make sense at first. Then the penny drops, and we realise that Taikoo doesn’t mean the dockyard, but the house named ‘Taikoo’, up on the Peak!

Taikoo building in Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw07-108.

Taikoo building in Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw07-108.

 We’ll finish this visit with a couple of his photos of an even grander building:

Hong Kong University under construction, c.1912-16.  Sw18-104.

Hong Kong University under construction, c.1912-16. Sw18-104.

Hong Kong University under construction, c.1912-16.  Sw18-105.

Hong Kong University under construction, c.1912-16. Sw18-105.

They show construction work at the new Hong Kong University, partly funded by a donation from Swire’s.

Photos from Warren Swire’s first visit to Hong Kong can be seen at:

http://gwulo.com/node/31140 

as well as at:

http://visualisingchina.net/blog/2016/03/17/bellis-swire-hong-kong/

The full Warren Swire Collection covers the first four decades of the twentieth century, and can be viewed online at:

http://hpc.vcea.net/Collection/Warren_Swire_Images

David Bellis runs Gwulo.com, an online community for anyone interested in Hong Kong’s history. It hosts over 20,000 pages of information, including over 10,000 photographs.

http://gwulo.com/

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Postgraduate workshop: ‘Snapshots in Time: Photography and History in Modern China’

min-chin-with-camera-c-ch-foo-and-yw-fooThe British Inter-university China Centre, and the Historical Photographs of China project at the University of Bristol warmly invite applications from Masters and Doctoral students working in modern Chinese and East Asian history to participate in a three-day research training workshop (23-25 June) on the nature and uses of photography in the writing of the history of modern China. The aim is to provide opportunities to expand understandings of the role photography and photographs can play in research and writing by historians.

The workshop’s schedule includes: masterclasses taught by historians and photographers; introduction to the ‘Historical Photographs of China’ Project by Professor Robert Bickers (University of Bristol); and opportunities to discuss postgraduate research.

Keynote address by Professor James Carter (St. Joseph’s University)

To inquire about or register for this workshop please email Dr Sabrina Fairchild (sabrina.fairchild@bristol.ac.uk).

Deadline for applications: 20 May 2016. Accepted participants will be notified the following week. Applicants should provide: a c.v., and a brief statement outlining their reasons for participating. A subvention towards the cost of UK travel expenses for participants will be available, and accommodation and some meals will be provided.

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David Bellis on Warren Swire’s Hong Kong, 1906-1940

David Bellis runs Gwulo.com, an online community for anyone interested in Hong Kong’s history. It hosts over 20,000 pages of information, including over 10,000 photographs. David recently visited Bristol to discuss his work, and met the  team. In this, the first of a series of blogs, he explores the photographs taken by G. Warren Swire on his first trip to Hong Kong in 1906-07. Subsequent posts will present photographs taken on the visits Swire made at regular intervals up to 1940. Because it was headquartered in London, each year one of the John Swire & Sons directors made a trip ‘Out East’ (in company parlance). Warren first set out in 1906.

In 1904, aged just 21, G. Warren Swire became a director of his father’s firm, John Swire & Sons Ltd. Two years later he was sailing east to visit the company’s operations in China. Fortunately for Hong Kong’s record, he was a keen photographer.

Here’s what he saw on that first visit…

1906-7 Dockyard construction

Not surprisingly, he paid most attention to the construction of the company’s Taikoo Dockyard. When finished it would boast the largest dry dock in Hong Kong, and break the Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Company’s monopoly on large-scale ship-building and repair.

Here’s the great dry dock being built:

Constructing Taikoo dry dock, Hong Kong, 1906-07.  Sw02-104.

Constructing Taikoo dry dock, Hong Kong, 1906-07. Sw02-104.

The dry dock was the most dramatic sight, but only occupied a small part of the dockyard. Next to the dry dock they built several slips where ships could be hauled up for repair:

Constructing Taikoo dry dock, Hong Kong, 1906-07.  Sw02-113.

Constructing Taikoo dry dock, Hong Kong, 1906-07. Sw02-113.

While over on the western side of the site, the yards to build new ships were taking shape.

His photos show he also kept an eye on the competition. The Royal Navy were building their own dockyard and dry dock around this time. The Butterfield and Swire offices just happened to overlook that construction site, giving him a firsthand view of progress.

He took this photo of the office building, on the seafront at Central:

Butterfield and Swire office in Hong Kong, 1911-12.  Sw07-111.

Butterfield and Swire office in Hong Kong, 1911-12. Sw07-111.

And these photos from the rooftop, looking down onto the Royal Navy’s new dry dock:

Royal Navy dry dock under construction, Hong Kong, c.1907. Sw14-020.

Royal Navy dry dock under construction, Hong Kong, c.1907. Sw14-020.

Royal Navy dry dock under construction, Hong Kong, c.1907.  Sw14-019.

Royal Navy dry dock under construction, Hong Kong, c.1907. Sw14-019.

The Royal Navy’s dry dock was flooded for the first time on Saturday, 15th June, 1907, with the Taikoo dry dock taking its first drink exactly one week later. Despite their significance, neither event is recorded in his collection of photos. Most likely he’d already left Hong Kong by then, escaping the hot summer weather and typhoons to head back to England.

The full Warren Swire Collection (1,971 images) covers the first four decades of the twentieth century, and can be viewed on Historical Photographs of China.

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The Story of China

In BBC2’s The Story of China, Michael Wood has explored the history of the China – “the stories, people and landscapes that have helped create China’s distinctive character and genius over four thousand years”. The excellent and beautifully photographed series is well worth viewing.

For a short time, the programmes are available on BBC iPlayer at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06ymzy7

Historical Photographs of China contributed four images relating to modernism, to the final episode, The Age of Revolution, including a photograph of Fu Bingchang and a photograph by Fu Bingchang of Lan Yezhen in a 1937 Buick.

Lan Yezhen in a 1937 Buick. Fu collection, Fu01-011.

Lan Yezhen in a 1937 Buick. Fu collection, Fu01-011.

Shopping in Shanghai, 1925.  Hutchinson collection, Hn06-217.

Shopping in Shanghai, 1925. Hutchinson collection, Hn06-217.

Nanking Road, Shanghai, 1920s.  Lockhart collection, HPC ref tbc.

Nanking Road, Shanghai, 1920s. Lockhart collection, HPC ref tbc.

Fu Bingchang, 1920s.  Fu collection, Fu-n110.

Fu Bingchang, 1920s. Fu collection, Fu-n110.

 

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A trading journey II

‘A Trading Journey’, the exhibition by Alejandro Acin in a shipping container outside the M Shed Museum in Bristol in November, was well received. Since then, Alejandro, who is an assistant at the Historical Photographs of China project, has had the opportunity to return to Guangzhou (Canton) to continue his photographic project on key trading areas in the city. Here is Alejandro’s overview of his trip:

It was very nice to be back in Guangzhou, somehow I feel very connected to the city. Of course, taking photographs in a place makes me develop a special relationship with it, even if I’m there for only a short period of time, but there seems to be something else. Probably, it has to do with the activity in these markets and wholesale sheds, the flux of people and goods, the noise, the colours.

WATLSA (080 ) (1)

A second trip was needed to push my project forward. The materials I gathered on my first trip and the exhibition I did, helped me to clarify what I was looking for in this return journey but also to raise some questions about my discourse. On my first trip I had the chance to go to some of the most popular clothing wholesale markets near the South Railway Station. But this time, I was recommended by my friend Tao, a local photographer, to visit the Shaheding (沙河顶) and Yide Lu (一德路) areas, important wholesale clothes markets where international fashion brands identify the latest fashion trends which they will later include in their catalogues as their own designs. It seems the local government wants to close these wholesale markets, citing health and safety risks. However a real reason seems to be part of an urban rebranding strategy to make Guangzhou a new and modern city.

In a conversation with Du Huizhen, Lecturer in Journalism at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, she pointed that China is shifting from being a global production provider to an international distributor – many factories are moving to other countries such us Bangladesh or India, where overheads are cheaper. Logistics are becoming very important in China, particularly in Guangzhou, and they are always looking for new ways that allow them to distribute more items in shorter period of time. Guangzhou is very popular in the distribution of clothes and clothing accessories. A large percentage of sales in these fashion wholesale markets are of course online. My friend Tao, told me that these wholesale markets used to be much more hectic in the past than they are now, a decline due to online trading.

To get a rough idea of the huge volume of these sales, the Singles Day sales (similar to Black Friday) are an extreme example. On these days, discounts for online products are offered by almost every company. This year, approximately 760 million packages were sent during the 24-hour period – 42 per cent more than last year, according to the state authority.

WATLSA 1

This phenomenon interests me greatly, not just the acts of consumerism but the human force behind the distribution and the physical relations with all of these goods. So during my second trip, I photographed porters. Porters are usually responsible for picking up the goods that were purchased online from the shops in the wholesale market and then taking them to the lorry or van waiting downstairs which will later go into a ship container. As you can image, the traffic of porters around these wholesalers is constant. I am very interested in the formal aspects of these images but also their capacity to generate questions about the aesthetics of consumerism.

WATLSA2

As well as photographing porters I also walked inside the wholesale malls. Shaheding has malls with 4 or 5 floors. Every floor is full of stalls where the cloths are displayed. The shop assistants normally stand beside their stalls (because the stalls are fully packed with bags), wearing some of the outfits that they sell, so that they are living mannequins. The activity is frenetic, people carrying bags everywhere, shop assistants clapping to catch the attention of passers-by, food delivery trolleys …  I was attracted by the ways that shop assistants create and use the storage space as personal private space.

Mosaic

On my last day, while I was walking around different second hand bookshops with my friend Hu, he found a photography book about international trading agreements with China, from 1950 to 1990. I have to admit, this could be a very boring photo book for some people, but I was fascinated by all the hand-shaking! My project was inspired by the Historical Photographs of China archive, in particular the images of trade in Canton a hundred years ago. With the hand-shaking photographs, I want to add a new layer to my project, looking at the imagery of bureaucratic agreements. Also how these trade deals later have an impact on the business activities and people’s daily/work life in China and in other countries.

My photography project is growing organically and I am happy with the interest generated so far. I am excited to be able to exhibit it physically again, at ContainsArt, a creative project based in Watchet, west Somerset, in April. ContainsArt uses shipping containers as gallery space, in much the same way as a container was used for ‘A Trading Journey’ at the MShed Museum in Bristol. I would like to thank Jessica Prendergast, curator at ContainsArt, for her interest but also for challenging me to come up with a new and creative exhibition plan.  More info about this exhibition coming soon.

 

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Year of the Monkey

JC-s108(cropped0The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery celebrated the Chinese New Year in style over the weekend. Such was the interest that queues formed in the driving rain, as the building filled to capacity.

Among the attractions, was the exhibition The ‘Chinese Wartime Science Through the Lens of Joseph Needham’. This exhibition is part of a digitisation and engagement project between the University of Bristol and the Needham Research Institute, sponsored by the British Inter-University China Centre.

Needham at BMAG

In early 1943, British biochemist Joseph Needham arrived in China, sponsored by the British Council to support scientific research and teaching in country torn apart by its war with Japan. Over the next four years, Needham criss-crossed ‘Free China’ building links with the country’s scientific community, bringing them much needed supplies and equipment, as well as facilitating the exchange and publication of their research overseas. He visited factories built underground to avoid Japanese bombing to laboratories, libraries, and classrooms rehoused in disused temples and even mud huts as academic institutions fled westward ahead of invading troops.

Dr. Needham kept detailed dairies and took over a thousand photographs during his travels.   ‘Chinese Wartime Science’ draws on this collection of material providing a unique window on life in wartime China. The exhibition was curated by Gordon Barrett.

We hope to show ‘Chinese Wartime Science Through the Lens of Joseph Needham’ again soon, at the University of Bristol.

Wishing you a very happy new year!

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