Robert Neild on Wuzhou, old and new.


Wuchow, c.1915. From the Banister collection, Ba06-114. © 2008 Peter Lockhart Smith

Britain’s commercial forays into China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were not always popular at the local level.  More than a hundred towns and cities, large and small, were identified as places of potentially profitable trade by Britain and the other powers.  Wuchow (Wuzhou) was opened as a Treaty Port by a British treaty in 1897.  Some 300 kilometres up the West River from Canton (Guangzhou), Wuchow was the head of navigation for ocean-going vessels.  Hopes were not high amongst the foreign merchants, but the opening of the West River was seen as an important step by Britain if French ambitions in the area were to be contained.  The image above dates from from about 1915, and shows a foreign steamer loading up at a Wuchow pontoon, under the watchful and protecting eye of a British gunboat from the Royal Navy’s West River Flotilla.

Today’s Wuchow contains much of interest for the Treaty Port historian. The former British Consulate, opened in 1903, has been tastefully restored and is now a museum dedicated to the British period.  A nearby enormous former American Christian Missionary Alliance building from 1902 is also in very good repair, but seems to lack a current purpose.  Also still standing are the suite of seven Maritime Customs buildings erected in 1922.  The condition of these is variable, with some in use, some almost derelict and some being renovated.

Wuchow and all the other foreign commercial stations in China are described individually and in detail in Robert Nield’s new book China’s Foreign Places: The Foreign Presence in China in the Treaty Port Era, 1840-1943, published by Hong Kong University Press.

Posted in Guest blogs, Photograph of the day | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Another Prince on the Bund, 1926

Prince George, Shanghai, 3 June 1926. Lang collection, AL-s37 © 2015 Robert Bickers

Prince George (centre, looking towards the camera), Shanghai, 3 June 1926. Lang collection, AL-s37 © 2015 Robert Bickers

This is Prince George, great-grand uncle of the Duke of Cambridge, who is currently visiting Shanghai. The date is 3 June 1926: Empire Day. The Prince is just about to inspect a parade in the extensive grounds of the old British Consulate-General at the north end of the Bund. Prince George spent 18 months on the Royal Navy’s China Station in 1925-26, and it was from HMS Hawkins, that he had come ashore to take part in the patriotic celebrations. The Consulate General building, which you can see in the background, still survives, but now it houses a very exclusive (Chinese) government guest house, and what was formerly the consul-general’s house, just behind it, is dedicated to sales of a very expensive brand of luxury watch. That does at least mean that a visitor can stroll in and around the building and its grounds — but do affect the air of a customer in search of a timepiece (solar topee no longer required).

Posted in Exhibition, Photograph of the day | Tagged , , | Comments Off

A Prince on the Bund

Union Insurance of Canton, The Bund, Shanghai, festooned for the Duke of Connaught’s visit, 8 April 1890 © 2012 Billie Love Historical Collection, BL01-08.

Union Insurance of Canton, The Bund, Shanghai, festooned for the Duke of Connaught’s visit, 8 April 1890 © 2012 Billie Love Historical Collection, BL01-08.

The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, has arrived in Shanghai to open the ‘GREAT Festival of Creativity‘ being held at the Long Museum from 2-4 March. It was a century and a quarter ago, on 8 April 1890, that an English Prince first visited the city. That brief foray by the Duke of Connaught — Queen Victoria’s seventh child, and her third son — was recorded in a set of photographs we have placed on the ‘Historical Photographs of China’ site from the Billie Love Collection. The Bund was lavishly decorated for the arrival of the Prince –Arthur William Patrick Albert, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn — ceremonial arches were erected, bunting draped from lamp post to lamp post, and banners hung across the roadway. ‘Young Shanghai welcomes tee Scion of old England’ proclaimed this one with a nice copying error, evidently a Chinese sign-maker misreading the text he was presented with. We have an exhibition of the project’s photographs of 1920s-30s Shanghai on display in the festival.


Posted in Exhibition | Tagged , | Comments Off


One of our funders, and strong supporters, is the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council, which is marking its tenth anniversary with a series of films about its activities since 2005. The Historical Photographs of China project is the subject of one of the latest of a series of short films it has commissioned. It highlights a rich variety of our photographs, and gives you a glimpse of how we work, and why we are doing this. Enjoy.

Don’t forget that you can also still listen to the July 2012 BBC Radio 4 programme about the project and its work, ‘Old Photographs Fever: The search for China’s pictured past‘, and hear from some of the donors of the material we have digitised. Nearly 300 people got in touch with us shortly that was broadcast, many with offers of material.


Posted in About us, Elsewhere on the net, Update | Tagged , , | Comments Off

January’s face

IMG_5933 copyHappy new year! The project’s pleased that the Arts & Humanities Research Council has used one of its photographs, taken by Shanghai-born Jack Ephgrave, as the first image in its desktop calendar for 2015.

This photograph of a woman’s face was one of a number of the BAT employee’s images that were showcased in an AHRC Online Gallery exhibition in 2013. We think it dates to about 1933. Plans are afoot for a modest display of photographs from Ephgrave’s collection, and others relating to Shanghai, in that city in early March this year.

The project has also just received for copying a rich collection from the family of William Charles Grant, an officer of the Shanghai Municipal Police who became the chief of its Ward Road Jail (now Tilanqiao Prison), one of the largest in the world by the 1930s.

IMG_5911 copy


Posted in Collections, Exhibition, New Collections, Photographers | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Best seasonal wishes from the HPC team

Dancers looking at Canton Camera, during Chinese New Year events, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, 2013.  Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Dancers looking at Canton Camera, during Chinese New Year events, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, 2013. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

It’s been another very busy year at the Historical Photographs of China (HPC) project. Here’s news of some of our achievements.

The Chinese Year of the Horse kicked off with a new exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in February. We devised Canton Camera, to highlight nineteen photographs of Bristol’s sister city Guangzhou, chosen from eleven different collections, and displayed on ten pop-up banners.

We copied over 5,100 photographs in fifteen new collections this year. While augmenting the HPC website is the project’s main aim, public events also reach many hundreds of people for the first time, including Chinese communities in Bristol (both long-time residents and students). We welcome to the team Miss Yuqun Gao, who publicises the project online to Chinese social media users through our Weibo site.

The heart of the HPC project continues to be the collections of photographs kindly lent by people with historic family connections to China. Each collection captures particular experiences of people, place, and period. When brought together, and shared by the HPC team, they significantly expand and multiply opportunities for knowledge and insight. We see and learn new things from even the smallest handful of photographs that are shared with us. This year we received contributions that ranged from the oldest known surviving photographs taken in Shanghai (c.1857), to photographs by a British Army Signal Engineer taken in China during World War Two.

HPC is a highly regarded, and much used, resource for scholars, other researchers and students around the world. During 2014 the project was visited by the Taiwanese Ambassador, by the Vice Directors of the State Archives Administration of China and representatives from the Wuhan Customs Museum, and others.

Partnership is essential to the continued success of the HPC. This year we copied marvellous archive collections held at the University of Birmingham and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute.

We also worked with an independent filmmaker on a film about the life of Sir Robert Hart, the long-serving Inspector General of China’s Imperial Maritime Customs Service. More information about For China and The World is at

For China and the World – a film about Sir Robert Hart by Calling the Shots.

For China and the World – a film about Sir Robert Hart by Calling the Shots.

Looking ahead to 2015 – we launch a revamped HPC website, hosted in Bristol. Once that is up and running, we will be working hard to make the collections lent to the project since 2012 available for all to see. We also plan to hold a new photographic exhibition about Guangzhou.

All welcome to Bristol’s famous Chinese New Year event, at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, 21st and 22nd February.

Compliments of the season to all friends of ‘Visualising China’.

Christmas tree, Commissioner's House, Lappa (Macao) 1908. Hedgeland collection, He01-217, © 2007 SOAS.

Christmas tree, Commissioner’s House, Lappa (Macao) 1908. Hedgeland collection, He01-217, © 2007 SOAS.

Posted in Digitisation, Exhibition, Update, Visualisation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Paul French on The Metropole Hotel, Shanghai

Friend of the blog, author Paul French, ruminates on the Metropole Hotel, which the ‘Historical Photographs of China’ knows well. You can catch more of Paul’s discussions of Shanghai and other histories on his China Rhyming blog. Over at ‘Historic Shanghai‘ you can also keep abreast of the fortunes, or otherwise, of the city’s heritage architecture. The photographs came to us from the British Steel Archive.

These pictures of the Metropole Hotel (today the 新城饭店) under construction show the creation of what remains one of the most impressive “circuses” of a major city – the junction of Foochow and Kiangse Roads at the heart of the International Settlement. The hotel remains of course, now at the junction of Fuzhou and Jiangxi Roads.

Metropole Hotel under construction, Shanghai, August 1930. BTCA collection, BS-s10: © 2011 British Steel Archive Project.

This crossroads was the administrative heart of
the International Settlement with the Central Police
 Station, which included the offices of Special Branch 
(formed in 1898 and known as the “Intelligence Office”
until 1925) and had first been built on the road in 1854; the headquarters of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps as well
 as most of the chief departments of the city administration. Close by, the major administration building of the Shanghai Municipal Council occupied a full block at the junction.


Metropole Hotel under construction, Shanghai, September 1930. BSPA collection, BS-s11: © 2011 British Steel Project Archive.

The Metropole was built in 1930 and designed by the well known architectural firm of Palmer and Turner and the construction was carried out by Sin Jin Kee Building Contractors. The same team built both Victor Sassoon’s Cathay Hotel and Hamilton House, adjacent to the Metropole.

The Metropole was not a new name to long term Shanghailanders, there had been a hotel of long standing and often dubious reputation on the Bubbling Well Road close to the race course but that was long gone by 1930 and so the name was obviously appropriated with its connotations of modernism suiting the city and structure well. Hamilton House was home to a constantly revolving range of businesses over the years including insurance firms, Shanghai Dairy Farms main offices, radio stations and gramophone companies and the editorial offices of the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle (who preferred to list their address as Hamilton Haus).

Metropole Hotel and Hamilton House under construction, Shanghai, October 1930. BSPA collection, BS-s13: © 2011 British Steel Project Archive.

Metropole Hotel and Hamilton House under construction, Shanghai, October 1930. BSPA collection, BS-s13: © 2011 British Steel Project Archive.

Tani and Anatole Maher, in their book Memoirs: From Old Shanghai to the New World, recall the hotel as luxurious when they stayed there shortly after its construction.

It’s worth recalling the construction of this magnificent hotel now as it is about to undergo a “refurbishment”, a word to send chills through the soul of any dedicated Shanghai preservationist. Most at risk appears to be the American Bar, once a gathering spot for many Shanghailanders (the American Club was just round the corner on Foochow Road). The hotel of course maintains that it will retain the features of the bar, yet then says that the space will be converted into a gym …


Metropole Hotel under construction, Shanghai, August 1930. BSPA collection, BS-s09: © 2011 British Steel Project Archive.

Posted in Guest blogs, Heritage, Photograph of the day | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

What’s a photograph for?

Public gardens copy

Bandstand, Public Gardens, Shanghai, 22 June 1911, by F. Mattos, source: private collection

This photograph appeared in a 1911 issue of the monthly magazine Social Shanghai, and shows the Bund-side Public Gardens crowded with Chinese visitors. The date is that of the coronation of King George V, and the original caption reads:

A Memorable Occasion

The Chinese were allowed to enter the Public Gardens for the first and only time.

Why did the journal print this photograph? It had a novelty value, certainly, for as many of this blog’s readers will know, and as the caption suggests, Chinese — excepting servants tending foreign children — were barred from using the public parks in the International Settlement at Shanghai. The rules were in fact quite blunt: regulation no.5 stated ‘No Chinese are admitted, except servants in attendance upon foreigners’ (a later, rephrased, iteration of these rules can be below). The racist exclusion of Chinese from the settlement parks, which lasted until June 1928, has been the subject of myth and fury since around the time this photograph was taken, and was the subject of a 1995 article I co-authored with Jeffrey Wasserstrom (someone has posted the PDF online here). For, in 1914, a story started circulating that the signboards stated things more baldly: ‘Chinese and Dogs not admitted’.


Public and Reserve Gardens Regulations sign, Shanghai, 1917. Bickers collection, Bi-s079: © 2008 Professor Bickers

Much attention has now been paid to tracing the trajectory of this tale, which remains unproven, though believed by many, but which also distracts attention from the more routine, bureaucratic realities of the egregious and pervasive racism of the foreign interests that controlled Shanghai. Based on our assessment of the archives of the Council itself, Jeff Wasserstrom and I concluded that we were dealing with an urban legend, albeit one which spoke to an essential truth.

The use by Social Shanghai‘s editor of this photograph is clearly designed not to document a novelty, but to reinforce this policy of exclusion. Look, reader, it says, ‘this is what will happen if the Chinese are allowed in’. There are many postcards of the Public Gardens in circulation, and we have various commercially produced as well as privately taken photographs of it (this shot of the entrance was taken in about 1910). In these, mostly, it is a picturesque sight, a place of quiet and reflection in the hurly-burly of Shanghai. Mattos’s photograph presents the nightmare of colonial power which has let slip its guard, and let slip the barriers and exclusions which define it.

The policy was the subject of debate within the foreign community, and was contested by Chinese political and commercial leaders, as well as by ordinary people. It became by the 1920s a very prominent issue, that did irreparable harm to the public image of the foreign authorities in Shanghai. Variations of the story live on today, and only this week a further twist was added to it, when a Beijing clothing store was found to have barred Chinese from entering (its customer base was in fact Russian). Commentators immediately drew attention to the history of exclusion in Shanghai, its legacy, and its lessons for ‘national dignity’.

The photographer, ‘F. Mattos’, was possibly Filomeno Mattos, who worked for the department store Weeks & Co, and who was a founder member of the Portuguese Company of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps. In the Shanghai context ‘Portuguese’ mostly meant Macanese, that is, the community of people of mixed Portuguese and Chinese heritage originating in Macao. They were as a result subject to their own exclusions and discrimination by the foreign power-holders at Shanghai, but these were far less easily caught on camera.

Posted in Photograph of the day | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off


Joshua A.Fogel, Maiden Voyage

Joshua A.Fogel, Maiden Voyage: The Senzaimaru and the Creation of Modern Sino-Japanese Relations (2014)

The photographs posted to our site — 9,151 now, and rising — have often found their way into publications, and in this post we’ll introduce a handful of them.

Joshua Fogel, Canada Research Chair and Professor of History at York University, Toronto, has used a cropped section from a panorama of the Bund at Shanghai, on the cover of his fascinating new book on the first modern Japanese diplomatic mission to China in 1862. The ship of the title, the Senzaimaru, was in fact originally a British steamer, the Armistice, constructed at the Wilkinson shipyard in Sunderland in 1852. By 1860 it was exclusively working in China sea waters and in 1862 was bought by the Japanese for the mission to Shanghai.



Another form of transport was used on the cover of Manchurian Railways and the Opening of China, edited by Bruce A. Elleman, and Stephen Kotkin, whose publisher used a 1911 photograph by G. Warren Swire of the platform at Harbin railway station.

Elleman Kotkin

G. W. Swire, Harbin railway station, Manchuria, c.1912, Swire collection, sw16-009: © 2007 John Swire & Sons Ltd

G. W. Swire, Harbin railway station, Manchuria, c.1912, Swire collection, sw16-009: © 2007 John Swire & Sons Ltd.

It is not only university academics who ask us for permission to reproduce photographs — requests that we relay directly to the rights owners, as we do not own the rights to the majority of the photographs on the site. Instead, we secure a license from their owners to display them. A recent request came from a picture researcher working for Granta magazine for its Japan issue, who used our photograph of the ‘Willow Pattern’ tea house at Shanghai (the Huxinting), from the Billie Love Historical Collection, to illustrate David Peace’s ‘After the War, Before the War’. The story is set in Shanghai in 1921.It is one of many images we have of this Shanghai icon, located at the heart of the original walled city.




Australian author and translator Linda Jaivin‘s publisher, Reaktion Books, secured permission through us to use an image of a couple of Europeans enjoying a picnic on a part of Peking’s old city wall in 1919. Jaivin’s book, Beijing, is described as an ‘an intimate and informed portrait of a city at the centre of one of the world’s oldest civilizations and the capital of one of its newest superpowers’. Reaktions’ books are usually extremely well-designed and visually powerful, and this is no exception.




A selection of the Reverend Charles Darwent’s photographs of Shanghai in 1902, were showcased in an article in the magazine of the Ritz-Carlton hotel group. Guests staying in the Portman Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai were thereby able to get a taste of Darwent’s superb photographs this way, for the magazine found its way into every one of the rooms. That hotel is situated just a short walk from the former Bubbling Well Temple, that formerly gave its name to the road on which both sit. It has of changed a bit, as has most of Darwent’s city.


Ritz-Carlton Magazine, Winter 2014 pp 98-99

It is always interesting to see how users of all stripes — and you are a very diverse audience — react to the images on the site, and see possible further uses for them. Our attention is often drawn to  unnoticed details and echoes, and the occasional error. Additional information from users has been fed into many of our captions, and the accompanying metadata. This project is in fact an exercise in crowd-sourcing, both of the images themselves, and in many cases of key details about them.

Here at ‘Historical Photographs of China’ we certainly want the images to be used, and our licence terms allow for their use for teaching and research within the terms agreed with the contributors. We are not always able to respond positively to requests for print publication, as the decision is not ours to make, and rights owners sometimes say no. Occasionally we pre-empt them, knowing now how they have responded to specific types of re-use request before, but on the whole most requests for publication are agreed to. The terms and conditions of use, and any permissions fees, are the prerogative of the owners.

The lives of photographs are unpredictable ones, and they can find their ways into all sorts of unexpected contexts. One image on the site will shortly grace the cover of a CD of Brazilian music. More routinely they have entered discussions about local heritage in China, or about social or cultural history. Some have been re-united with private family histories, as descendants of people identified in the images have come across their ancestors, in one case for the first time in a photograph. These lives will continue to evolve, as the corpus of material we make available grows, and as you, the users, continue to respond to them.

Posted in Photograph of the day, Update | Tagged , | Comments Off

M is for Ming!

Man with statue of military official, guarding the Spirit Way to the Ming Tombs, c.1902: Ca02-115, © 2008 Queen’s University Belfast

‘Ming: 50 years that changed China’, the British Museum’s autumn exhibition opens today. Photographs in Historical Photographs of China of surviving artefacts from the 1368-1644 Ming dynasty include tourist silliness like this early 1900s shot of a visitor posing with one of the guardians on the seven mile Spirit, or Sacred, Way: the avenue of approach to the Ming tombs north of Beijing. But perhaps the contrast here tells us something about the Ming, the last Han Chinese ruling house, which was overthrown by rebellion and invasion by the Manchu state from the north, which established the Qing dynasty — still ruling when this photograph was taken. Our tourist, and others like him, might aim for an Ozymandias effect — ‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ — but I rather think he has failed, and that the solid achievements of this dynamic period of Chinese history have overshadowed him. (And don’t you wish for the general’s right hand to fall?).

You can find exhibition blog posts here. For good introductions to the world of the Ming see Timothy Brooks, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China, and Craig Clunas, Empire of Great Brightness: Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China, 1368-1644, and of course the quite stunningly beautiful exhibition catalogue, edited by Craig Clunas and Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming: 50 years that changed China.

大英博物馆秋季特展“明:改变中国的50年”近日开展。“中国历史老照片”收藏的关于1368-1644年明朝文物的照片,包括一些游客的蠢萌行为,正如这张摄于1900年北京北郊明皇陵七里神道上,一名游客和其中一尊武将合影的照片。但也许这其中的对比正能看出明朝这一汉人统治的最后一个王朝,即便被叛军终结、被来自北方的满族入侵并建立清朝,在这张照片拍摄之时,仍有着统治地位。许多像他一样的游客旨在寻找着一种奥西曼迭斯效应——“强悍者呵,谁能和我的业绩相比!”[1]—— 但我宁愿相信他失败了,宁愿相信这中国历史的生动一页蒙蔽了他。(可别祈祷将军的右手掉下来砍断他的头哦?)

 关于特展的更多信息可关注官网。想要了解西方学者对明朝的解读可参考翟莫西·布鲁克(Timothy Brook)的《喜人的变乱:明代商业和文化》(The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China)和柯律格(Craig Clunas)的《大明帝国:明代中国的视觉和物质文化,1368–1644》(Empire of Great Brightness: Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China, 1368-1644)。当然柯律格和霍吉淑女士(Jessica Harrison-Hall)策划的 “明:改变中国的五十年”精彩展览更是不容错过。

Chinese translation courtesy of Yuqun Gao

[1] 引自英国19世纪云雀诗人雪莱(Percy Bysshe Shelley)的一首14行诗《奥西曼德斯》(Ozymandias,1817年)。“奥西曼德斯”是希腊语对法老的称呼。“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,  The lone and level sands stretch far away“(我是奥西曼德斯,众王之王。强悍者呵,谁能和我的业绩相比!在这巨大的荒墟四周,无边无际,只见一片荒凉而寂寥的平沙。)

Posted in Alphabet China, Exhibition, Exhibitions, Photograph of the day | Tagged , , | Comments Off