‘Normal’ Lives Led in Abnormal Conditions

Dr Andrew Hillier shows how a recently- discovered collection of photographs shines a spotlight on the importance of family in treaty port China in the early twentieth century.

On 12 April 1899, Edith Sarah Sharples and Walter James Clennell were married in Shanghai’s Holy Trinity Cathedral.  Clennell had joined the China Consular Service as a Student Interpreter at the age of twenty in 1888, and, having quickly made his mark, had already risen to the position of Acting Consul.[1] Six years his junior, Edie had also been living in China for some years. The fourth child and eldest daughter of John Sharples and his wife, Sarah (née Mercer), her father had left the family home in Birkenhead in the late 1870s and, arriving in Shanghai, had established his reputation as a skilled engineer. Edie’s mother and at least four of the five children had joined him some ten years later and were all still living in China at the time of the wedding. Walter and Edie would spend the next twenty-five years in the country, a time that is reflected in a rich collection of family photographs. [2]

Unlike the wives of so many consular officials, whose lives have been overshadowed by their husbands’ careers, in this collection, Edie occupies centre stage, along with her siblings and the growing brood of children within the Sharples family circle.[3]

1. Edie’s brother, Herbert and (from left) Hetty (née Heukendorff), wife of Edie’s brother, Ernest, who may have taken the snapshot, Amy (Herbert’s wife), Edie, and ‘progeny’: Jiujiang, c. 1904.

1. Edie’s brother, Herbert and (from left) Hetty (née Heukendorff), wife of Edie’s brother, Ernest, who may have taken the snapshot, Amy (Herbert’s wife), Edie, and ‘progeny’: Jiujiang, c. 1904.[4] CF01-075

As Edie and Walter approached their wedding, the Boxer movement was spreading through the north of China and would leave a bitter legacy and continuing resentment at the Western presence, although some would look back to this time as the golden age of the Consular Service.[5]  Against that background, family and its practices provided a key mechanism for restoring ‘normality’ to treaty life. In addition to the formal pictures taken by photographic studios- mainly Chinese -, the everyday could be snapped with a hand-held Kodak. Little different to today’s selfies, circulated amongst friends, enclosed in letters home and, as here, pasted into albums, these images, in Robert Bickers’ words, played ‘a vital role within networks of family communications, forming a private economy of exchange and understanding’.[6]  However, despite appearances, these lives were far from normal, spent as they were in ‘alien surroundings far from home … in most abnormal conditions’. [7]

2. ‘Abnormal conditions’: Walter and Edie and child, setting off on a round of social calls. Given that their little son, Lindsey, died in 1903, either the date is incorrect or, if correct, the child must be May, who will have been aged one at the time. Formally posed, the photograph may have been taken by a member of the consular staff. CF02-05 and 07.

And, for Walter and Edie, as with so many treaty port families, it was a life punctuated by frequent illness, the death of two of their children, extensive travelling and lengthy separations.

By the time of the wedding, the Sharples family had become well-known in Shanghai, not least because of its participation in Shanghai’s amateur theatricals which were enthusiastically covered in the pages of the North China Herald.

3 ‘The Gondoliers’, Shanghai, January, 1896. Edie is on the far right. The photograph was most probably taken by a commercial agency. CF03-004

Although Coates suggests that the introduction first came from Edie’s brother, Herbert, when he was working in Shanshi (Shasi) and Walter had been serving there as Acting Consul, she and Walter probably met in Shanghai, when he was serving as Clerk to the Supreme Court.[8]

4. An English way of life: lawn tennis in Shanghai – possibly 1898. Edie is first left. CF03-014

These early days are recorded in a number of photographs which then lead up to the wedding. Attended by her younger sister, Connie, and one other bridesmaid, Edie was, according to The North China Herald, ‘attired in white corded silk rimmed with chiffon’, and was given away by her father in the presence of ‘a numerous gathering of relatives and friends’.[9]

5. Edie on her wedding day, 12 April 1899, with, inset, bridesmaid, Miss Jeffrey. CF03-024.

Five days later, the happy couple set off up the Yangzi for the consulate at Wuhu, where Walter had been recently appointed Acting Consul but it would not be for long, as, soon afterwards, he was off again, this time to Jiujiang (Kiukiang). Edie was already pregnant and it was there that [Ernest] Frank was safely delivered on 2 February 1900.  But the Boxers were closing in and, the following month, together with a number of British women and children residing in Yangzi treaty ports, Edie was collected by a warship and taken to safety in Shanghai. There, little Frank was formally photographed by the well-known studio, Ying Cheong. [10]

6. Frank’s first studio portrait, March 1900 aged one month. CF01-061.

Meanwhile, Walter stayed on to face the music, but, although threatened, the consulate was not attacked and, following the relief of the legations in August, 1900, he and Edie were able to resume their life in Jiujiang. Over the next ten years, he would serve, initially as Acting Consul and, from 1902, Consul, in four treaty ports and during this time, they would have four more children.

The second, [Walter] Lindsey, was born in the summer resort of Kuling (Lushan) in July 1901 and, two years later, Walter and Edie set off for England for their first spell of home leave – furlough as it was called – since they got married. She was pregnant again and May was born in the Sharples family home in Birkenhead in March 1903. However, just a month later, Lindsey contracted meningitis and died, weakened so the doctor said, by an illness contracted soon after birth.  Against this melancholy backdrop, Edie was introduced to Walter’s family. Returning to Jiujiang, the photographs were a poignant reminder of their time in England and Lindsey’s short life.

7. Lindsey and Frank, Birkenhead, January 1903. Two months later, Lindsey contracted meningitis and died. CF01-078

Further tragedy was to follow. In June 1905, Edie gave birth to Beryl, once again in Kuling, but the child died within two months. Writing to the British Minister in Peking, Sir Ernest Satow, on the day she died (2 August), Walter said that the child had been ‘apparently healthy and was ailing only since July 28th so that her death is as much a surprise as a shock to us’. Attributing it in part to the unhealthy climate, he asked if he could be transferred to a port out of the Yangzi region.[11] In response, two months later, Satow instructed Walter to open a consulate at Jinan (Tsinan), the provincial capital of Shandong. The purpose, he said, was not so much to perform consular duties as to keep an eye on Germany, which, from its base on the coast at Qingdao (Tsingtao), was rapidly extending its influence in the region. [12]

A further private letter from Walter to Satow gives a good idea of the arduous journey the family made from Jiujiang. Having taken the steamer down the Yangzi, they spent a few nights in Shanghai before boarding the Taksang on 24th November for Qingdao.  Both Frank and May were ill with bronchitis, Edie had severe sciatica and everyone was seasick. By the time they arrived four days later, May was seriously ill and, so the German doctor advised them, they needed to complete the journey as soon as possible. However, as Walter told Satow, it was bitterly cold and it ‘would have been madness to expose either of the children to the biting northerly wind’ that night and so they left for Jinan by train the following day.

Fortunately, that was a beautifully fine and mild day and the 12½ hours railway journey in a well warmed carriage did them good rather than harm. But there was a chair ride of 4 miles or so from the railway station to this house – and this, in the cold of the evening, brought on a rather serious relapse in the case of Frank. [13]

Terrified that they were about to lose another child, they kept both children in bed and Frank and May slowly began to recover. Although long-term accommodation was difficult to find, by the end of the year, they had settled in.

8. King’s Birthday picnic, 9 November 1906. Thousand Buddha Cliff Xino Temple, Jinan (Tsinan). Frank, May and Edie in front. Those named on the back include the German consul, Dr J. Merklinghaus (seated at front on left-hand-side), and other members of the German community, Daotai Chwang and a number of Chinese figures- ‘our number 3 chair coolie’, Monsieur and Madame Li, the amah, and ‘Boy’. Inscribed ‘for Connie’, the photograph seems to have been taken by a commercial agency and to have been sent to Edie’s younger sister.[14] CF01-083

There, in the consulate, on 18 February 1908, Walter John was born. In his engaging memoir, Jack, as he was always known, recalled that the birth had taken place ‘in the shadow of China’s great Holy Mountain, Tai Shan’, which could be seen 35 miles away and this gave him, so his mother thought, ‘an auspicious start in life’. [15] The following year, tired of having too little to do, Walter was pleased to be appointed as Consul to Hangzhou, a port on the Grand Canal, and, once again they were on the move.

9. The Consulate at Hangzhou, 1909, with children seated on the lawn. CF01-001

However, although they were in a fine consular building, the surroundings were unhealthy and Edie and May soon contracted typhoid. While they both made a good recovery, it was decided that Edie should take all three children to England to recuperate. Travelling by the recently- opened Trans-Siberian Railway, the journey was reduced to fifteen days but was still a major undertaking for Edie without Walter on hand to help.

They re-joined him the following year and this somewhat peripatetic life ended in 1911 with his appointment to Yingkou, Newchwang (Yingzi). A remote port in Manchuria, it had a splendid, if bracing climate, with the River Liao being closed by ice from mid-November to mid- March.[16]  He and Edie would remain there for the next ten years, save for spending a year’s furlough in England in 1913. Their sixth child, James Geoffrey (Jim), had been born the previous year and, when they returned to China in the Spring of 1914, they brought Jack and Jim with them but left Frank and May to be educated at schools in England, unsuspecting that, with the outbreak of war, they would not be able to re-join them. Boarding with relatives, Frank and May remained separated from their parents for the next five years. Meanwhile, able to run free, and surrounded by friends, Jack and Jim enjoyed what Jack’s memoir depicts as an idyllic childhood.

10. Empire Day at the British Consulate, Yingzi, 25 May 1914. The names are captioned on the reverse side. Edie is seated on the far right with Walter standing behind her. Jack and Jim must be there somewhere. CF01-143 and 144.

Although they were largely unaffected by the war, they had to sever their ties with their many German friends and, as a number of photographs show, the concession was draped with banners reading, ‘God bless our native land’. Busying herself with war work, Edie formed a local branch of the Women’s Needlework Guild, which sent back large consignments of knitted garments for the troops at the Western Front. [17]

11. British women’s war work, Yingzi, 12 January to 17 March 1917. CF 01- 178

With China entering the war on the side of the allies in 1917, Clennell took charge of recruiting volunteers from the local area for the Chinese Labour Corps

12. Chinese Labour Corps assembled at the Qingdao Camp under the command of Mr Sandbach. The photo was taken by a Mr van Ess and sent to Clennell, whom he knew well, accompanied by a letter praising ‘the smartness of the work done in moulding raw material’. CF01-190 and 191

Walter had become deeply interested in Chinese religion and the family accompanied him as he travelled around the region, visiting temples and chatting to sages. Although remote, the port was frequently visited by warships in the summer and Edie much enjoyed playing hostess to their officers.

In 1919, she and Walter were at last able to take a period of home leave and be re-united with Frank and May. They returned to China the following year, bringing May and Geoff with them, but leaving the two older boys, Frank and Jack, in England. They would only meet again when Walter retired six years later after serving in two considerably less remote treaty ports Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) and Fuzhou (Foochow).

13. May and Edie, Fuzhou Consulate,1922, possibly taken by Walter. CF01-231

Schooled as a Student Interpreter in the late 1880s, Walter had no doubts about the validity of Britain’s imperial cause. However, from his earliest days in China, he had been fascinated by its culture. Having published a history of its religions in 1917, he devoted his retirement to writing a wider study of the country and its people. [18]  Having become a recognised authority, in 1928, he was invited to visit Cambridge University and discuss the possibility of his accepting the Chair of Chinese Studies. Tragically, as he made his way from the railway station, he was knocked down by a milk cart and killed.  His unfinished history of China now resides in the library of his old school, Felsted.

Sharing Walter’s values, Edie had also developed a love of the country and become a considerable collector. She lived on for another twenty-six years in their home in Hitchin. Visiting her in December 1950, the Hitchin News described her, surrounded by Chinese objects and memorabilia, her sitting-room providing ‘a vivid nostalgic glimpse of China, its walls hung with gleaming Chinese tapestries and pictures’.[19]  As the article concluded,

her unflagging interest in others enables her to live to the full the spirit of the inscription on the scarlet Chinese visiting card used by her husband on his official duties: ‘Lo Miss Lo’ – ‘he delights in other people’s happiness.[20]

A number of different narratives can be spun out of this collection of photographs. Even though exchanged within only a limited circle, they can be seen as part of what has been called a ‘colonizer’s handbook’ and ‘a documentation exercise that symbolised possession’.[21] Certainly, they served to normalise and reinforce the apparent legitimacy of the British presence. But, they also include images of Chinese people and, while these are formally posed, with our knowledge of Walter Clennell, we can infer that there was an easier relationship with Chinese officialdom. There again, it is clear that none of these people played any part in the family’s day-to-day life and remained very ‘foreign’ to them.  When viewing them on that intimate level, we must distinguish between the volumes which were put together many years later and the album which was compiled closer to the time of the events being recorded. It seems to have been Jack Clennell who used three ring-binders to set out the family story by way of photographs and typed captions, and this may well have been done to accompany the account which he was writing at a time when memories of the treaty port world were fast fading.[22]  Viewed alongside its early chapters, the images are designed to conjure up the family’s life in China and scenes of a happy childhood but, possibly also to record the less happy years he had spent as a teenager, separated from his parents in the early 1920s.

14. A page from the Clennell album compiled contemporaneously, depicting various members of the Sharples family, the ‘Hook and Ladder Truck’ of the Shanghai Fire Brigade in which Ernest Sharples served, the interior of the Wuhu Consulate where the Clennells began married life, the Upper Wushan Gorge on the Yangzi, and Butterfield and Swire’s premises at Ningpo, where Ernest Sharples was working at some stage; HPC CF03-p.30

However, it is the album in which photographs were pasted when the family was in China that best conveys the significance of this sort of artefact. Scuffed and a little untidy, it is greater than the sum of its parts, showing as it does the importance of family in this type of overseas setting and the way such images could knit together the various strands of life threading through the treaty ports and back home to England.  Preserved by good fortune, it must be typical of so many albums compiled by similar consular families, which reflected and reinforced the networks underpinning the British World, but few of which seem to have survived.

—-

My Dearest Martha: The Life and Letters of Eliza Hillier (edited with an Introduction by Andrew Hillier) was published by the City University of Hong Kong Press in July 2021. Andrew is currently researching for a book on the wives of China consular officials.

https://www.andrewhillier.org/

 

[1]  For Walter’s life as a Student Interpreter, see Andrew Hillier, ‘The Kodak Comes to Peking’.  Following an overland journey from Xiamen (Amoy) to Fuzhou (Foochow) and back in December 1892, the Minister, Sir John Walsham, forwarded Clennell’s report to the Foreign Secretary, the Marquis of Salisbury, commenting that he had ‘evinced great interest in the country and possesses many of the qualities requisite to render him a successful traveller and a careful observer of the customs and habits of the people’; Report by Mr Clennell of an Overland Journey From Amoy to Foochow and Back, presented to both Houses of Parliament, August 1892, including letter, Walsham to Salisbury, 14 March, 1892, C-6814.,

[2] All images are from the Walter Clennell Collection. The Collection has now been digitised by Historical Photographs of China and will in due course form part of the web-site’s Collections. HPC is extremely grateful to Richard Clennell (one of Jack Clennell’s sons) for allowing the albums to be copied and made accessible. I am grateful to Richard and his wife, Joan, for allowing me to pore over the photographs in their home and to Jonathan Clennell (son of Jim Clennell) for first alerting me to Walter’s diary and the fascinating family story.

[3] Cf. P.D. Coates, The China Consuls: British Consular Officers, 1843-1943 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 99-100.

[4] Herbert Sharples had joined the Maritime Customs Service and, by the time of his retirement in 1924, was a Customs Commissioner. Ernest Sharples had joined Butterfield and Swire and would become a well-known figure in the treaty port world, serving in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps and as ‘an ardent fireman’ in the city’s fire brigade, but die at the age of forty-seven; see his short obituary in North China Herald, 22 September 1917, 664.

[5] Robert Bickers, The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (London: Allen Lane, 2011), pp.339 -354, Coates, The China Consuls, pp.372-5.

[6] Robert Bickers, ‘The Lives and Deaths of Photographs in China’ in Christian Henriot and Weh– hsiu Yeh (eds), Visualising China, 1845 -1965: Moving and Still Images in Historical Narratives (Leiden: Brill, 2012), quote at p.18 and pp. 25-29; for the interpretation of family photographs, see Julia Hirsch, Family Photographs: content, meaning and effects (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 11-13.

[7] Coates, China Consuls, p. vii; cf. Andrew Hillier, Mediating Empire: An English Family in China, 1817-1927 (Folkestone: Renaissance Books, 2020), pp. xxi-xxix.

[8] Coates, China Consuls, pp.279-280.

[9] North China Herald, 17 April 1899, p. 65.

[10] Although Edie and Frank were rescued in this way, the detail in the caption is not borne out by the reference to Gregory Haines, Gunboats on the Great River (London: Macdonald and Jane’s, 1976).

[11] Clennell to Satow,2 August 1905, TNA PRO 30/33 8/13, Ian Ruxton (ed.), Correspondence of Sir Ernest Satow, British Envoy in China (1900-1906), vol. 2, p. 459

[12] Coates, China Consuls, pp. 391-2, Bickers, The Scramble for China, p.339.

[13] Clennell to Satow, 2 December 1905, TNA PRO 30/33 8/6, Ruxton (ed.) Correspondence of Sir Ernest Satow, (2), p.217. The Qingdao-Jinan line was financed by German capital but was not yet completed.

[14] Connie was married to Captain Lewis Tobias Loftus Jones, R.N.

[15] Walter John Clennell, Eastern Odyssey (Douglas: Jacla Press, c.1989), p.11. Walter and Edie had climbed the mountain the previous year and Walter had written an account of their holiday exploring Lu, the Holy Land of Confucianism, North China Herald, 13 September, 1907, p.638.

[16] Coates, China Consuls, p.292.

[17] North China Herald, 25 September 1915, p. 829, 22 April 1916, pp.144-5, 14 April 1917, 76.

[18] Walter James Clennell, The Historical Development of Religion in China (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1917).

[19] Memories of China, Herts Mercury, 1 December 1950, CF01-34.

[20] Jenny Huangfu Day suggests that this may be a rendering of Walter’s surname as 乐念乐 (le-nian-le), with the middle character meaning “thinking of” or “missing.”

[21] Cf. Bickers, ‘The Lives and Deaths of Photographs in China’, p.18.

[22] The ring-binders are referenced as HPC, CFO1, CFO2 and CFO4 and the original album as CF03. There is also a small album of postcards, CF-05.

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Charles Frederick Moore’s photographs of the ruins of the European-style palaces (西洋楼) at the Yuanmingyuan (圆明园)

Jamie Carstairs (Senior Digitisation Officer, Special Collections, University of Bristol Library) is researching the work of Charles Frederick Moore (1838-1916), and here discusses Moore’s photographs of the ruins of the European-style, baroque palaces at the Yuanmingyuan.

When the vast and magnificent Yuanmingyuan (The Garden of Perfect Brightness; or ‘Old Summer Palace’) garden-palace, eight kilometres (five miles) northwest of the Forbidden City, Beijing, was plundered and burnt down by vengeful Anglo-French forces in October 1860, hundreds of wooden Chinese buildings were destroyed. Still standing however, were the burnt-out ruins of the Emperor’s European-style brick and stone palaces (Xiyanglou), built in the latter half of the Eighteenth century. The Xiyanglou occupied about two per cent of the Yuanmingyuan site. These palaces reportedly presented an extraordinary feast for the eye – a fairyland of rococo architectural flourishes, glazed ceramic decorations in sublime colours, elaborate splashy fountains, reflective pools, roof tiles in rainbow tints, and theatrical perspective vistas, along with horticultural special effects and birdsong (1).

Fig. 1: The Fangwaiguan (the ‘Look Abroad Hall’ or ‘Belvedere’), showing flamboyant marble balustrades and bridges, and its Chinese-style roof. A man waits for the photographer to take the picture, with his hands on his hips. The Fangwaiguan was the only large building at the Xiyanglou which survived the burning with its roof intact. Photograph by C.F. Moore. Royal BC Museum, ref J-00443.

Fig. 1: The Fangwaiguan (the ‘Look Abroad Hall’ or ‘Belvedere’), showing flamboyant marble balustrades and bridges, and its Chinese-style roof. A man waits for the photographer to take the picture, with his hands on his hips. The Fangwaiguan was the only large building at the Xiyanglou which survived the burning with its roof intact. Photograph by C.F. Moore. Royal BC Museum, ref J-00443.

Fig. 2: West meets east. The Xiyanglou was planned and designed by the Italian Guiseppe Castiglione S.J. and can be seen as a triumph of Sino-European interaction. In this detail/extract of C.F. Moore’s photograph of the ‘Clock Gate’, near the Xieqiqu, one side of the structure is rococo, while the other side facing into another imperial garden at the Yuanmingyuan, is in a traditional Chinese architectural style. Royal BC Museum, ref J-00463.

Fig. 2: West meets east. The Xiyanglou was planned and designed by the Italian Guiseppe Castiglione S.J. and can be seen as a triumph of Sino-European interaction. In this detail/extract of C.F. Moore’s photograph of the ‘Clock Gate’, near the Xieqiqu, one side of the structure is rococo, while the other side facing into another imperial garden at the Yuanmingyuan, is in a traditional Chinese architectural style. Royal BC Museum, ref J-00463.

After the 1860 disaster (2), and some repair work, the ruins of the Xiyanglou were generally abandoned to the elements and to thieves, who repurposed the building materials, stealing also timber and valuable metals – lead, iron and copper. Pilfering and further destruction set in after repair work ceased and plans for the restoration of the Yuanmingyuan were shelved, in 1874. Eventually the ruins of the Xiyanglou were reduced to the pitiful (and politically manipulated) piles of rubble we see today.

Until the 1911 revolution, the garden-palace site officially remained an imperial preserve and access was not allowed, becoming fully out of bounds to visitors in about 1886 (3). Nevertheless, at least four foreign photographers entered the landscaped grounds during the 1870s and 1880s, and on several occasions. Charles Frederick Moore, among others, was deeply impressed, writing: ‘Here amid an expanse covering twelve square miles of ground, all the ingenious diversities and embellishments of Chinese architectural and horticultural art had been exhausted to produce a terrestrial paradise … This beautiful monument of Eastern art, the garden of perpetual brightness, is now a desolate ruin – in retaliation for the imprisonment and murder of many British prisoners’ (4).

The photographs of the European-style baroque palaces (Xiyanglou) by Ernst Ohlmer (5) and Thomas Child (6) are well documented; those by Moore have become known about in more recent times thanks to digitisation by Royal BC Museum archives (7).

Fig. 3: The Yangquelong Dongmian (the Gate to the Aviary or the Fountain Gate) viewed from the east. This is a wider view than Thomas Child's photograph (No. 204), and taken at a later date (a large section of balustrade is gone in Moore’s photograph), perhaps 1880. Royal BC Museum, ref J-00423.

Fig. 3: The Yangquelong Dongmian (the Gate to the Aviary or the Fountain Gate) viewed from the east. This is a wider view than Thomas Child’s photograph (No. 204), and taken at a later date (a large section of balustrade is gone in Moore’s photograph), perhaps 1880. Royal BC Museum, ref J-00423.

The Royal BC Museum holds 99 glass plate negatives (MS-3171), and an album (MS3171-1), which were gifted to the museum by descendants of C.F. Moore, with related papers etc, in 2014. The provenance of this material previously owned by C.F. Moore’s family, is compelling, if not conclusive. Some of the images were reproduced in a pamphlet published twice in c.1905, entitled on the cover: A Quarter of a Century in China / Experiences of a Victorian in the Flowery Kingdom with ‘Chinese’ Gordon / CHINA ILLUSTRATED / By C.F. Moore, Paymaster in Green Turbans of Anglo Chinese Contingent / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (8) – fig. 4. Several of the images in A Quarter of a Century in China were also reproduced in an eponymous article by Moore, published in the Victoria Daily Times, 8 April 1905 – fig. 5.

Fig. 4: The cover of <em>A Quarter of a Century in China</em> by C.F. Moore. The photograph shows part of the Music Pavilion in the west, the central three-storied part of the Xieqiqu (Palace of the Delights of Harmony), and the gallery curving around to the Music Pavilion at the east. Viewed from the south, across the weed choked pool/basin, reflecting the ruins of the palace. Two men are posed by the balustrade around the pool/basin. Ernst Ohlmer's photograph of the south side of the Xieqiqu was taken before Moore's; Thomas Child's after. See footnote 1 for Ohlmer's description of this palace.

Fig. 4: The cover of A Quarter of a Century in China by C.F. Moore. The photograph shows part of the Music Pavilion in the west, the central three-storied part of the Xieqiqu (Palace of the Delights of Harmony), and the gallery curving around to the Music Pavilion at the east. Viewed from the south, across the weed choked pool/basin, reflecting the ruins of the palace. Two men are posed by the balustrade around the pool/basin. Ernst Ohlmer’s photograph of the south side of the Xieqiqu was taken before Moore’s; Thomas Child’s after. See footnote 1 for Ohlmer’s description of this palace.

Fig. 5: ‘Victoria Daily Times’, 8 April 1905, page 9.

Fig. 5: ‘Victoria Daily Times’, 8 April 1905, page 9.

High-resolution scans of Moore’s negatives (available from Royal BC Museum archives) reward close study and constitute a significant visual resource. Of Moore’s 99 glass plate negatives which survive to this day, thirteen were taken at the Yuanmingyuan (twelve different views, refs: J-00464, J-00463, J-00423, J-00465, J-00443, J-00413, J-00508, J-00466, J-00479, J-00442, J-00426, J-00459, J-00444), complementing Ohlmer’s twelve extant glass plate negatives and the ten, or so, known photographs by Child.

Several photographic prints made from Moore’s negatives exist. In addition, there are currently eleven known photographs, as prints, depicting different views of the Yuanmingyuan by Moore (for which no negatives have survived it seems). A further six images by Moore exist only as reproductions, as far as is known just now, making a total of twenty-nine currently known different images of the Yuanmingyaun by Moore (9).

Fig. 6: A detail/extract of Moore’s photograph of Xianshan Dongmen (Gate east of the Hill of Perspective). This is an evocative photograph, which relates to the ‘pleasure of ruins’ – the luxuriant plants growing wild echoing the rococo vine carving on the gate. Xianshan Dongmen was not photographed by Child or Ohlmer. Royal BC Museum, ref J-00426.

Fig. 6: A detail/extract of Moore’s photograph of Xianshan Dongmen (Gate east of the Hill of Perspective). This is an evocative photograph, which relates to the ‘pleasure of ruins’ – the luxuriant plants growing wild echoing the rococo vine carving on the gate. Xianshan Dongmen was not photographed by Child or Ohlmer. Royal BC Museum, ref J-00426.

Moore’s Yuanmingyuan work has previously been mistakenly attributed to Théophile Piry, or to Thomas Child, or to Ernst Ohlmer, or to anon – or not attributed at all. Régine Thiriez, in her excellent book Barbarian Lens (2017), tentatively attributed several Yuanmingyuan pictures to Piry. But in 1994, Thiriez had located some prints with indented round top corners, made with a mask placed on the photographic paper (rather than the photographic paper being cut to shape with scissors), which could, she wrote, be the work of ‘a new photographer’ (i.e. not by Piry, nor Ohlmer, nor Child) (10).

Fig. 7: An example of a print made with an indented round top corner printing mask. This print is in Moore’s album at the Royal BC Museum (ref MS-3171-1 page 68 of the pdf), an album page photographed at an angle. Compare this photograph with similar views of Xieqiqu (Palace of the Delights of Harmony) by Ernst Ohlmer and Thomas Child.

Fig. 7: An example of a print made with an indented round top corner printing mask. This print is in Moore’s album at the Royal BC Museum (ref MS-3171-1 page 68 of the pdf), an album page photographed at an angle. Compare this photograph with similar views of the Xieqiqu (Palace of the Delights of Harmony) by Ernst Ohlmer and Thomas Child.

It has turned out that a photograph made with an indented round top corner printing mask, indicates a photograph by Moore – he is thought to be the only Nineteenth century photographer in China who used such a mask, described by Thiriez as a ‘signature’ (see figs 7 and 8). Like other photographers, Moore also occasionally made prints with an oval/cameo shaped mask, as well as rectangular prints, and, much less often, cut prints to an oval shape. A further ‘signature’ or ‘tell’ noted in some of Moore’s photographs is his deliberate posing of strategically placed seated or standing men around the scene/composition (e.g. Bo01-044).

Fig 8. The 'Palace of the Delights of Harmony' (Xieqiqu), Yuanmingyuan, viewed from the south, across the weed choked pool, reflecting the ruins of the palace. Two men are posed by the balustrade around the pool. This print was made with an indented rounded corner mask (i.e. a 'signature' of Moore's) and captioned: ‘Bâtiment principal construit par […] a Yuen Ming Yuen / Etat 1879 d'après Moore / 26 / 19’. This is a key photographic print/captioning, connecting Moore's name with the rounded corner mask, strategically placed people, as well as showing more from his (lost) negative than other prints. A well composed and frequently reproduced photograph, its punctum, for many, being the reflection of the ruin in the water. Source: Part of Lot 2, in an auction by Tessier &amp; Sarrou et Associés, Paris, on 17 December 2018.

Fig 8. The ‘Palace of the Delights of Harmony’ (Xieqiqu), Yuanmingyuan, viewed from the south, across the weed choked pool, reflecting the ruins of the palace. Two men are posed by the balustrade around the pool. This print was made with an indented rounded corner mask (i.e. a ‘signature’ of Moore’s) and captioned: ‘Bâtiment principal construit par […] a Yuen Ming Yuen / Etat 1879 d’après Moore / 26 / 19’. This is a key photographic print/captioning, connecting Moore’s name with the rounded corner mask, strategically placed people, as well as showing more from his (lost) negative than other prints. A well composed and frequently reproduced photograph, its punctum, for many, being the reflection of the ruin in the water. Source: Part of Lot 2, in an auction by Tessier & Sarrou et Associés, Paris, on 17 December 2018.

Thomas Child appears to have taken his first photographs at the garden-palace in January 1873 (11). Child dated some of his Yuanmingyuan negatives ‘1877’, although he is known to have sometimes signed and dated his negatives years after he made them (12). Yuanmingyuan photographs by Child’s customs service colleague Ernst Ohlmer, who arrived in Beijing in August 1872, have been reliably dated to 1873 (13). Some of Moore’s Yuanmingyuan photographs seem to have been taken at similar dates to some of Child’s and Ohlmer’s, or not long afterwards, perhaps c.1875, while others (e.g. J-00466) look like they were taken a few years later, perhaps the early 1880s.

Along with the twenty copperplate engravings made by the Manchu court artist Yi Lantai (Yilantai) in 1783 – 1786, some surviving plans, other engravings and drawings, the historical photographs by Ohlmer, Child and Moore provide the key visual record of the European-style palace complex before its destruction and degradation. The uses of these historical photographs are manifold, for example, the Xiyanglou Digital Restoration Project matched archaeological fragments to their original locations on buildings and provided insights into original colours despite the old photographs being monochrome (14).

Fig. 9: Part of the copperplate engraving #10, of Haiyantang (Palace of the Calm Seas) by Yi Lantai, 1783-86. The largest of the foreign buildings, with the most elaborate fountains, including the masterpiece of the French Jesuit, Michel Benoist S.J. – a water clock which featured twelve bronze, seated, zodiacal figures. The figure of the horse is spouting a stream of water. The hours of the horse are from 11am to 1pm. Other fountains playing on both sides of the pair of stairs.

Fig. 9: Part of the copperplate engraving #10, of the Haiyantang (Palace of the Calm Seas) by Yi Lantai, 1783-86. The largest of the foreign buildings, with the most elaborate fountains, including the masterpiece of the French Jesuit, Michel Benoist S.J. – a water clock which featured twelve bronze, seated, zodiacal figures. The figure of the horse is spouting a stream of water. The hours of the horse are from 11am to 1pm. Other fountains playing on both sides of the pair of stairs.

Fig. 10: A detail/extract of Moore’s photograph of Haiyantang (Palace of the Calm Seas). Royal BC Museum, ref J-00413. The photographs of Haiyantang by Moore and Ohlmer were both taken from a similar viewpoint – although Moore's is a wider view. The foreground (clock fountain) is captured better in Moore's photograph; the background (building) in Ohlmer's is better.

Fig. 10: A detail/extract of Moore’s photograph of the Haiyantang (Palace of the Calm Seas). Royal BC Museum, ref J-00413. The photographs of the Haiyantang by Moore and Ohlmer were both taken from a similar viewpoint – although Moore’s is a wider view. The foreground (clock fountain) is captured better in Moore’s photograph; the background (building) in Ohlmer’s is better.

I have started a detailed analysis of twenty-nine Yuanmingyuan photographs by Moore, locating the buildings, with thumbnail images, and noting previous attributions, etc. Taking a cue from Carroll Brown Malone and his ‘sketch plan of the foreign buildings’ (fig. 11 below), I have organised this analysis in fourteen coloured sections, with each section headed by one of Yi Lantai’s copperplate engravings. It is expected for sure, that in due course, more Moore’s will be discovered and that this list can be augmented. The spreadsheet analysis is available here.

Fig. 11: A plan of Xiyanglou (European-style palaces) from ‘History of the Peking Summer Palaces under the Ch’ing Dynasty’ by Carroll Brown Malone (1934), as reproduced in 'La Chine entre le Collodion Humide et le Gelatinobromure' by Bernard Marbot and René Viénet (1978).

Fig. 11: A plan of the Xiyanglou (European-style palaces) from History of the Peking Summer Palaces under the Ch’ing Dynasty by Carroll Brown Malone (1934), as reproduced in La Chine entre le Collodion Humide et le Gelatinobromure by Bernard Marbot and René Viénet (1978).

Footnotes

  1. Ernst Ohlmer, who admired glazed ceramics and collected Ming and Qing dynasty porcelain, photographed the ruins of the European-style palaces in 1873, and described Xieqiqu (the Palace of the Delights of Harmony) in the following vivid and evocative and word picture: ‘The decoration […] had been given all the colours and nuances of the rainbow […] You see the rich and lively colours of the ornamentation, saturated by the deep blue Peking sky, kaleidoscopically changing according to the position of the viewer and of the sun, standing out boldly against the white marble background of the building, and at the same time being like a ghostly mirage reflected in the lake facing it […] The observer cannot help feeling like in a fairy-tale from A Thousand and One Nights.’ (Ernst Ohlmer, Führer Durch Die Ohlmer’sche Sammlung Chinesischer Porzellane: Z.Z. Aufgestellt Im Roemer-Museum Hildesheim. Mit 10 Tafeln und 3 Zinkographien Von E, Ohlmer (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1898), p.32, cited in Régine Thiriez, Barbarian Lens, p. 92. Translated by A.W. Mixius).
  2. For an account about how the invaders came to the awful decision to burn the emperor’s extensive palace complex, see, for example, Young-Tsu Wong A Paradise Lost, The Imperial Garden at Yuanming Yuan and Robert Bickers, The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (2011), pp. 149-50.
  3. Thiriez, Barbarian Lens, footnote 2 (for chapter 4), p. 164.
  4. Quotation from Charles Frederick Moore, A Quarter of a Century in China, Experiences of a Victorian in the Flowery Kingdom with ‘Chinese’ Gordon, p. 10. The description is also in C.F. Moore’s mss notebook (Royal BC Museum archive ref: MS-3171/5), being his magic lantern (‘stereoptican view’) slide show note for slide 50. Moore presented the slide show (entitled ‘Lecture on China in the Time of General Gordon’) more than once, including on 15 January 1907 at St Barnabas’ School Room, Victoria BC, Canada. A similar (draft?) description is on page 50 of the pdf of the Moore album (Royal BC Museum archive ref: MS-3171/1).
  5. Note the well reproduced images from Ohlmer’s negatives in: Beijing World Art Museum. Can Yuan Qin Meng: Aoermo Yu Yuanmingyuan Lishi Yingxiang. Disturbed Dreams in the Ruins of the Garden, Ernest Ohlmer and Historical Images of Yuanmingyuan. See Maureen Warren, Romanticizing the Uncanny: Ernst Ohlmer’s 1873 photographs of the European-style palaces in the Yuanmingyuan (2017). For thorough analysis of photographs of the Xiyanglou (taken between the 1870s and 1920s), see Régine Thiriez, Barbarian Lens.
  6. For example: Stacy Lambrow and Jacob Loewentheil, Thomas Child’s Photographs of Yuanmingyuan. See also Thiriez, Barbarian Lens.
  7. A brief biography of Charles Frederick Moore can be found here. For initial research into his life as a photographer in China, see my earlier post on this blog site: ‘Charles Frederick Moore (1837-1916), a photographer in China‘. A further eleven photographs taken at Yuanmingyuan in the 1870s by an (as yet) unidentified photographer, are reproduced in Terry Bennett’s History of Photography in China, Western Photographers 1861-1879, pp.300-302. More nineteenth century Yuanmingyuan photographs exist, here and there, including views by the French nobleman and diplomat, Robert de Semallé (1839-1946), taken in c.1882.
  8. ‘Victorian’ here means a resident of Victoria BC, Canada. The Toyo Bunko has a copy of this rare pamphlet, published in two editions, as ‘First Series’ and ‘Second Series’ (Toyo Bunko ref: P-III-a-53).
  9. A handful of Moore’s Yuanmingyuan photographs are particularly important, as they are the only Nineteenth Century photographic record of certain parts of the site.
  10. Thiriez, Barbarian Lens, footnotes 7 and 8 (for chapter 9), p. 167.
  11. Lambrow and Loewentheil, p. 156.
  12. Lambrow and Loewentheil, p. 156, footnote 16.
  13. Thiriez, p. 89.
  14. See Digital Restoration Research and Three-Dimensional Model Construction on Xieqiqu by Gao Ming, Piao Wenzi and Guo Jing.

Bibliography

Becker, Jasper. City of Heavenly Tranquility, Beijing in the History of China (2008).

Beijing World Art Museum. Can Yuan Qin Meng: Aoermo Yu Yuanmingyuan Lishi Yingxiang. Disturbed Dreams in the Ruins of the Garden, Ernest Ohlmer and Historical Images of Yuanmingyuan (2010).

Bennett, Terry. History of Photography in China, Western Photographers 1861-1879 (2010).

Bickers, Robert. The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1911 (2011).

Gao Ming, Piao Wenzi and Guo Jing Digital Restoration Research and Three-Dimensional Model Construction on Xieqiqu (2015).

Lambrow, Stacy and Jacob Loewentheil. Thomas Child’s Photographs of Yuanmingyuan (Collectors World, 2018).

Lee, Haiyan. The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan: Or, How to Enjoy a National Wound (2009).

Malone, Carroll Brown. History of the Peking Summer Palaces under the Ch’ing Dynasty     (1934).

Marbot, Bernard and René Viénet. La Chine entre le Collodion Humide et le Gelatinobromure (1978).

Moore, Charles Frederick. A Quarter of a Century in China, Experiences of a Victorian in the Flowery Kingdom with ‘Chinese’ Gordon (c.1905).

Thiriez, Régine. Barbarian Lens, Western Photographers of the Qianlong Emperor’s European Palaces (2017).

Wong, Young-Tsu. A Paradise Lost, the Imperial Garden at Yuanming Yuan (2021).

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Pieces of China in Bristol – cataloguing Historical Photographs of China material

Jamie Carstairs has recently catalogued the ‘Historical Photographs of China’ material held in Special Collections, University of Bristol Library. In this post, he describes the material in outline and mentions some highlights.

During the fifteen years of the Historical Photographs of China Project, a surprisingly large amount of archival material was accumulated. This was never the plan, but came about incidentally. As well as photographs, the project acquired negatives, 35mm colour transparencies, post cards, books, vintage cameras, newspaper cuttings, scrap books, maps, silver shooting trophies, shipping labels, cine film, memoirs, ephemera – as well as a Shanghai Municipal Policeman’s whistle, penknife, bus pass, freemason regalia, slippers and other objects (John Montgomery Collection, DM2836). Most of this material was donated, while a few photographs were purchased with a view to filling gaps in the collection.

A print of a caricature by Miguel Covarrubias, of the successful businessman Sir Victor Sassoon with a Leica camera and lighting kit, in Bali, dated 1934. Sir Victor loved photography, horse racing, travel, international friendship and the party life of 1930s Shanghai. This print is in a scrapbook in the George Hutton Potts Collection (DM2831/21).

A print of a caricature by Miguel Covarrubias, of the successful businessman Sir Victor Sassoon with a Leica camera and lighting kit, in Bali, dated 1934. Sir Victor loved photography, horse racing, travel, international friendship and the party life of 1930s Shanghai. This print is in a scrapbook in the George Hutton Potts Collection (DM2831/21).

The first few frames of a roll of 16mm cine film, in the Robert Peck Collection (DM2838/4/1). This part of the footage seems to show a Christian proselytising in a street in China, c.1937. The two reels of cine film in this collection have not yet been viewed or digitised.

The first few frames of a roll of 16mm cine film, in the Robert Peck Collection (DM2838/4/1). This part of the footage seems to show a Christian proselytising in a street in China, c.1937. The two reels of cine film in this collection have not yet been viewed or digitised.

A barograph trace, made on the luxury liner ‘Empress of Asia’, showing an off-the-chart drop in atmospheric pressure during a typhoon in October 1921. The barogram is in a scrapbook in the George Hutton Potts Collection (DM2831/19).

A barograph trace, made on the luxury liner ‘Empress of Asia’, showing an off-the-chart drop in atmospheric pressure during a typhoon in October 1921. The barogram is in a scrapbook in the George Hutton Potts Collection (DM2831/19).

A portrait of a boy reading ‘Amateur Photographer’ magazine, 1940s/1950s (HPC ref: Ha-s056), from the extensive Tita and Gerry Hayward Collection (DM2830), which includes Basil Edward (Dick) Foster Hall (1894-1975) material. A few images in this collection have been published on the HPC web site.

A portrait of a boy reading ‘Amateur Photographer’ magazine, 1940s/1950s (HPC ref: Ha-s056), from the extensive Tita and Gerry Hayward Collection (DM2830), which includes Basil Edward (Dick) Foster Hall (1894-1975) material. A few images in this collection have been published on the HPC web site.

This archival material is now held in Special Collections. It has recently been catalogued and these records can be consulted on the Online Archive Catalogue. To see all the catalogue records for the HPC material, select ‘China (Historical Photographs of China)’ in the ‘Major collections’ drop-down menu in Advanced Search. Or search for a particular archival DM reference in ‘Reference number’ in Advanced Search, or a keyword lucky dip in ‘Any text’ in Advanced Search.

A screenshot showing some results of a search for ‘China (Historical Photographs of China)’, in the ‘Major collections’ drop-down menu in Advanced Search, in Special Collections’ Online Archive Catalogue.

A screenshot showing some results of a search for ‘China (Historical Photographs of China)’, in the ‘Major collections’ drop-down menu in Advanced Search, in Special Collections’ Online Archive Catalogue.

The oldest photographs we hold date from the late 1860s/early 1870s, in an album thought to have been compiled by John Gurney Fry, of the famous chocolate family (DM2887). Many of these beautiful and well-preserved albumin prints are photographs by the great photographers Lai Fong and John Thomson. The John Gurney Fry Collection has been digitised and the images can be viewed on the HPC web site.

Four musicians (singers), with instruments, Fuzhou, c.1868-1874 (HPC ref: Fr01-044). Photograph by Lai Fong (Afong Studio). A page from the John Gurney Fry album (DM2887).

Four musicians (singers), with instruments, Fuzhou, c.1868-1874 (HPC ref: Fr01-044). Photograph by Lai Fong (Afong Studio). A page from the John Gurney Fry album (DM2887).

Most of the HPC material dates from the 1870s to the 1950s, but we have also collected slides and photographs taken during the early stages of China’s Cultural Revolution (Colin Andrew Collection, DM2818), and slides taken during a bicycle trip from Nanjing to Shanghai in 1983 (John Lyle Collection, DM2993) as well as photographs taken in the 1980s for two historical architectural books by Professor Ronald Knapp (DM2992).

Unidentified event, Jingshan Park, Beijing, c.1966 (HPC ref: Aw-t415). One of 553 slides (35mm transparencies) taken by Colin Andrew during the Cultural Revolution (Colin Andrew Collection, DM2818/4).

Unidentified event, Jingshan Park, Beijing, c.1966 (HPC ref: Aw-t415). One of 553 slides (35mm transparencies) taken by Colin Andrew during the Cultural Revolution (Colin Andrew Collection, DM2818/4).

The collection includes fascinating self-published memoirs, such as I Remember One Time by Paul Kaye (DM2990/6), and Out of China by Ronald Kliene (DM2990/10). Both Kaye and Kliene were in the Shanghai boy scouts, 1930s.  Also of great interest is an ‘extra-illustrated’ mss entitled ‘The Diaries and Letters of Rev. Robert Walker Debenham Peck’ (DM2838/1). Peck was a Methodist missionary in Wuhan during the Second Sino-Japanese war. Other donated books include Five Months of War (North-China Daily News, 1938), illustrated with drawings by the Shanghai’s premier cartoonist ‘Sapajou’ (Georgii Avksent’ievich Sapojnikoff) (DM2836/7).

The cover of ‘Five Months of War’, published in 1938. This book about the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) contains many photographs by North-China Daily News photographers and others, cartoons by Sapajou, and maps. (John Montgomery Collection, DM2836/7).

The cover of ‘Five Months of War’, published in 1938. This book about the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) contains many photographs by North-China Daily News photographers and others, cartoons by Sapajou, and maps. (John Montgomery Collection, DM2836/7).

Some of the material in Special Collections has been digitised, but many historical photographs remain uncopied and their content undescribed, samples below.

A page from the album in the Pearl Bercht Collection (DM2820). Pearl Bercht was an American missionary, in Guangzhou (Canton) 1919-1922.

A page from the album in the Pearl Bercht Collection (DM2820). Pearl Bercht was an American missionary, in Guangzhou (Canton) 1919-1922.

An uncaptioned photograph in a large album entitled 'Coronation Day / 12th May 1937 / British Embassy / Peking' (Berkeley Gage Collection, DM2827/2). The photographs in this album are by the Russian friend of Hedda Morrison, Serge Vargassoff (1906-1965). Research is required to identify the guests at the Legation event, which included Qin Dechun (秦徳純) (1893-1963) and Zhang Guangjian (張廣建) (1864-1938).

An uncaptioned photograph in a large album entitled ‘Coronation Day / 12th May 1937 / British Embassy / Peking’ (Berkeley Gage Collection, DM2827/2). The photographs in this album are by the Russian friend of Hedda Morrison, Serge Vargassoff (1906-1965). Research is required to identify the guests at the Legation event, which included Qin Dechun (秦徳純) (1893-1963) and Zhang Guangjian (張廣建) (1864-1938).

A trade fair in a mat shed, either in Hong Kong or Singapore, early 1930s. The women are in sailor rig, emblazoned with the words ‘BOVRIL – PREVENT THAT SINKING FEELING’. The John Arber Collection (DM2985) includes many Hong Kong photographs relating to advertising and marketing.

A trade fair in a mat shed, either in Hong Kong or Singapore, early 1930s. The women are in sailor rig, emblazoned with the words ‘BOVRIL – PREVENT THAT SINKING FEELING’. The John Arber Collection (DM2985) includes many Hong Kong photographs relating to advertising and marketing.

Material in Special Collections that has been digitised, but is not yet published on the HPC site, include rich collections such the James Helbling Collection (DM2829) and the Cyril Whitaker Collection (DM2845), samples below.

A Cartier-Bressonesque photograph by Cyril Whitaker, captioned in the album: ‘Calibrating a [petroleum] tank by pumping out and weighing water on alternate scales. Jan. 1938’ (HPC ref: CW08-80). Whitaker was a talented ‘semi-pro’ photographer who documented the Asiatic Petroleum Company (APC) installation near Chongqing. Cyril Whitaker Collection, DM2845/8.

A Cartier-Bressonesque photograph by Cyril Whitaker, captioned in the album: ‘Calibrating a [petroleum] tank by pumping out and weighing water on alternate scales. Jan. 1938’ (HPC ref: CW08-80). Whitaker was a talented ‘semi-pro’ photographer who documented the Asiatic Petroleum Company (APC) installation near Chongqing. Cyril Whitaker Collection, DM2845/8.

This photograph of an impressive matriarchal family group is captioned on the back ‘Lau Ahchiang & family / Tai Ping Compradore 1906 / Foochow’ (HPC ref: Od-s017). James Helbling Collection, DM2829/1.

This photograph of an impressive matriarchal family group is captioned on the back ‘Lau Ahchiang & family / Tai Ping Compradore 1906 / Foochow’ (HPC ref: Od-s017). James Helbling Collection, DM2829/1.

A recent donation is the fruit of a lockdown clear-out, the Yangtse Corporation Collection (DM2998). The images of salt mining in this collection are on the HPC site, referenced as YC-s.

Special Collections also hold a large born-digital collection of images – the Nicholas Kitto Treaty Port Image Collection (DM3051) – over 4000 colour images of surviving/restored pre-1950 architecture in the former treaty ports, photographed by Nick Kitto in 2008-2016. Kitto drew from these in his book  Trading Places, A Photographic Journey Through China’s Former Treaty Ports (Blacksmith Books, 2020).

The Custom House, Guangzhou, one of the oldest Custom Houses in China, photographed here by Nick Kitto in 2008. This image is on the cover of 'Trading Places, A Photographic Journey Through China's Former Treaty Ports' by Nicholas Kitto (Blacksmith Books, 2020).

The Custom House, Guangzhou, one of the oldest Custom Houses in China, photographed here by Nick Kitto in 2008. This image is on the cover of ‘Trading Places, A Photographic Journey Through China’s Former Treaty Ports’ by Nicholas Kitto (Blacksmith Books, 2020).

DM2956 is a record of the c.62,000 HPC digital images (i.e. the output of fifteen years digitisation by the HPC project), now stored in a DAMS (Digital Asset Management System). All 168 HPC collections are listed, as well as their archival DM references and whether the images in a collection have been added to the HPC web site, or not. DM2956 includes an outline history of the HPC project, which ended in 2021 – details here.

For the future – a new HPC web site is due to be launched later in 2022. The redesigned site, on a new platform, will draw images and metadata direct from the DAMS. There’s plenty more work to do inputting metadata into the DAMS. This metadata includes descriptive information about the image, names, dates, locations, keywords, etc, which makes images findable on the HPC site. All being well, some of the many thousands of already digitised China photographs that we hold in Special Collections, which are not yet on the HPC site, will gradually be added to it.

If you have any queries, do please contact us.

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A disturbing intimacy: The Private Papers of C. C. A. Kirke

Andrew Hillier discusses a diary, a photograph album and a memoir which, between them, provide a fascinating insight into consular life as well as showing how such materials can be used for exploring histories of intimacy and the emotions.

The figure in the centre of the photograph (fig. 1) does not look like a typical British Consular wife. Flanked by five armed marines, she smiles jauntily, with her head tilted to one side, and holds her parasol as though it is a fashion accessory. This is Mabel Kirke, wife of the Swatow (Shantou) Consul, Cecil Kirke, but, if it is all meant to look rather amusing, the situation was in fact very serious, as the caption indicates. For well over a year, anti-foreign activists and union strike-leaders had seized control of Swatow and brought its life to a standstill.[1]

Fig 1. MX [Mabel Kirke] with armed guard from HMS Hollyhock, 1926, during the strike at Swatow. Unknown photographer. Cecil Kirke Album. Copy courtesy of the Kirke Family.

Yet, there is still a light-hearted tone to the image, and Mabel seems to be projecting herself as fun-loving and care-free. But was that in fact the case? If we look at the diary which her husband maintained for most of his working life, a very different picture emerges – one of a couple who, for many years, had been trapped in a loveless marriage. Just twelve months later, Mabel would suffer a further bout of the dysentery which had dogged her for some years, and would die at sea a few days after she and the family had left Hong Kong for England. Only then does Kirke let go of his pent-up emotions, concluding his diary entry with the devastating comment that the last ten years had been ‘hell for both of us.’[2]

Whilst the detail of what went wrong and why may only be of interest on a private level, the story is important for what it tells us about consular wives, given the important role they played in treaty port life and the lack of attention that has been given to them in the literature.[3] The outline can be traced back to the time when, home from China and meeting Mabel whom he had known and loved from afar for many years, Kirke proposed.

I was longing to ask her to be mine but was so stupidly afraid that I do believe I should not have done it had I not seen plainly that she wanted me to.[4]

He was right and she accepted. He was twenty-nine, and she was thirty. Eight months later, on 29 November 1904, they were married in Alnwick, Northumberland and soon afterwards sailed for China.

Begun when he was fifteen, and running to some eight thousand pages, the diary is an extraordinary document, reflecting Kirke’s tortuous inner life and putting it under the microscope in a way which renders him both analyst and patient; all the more extraordinary, given that the concept of analysis was still in its infancy in the early 1900s.

Fig 2. The Diaries. Author’s photograph, 2021

Fig 3. The first page of the diary begun on 1 January 1890 when Kirke was fifteen. Author’s photograph, 2021

Having joined the consular service in 1898 as a Student Interpreter, Kirke had survived the Siege of the Legations – a time he later described as ‘one of the most interesting events of my life’ – and, although he always found Chinese difficult, he would have a successful career and, through his skilful handling of the Swatow crisis, be awarded a CBE. With the exception of the Siege, which he describes in the insouciant tone characteristic of almost all the accounts, his public life is only lightly sketched in and there is little or no discussion of consular matters in the diary. It is his private life which is important, and of course not just his but that of those closest to him – Mabel, who is subjected to a continuous and rigorous critique, of their four children and, perhaps most important of all, of his younger sister, Iva, with whom he maintained a regular correspondence throughout his time in China. With their mother dying weeks after her birth, it was this relationship, forged as it was during an otherwise lonely childhood, which would mean more to Kirke than any other. Supplemented by an album of photographs, we can piece together the intimacies of his consular life.[5]

And, although we cannot hear Mabel’s voice, Kirke is sufficiently honest and insightful for us to obtain a fair view of her character and of some of the problems she had to contend with as a consular wife. High-spirited but perhaps unsuited to the formalities of the diplomatic and consular world, her early married life was dogged by misfortune. Suffering terrible sea-sickness on the outward journey, she then had what he describes as ‘a partial miscarriage’, which was only detected four weeks after their arrival in Shanghai and necessitated an emergency operation to remove the remains of the foetus.  Struggling to recover, she had to adapt to the strict protocol and oppressive climate of Peking, where Kirke had been appointed the legation accountant. Socially insecure himself, he did nothing to make things easier for his wife, for whom the hierarchical structure proved extremely daunting, partly due to the personality of the incumbent Minister, Sir Ernest Satow, whom Kirke found ‘portentously cold and almost inhuman’.[6] Subsequent years were spent in various locations including what was a reasonably happy period at Chefoo just before the First World War (see fig.4).

Fig 4: Original caption: ‘Chefoo, 1913’. Unknown photographer. Cecil Kirke Album. Copy courtesy of the Kirke Family.

But those early difficulties seem to have taken their toll, causing Mabel to lose confidence and a barrier to come between them, in a way which Kirke analyses in disturbing detail. However, whilst he describes the froideur of the last ten years, he does not suggest it was explicit or that it led to arguments, tears and recrimination.  So, it is just possible that Mabel was unaware of his inner torment and was, as she appears in the first image, fun-loving and carefree. But the probabilities are that the cold formality of the photograph taken four years earlier provides a more accurate picture. (fig 5).

Fig 5: RHS Kirke, Mabel & child, Chefoo
Unknown photographer. Cecil Kirke Album. Copy courtesy of the Kirke Family.

Returning to China a year after Mabel’s death, Kirke was promoted to the post of Consul-General in Yunnan-Fu. There he met and married Sybil Esme Sandys, a missionary twenty-five years his junior. She had devoted herself to rescuing Chinese girls and women from the practice of ‘slavery’ which still existed in the region. She had successfully enlisted Kirke’s help in obtaining a safe home for them and it may have been this that convinced her to accept his proposal. Once again, according to his diary, he was very much in love and with Sybil’s dedication to the missionary cause and his support for that cause, the first three years were happy, including as it did the birth of their first son, Malcolm.

Fig 6: ‘Yunnan-fu 19.v.30’. Cecil, Sybil and Malcolm Unknown Photographer. Kirke family Collection

However, in 1932, Kirke decided to retire and, having returned to England, this early promise would not be fulfilled. He always worried about money and, with only a relatively small pension to live on, these worries increased when five years later, to their mutual surprise, so they would say, Sybil became pregnant and their second son, Anthony, was born.  Although she remained very active and continued to devote herself to worthy causes, nothing quite engaged her as much as her missionary work in China, as she made clear in a memoir written towards the end of her life.[7]  And, in that memoir she also talks about her marriage. Soon after arriving in England, she met Cecil’s sister, Iva, and immediately realised that she and Kirke were ‘twin souls’, that nothing could come between them and that their relationship, albeit conducted by correspondence, was a key reason why his marriage to Mabel had failed. Although she raised this with Cecil, he could not accept that there was a problem. It soon became clear that the same would apply to their marriage and that it would never take precedence over his relationship with Iva. From then on, although they stayed together, they drifted apart emotionally. Kirke died in 1959 and, retiring to her beloved Lake District, Sybil survived him for a further thirty years.

Family life played an important part in the British consular world, particularly in the more remote treaty ports, where the consul’s wife had an important role to fulfil.[8] If at times, Kirke’s morbid introspection becomes oppressive for the reader, it is important for an understanding of the impact it had on his two wives, Mabel and Sybil. Although this essay can only skim the surface, the diaries, taken with the photograph album and Sybil’s memoir, present, I believe, a unique record not only of these intimate lives but also of the impact that those lives may have had in that world.

My Dearest Martha: The Life and Letters of Eliza Hillier, edited by Andrew Hillier, was published in August by the City University of Hong Kong Press. Andrew is currently carrying out research for a book on China Consular wives.

https://www.andrewhillier.org/

[1] Sybil Kirke, undated memoir (25 pages); Kirke Family Collection.

[2] Cf. Andrew Hillier, An English Family in China: 1817-1927 (Folkestone: Renaissance Books, 2020), xxvii-xxviii; xxix-xxxii.

[3]  The album has been digitised and will in due course appear as the Kirke Collection on Historical Photographs of China.

[4] Kirke, diary entry, 4 March 1906, vol. 7, p.311.

[5] P. D. Coates, The China Consuls: British Consular Officers, 1843-1943 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 464-467.

[6] The fifteen volumes of the diary remain in the possession of the Kirke family. I am extremely grateful to Anthony and Judith Kirke, and to their son, Jeremy, for affording me access to the diaries and for all the help they have given me in my ongoing research into this story.

[7] Cf. Coates, China Consuls, pp. vii and 99-100.

[8] Cecil Kirke, diary entry, 19 March 1904, vol. 6, p.912.

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Jamie Carstairs on Remembering John Thomson in Edinburgh

Last week a plaque was unveiled on John Thomson’s childhood home in Edinburgh, Scotland, in his centenary year. How did it get there?

John Thomson, 1866. ‘Mr Thomson, the visitor from overseas, with his piercing eyes, whiskers like a dragon’s, and a great forehead, Uses a lens to capture a man’s life…’ Part of a poem by Bao Yun (1806-91), translated by Yupin Chung and quoted in ‘Scottish Photography - The First Thirty Years’ by Sara Stevenson and A.D. Morrison-Law (2015), p230.

John Thomson, 1866. ‘Mr Thomson, the visitor from overseas, with his piercing eyes, whiskers like a dragon’s, and a great forehead, Uses a lens to capture a man’s life…’ Part of a poem by Bao Yun (1806-91), translated by Yupin Chung and quoted in ‘Scottish Photography – The First Thirty Years’ by Sara Stevenson and A.D. Morrison-Law (2015), p230.

In 2018, the John Thomson Commemoration Group* formed to restore John Thomson’s grave in south London. During this process, we realized that there were no commemorative plaques for John Thomson (1837-1921) in either Edinburgh (where he was born and lived until the age of 24) or London (where he lived and worked after returning from Asia).

Assembled guests at the plaque event at 6 Brighton Street, Edinburgh EH1 1HD, on 29 September 2021. Photograph by Michael Pritchard.

Assembled guests at the plaque event at 6 Brighton Street, Edinburgh EH1 1HD, on 29 September 2021. Photograph by Michael Pritchard.

The Historic Environment Scotland plaque commemorating John Thomson, outside his childhood home, 6 Brighton Street, Edinburgh. Photograph by Michael Pritchard.

The Historic Environment Scotland plaque commemorating John Thomson, outside his childhood home, 6 Brighton Street, Edinburgh. Photograph by Michael Pritchard.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) run a bronze commemorative plaque scheme to celebrate the link between a significant person and a building. Researching mostly from my home in faraway Bristol, I found out from a parish record on the ScotlandsPeople web site, that John Thomson was born in 1837 at number 3, Portland Place, Edinburgh. Google maps located a Portland Terrace in Leith, Edinburgh, but no Portland Place.

Roberta McGrath, a friend in Edinburgh, visited the resident of 3 Portland Terrace, Leith. But … Thomson was born in St Cuthbert’s parish, which is not in Leith. A neighbour of the resident of 3 Portland Terrace told us about the renaming of the roads: there had been two Portland Places, one in Leith (later named Portland Terrace) and one in Tollcross, Edinburgh Old Town. When the city of Edinburgh expanded into Leith in the 1920s, the Portland Place in Tollcross was renamed Lauriston Place. This information fried the wrong Portland Place red herring. In any case, from Streetview it became apparent that Thomson’s birthplace had long ago been demolished to make way for what is now the University of Edinburgh’s Lauriston Campus.

In 1841, Thomson’s parents and siblings moved from Tollcross, to a larger apartment at 6 Brighton Street. The family is recorded as living at this address in the 1851 and 1861 censuses. This was John Thomson’s home for two decades during his formative years. The Georgian B-listed tenement building in this short street still stands, so 6 Brighton Street could appropriately be named as the site for a plaque. However, the HES application process includes the stipulation that the applicant should seek permission for the siting of a plaque from the building’s owner before submitting a nomination. Letters were duly written to unknown occupants living in various flats at 6 Brighton Street. Roberta kindly visited the building in person, speaking with a resident. Gradually, I was in touch with some of those who lived there or who owned the apartments.

Next up: filling in the HES nomination form, in which I stated, in less than a thousand words, as required, why John Thomson deserved a plaque, detailing also his life and achievements, and why the address was relevant to the nominee. Useful information was provided by Richard Ovenden, author of John Thomson (1837-1921) Photographer, Debbie Ireland, and Terry Bennett. Messages of support were swiftly gathered up from the commemoration group, Roberta McGrath and Roddy Simpson (Scottish Society for the History of Photography) and endorsed by Professor Nick Pearce. The application was proofed by the Historical Photographs of China research assistant, Shannon Smith, and submitting to HES just before the scheme closed for the year’s new applications on 30 August 2019.

The nomination was successful, and was indeed deemed ‘exemplary’ by the independent panel. The commemoration group then decided on the wording for the plaque, for the foundry to cast. We prepared a press release to coincide with the public announcement in March 2020 by HES of seventeen new plaques. Further progress was delayed as the pandemic set in.

Meanwhile, the date of the centenary of Thomson’s death (30 September 1921) was fast approaching.  We planned for a plaque ‘unveiling’ event to take place on 29 September, which was the same day as the opening of the exhibition China Through the Lens of John Thomson, at the Heriot-Watt University (the exhibition is part of Thomson’s alma mater’s bicentenary celebrations). Thanks to the efforts of the HES plaques and Estates teams, the plaque was installed in time.

With invitations to the event sent out, I wrote a speech for the ‘unveiling’, an event organised by Betty and attended by more than thirty people, including relatives of John Thomson’s wife Isobel Thomson (née Petrie). Deborah Ireland regaling the gathering with ten things we probably didn’t know about John Thomson, including that he had significantly boosted the Royal Geographical Society’s photograph collection by encouraging explorers to bring back their own or locally purchased photographs, as well as training explorers in photography.

Neil Gregory, HES Deputy Head of Engagement, said that HES were delighted to be able to have the John Thomson plaque installed in time for the centenary. He said that he would like the unveiling to not be a final outcome, but rather more of a beginning: he and his team are currently exploring how an engagement programme for HES’s Commemorative Plaques could be developed which would enable both tourists and online audiences alike to learn more about Thomson’s fascinating life, his remarkable contribution to the development of photography and our knowledge of 19th century China.

Betty Yao MBE speaking at the Opening of the exhibition ‘China Through the Lens of John Thomson’ at the Heriot-Watt University. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Betty Yao MBE speaking at the Opening of the exhibition ‘China Through the Lens of John Thomson’ at the Heriot-Watt University. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

In the evening, the exhibition China Through the Lens of John Thomson was opened by Alex Hamilton, chair of the Scottish Society for the History of Photography (SSHoP). There were speeches by Ma Qiang, the Chinese Consul in Edinburgh, by Professor Richard Williams, Principal of Heriot-Watt University and by Betty Yao, thanks to whose tireless work millions of people have a had a chance to see the marvellous large prints made from Thomson’s glass negatives digitised by the Wellcome Collection. Mindful of covid, Betty gave guided tours of the exhibition in small groups.

Betty Yao MBE giving a guided tour of the exhibition to Professor Richard Williams, Principal of Heriot-Watt University and Ma Qiang, the Chinese Consul in Edinburgh. Photograph by Michael Pritchard.

Betty Yao MBE giving a guided tour of the exhibition to Professor Richard Williams, Principal of Heriot-Watt University and Ma Qiang, the Chinese Consul in Edinburgh. Photograph by Michael Pritchard.

The events of the day were attended by photo-historians, curators and representatives from the Scottish Society for the History of Photography, HES and the Royal Photographic Society. The opportunity to have face-to-face discussions, so long denied, will doubtless lead to other initiatives. As for more plaque nominations – to HES, English Heritage, other civic organisations – this can only be encouraged. Historic Environment Scotland aim to re-open a call for nominations in Spring 2022.

I recommend a visit to China Through the Lens of John Thomson, on at the James Watt Centre, Riccarton campus, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, EH14 4AS (bus #25 from the Scott Monument) until 24 March 2022.

Coinciding with the John Thomson centenary events, MuseumsEtc has published a two-volume set, comprising Street Life in London by John Thomson and Adolphe Smith, and an accompanying volume with context and commentary by Emily Kathryn Morgan.

Looking at a peep show in the street, Beijing, c.1870. Photograph by John Thomson. The exhibition prints were made from glass negatives digitised by the Wellcome Collection. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Looking at a peep show in the street, Beijing, c.1870. Photograph by John Thomson. The exhibition prints were made from glass negatives digitised by the Wellcome Collection. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

‘The peep-show … is fitted with a series of lenses in front, through which the eye of the spectator beholds the wonders of the world. … The showman … gives a perfect specimen of the winter dress of a Pekinese labourer. … The smallest figure is that of a young Tartar or Manchu girl… The third figure is that of a poor Manchu bannerman in his regulation sheepskin coat.’ Image as originally published, and text, from ‘Illustrations of China and Its People’ by John Thomson (1873/4), vol IV.

‘The peep-show … is fitted with a series of lenses in front, through which the eye of the spectator beholds the wonders of the world. … The showman … gives a perfect specimen of the winter dress of a Pekinese labourer. … The smallest figure is that of a young Tartar or Manchu girl… The third figure is that of a poor Manchu bannerman in his regulation sheepskin coat.’ Image as originally published, and text, from ‘Illustrations of China and Its People’ by John Thomson (1873/4), vol IV.

*John Thomson Commemoration Group led by Betty Yao MBE: Terry Bennett (photo-historian), Jamie Carstairs (Special Collections, University of Bristol), Geoff Harris (Editor, ‘Amateur Photographer’), Deborah Ireland (photo-historian), Michael Pritchard (Director, Education & Public Affairs, RPS).

Blog by Graham Hogg (National Library of Scotland): John Thomson: photographer, writer and traveller

BBC: The pioneering Scots photographer who captured China

The Scotsman: Edinburgh photographer who brought Far East to the world remembered on centenary

Historical Photographs of China: John Thomson – useful links.

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Guest blog: Nadine Attewell on Refocusing the Gaze: Leisure, Power, and Women’s Work in Interwar Hong Kong

Our guest writer today is Nadine Attewell, Associate Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies atSimon Fraser University, and director of the undergraduate program in Global Asia. She is the author of Better Britons: Reproduction, National Identity, and the Afterlife of Empire (2014), and is currently at work on a second book entitled Archives of Intimacy: Racial Mixing and Asian Lives in the Colonial Port City.

Hong Kong Aida Rosie Weiwing-lox(?) Annie’ng(?) Ssǔ-hing(?) R.F.C.H. A. Gardiner: R.F.C. Hedgland Collection He02-017 © 2007 SOAS

Taken in the aftermath of some sumptuous meal, the photograph is badly cropped and over-exposed. Of the people in it, only one, the Chinese woman leaning forward with her head in her hand, emerges with any clarity: she looks pensive, or perhaps bored. The clean-shaven white man who can just barely be seen around the other side of the table, hand casually draped over his neighbour’s shoulder, is Chinese Maritime Customs employee Reginald Hedgeland, who preserved the photograph for posterity. According to the caption, which dates the photograph to 1920, the dinner took place in Hong Kong, where Hedgeland often traveled for work and pleasure from his post in Nanning. Hedgeland recedes into the background of the photograph, and he is likewise not my focus here. In my work on Chinese practices of interracial intimacy and multiracial community under British colonial rule, photographs have consistently opened up perspectives not usually prioritized by the colonial archive. This photograph functions similarly: I have learned so much through allowing myself to wonder about the Chinese women who feature in it.

Tennis at Hong Kong, Oct., 1920. Annie / Aida / Rosie / Weiwing-Lox / R.F.C.H. / Barbara / Mr. Chan / Sir William Shenton: R.F.C. Hedgland Collection He02-018 © 2007 SOAS

Although Hedgeland did not usually identify his Chinese photographic subjects, the wealthy men and women with whom he socialized in Hong Kong are another story. Hedgeland’s captions tell us that he was joined at dinner by A. F. Gardiner, banker and tennis star Wei Wing-lok, Wei’s wife Annie (née Ng Quinn), and her sisters Ada and Rosie. Annie, Ada, Rosie, and Wei also feature in another of Hedgeland’s photographs, of a tennis party Hedgeland attended during the same trip. As the son of Wei Yuk, a businessmen who served on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, Wei Wing-lok was born into the ranks of Hong Kong’s Chinese élite. Unlike his British-educated father, however, Wing-lok studied engineering at MIT, joining a cadre of American-educated ethnic Chinese men born in and around the Pacific who played important roles in early-twentieth-century Chinese politics and economic development, like Ada Ng Quinn’s engineer husband Morrison Yung; Rosie Ng Quinn’s husband Bang How, who was friends with Mei-ling and T. V. Soong; and Bang How’s brother-in-law (and future Chinese finance minister) Huang Han-liang.[1]

I tracked down much of this information on websites devoted to genealogical research and university alumni history; as well as in recent scholarship about Chinese students and their transpacific itineraries. In this way, the photographs reward a methodology that attends to the intersections between the archives of (informal) empire and Chinese migration. But they also unsettle the androcentrism of such materials and accounts. I haven’t been able to learn much about the educational careers or professional aspirations of the Chinese Australian Ng Quinn sisters, who linked Wei Wing-lok, Morrison Yung, and Huang Han-liang as kin. Nevertheless, the looks, touches, and convivial fixtures that animate photographs like Hedgeland’s testify to their relational labour (and that of the absented staff on whom they relied). As one of my graduate students recently observed, the genealogical gossip historians encounter in the archive isn’t just a source of useful information about people in the past; it is also a trace of the gendered, racialized, and classed labour of social reproduction.[2]

Certainly, genealogical gossip can work to shore up heteropatriarchical power. Still, we shouldn’t assume that the relation work of élite women like the Ng Quinns always served the interests of their male kin, or of the white men who came to their homes to be entertained. In the photograph of the tennis party, the woman on the right side-eyes the camera, lips parted, posture confident, her arms stretched casually, almost possessively, around Hedgeland and his companion. This could be the “Barbara” Hedgeland names in his caption, but I want to explore another possibility. Around this time, the eldest Ng Quinn sister, Violet Lucy Chan, moved into a large house on Po Shan Road with extensive grounds that could well have accommodated a lawn tennis match or two. Violet’s life trajectory followed that of her sisters, at least up to a point. Like them, she married into a transpacific Chinese family, the Chans (or Chuns) of Hawai‘i, who accumulated enormous wealth and political power in both Hawai‘i and Guangdong, where Violet’s husband’s uncle Chun Chik-yu briefly served as governor.[3] During the 1910s, however, she left Chan and re-established herself in Hong Kong as a vibrant figure about town. In his autobiography, Percy Chen, the son of Sun Yat-sen’s Chinese Trinidadian ally Eugene Chen, recalls Violet Chan regularly holding court at the Hong Kong Hotel during the 1930s, when he worked as a barrister in the colony.[4] Might Violet Chan have hosted the tennis party? Could she be the woman Hedgeland identifies as “Barbara”?

According to Violet’s great-nephew Michael Ng-Quinn, after the breakdown of her marriage, Violet became intimately involved with a British lawyer who sponsored not only her lavish residence but her younger brother Sydney’s entry into the legal profession as well.[5] Whatever the truth of this piece of genealogical gossip, she appears to have been close to British solicitor George Hall Brutton, who was Sydney’s employer when he qualified as a solicitor in 1935[6]: in 1943, British intelligence sources reported that Brutton had been released from the civilian internment camp at Stanley – on guarantees provided by one Violet Chan.[7] The intelligence report containing this nugget jocularly describes Violet as “Auntie V of ARP fame,” a reference to her role in Wing-Commander Horace Steele-Perkins’s colony-wide plans for air-raid precautions, which became mired in allegations of corruption. During a public enquiry in late 1941, Steele-Perkins explained that he and his wife had recruited Violet, whom he visited regularly at 6 Po Shan Road, to assist with ARP outreach amongst Chinese Hong Kongers.[8] Although Steele-Perkins’s relationship with Mrs. Chan attracted less salacious attention than some of his other entanglements, it was tarred with the same insinuating brush.

Violet’s relationships with men like Brutton or Steele-Perkins may or may not have adhered to norms of respectable Chinese femininity; neither she nor her sisters need rescuing from such insinuations and the expectations that undergirded them, which they likely also confronted in everyday life. What matters is that Violet found ways of using such relationships to pursue the projects that mattered to her – and vice versa. Her kin remember Auntie Vi with appreciation, testifying to the care that her wealth and connections enabled her to provide for them, including during the Second World War, when several of Violet’s siblings and their children took shelter at the property on Po Shan Road.[9] After the war, recalls Michael Ng-Quinn, she permitted refugees from the Chinese mainland to settle there too.

My account here is speculative. Still, the broader point stands: how would our accounts of early-twentieth-century Chinese social and political landscapes change if we attended to the labour not just of white men (like Hedgeland), entrepreneurial Chinese middlemen (like Wei Yuk), or their credentialed sons (like Wei Wing-lok), but of the Asian women, including amahs, mistresses, and sex workers as well as wives, aunties, sisters, and daughters, alongside whom they lived, worked, and played? What political possibilities might inhere in Rosie Ng Quinn’s bored, offstage stare or the jaunty confidence of “Barbara’s” embrace?

 

[1] For more on the connections between the Ng Quinn, Bang, and Huang families, including a photograph of Rosie’s wedding to Bang How, see https://www.huangquest.com/marriage-to-mo-li-how.html.

[2] I am grateful to Adrianna Michell for her thoughtful reflections on genealogical gossip, a term used by Esselyn/Chumash writer Deborah Miranda in her family memoir Bad Indians (Heyday, 2013), 67.

[3] For more on Violet’s marriage to Chun Wing-on, see Robert Dye, “Merchant Prince: Chun Afong in Hawai‘i, 1849-90,” Chinese America: History & Perspectives (2010): 33.

[4] Percy Chen, China Called Me: My Life Inside the Chinese Revolution (Little, Brown, 1979), 277.

[5] Interview with Michael Ng-Quinn, September – November 2010, sponsored by the Research and Educational Center for China Studies and Cross Taiwan-Strait Relations, Department of Political Science, National Taiwan University, http://www.china-studies.taipei/act02.php.

[6] “New Local Solicitor: Mr. Sydney Ng Quinn,” Hongkong Telegraph, August 23 1936.

[7] Kweilin Intelligence Report No. 27, December 30 1943, PR82/068 Box 10 Folder 7, Lindsay Tasman Ride Collection, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT, Australia.

[8] “Queries on Construction of Stores for ARP Dept.,” Hongkong Telegraph, September 30 1941.

[9] Loretta NgQuinn Slaton, We Walked to Freedom (iUniverse, 2007), 3-5; interview with Michael Ng-Quinn.

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HPC: A Change of Pace

It is 15 years since the launch of Historical Photographs of China. In that decade and a half we have copied about 170 mostly privately-held collections of photographs, which has generated just over 62,000 unique images in our databank, and published over 22,000 of them on our platform (and its mirror site in China), under a Creative Commons license which allows non-commercial reuse (with attribution). While something like 7000 came to us digitally, in the main we have taken loose prints, photograph albums, negatives, magic lantern slides, real photo postcards and transparencies (35mm slides), ranging in date from the late 1850s to the late 1960s, and copied them here in Bristol, or on site.

In recent months we have been preparing our digital holdings for transfer into the University of Bristol’s new Digital Assets Management System (DAMS), which will ensure very long term preservation of these records of China’s history. This has always been our long-term goal.

Fifteen years is a very long time for a standalone project to run, and the time has now come for a change. Although we have over that period been awarded something like half a million pounds of funding from a range of public and private sponsors – the British Academy, AHRC, ESRC, JISC, Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, John Swire & Sons – as well as a great deal of tangible in-kind support from the University of Bristol (not least the DAMS), it has never been easy to secure funding for a resource-building project like this.

From this month onwards, as our digital holdings are moved into the DAMS, which is hosted within the University Library’s Special Collections and Archives, ‘Historical Photographs of China’ has become one amongst other notable individual collections held within Special Collections. It will no longer have that separate identity as an active project, and will no longer be looking for new materials to digitize. The project has ended, but the collection will last.

My key ‘asset’ as project director has always been the project’s manager, Jamie Carstairs, who joined it in February 2006, and who has himself copied the greater part of our collection, added and checked a great deal of metadata, arranged the collection and return of materials, handled requests for publication and reuse, and spotted coincidences and connections across the materials (most wonderfully the fact that we had two photographers who actually stood side by side as they photographed the same group, and that we had shots across three separate collections of an impromptu football kickabout in the Jiangsu countryside). Jamie has over that period been supported by, in particular, Shannon Smith, and Alejandro Acin, and by others who worked on discrete collections or initiatives, by colleagues in the University of Bristol’s Research IT team who have worked our platform, and by Christian Henriot and Gerald Foliot who first provided a home for the project ‘in’ France.

Jamie has now moved to join the library’s Special Collections team full time, working on that team’s work. When time allows, we hope to publish new collections from our backlog, and some work continues on creating metadata for our unpublished holdings to support this. Queries about reuse of project materials will now be handled through the Special Collections mailbox. Over the years we have had several collections of original material donated to us, and these have been transferred from the project to Special Collections, and this remains an option for those who might be wishing to find a long-term home for such materials.

Green boxes of HPC materials in the Special Collections stacks, University of Bristol Arts and Social Sciences Library

As director, I am immensely grateful to Jamie for his work across the past decade and a half, which has taken him across the country, and of course to China, and during which he has learned a great deal more about the historical cityscapes and landscapes of China than he ever expected to back in 2006. Give Jamie an uncaptioned photograph of a bridge in Sichuan, and likely as not he’ll know where it is, or where to look to confirm a hunch. Without Jamie, none of what the project has achieved would have been possible, and that also includes our own exhibitions in London, Bristol, Bath and Durham, Nanjing, Chongqing, and Beijing, and contributions to other exhibitions and museum collections across China and Hong Kong, as well as our own publications — including this blog.

I am of course hugely grateful to all those who allowed us to copy their albums and photographs and to share them with the world. Mostly, people have proactively sought us out, having heard about us by word of mouth or having listened to the BBC Radio 4 programme about the project, or who have found us through internet searches. This is very much a project that has thrived because of the generosity and kindness of our community of donors, who have entrusted us with their albums and documents. We have had material sent to us from Asia, Australia, north America, the European continent, and of course from across Britain. In addition we have benefitted from partnerships with SOAS, the Cadbury Research Library (University of Birmingham), The National Archives, John Swire & Sons Ltd, the Needham Research Institute, Special Collections and Archives at Queen’s University Belfast, the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institute, and Harvard-Yenching Library: these have helped enrich the collections enormously.

I am also grateful for the warm support (and corrections, and other details) that we have received from supporters of our work, which we know is widely used in teaching and in research presentations, and which has an audience of researchers, learners, family historians and the simply just interested, across the globe, and to colleagues at the University of Bristol (including the Dean who, in 2006, asked, ‘so, there are a lot of photographs out there: when will you know when to stop’). We are currently in the midst of refreshing the platform itself (for technical reasons due to the looming end of life of its underlying software) but it will not be vanishing, and we hope in the not-too-distant future to be able to publish a wonderful collection from a family who lived and worked in Hong Kong and in Shanghai, and a little later something quite different: a large collection from the heart of revolutionary China during the Second World War. More on those anon.

In the meantime, many thanks again for all your support, and please, keep using the photographs: that’s what they’re there for.

Robert Bickers
Director, Historical Photographs of China project

Fu Bingchang, with camera: Fu Bingchang Collection Fu-n174 © 2007 C. H. Foo and Y. W. Foo

As the caption says, that’s Fu Bingchang, whose photography has kept us busy: we copied some 2,500 photographs he took in China, the USSR (when ambassador there), and western Europe, with some 550 available on HPC. This was one of the early collections that we copied.

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Guest blog: Claire Lowrie on ‘Travelling Servants and Moving Images: A Photographic History of Chinese Domestic Workers’

Claire Lowrie is a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Wollongong, Australia. She is the author of Masters and Servants: Cultures of Empire in the Tropics (Manchester University Press 2016) and the co-author of Colonialism and Male Domestic Service across the Asia Pacific (Bloomsbury 2019, paperback 2020) with Julia Martínez, Frances Steel and Victoria Haskins. Claire is currently undertaking a new research project titled ‘Ayahs and Amahs: Transcolonial Servants in Australia and Britain 1780-1945’ with Victoria Haskins (University of Newcastle, Australia) and Swapna Banerjee (Brooklyn College, City University of New York). The project is funded by the Australian Research Council (DP200100375).

My research focuses on Chinese migrants, both men and women, who were employed as servants in colonial Southeast Asia and northern Australia. Domestic service is a challenging topic to research given that domestic workers have left behind almost no first-hand accounts. In order to access their stories, historians need to take a creative approach to our source material. Historians of domestic service are proficient in the art of critically analysing employers’ accounts to locate clues about servants’ perspectives. They collect precious fragments of servants’ lives located in government archives, such as court records. They also make use of sources of visual culture, including photographs.

The mass digitisation of archival records in the last twenty years or so has brought to light thousands of photographs of Chinese domestic workers, with more being archived and digitised each year. A simple key word search for ‘servant’ returns 128 results in the Historical Photographs of China (HPC) archive alone. Most of the HPC photographs include servants employed in British homes, particularly in Hong Kong and within the foreign concessions of Shanghai, Fuzhou and Tianjin. Images of male domestic servants, referred to by British colonists as ‘houseboys’ or ‘boys’, and images of amahs, nursemaids to children, recur. Figures 1 and 2 provide illustrative examples of the kinds of photographs contained in the collection.

Figure 1. ‘Hung – our “Boy”. A studio portrait. He was with my father before his (my father’s) marriage, c.1917, and stayed with him till 1944.’ Tianjin, circa 1915. Image courtesy of Sheila Bovell and Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol (HPC ref: SB-s08).

Figure 2. Gladys Hughes with her amah, Wuhu, circa 1886. Image courtesy of Colonel Leslie Addington and Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol (HPC ref: Hu01-001).

While photographs of domestic workers in British homes predominate, the HPC archive also contains images of Chinese servants employed in Chinese households and in the homes of other ethnic groups resident in China. Figure 3 is one of two photographs of a Chinese girl employed as an amah by a Sikh family in Shanghai. It is an unusual image not only in that it depicts a Chinese domestic worker in an Indian household but also in terms of the young age of the amah. She is a child herself responsible for the care of other children.

Figure 3. Sikh family group, with amah, in the Cardon photography studio, Shanghai, 1936. Image courtesy of Jaskaran Sangha and Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol (HPC ref: Jn-s20).

Photographs such as these can tell us a great deal about domestic workers. They provide insights into the materiality of workers’ lives, highlighting, for example, the black uniforms commonly donned by amahs as illustrated in Figure 2. In the rare examples where domestic workers are named in photographs, they allow opportunities for tracing the life histories of these workers. Photographs also provide insights into colonial power relations with domestic workers invariably depicted in poses that emphasise devoted servility. Yet, rather than a medium through which servants were simply dominated, it is possible to read workers’ constrained agency in relation to pose, expression, and attire.[1] Observe, for example, the way in which Hung in Figure 1 stares down the lens of the camera, self-confident and assertive despite the caption describing him as a ‘boy’.

The patterns of Chinese servitude in British homes in China were replicated in Southeast Asia. Chinese amahs and ‘houseboys’ were central figures in many colonial homes throughout the region. In Singapore and British Malaya, for example Chinese ‘houseboys’ and male cooks, mostly from the Hainanese dialect group, predominated in domestic service until the 1920s. They were employed not only in British homes but also in Chinese, Indian and Eurasian households. In households where children were present, Chinese, Indian and Malay nursemaids were also employed. They were variously referred to as amahs or ayahs. By the 1930s, the domestic workforce changed as large numbers of Chinese working-class women began migrating to Singapore. Chinese female servants called maijie gradually replaced the ‘houseboys’ of the previous era. They worked as nursemaids, cooks, and general servants not only in Singapore but in Malaya and Hong Kong. Maijie were known to the English as ‘black and white amahs’, in reference to the colours of their uniform. They were a highly organised group of workers who were members of spinster sisterhoods that had originated in Guangdong province.[2]

Strikingly similar images of those contained in the HPC archive – of the ‘houseboy’ standing to attention and the dutiful Chinese amah watching over her ward – were created in colonial Southeast Asia. Figures 4 and 5 are typical of such images. The repetition of this kind of iconography and the location of these photographs in archives all over the world reflect the ways in which images travelled – circulated in ethnographic books, exchanged as postcards and in letters home, or journeying within the personal albums of imperial families. Figure 4 is part of a pair of photographs depicting the same Chinese man in the same studio presumably on the same day. While Figure 4 made its way to the Netherlands, its twin is housed in the collections of the National Archives of Singapore.[3]

Figure 4. ‘301 – Chinese Boy on duty’. Photograph by Lambert and Co., Singapore, circa 1900. Image courtesy of University of Leiden, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.

Figure 5. A Chinese ‘amah’ and a European baby, Singapore, circa 1880s. Photograph by Robert Lenz & Co., Singapore. Image courtesy of the National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board.

Just as images of domestic servants travelled, so too did the workers themselves. I am currently embarking on a research project, led by Victoria Haskins with Swapna Banerjee as a co-investigator, that seeks to trace the mobility of Chinese and Indian women who worked as nursemaids to children and travelled to Britain and Australia. A range of historians and public history practitioners have brought to light the stories of travelling Indian ayahs in Britain.[4] Much less is known about the Chinese amahs that travelled with employer families to Britain. The stories of Chinese amahs and Indian ayahs who travelled to Australia (even after the passing of the infamous White Australia Policy in 1901) also remain largely unknown. Our project seeks to uncover those histories and to analyse Indian ayahs and Chinese amahs side-by-side.

If you have stories of Chinese amahs or Indian ayahs that travelled to Britain or Australia, we would love to hear from you. Please use the Contact Us link on our project website or email me directly. We would also be interested in images of amahs or ayahs.

Ayahs and Amahs Project website: https://ayahsandamahs.com/.

clowrie@uow.edu.au

@ClaireLowrie1

@cass_uow

[1] Claire Lowrie, 2018. “What a picture can do”: Contests of colonial mastery in photographs of Asian ‘houseboys’ from Southeast Asia and Northern Australia, 1880s-1920s, Modern Asian Studies 52(4): 1279-1315.

[2] Claire Lowrie, 2016. Masters and Servants: Cultures of Empire in the Tropics, Manchester University Press, 2016, 30-32.

[3] For more discussion of the mobility of domestic worker iconography see Julia Martínez, Claire Lowrie, Frances Steel and Victoria Haskins. 2019. Colonialism & Domestic Service across the Asia Pacific, Bloomsbury: 104-136.

[4] For foundational academic work see: Rozina Visram, 1986. Ayahs, Lascars and Princes:  The story of Indians in Britain 1700-1947. Pluto Press. In terms of a public history initiative, and one that draws on domestic worker iconography, see the campaign for a Blue Plaque for the Hackney Ayahs Home and associated Instagram account.

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Guest blog: The Cercle Sportif Français: Elite cosmopolitanism in Shanghai’s Former French Concession.

Lauren Walden is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Contemporary Chinese Art at Birmingham City University. Her PhD in Art History from Coventry University explored the global expanse of Surrealism in relation to cosmopolitan theory, including the advent of Surrealism in China. In 2018, she was awarded the Gary Metz fellowship to conduct research on Mexican Surrealist Lola Alvarez Bravo at the Centre for Creative Photography in Arizona, and was also recipient of a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Henry Moore Foundation in Leeds (2019) for research on to the Surrealist reception of African art. Lauren is currently working on a short book project with the Fondation Giacometti in Paris which investigates Surrealism in Shanghai’s former French Concession.

Emblematic of Shanghai’s elite cosmopolitanism during the modern era, the Cercle Sportif Français (CSF) became the first foreign-owned club to admit women, Chinese and other nationalities into its highly select coterie, provided the necessary status or financial means were at one’s disposal.[1] Founded in 1905, the club’s original premises rapidly became too small for its burgeoning membership. In 1920, the club’s President Henri Madier, asked the French Concessions’ municipal administration for permission to construct a new building on parkland in an area known as the Jardin de Verdun.[2] Whilst the CSF was, for all intents and purposes, a private members club, it nevertheless received substantial financial support from the Municipal Council of the French Concession.

After three years of contractual negotiations, the club and the municipal administration agreed to the following terms: The municipal administration bought the CSF’s original premises for 170,000 taels on the Route Vallon and ceded its own municipal land on the Jardin de Verdun for just 2000 taels per mou (665 m²).[3] Fredet notes that the club building was constructed on 4200 m² of terrain, approximately 6 mou. Although the total surface area of the Jardin de Verdun came to 45,000 m² or approximately 60 mou, the contract stipulates that land beyond the club building itself remained municipal property but would be rented to the CSF for a token sum of 1 tael per year.[4]  The total expenses accrued for the construction and interior design of the new club came to 700,000 taels.[5] In spite of these favourable conditions, the municipal administration required that the CSF’s committee must remain French or they would have the right to forcibly repurchase their land.[6]  Whilst the club’s admissions policy was more open than its other imperialist counterparts, it is clear that the French Concession municipal council was prepared to leverage financial expenditure in order to enrich the symbolic economy of French colonialism and its patriotic rayonnement to Shanghai’s numerous communities. In a sense, the CSF was France’s unofficial consulate in Shanghai, certainly in terms of propagating ‘soft power’ in an attempt to legitimise the French colonial presence in the city.[7]

Figure 1. Cercle Sportif Français, Shanghai, circa 1926. Image reproduced in ‘Shanghai of Today: a Souvenir Album of Thirty-eight Vandyke Prints of ‘The Model Settlement’’ (A. S. Watson & Company, Shanghai, 1927), plate 37. Image courtesy of Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol (HPC ref: Bk46-37).

The contract was signed on the 21 November 1923 and Shanghai-based French Architects Leonard and Veysseyre constructed the new building between 1924 and 1926 (Figure 1). The building was inaugurated on the 30 January 1926, an event parodied by Russian cartoonist Sapajou, himself a member of the club, in the North-China Daily News (Figure 2). It seems that on the opening night the CSF’s pretence towards grandeur and civility quickly declined into an immense melee, China Press reporting circa 1,200 guests in attendance.[8] Andrew Field notes ‘the dignity of the club and the French Nationalist sentiments that it attempted to project could not match the Jazz Age nightlife culture that Shanghai had adopted during the 1920s’.[9] Arguably, it was precisely the simultaneous combination of decorum and decadence that cemented the club’s success, hedonistic pursuits subsumed by the opulent splendour of the club’s grounds. Moreover, the French consul general, M. Meyrier indirectly invoked the goal of ‘soft power’ at the heart of the CSF’s conception. His speech at the inaugural reception affirmed that the CSF: ‘has provided for the French and Foreign communities the means of a most amiable understanding, social intercourse, and that atmosphere of charm which Talleyrand said was the secret of all diplomacy’.[10] Therefore, we can perhaps surmise that inculcating a cosmopolitan, jazz-age environment at the CSF actually served to further the goals of French nationalism, distinguishing its ‘brand’ of colonialism from the British-dominated international concession.

Figure 2. ‘Opening the Cercle Sportif — Anticipation and Reality’ by Sapajou, reproduced in Richard Rigby ‘Sapajou’s Shanghai’ China Heritage Quarterly, 2015.

Within the Historical Photographs of China collections, a photograph in the collection of British-American Tobacco graphic artist Jack Ephgrave preserves the dignified aspect of the club, depicting the grandeur of its neo-classical façade and expansive grounds, mainly used for tennis, through an aerial shot in 1927 (Figure 3). A second photograph, likely taken by Ephgrave himself, captures the Olympic size swimming pool measuring 54 x 10 metres, flanked by many spectators (Figure 4). Born in 1914, Ephgrave photographed many exclusive sights in Shanghai emphasising the cultural mobility of his family within the cityscape. Interestingly, despite his clear association with Britain, Ephgrave does not photograph the rival British Shanghai Club which had a highly restrictive admissions policy and more austere atmosphere, the CSF was more family-orientated than its British counterpart.

Figure 3. Aerial View of the Cercle Sportif Français (French Club) Shanghai, 1927. Image courtesy of Adrienne Livesey, Elaine Ryder, Irene Brien and Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol (HPC ref: Ep01-006).

Figure 4. Swimming Pool, Cercle Sportif Français (French Club), Shanghai, 1929. Photograph attributed to Jack Ephgrave. Image courtesy of Adrienne Livesey, Elaine Ryder, Irene Brien and Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol (HPC ref: Ep01-193).

Beyond the grounds and swimming pool photographed by Ephgrave, whether or not the club was truly ‘sportif’ in nature is highly questionable. Other facilities included a billiard room, reading room, canteen, restaurant, ballroom, tea room, card room, private salons, bars and a roof terrace. The neo-classical exterior of the CSF is somewhat offset by its more hybrid interior where art deco style dominates, interspersed with neo-classical touches. The dichotomy of style between the interior and exterior of the building appears symptomatic of the French art and architectural scene at the time, torn between recourse to ancient Greco-Roman civilisation and the geometric simplification of form characteristic of art deco.  Tess Johnston draws attention to the ‘plasterwork friezes of statuesque nudes’ which populate modernist columns in the entrance hall.[11] The nude here is identified by Fredet as a caryatid, a voluptuous female figure serving as the support for a column in ancient Greece (Figure 5).[12] In contrast, a cubist-inspired frieze of a sojourning nude modern girl with a flapper haircut and geometricized anatomy also adorns the ballroom, the interior design of the CSF undoubtedly commingled the ancient and the modern (Figure 6).

Figure 5. Interior columns in the CSF, 2015. Photograph by David Thompson.

Figure 6. Frieze in the CSF, 2015. Image courtesy of Tina Kanagaratnam, Shanghai Art Deco Society.

Further to this, the ballroom boasts an iconic, multicoloured stained-glass light, an original feature cited by Fredet in 1926.[13] Light refracting through the prism of this elliptical feature would dazzle on the ballroom floor (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Stained Glass light in the Ballroom of the CSF, 2015. Photograph by
David Thompson.

The symbolic value of the club was employed in the French metropole as a justification of nation’s ‘mission civilisatrice’ (civilising mission) in its colonial territories. One bizarre article dominating the front page of French paper Le Journal in February 1927 laments that the ongoing conflict in Shanghai relating to workers strikes and the rise of the communist party would negatively affect the club.[14] The headline translates as ‘The admirable effort of France is in grave danger in Shanghai’ with a picture of the CSF underneath (Figure 8). The reporter Pierre Benoit, having visited the club states: ‘Parisian newspapers have long been predicting the imminent fall of Shanghai, an event with incalculable consequences, the hardest hit for a long time against European prestige’.[15] A potted history of the Shanghai French concession then ensues with the CSF being presented as France’s latest undertaking in Shanghai. As such, the CSF is portrayed as the apotheosis of all of France’s achievements in the city.

Figure 8. Le cercle sportif français de Changhai, ‘Le Journal’, 21 February 1927.

In terms of French soft power, the most important event of the club’s social calendar was undoubtedly le quatorze juillet or Bastille day celebrating the French Revolution of 1789. Festivities commenced from 1pm in the afternoon late into the night. The reception at the CSF was reported on an annual basis in the francophone language newspaper Le Journal de Shanghai (a newspaper also subsidised by the French Municipal administration). The French consul or vice-consul would usually attend the reception and the club president would give a speech particularly addressed to predominantly non-French club members in attendance. In 1933, Le Journal de Shanghai published an image of the reception at the club, the tricolore adorning the hall (Figure 9). The reporter emphasises both the cosmopolitan nature of the guests alongside the efforts made to promote French soft power: ‘A veritable cornucopia of all races, people came from all four quarters of the world to celebrate bastille day … Once again the French concession has worked hard to maintain and further promote the prestige of France’.[16] Whether or not the club could truly purport to host a cornucopia of races in 1933 is highly questionable. Glaise, who has consulted a file on the CSF at the Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes has revealed that in 1933 the club had 1,098 male members and 729 female. In terms of nationality, Glaise reports the following breakdown:

164 French, 490 English, 168 Americans, 27 Italians, 40 Dutch, 50 Danish, 10 Swedish, 11 Norwegian, 15 Belgian, 41 Russian, 7 Hungarian, 2 Syrian, 1 Turkish, 5 Austrian, 1 Cuban, 1 Romanian, 13 Swiss, 4 Portuguese, 3 Latvian, 3 Polish, 6 Spanish, 4 Finnish, 3 Greek, 2 German, 9 Japanese, 16 Czechoslovakian, 1 Bulgarian.[17]

Whilst the club did transcend both gender and national boundaries, a notable omission is a lack of Chinese citizens being recorded on the club’s roster. Hence, it seems that more of a theoretical rather than empirical cosmopolitanism prevailed with regards to the club’s host nation.

Figure 9. La Réception au Cercle Sportif Français, Le Journal de Shanghai, 16 July 1933.

Interestingly, reporting of the annual reception became more prominent after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese war when the foreign concessions entered their 孤岛 or ‘lone island’ phase, shielded from the conflict. In a large spread in 1939, an avant-garde artwork adorns the wall in one photograph, revellers with their glasses raised. The newspaper reported 800 people attending.[18] If we cross reference the avant-garde murals in the bottom left photograph (Figure 10) with the architect’s image (Figure 11) we can deduce that this was the card games room of the circle. Katya Knyazeva reveals that a large proportion of the CSF’s interior design can be attributed to Shanghai’s Russian diaspora, many of whom resided in the French concession: ‘V. Podgoursky designed coloured glass windows in some of the rooms; M. Stupin painted modernist murals; V. Shibaeff created the sculptures above the fireplace in the library.’[19] Granted the North-China Daily Herald also describes Stupin’s murals as modernist, it is most likely he is responsible for those in the card room.[20] It appears that the avant-garde work incorporating fragments of playing cards, was deliberately chosen to reflect an atmosphere predicated on chance, luck and enjoyment, also populated by the leitmotiv of masks.

On Bastille day in 1939, during the club’s president’s annual speech M. Bouvier, invoked ideas of universalism:

We can affirm without fear that in these troubled times we are living through, this celebration assumes a symbolic character, rallying people from all nations who wish to live in freedom and safeguard the dignity of the human being, rallying all those who believe that all nations, all mankind has the right to liberty, rallying all those who wish to base the progress of the human condition on universal cooperation.[21]

This speech was of course given before the Nazi invasion of France and the takeover of Shanghai’s French municipal council by the Collaborator Vichy regime.

Figure 10. La Réception au Cercle Sportif Français, Le Journal de Shanghai, 16 July 1939.

Figure 11. Card Room, Cercle Sportif Français, circa 1925. Image courtesy of Tess Johnston, reproduced in Johnston, Tess, and Deke Erh ‘Frenchtown Shanghai: western architecture in Shanghai’s old French concession’ (Old China Hand Press, Hong Kong, 2000), p.104.

Indeed, the fate of the club was inextricably linked to that of the French Concession during World War Two, its enviable soft power unable to save it from military occupation by the Japanese in December 1941. After the liberation in 1949, the CSF first became a People’s palace and was subsequently used as a private guesthouse by Mao Zedong, the nude figures populating its interior ‘all covered with plywood during the cultural revolution’.[22] Whilst the CSF clearly transcended many colonial antinomies in terms of both national and ethnic divisions, the relentlessly hierarchical admissions policy coupled with the extreme gap between Shanghai’s rich and poor during the Republican era ensured that its soft power amongst the elites of the city equally epitomised everything the Communists despised about Shanghai . It is clearly not a coincidence that this building was symbolically re-appropriated into a people’s palace which would, like its predecessor, operate a restrictive admissions policy. Model workers became the new Shanghai elite with exclusive access to the club.

The former CSF is now the Okura Hotel owned by a Japanese company which has preserved many of its original features. In terms of the club’s cultural memory, today it is not so much remembered as a bastion of imperialism, although this was clearly what the French municipal council intended, but rather for its innovative art deco interiors which been safeguarded as an important piece of cultural heritage. As such, the legacy of soft power enjoyed by the former Cercle Sportif Français continues to this day.

[1] Women were first admitted to the club in 1907. See ‘Inaugural Ceremonies of New French Club Held’ The China Press, 31 January 1926, p.7.
[2] Compte rendu de la gestion pour l’exercice 1920 – Budget 1921 – Conseil d’administration municipale de la Concession française, p.70.
[3] Compte rendu de la gestion pour l’exercice 1923 – Budget 1924 – Conseil d’administration municipale de la Concession française, p.248-249.
[4] Jean Fredet ‘Le Cercle Sportif de Changhai’ L’Illustration, 30 October 1926, p.476; Compte rendu de la gestion pour l’exercice 1923 – Budget 1924 – Conseil d’administration municipale de la Concession française, p. 249.
[5] Jean Fredet ‘Le Cercle Sportif de Changhai’ L’Illustration, 30 October 1926, p.476.
[6] Compte rendu de la gestion pour l’exercice 1923 – Budget 1924 – Conseil d’administration municipale de la Concession française, p. 249.
[7] Joseph Nye explains ‘Soft Power’ in the following terms: ‘Soft co-optive power is just as important as hard command power. If a state can make its power seem legitimate in the eyes of others, it will encounter less resistance to its wishes. If its culture and ideology are attractive, others will more willingly follow. If it can establish international norms consistent with its society, it is less likely to have to change. If it can support institutions that make other states wish to channel or limit their activities in ways the dominant state prefers, it may be spared the costly exercise of coercive or hard power’:  Nye, Joseph S. “Soft Power.” Foreign Policy, no. 80 (1990): 153-71.
[8] ‘Inaugural Ceremonies of New French Club Held’, The China Press, 31 January 1926, p.7.
[9] Field, Andrew. 2010. Shanghai’s dancing world: cabaret culture and urban politics, 1919-1954. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. p.33.
[10] ‘Inaugural Ceremonies of New French Club Held’, The China Press, 31 January 1926, p.7.
[11] Johnston, Tess, and Deke Erh. 1998. A Last Look: Western architecture in old Shanghai. Hong Kong: Old China Hand Press. p.38.
[12] Jean Fredet ‘Le Cercle Sportif de Changhai’ L’Illustration, 30 October 1926, p.477.
[13] Jean Fredet ‘Le Cercle Sportif de Changhai’ L’Illustration, 30 October 1926, p.477.
[14] The Communists would be brutally purged from the city under the orders of Nationalist party leader Chiang Kai-Shek two months later in collusion with the administration of Shanghai’s international settlement, prompting their ruralisation.
[15] Pierre Benoit ‘L’admirable effort de la France est en grand péril à Changhai’, Le Journal, 21 February 1927, p.1.
[16] L.C ‘Le Quatorze Julliet à Shanghai;’ Le Journal de Shanghai: organe des intérêts français en Extrême Orient, 16 July 1933, p.8.
[17] Glaise, Anne Frédérique. 2005. L’évolution sanitaire et médicale de la concession française de Shanghai entre 1850 et 1950. Thèse de doctorat: Histoire: Lyon 2: 2005. p.133 It would appear that this breakdown of nationality only appears to correspond to the number of male members.
[18] ‘Le Bal au Cercle Sportif Français’, Le Journal de Shanghai: organe des intérêts français en Extrême Orient, p.7.
[19] Katya Knyazeva, 2020. ‘Building Russian Shanghai: The Architectural Legacy of the Diaspora’ The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China, 80:1 p.175.
[20] ‘Opening of the New French Club’, North-China Herald, 6 February 1926, p. 236.
[21] ‘Au Cercle Sportif Français’, Le Journal de Shanghai: organe des intérêts français en Extrême Orient, 16 July 1939, p.12.
[22] Johnston, Tess, and Deke Erh. 2000. Frenchtown Shanghai: western architecture in Shanghai’s old French concession. Hong Kong: Old China Hand Press. p.105.

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Black and white Hong Kong transformed by ‘OldHKinColour’

The Instagram page OldHKinColour features vintage images of Hong Kong which have been colourised, or colourised and animated, with a view to promoting public education. HPC invited the team running the project, which has used some of our images, to provide an introduction to their methods and objectives.

OldHKinColour promotes the culture of Hong Kong with colourised images/animations, presented with bilingual descriptions. The Instagram page began in late 2019 and is managed by a Hong Kong-based research team specialising in cultural history, digital humanities, artificial intelligence and intersemiotic translation.

Pedder Street and the Clock Tower, Hong Kong, c.1869. Photograph by John Thomson.

Pedder Street and the Clock Tower, Hong Kong, c.1869. Photograph by John Thomson. Colourised by OldHKinColour, bringing out the differentiating colour of clothing and the pastel coloured buildings.

Our criteria for the selection of images are that they should demonstrate the traditions and customs of Hong Kong, and/or reveal everyday life, and/or reflect the aesthetics of the city. Our team is particularly fond of photographs by Harrison Forman (1904-1978) and John Thomson (1837-1921), from which we can catch a glimpse of the early days of Hong Kong.

Stewart Lockhart and Wang Cunshan (王存善) fixing the first boundary mark on the shore at Stanley Inlet, Hong Kong, 1898. HPC ref: NA22-01.

Stewart Lockhart and Wang Cunshan (王存善) fixing the first boundary mark on the shore at Stanley Inlet, Hong Kong, 1898. HPC ref: NA22-01. Colourised by OldHKinColour.

The OldHKinColour team consider AI-based learning to be a significant and innovative pedagogy for students of history. Traditionally, textual resources, including newspapers and official documents, are the primary sources for studying history. Some people may find text resources dull and lose interest. Visual technology, including AI-driven image restoration and 3D rendering of historical photographs has developed rapidly in recent years. We can apply these developments to the teaching of arts subjects, including the history of Hong Kong, in order to enhance the effectiveness of public education in traditional culture.

Chinese New Year Fair, Hong Kong, c.1924. Photograph by Denis H. Hazell. Source: ‘Picturesque Hong Kong’ (Ye Olde Printerie Ltd., Hong Kong, c.1925). HPC ref: Bk09-30.

Chinese New Year Fair, Hong Kong, c.1924. Photograph by Denis H. Hazell. Source: ‘Picturesque Hong Kong’ (Ye Olde Printerie Ltd., Hong Kong, c.1925). HPC ref: Bk09-30. Colourised by OldHKinColour, which is informative as it draws attention to the plants.

The process of image colourisation generally consists of three major steps: data gathering, pre-processing and post-editing.

Data gathering

First, we collect digital copies of original monochrome photographs, sourced mainly from online archives and academic institutions, such as Historical Photographs of China, The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries Digital Collections and Harvard-Yenching Library. Most of these images of Victoria City (Central Hong Kong) date from the late 1860s to the 1950s.

Pre-processing

We enhance the image quality and resolution with the latest technology of machine learning and the application of artificial neural networks.

Post-editing

We colourise the pre-processed images manually by referring to a wide variety of historical sources, such as newspapers, magazines, official documents, memoirs and film recordings, with a view to restoring the original colours as accurately as possible. This procedure usually takes more than an hour to complete.

Pottinger Street, Hong Kong, c.1955-56. Photograph by Harrison Forman. Source: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. Digital ID: fr301598.

Pottinger Street, Hong Kong, c.1955-56. Photograph by Harrison Forman. Source: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. Digital ID: fr301598. Colourised by OldHKinColour, the woman’s red jacket providing a compositional anchor not obvious in the original black and white.

The colourised images of urban life in Hong Kong in the 1940s/50s, show the architecture of Victoria City was undoubtedly magnificent and breathtaking. However, many people suffered from poor living conditions and struggled for their livelihoods with indomitable spirit. There are some incredible stories behind the historic images and buildings, and we have been introducing them via IG stories and quizzes. We will continue to design a wide spectrum of activities with these channels to cultivate instagrammers’ interest in learning history and preserving cultural heritage.

Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong, 1950s. Photograph by Harrison Forman. Source: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. Digital ID: fr301598.

Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong, 1950s. Photograph by Harrison Forman. Source: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. Digital ID: fr301598. Colourised by OldHKinColour, the signboards in colour enlivening the view.

Our plans for the future include further promoting the above techniques and developing new educational tools which can be used in other disciplines. More research projects on digital history will be launched, aiming to foster heritage conservation. We also plan to offer complimentary short courses on the history of Hong Kong and on image restoration through IG Live.

A food store at the junction of Des Voeux Road Central and Douglas Road, Hong Kong, c.1941. Photograph by Harrison Forman. Source: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. Digital ID: fr200235.

A food store at the junction of Des Voeux Road Central and Douglas Road, Hong Kong, c.1941. Photograph by Harrison Forman. Source: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. Digital ID: fr200235. Colourised by OldHKinColour.

OldHKinColour: https://www.instagram.com/oldhkincolour/.

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