Dogs in Nanning, 1918

The domestic establishment of a Customs Commissioner, with his pets, 6 April 1918, Hedgeland Collection, he01-263.

This photograph is one of two showing the domestic establishment of R.F.C. Hedgeland in 1918, when the Briton was Nanning Commissioner of the Chinese Maritime Customs. We have his ‘chair coolies’ in the back row, two other ‘coolies’ (his caption), the one of the right one perhaps a groom. Seated centrally is the ‘Boy’ (head of this establishment, and valet), with the cook on his left, and ‘House boy’ on his left. And in amongst them is Hedgeland’s menagerie: five dogs, and one monkey (and those seem to be pigeon coops in the garden behind the house).

It’s difficult to linger long on this assemblage of pets and servants without finding it spectacularly offensive, but it is in fact part of the routine offensiveness of everyday colonialism. I think nothing is intended by this combination. Posing six animals for a photograph would have required including a number of people anyway, to keep them still, so Hedgeland has simply combined the two. But it is impossible to ignore the visual result. Hedgeland’s photographs routinely, and a little unusually, recorded his houses (especially interiors), his staff, pets and his horse. Dogs appear in many of our photographs of foreign domestic life in treaty-era China, often incidentally too, nosing their way into photographs of notables and hunting trips. They were essential ancillaries to the world of the Europeans in China.

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