Visualizing Qing Diplomats in the West

Jenny Huangfu Day is the author of Qing Travelers to the Far West: Diplomacy and the Information Order in Late Imperial China(Cambridge University Press, 2018) and the editor of Letters from the Qing Legation in London [Wanqing Zhuying shiguan zhaohui dang’an] (Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2020). She teaches East Asian history at Skidmore College, New York. 

In the decade before the Qing established its first legations in Europe and the United States, it sent out a few investigatory missions staffed with mid-level officials to prepare for the dispatch of long-term resident ministers. The gentleman who led the first mission of 1866 was Binchun, a retired magistrate with personal connections to the Zongli Yamen, the newly created central office to handle foreign affairs. In Qing Travelers to the West, I wrote about how members of the Qing’s early missions imagined, poeticized, circulated, and consumed information about the West, and how these earlier strategies of conceptualizing the West changed when the permanent legations were established.

Figure 1: Cover image of 'Qing Travelers to the Far West'.

Figure 1: Cover image of ‘Qing Travelers to the Far West’.

Just as the Chinese used these travels to gather information about the West, Western depictions of these early missions – in sketches, photographs, watercolour paintings, and texts – made rounds in metropolitan and local newspapers and some were exchanged in private collections, making them excellent sources in what nineteenth-century Europeans considered important about the Chinese.

Before we examine some of these images and texts, it’s worth mentioning that Binchun and his colleagues were quite aware that they were being documented in Western media, even though they might not be clear just how they were being portrayed and why the Europeans held such a fascination with their images.

Binchun wrote in his journal: ‘Months before our arrival, newspapers of each country began making noises, and when we are here, many people ask to see us or make sketches of us. A few days ago when we were in Paris, merchants kept the films of our photographs and sold prints at fifteen silver dollar per portrait.’[1] His poems attributed the attention they received to his own charisma and the civilizing influence of Chinese culture, and he used the mission’s popularity to forge important personal connections. The Chinese were not being passively observed, but negotiated their appearances and to the extent possible, positioned themselves in ways to take advantage of it.[2]

British journalists subjected the mission to constant and minute scrutiny, but for quite different purposes from what Binchun seemed to think: it was important to know exactly what the ranks of the Chinese were in order to know what level of accommodation they were entitled to. According to the Birmingham Daily Post: ‘The study of buttons is essential to an accurate appreciation of Chinese life … We have scanned their costumes from their skull cap to their thick-soled shoes; and round the outside of their flowing robes, back and front, without being able to discover the all-important sign of rank about them.’ Speculations about the precise ranks of the commissioner and his suites occupied the British press in the few days, and the ‘great mystery’ was eventually solved after members of the mission made a formal appearance in official attires, complete peacock feathers and buttons.

Visual portrayals of the mission confirmed the anxiety about the status of the Chinese, highlighting the features mentioned in Birmingham Daily: notably, their officials robes, the peacock feathers and ‘button’ decorating the commissioner’s hat, the court beads, the embroidered symbol marking one’s place in the official hierarchy, the woven waist-sash. All members of the mission were depicted with their long, braided queues made emphatically visible.

Figure 2: Binchun and the Tongwenguan students at a French salon, 1866, Le Monde illustré, May 19, 1866.

Figure 2: Binchun and the Tongwenguan students at a French salon, 1866, Le Monde illustré, May 19, 1866.

Indeed, to have their peacock feathers shown, Qing commissioners were probably often asked to look sideways when being photographed in studios, instead of gazing directly into the camera and engaging the eyes of the beholder. This visual strategy can be seen in many well-publicized photographs the early missions.[3]

Figure 3: Binchun’s portrait, ca. 1866, courtesy of Tong Bingxue.

Figure 3: A portrait of Binchun, ca. 1866, courtesy of Tong Bingxue.

 Figure 4: Anson Burlingame with two Chinese co-envoys, Zhigang and Sun Jiagu, and the Tongwenguan students, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Figure 4: Anson Burlingame with two Chinese co-envoys, Zhigang and Sun Jiagu, and the Tongwenguan students, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Whether intended or not, such visual strategies of portraying the Chinese in their early missions to the West confirmed many existing impressions about the Chinese: that they were extremely status-conscious, fond of social gatherings, and typically gave only somewhat innocent – if not childish – responses to what they saw, depicted by terms such as ‘delighted,’ ‘disappointed,’ ‘disapproved,’ or ‘taken aback.’  In the following image, taken in Stockholm, the juxtaposition of the Qing mission, seen as a moving relic of an ancient and static culture – and the monumental glass-roofed ‘crystal palace’ at the Kungsträdgården, an industrial hall designed by the great architect Adolf W. Edelsvärd, sums up these impressions well.

Figure 5: “The Pin Mission, Stockholm, 1866”. HPC ref: Ha-n01.

Figure 5: “The Pin Mission, Stockholm, 1866”. HPC ref: Ha-n01.

Interestingly, these caricatures of the early Chinese travellers to the West, simplistic and condescending as they were, have been embraced by modernist Chinese intellectuals in the reform era – and at present – to show how far China has come along, or has yet to go, towards becoming ‘modern.’ Images of these early travellers to the West, created through the lenses of nineteenth century Western photographers, came to embody the steps China took to walk out of its supposed late imperial isolation and arrogance. Whatever its historical validity, the trope of the Confucian gentleman ‘stepping forth onto the world’ has been widely circulated in the Chinese public sphere, often as a subtle critique of the nationalist, or anti-Western, policies of the People’s Republic of China.

As Qing diplomacy converged with contemporary Western practices and moved towards the permanent legation, the value of Qing representatives as spectacles of the orient also declined, as it was replaced with direct consultations with Foreign Ministries. The role of the diplomat thus differed fundamentally from that of the traveling mandarin by design. Diplomatic negotiations were often conducted in private meetings, in writing or through telegraphy, with little fanfare and publicity. From 1877 onward, the most publicized images of Qing diplomats were standard head portraits similar to those of European statesmen, not visual stories exhibiting them on site.

From the 1880s onward, hardly any visual representation of Qing diplomats could be found in Western newspapers, and when they appeared, the Chinese were not depicted as spectators, but as diplomats and statesmen.

Figure 6: Portrait of Marquis Tseng (Zeng Jize), early 1880s, courtesy of Tong Bingxue.

Figure 6: Portrait of Marquis Tseng (Zeng Jize), early 1880s, courtesy of Tong Bingxue.

Figure 7: French political cartoon depicting Zeng Jize playing cards with Jules Ferry as an allegory of their intense negotiations in the months leading up to the Sino-French War. Le monde parisien, 1883.

Figure 7: French political cartoon depicting Zeng Jize playing cards with Jules Ferry as an allegory of their intense negotiations in the months leading up to the Sino-French War. ‘Le monde parisien’, 1883.

So the image of the traveling mandarin gazing the West in wonder came to an end with the Qing’s dispatch of resident ministers and consuls. This change was as much a reflection of China’s changing diplomatic structure, as it was a media artefact of how the Chinese came to be documented by the press.

[1] Binchun, Cheng cha biji (113.

[2] Day, Qing Travelers to the Far West: chapter 1.

[3]  I argue that the name ‘Burlingame Mission’ has tended to downplay Chinese agency in the mission.

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Ruins of Macau in Historical Photographs of China collection – part three

Dr. Helena F. S. Lopes is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Department of History, University of Bristol. This posting is the final part of a three-part series on the ruins of Macau. You can read part one here and part two here.

Hotel Estoril, Macau, c.1975. HPC ref: Aw-t515.

Another image in the ‘20 colour slides of Macau scenery’ series has a rather more subtle connection to 1940s Macau when compared with the statue of Ferreira do Amaral addressed in part 2. In fact, the building depicted above is essentially associated with the post-war period.

This is a view of the Hotel Estoril with its now gone bilingual neon sign: Hotel Estoril / 愛都大酒店. The building’s origins go back to the early 1950s, though the present-day ruin dates from the 1964 reconstruction and expansion. It is often described as Macau’s first ‘modern’ casino-hotel owned by Stanley Ho’s Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM).

Those responsible for the building’s appearance illustrate the deep connections between Macau and other colonial port cities in China. The building was designed by Macau-born, Hong Kong-based architect Alfredo Victor Jorge Álvares and a particularly iconic feature is the large mural in the façade designed by Oseo Acconci, an Italian sculptor who arrived in Macau precisely in 1940 after working in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The nude female figure in the mural – considered a rare example of Futurist art in Macau – has generated its fair share of controversy, as has the case for preserving the hotel, which remains abandoned since the 1990s and is planned to be redeveloped as a new Central Library.[1]

At present, Macau has the largest gaming industry in the world. This snapshot of this relatively ‘young’ local ruin, whose golden days lasted less than a decade (until the Casino Lisboa outshone it from the 1970s) but which can be seen, in a way, as pioneering the casino resorts now seen throughout the territory, is perhaps a fitting way to end this three-part series on some of the changes and continuities, rebuilding and disappearances, one find represented in the HPC Macau photographs.

[1] Sonia Nunes, ‘Macau’s Futurist Woman’, Macau Closer, Dec. 2015; Philip Feifan Xie and William Ling Shi, ‘Authenticating a Heritage Hotel: Co-Creating a New Identity’, Journal of Heritage Tourism 14/1 (2019); pp. 67-80; ‘New Macao Central Library to be built on former Hotel Estoril site’, Macau News 10 Sept. 2020.

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Ruins of Macau in Historical Photographs of China collections – part two

Dr. Helena F. S. Lopes is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Department of History, University of Bristol. This posting is part two of three-part series on the ruins of Macau. Part one can be read here.

Ferreira do Amaral statue, Macau, c. 1975. HPC ref: Aw-t524.

In one of the ‘20 Colour Slides Of Macau Scenery’ (c. 1970s) in the Colin and Janet Andrew Collection held at the University of Bristol Special Collections (DM2818/3), sharing promotional space with old temples and new hotels, one finds a site of crucial importance to discussions on ‘disappearance’ and public commemoration of Macau’s colonial past: the controversial statue of João Maria Ferreira do Amaral.

A Portuguese naval officer, Amaral served as governor of Macau from 1846 until 1849. He undertook a series of measures aimed at curbing Chinese power in the territory and asserting Portuguese colonial control. From closing down Chinese customs houses to clearing graves to build roads, his actions met with fierce Chinese resistance which led to his killing in 1849 outside the Macau border. His death escalated tensions between Chinese and Portuguese authorities, which reached the point of military confrontation. Macanese army officer Vicente Nicolau de Mesquita played a leading role in ensuring a quick Portuguese victory with significantly outnumbered forces in the Passaleão/Baishaling incident. Amaral and Mesquita have remained divisive figures: hailed as colonial heroes by some, criticised as colonial oppressors by others.[1]

In 1940, almost a century after Amaral’s assassination, bronze statues of the two men were installed in Macau. At the time, China grappled with the overwhelming effects of the War of Resistance against Japan while the Portuguese Estado Novo dictatorship, capitalising on its Second Word War neutrality, celebrated its imperial history in an international exhibition in Lisbon (the Portuguese World Exhibition, whose architectural legacy remains highly visible today). The placing of these statues in prime locations in Macau (Mesquita’s near Leal Senado, Amaral in a square named after him near where the Hotel Lisboa and the Bank of China skyscraper would later be built) in this particular context has been seen as a way ‘to secure the territory’s neutrality through the means of re-affirming a Portuguese identity.’[2] A more critical reading would, however, note the symbolic act of colonial humiliation at a time when Chinese anti-imperialist activism had more pressing targets. By 1940, Macau – itself a site where the Chinese anti-Japanese resistance was active – was no stranger to the massive disruption caused by the Japanese invasion of China. A significant number of Chinese refugees moved to the neutral territory during the conflict.

The statues of Amaral and Mesquita, by Portuguese sculptor Maximiano Alves, showed the men engaged in positions which seem to glorify, with masculine assertiveness, their role as defenders, by violence if necessary, of Portuguese colonial rule in Macau: Amaral riding a horse while brandishing a whip to, according to an information plaque in the statue’s current location ‘defend himself against his aggressors’; Mesquita drawing his sword while standing. They stand alone, their opponents invisible. Yet not a century went by before their presence was deemed too uncomfortable to remain standing in a post-colonial Macau. Mesquita’s statue was removed first, in the late 1966 clashes that saw Portuguese colonial authority in Macau contested and constrained in events whose wider context had links to the Cultural Revolution in the mainland (but which had specific local dynamics as well). A photograph taken the year before the statue’s toppling can be seen here. Amaral’s statue remained in place beyond the 1960s, but was dismantled in 1992 and shipped to Lisbon, at the request of the then director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. The decision to remove the statue before the handover and the figure of Amaral as a symbol of contrasting perspectives on the territory continues to generate discussions and being reimagined in cultural productions (for example novels and an opera).[3]

When the monument was removed, it seems to have been for many just a statue of ‘a guy on a horse’ located in a square where people could stroll and gather together regardless (rather than because) of the figure being commemorated.[4] Indeed, the photograph above shows people riding pass it or congregating in groups. In the background we see the Penha Hill, with Our Lady of Penha Chapel (Capela de Nossa Senhora da Penha) on top (first built in the seventeenth century, the present-day building dating from 1935).

Earlier this year, Amaral’s name came up when an advisor to the Municipal Affairs Bureau in Macau suggested changing street names associated with the Portuguese colonial period – attracting some pushback.[5] In Lisbon, Amaral’s statue was not put in storage nor exhibited in a museum but is on public display, in a small garden in a residential neighbourhood. It appears to remain fairly unnoticed. One should not overlook the power of indifference to rejecting the statue’s original celebratory purpose – perhaps that too is a peculiar form of decolonisation.

Ferreira do Amaral statue, Lisbon, 2020. Photograph by Helena F. S. Lopes. © Helena F. S. Lopes.

[1] On the contrasting meanings of the statues for Chinese and Portuguese see C. M. B. Cheng, Macau: A Cultural Janus (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999), pp. 28-30.
[2] Paula Morais, ‘Macau’s Urban Transformation 1927-1949: The Significance of Sino-Portuguese Foreign Relations in the Urban Form’ in Izumi Kuroishi, ed., Constructing the Colonized Land: Entwined Perspectives of East Asia Around WWII (Surrey: Ashgate, 2014), p. 155.
[3] E.g. João Paulo Meneses, ‘A maldição da estátua de Ferreira do Amaral’ [The curse of Ferreira do Amaral’s statue], Ponto Final, 11 May 2011; Mário César Lugarinho, ‘Violência e Interpretação, Leituras da História de Macau’ [Violence and Interpretation, Readings of the History of Macau], Abril-Revista do Núcleo de Estudos de Literatura Portuguesa e Africana da UFF, 10/20 (2018), pp. 37-48.
[4] C. H. Clayton, Sovereignty at the Edge: Macau & the Question of Chineseness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 212.
[5] On the meanings (and lack of them) of Macau’s official street names and multiple perceptions of architectural changes in Macau see Clayton’s Sovereignty at the Edge, Chapter Five.

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Ruins of Macau in Historical Photographs of China collections – part one

Dr. Helena F. S. Lopes is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Department of History, University of Bristol. This posting is part one of three-part series on the ruins of Macau.

Part two of a panoramic view of the Praia Grande (南灣), Macau, c.1868. Photograph by William Pryor Floyd. HPC ref: VH03-61.

The South China territory of Macau (澳門) was the first European settlement in the country, with the Portuguese presence there dating back to the 16th century. It returned to Chinese rule in 1999, two years after Hong Kong. Historical Photographs of China holds a small but interesting sample of images of Macau in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The images currently on the website stop in the early 1900s, but a small collection of commercially produced 35mm slides (entitled on the box ‘20 Colour Slides Of Macau Scenery’ and in Japanese ‘20枚スライドにマカオの名勝’) in the Colin and Janet Andrew Collection held at the University of Bristol Special Collections (DM2818/3) offers other views of ‘old Macau’. Amongst these slides, which date from the 1970s, we find some popular old landmarks, often featured in depictions of the city (e.g. Ruins of St Paul, A-Ma Temple) alongside what were, then, relatively new places (like the Hotel Lisboa, built in 1970, or the Governador Nobre de Carvalho Bridge/Macau-Taipa Bridge, opened in 1974). Interestingly – some of the sites promoted in the slides have since ceased to operate, becoming a kind of ruin, too.

The Praia Grande shown in the photograph above is part of a four-part 1868 panorama by William Pryor Floyd, an early China photographer who had his studio there before moving to Hong Kong. The bay has changed so much in the last one hundred years due to land reclamation and rebuilding that those views from the water, a common topic of turn-of-the-century postcards of Macau, are themselves images of something largely gone. As other places around the world, Macau has its share of ‘ruins of empire’ which invite meaningful discussions on the material and immaterial legacies of colonialism. Ruins are remains, they are physically present, but that semi-destructed state also evokes what has since vanished. Ackbar Abbas’ discussion of a ‘culture of disappearance’ in Hong Kong is also fruitful to understand its connected neighbour.[1]

When speaking of Macau, it is not uncommon that one’s immediate visual reference is the Ruins of St Paul, most notably the stone façade that remains of the Church of the Mater Dei (Igreja da Madre de Deus) and St Paul’s College (Colégio de São Paulo), built by the Jesuits in the 16th century and rebuilt in the early 17th century. The buildings were almost completely destroyed in 1835, due to a fire but the sculpted façade survived. The impact of natural disasters and man-made destruction has always had a more pronounced role in reshaping Macau’s landscape than military conflict.

Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Macau, 1911. HPC ref: BL02-050.

Now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the ‘Historic Centre of Macau’, the Ruins of St Paul can be found in some of the HPC photographs. The image above, dated ‘May 22 & 23 1911’, some months before the Chinese Republican revolution, is from an album that belonged to a member of ‘Pelissier’s Follies’, a British theatre troupe who toured East Asia in 1911.

It bears some similarities with a photograph taken by Scottish photographer John Thomson in 1870. The almost deserted staircase towered by the imposing façade is flanked by old buildings on one side. A solitary figure approaches the foreground, with no distinguished features, a silhouette in a land of shadows and light. The contrast couldn’t be sharper with the crowds one would have encountered if visiting the site by day in the pre-Covid-19 tourist boom days.

The ruins of St Paul are a fitting symbol of several dynamics one can associate with the territory. For a start, there is of course the Catholic presence in China, in whose rich history Macau holds a very important place. There is the much-cited coexistence of different communities and influences, even beyond the obvious Chinese and Portuguese – for example, the façade was carved by Japanese Christian refugees working under the direction of an Italian Jesuit priest. It is also testament to the history of the foreign military presence in China, as the college (which had ceased to operate when the Society of Jesus was expelled from the Portuguese empire in 1762) was later used as military barracks, the 1835 fire having started in its kitchen. Its present incomplete and hollow form can invite discussions on the exercise and legacy of Portuguese colonial power in Macau. Its restoration and marketisation as a tourist hotspot also tell a story of rebranding, commercialisation, and development in the running up to and since the 1999 handover. Little wonder, then, that the place has attracted considerable scholarly attention.[2]

St Anthony’s Church, damaged by the 1874 typhoon, Macau. Photograph by Lai Fong (Afong Studio). HPC ref: NA15-18.

Amongst the HPC holdings one finds another photograph of the ruins of a church with Jesuit connections: an impressive photograph by Lai Afong Studio of St Anthony’s Church (Igreja de Santo António) in the aftermath of the 22 September 1874 typhoon. The photograph comes from an album in the UK National Archives documenting typhoon damage in Hong Kong and Macau. St Anthony’s Church is one of Macau’s oldest churches, first built using bamboo and wood in the mid-sixteenth century, and later rebuilt in stone. It too suffered its share of destruction by fire but it still exists, its present building dating from the 1930s. Its successive rebuilding says something about the endurance of Macau’s Christian communities.

These photographs of religious ruins offer a glimpse of past versions of monuments that are still standing. But other, more recent, images in the HPC collection have arguably more obvious links to ideas of disappearance and legacies of empire, as we shall see in the second of this three-part series on ‘Ruins of Macau’.


Ruins of St Paul's Cathedral, Macau, c. 1975. HPC ref: Aw-t526.

Ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, Macau, c. 1975. HPC ref: Aw-t526.

[1] Ackbar Abbas, ‘Building on Disappearance: Hong Kong Architecture and the City’, Public Culture 6 (1994), pp. 441-459.
[2] E.g. Cristina Mui Bing Cheng, Macau: A Cultural Janus (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999), pp. 83-100; Cathryn H. Clayton, Sovereignty at the Edge: Macau & the Question of Chineseness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 1-5 and passim; Gonçalo Couceiro, A Igreja de São Paulo de Macau [Macau’s St Paul’s Church] (Lisbon: Livros Horizonte, 1997); Lee Yuk Tin, Olhar as Ruínas: Igreja da Madre de Deus em Macau [A View of the Ruins: The Mater Dei Church in Macau] (Macau: Livros do Oriente, 1990); Marta Wieczorek, ‘Macau’s Heterotopias: Ruins of St Paul’s as a Spatial and Temporal Disruption’, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 20/4 (2019), pp. 312-327.

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Guest blog: Visualising china in China: life, labour and loss

Anne Gerritsen is the author of The City of Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and the Early Modern World (Cambridge University Press, 2020). She teaches Chinese history and global history at the University of Warwick and serves as the director of the Global History and Culture Centre. She also holds the Chair in Asian Art at the University of Leiden.

Fig 1. Porcelain stall at a market, Beijing, c.1905. SOAS archive catalogue ref: MS 381142. HPC ref: Ru02-18.

China means many things. In the English language, the word refers both to the country and to the material that was exclusively produced there until the early eighteenth century. To some, references to ‘ceramics’ probably only conjure up images of road-side craft shops or of glass-fronted cupboards in museums, antique shops or grandparental homes. Pottery, stoneware, ‘china’, and porcelain all might have a similar set of associations. Instead of dwelling on those, I’d like to connect porcelain instead to words like dust, labour, life and death. Of course, in imperial China, beautiful porcelains were made for emperors and élites and decorated imperial palaces and temples, as well as Custom Houses, as the collection testifies. But the industry where such fine pieces were made was above all a business where people got their hands dirty. It also employed thousands of labourers, whose life and death depended both on the orders for large quantities of porcelain from the imperial court as well as the world beyond China.

Fig 2. Ceramics worker moving saggars. Photograph by Anne Gerritsen.

Filthy work

Ceramics are made from soil and water. There is a bit more to it, of course: to make good ceramics, you need clay, and to make excellent ceramics you need clay that turns into an attractive colour when it has been fired in a kiln (or else you have to cover the ceramics first with an underlayer of glaze so that the unattractive colour doesn’t show), and to make really fine ceramics that can withstand firing at a high temperature so it becomes a hard piece of porcelain, you need a kind of clay that has been kaolinized over the many centuries that the clay was under the soil, or a combination of porcelain clay mixed with pure kaolin. But basically, ceramics are made from clay and water, and when the clay dries, it turns to dust. Where ceramics are made, there is dust everywhere. One fourteenth-century official, stationed in the county seat near the biggest porcelain manufacturing centre in imperial China, Jingdezhen 景德鎮, was so disappointed to be stationed in this place that he wrote:

‘Alas, I have to remain here for three years. How come I do not have a heart of iron? Just staying here my hair will go grey early.’[1]

Fig 3. Workstation in a porcelain manufactory. Photograph by Anne Gerritsen.

Not just dust makes it an unattractive place to work, but also the smoke rising up from the chimneys: before electric ovens, the kilns for firing ceramics had to be brought up to temperatures of over a 1000°C by feeding it with wood (mostly in the south) or coal (mostly in the north), and then maintained at that temperature by maintaining it for days on end. Workers would feed the fires through the night, looking through small holes to judge the temperature by eye. The average quantity required to fire one of the big kilns in Jingdezhen in the early sixteenth century was around 9,000 kg of firewood, which all had to be floated down the river from the hillsides surrounding the town.

Fig 4. Man adding wood to a kiln next to a wall with an inscription at a tile and brick factory near Mentougou Qu, c.1933-46. Photograph by Hedda Morrison. HPC ref: Hv24-070.


A lot of labour was involved: all this wood had to be transported, dried, chopped, stored and lifted into the kilns. The clays, too, had to be dug at sites scattered in the surroundings of Jingdezhen, transported, pulverized, purified, dried, mixed, kneaded, shaped, and so on. Individual pieces of porcelain were not made from start to finish by a single potter; the whole process was segregated into separate tasks, with some doing labouring tasks like chopping wood or mixing clays, and others doing more skilled tasks like preparing pigments or painting flower patterns. It was precisely because of this division of labour that the production could be scaled up, to produce thousands of pieces of porcelain in a single firing and many millions of pieces over the centuries that Jingdezhen was the only place in the world that could produce such vast quantities of such fine pieces.


Workers came from the surrounding counties in Jiangxi and neighbouring provinces and performed mostly unskilled labour. Skilled hands were more difficult to find and even more difficult to keep; the imperial kilns desperately needed them to help fulfil the demands from the court, but private kilns offered easier work and more reward. Probably, it was precisely the ecosystem in which private and imperial kilns shared talent and resources that explains Jingdezhen’s long-term success.

Fig 5. Rice bowls at a pottery, Fujian province, c.1900-1910. Cadbury Research Library archive finding number: DA26/2/2/2 (John Preston Maxwell Papers). HPC ref: Mx03-099.

Life …

So, rather than thinking of porcelain only in the context of display, I think we should pay more attention to the ways in which porcelains were part of daily life. Kilns were scattered across the landscape throughout China, and ceramics were made everywhere, but some production sites were famous for a specific type, or ware: so, Jingdezhen was famous for its blue and whites; Yixing for its red teapots; Cizhou for its pillows, and so on. Such regional specialisation also meant the trade and transport of ceramics, and the selling of ceramics in dedicated shops.

Fig 6. A Porcelain Shop, Xiangtan, Hunan, c.1900-1920. HPC ref: Ba05-107.

Fig 7. A man having a meal, c.1910. Photograph by Mactavish & Lehmann. HPC ref: Wr-s106.

Porcelains came in all shapes and sizes, and the production could as easily be adapted to the demands for one-off pieces from emperors as to the requests for unusual shapes that came from overseas, like the butter dishes and gin bottles for the Dutch market. But the vast majority of what was produced were bowls. Shaped to fit inside the space of a hand, wide at the top to accommodate heaped rice or cool hot soup, narrow at the base to give elegance and facilitate stacking, bowls accompanied people through life.

… and death

The picture below, of an execution site in Canton, confirms that ceramics were also part of death. The notes accompanying the images explain: ‘At an otherwise innocuous pottery factory, a wooden cross leans against the wall on the right. This cross was apparently used for torture and execution by crucifixion. Called Ma-tow, this place was an execution ground for Chinese felons only.’[2] The pots standing around form merely the background to this site of executions, their presence nothing more than a feature of this space, an obstacle to clamber across to get a good look at the implements of death.

Fig 8. Place for capital punishment, Guangzhou. SOAS archive catalogue ref: MS 381233. HPC ref: HR01-086.

But pots also provided the space inhabited by the remains of human life, their final resting place in the landscape. So, rather than thinking of ceramics only in their final use-phase, gleaming behind glass in a shop or museum, we should also consider the dust and the labour that went into making them, the joys they gave when handling them, and the sorrows conjured up by funerary urns. As the many photographs in the collection that feature porcelains show: pots were part of life, labour and the loss of life.

Fig 9. Funerary urns (金塔), New Territories (新界), Hong Kong. From an album in The National Archives referenced as: ‘HONG KONG 9. Work of the Chinese and British Boundary Commissioners delimiting the New Territories, 1898 (CO 1069/452)’. HPC ref: NA22-28.

[1] Hong Yanzu, ‘Observations one autumn morning in Fuliang’ 浮梁秋曉書事三首, Xing ting zhai gao, 12a. I discuss the writings of Hong in ‘Fragments of a Global Past: Ceramics Manufacture in Song-Yuan-Ming Jingdezhen’. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 52.1 (2009): 117-152.

[2] Notes added to HR01-086, in the Ruxton Family Collection, Historical Photographs of China.

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About scratching, they were never wrong, the old masters

OK, that’s not what W.H. Auden actually wrote, but while I have been enjoying the selections of photographs made by Tom Larkin for our new Instagram feed — @hpcbristol, go on, follow us — Auden’s poem ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ has come to mind more than once. There is often such a lot going on in the photographs, or revealed in the background, especially the recent series of photographs of Hong Kong, and it goes on off to one side ‘Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot’ as the poet put it.

I’ll grant that the context is different, perhaps the note is actually off-kilter, but here are some of the things I have enjoyed noting.

Bank of China and Hongkong & Shanghai Bank buildings, Hong Kong, 1952. HPC ref: BL05-03.

Take this photograph of the two impressive bank buildings in central Hong Kong in 1952. Except it’s not, it’s a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a woman posed in front of a car. Also, it’s a photograph of the fact that someone has hung up washing to dry on the railings in front of them.

Or this shot of a child begging and a woman sewing:

Pavement scene: a seamstress sewing and a toddler begging, Hong Kong. HPC ref: Ed02-086.

It is more a photograph of peeling cigarette advertisements posted on to the walls of the British colony. Then there’s Wyndham Street, c.1924:

Wyndham Street (generally known as Flower Street), Hong Kong. From ‘Picturesque Hong Kong’ by Denis Hazell (Ye Olde Printerie Ltd., Hong Kong, c.1925). HPC ref: Bk09-14.

Here are more cigarettes, and enigmatic posters reading ‘Why Worry’ ‘Why Worry’, and there’s more washing. But there’s also the supremely comfortable man in the sedan chair

and what is this couple looking at? Answers on a postcard please, but don’t worry, don’t worry if you don’t have an answer.

(And before you rush to tell me: ‘Why Worry’, a six-reeler Harold Lloyd comedy — ‘See him fight for girl in danger / Rocks and socks the fresh-faced stranger’). (Which dates our photograph roughly to January 1924). And then, below, there’s my title prompt: more cigarette posters, and a child, with scratching.

Lychee hawker, Hong Kong. HPC ref: Ed02-082.

The streets of Hong Kong, then, packed with life, and even that pompous site of colonial display, garlanded with the statue of a banker (did you spot him?), is claimed for the simple people’s business of laundry. On those streets, against a backdrop of peeling posters, children pop up, irrepressibly.

Boys and rickshaws, Holts Wharf, Hong Kong, 1924-25. Photograph by G. Warren Swire. HPC ref: Sw05-103.

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Guest blog: Sarah Yu on China’s war against the fly

Our latest post is from Sarah Yu, a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Pennsylvania. She is writing her dissertation on hygiene and daily life in Republican China. You can see some of the archival highlights of her research on her blog site, Chinese Must Wash Their Hands Before Returning To Work.

While we do not often associate Republican China with much political cohesion, Chinese people were actually united throughout much of the early twentieth century in their ongoing war against the humble house fly. Cholera – the disease most intimately linked to the filth of the common fly – tangoed with its vector in water sources, kitchens, and toilets. Naturally, these spaces became the earliest targets of some authorities’ sanitation measures. The Shanghai Municipal Council had established the practice of conducting regular inspections of slaughterhouses and market stalls before the turn of the century, and completed a new ‘state-of-the-art’ water supply and sewage system by 1883.[1] In addition, the Municipal Council’s Nuisance Department, established in 1867, employed street cleaners who would clear the public streets of night soil and waste and sell the former to local farmers for fertiliser.[2] Cholera education campaigns, often large-scale parades through city streets demonstrating effective fly traps and sanitary cooking methods often also provided onlookers with combined cholera and typhoid vaccinations.

Women sifting through rubbish, Shanghai, c.1930. HPC ref: BL04-85.

Chinese woman being inoculated in the street, Shanghai, c.1937. Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt. HPC ref: Ro-n0781.

My recent research on Republican hygiene education has led me to investigate the proliferation of ‘fly elimination campaigns’: group efforts launched by cities, schools, and other communities that required mass participation to kill as many flies as possible. The goal of these campaigns was ostensibly to curb outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease – something needed to be done to eliminate those fatal flying pests that could bring a swift death almost silently, to anyone.

“Cooking food can kill germs, but flies can still come to infect uncovered, cooked food.” Source: “Weisheng Tushu [Health-Picture Talks]”, Council on Health Education References Books no. 32 (Shanghai, Kunshan Garden no. 4), n.d. Yale University Countway Library of Medicine (New Haven, CT).

Compared to the waterborne cholera bacteria, flies seemed to have more malicious agency. Fortunately, they could also be killed. And here was where the average citizen was expected to step in. Scholars of modern China may be sceptical about the effectiveness of individual people killing individual flies, presumably using such simple tools as netted or sticky traps and fly swatters. The dire consequences of the pest elimination campaigns of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward certainly come to mind. But contemporary commentators marvelled at the impact of intentional, mass-participation fly-killing. In fact, John B. Grant, Peking Union Medical College’s public health expert, reported that the fly traps created by a Mr. Yang for the kitchens of South-Eastern University were so effective that ‘there were practically no flies’ during a particularly hot summer.[3] In 1927, a report from a Chongqing middle school proudly announced that each student was able to catch and kill at least twenty flies per evening.[4] Soon after, the Nanjing government began to conduct surprise inspections of restaurants and tea houses to ensure that their food preparation and service spaces were clean, and count the number of observed flies on each premises. In 1930, the Beijing Municipal Department of Public Safety hosted an anti-fly campaign in 1930, in which participants were awarded a copper coin for each ten flies caught, resulting in over 12 million dead flies to the tune of $2,000 from the city’s coffers.[5]

Fly Campaign Committee notice. Source: Health 1, no. 1 (Shanghai: YMCA Press, 1924).

Throughout Republican China, fly elimination campaigns quickly became a norm for cities, schools and workplaces, even more so as China headed into war. Flies had been a national enemy for all the unsanitary havoc they had unleashed on the Chinese people, but now there was another urgent enemy – the Japanese.

Anti-Japanese public hygiene banner, Wuhan, c.1938. HPC ref: Bi-s165.

Posters, like the one above, creatively ensured that viewers’ fears of both flies and the Japanese were top of mind, and intertwined. This one depicts a fly with a Japanese Rising Sun emblem, with slogans on the side reading ‘If you don’t kill it, it will kill you … we need to prevent cholera and kill flies: and if you want to survive, kill the Japanese soldiers’. In another image, a fly is depicted as a fighter jet that drops bombs labelled ‘cholera’ onto a crowd of people. Numerous other flies are lined up behind the first.[6] Chongqing’s population, already sensitive to bombing attacks from Japanese forces, were now presented with a picture of two missiles heading towards a populated city, with the caption ‘Air raids are scary, cholera is more scary!’.[7]

While cholera prevention rarely makes headlines anymore, efforts against other epidemic disease still do. Some reforms still eerily resonate with their historical counterparts. As early as the 1910s, representatives from the Rockefeller Foundation reported that China’s mines and industrial sites should consider implementing 50-foot-deep bore-hole ‘Java style latrines’ for better prevention of cholera and hookworm infections. China watchers today may find it interesting to read the intermittent news reports about Xi Jinping’s ‘toilet revolution’ – a national initiative to improve the overall sanitation levels of facilities in tourist destinations and cities around the country. Since its launch in 2015, the central government has spent over 21 billion yuan to clean, refurbish, and rebuild over 68,000 bathrooms.  But the campaign has left the country with some unexpected, and some undesired, results. Caixin also reported that even in 2019, villages were still unsure about how the funding from the central government would be distributed to pay for individual toilets.

River toilet, location unidentified, c.1945. Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt. HPC ref: Ro-n1040.

Moreover, if toilet reform began explicitly in order to manage the control of epidemic diseases, it has proven to be insufficient for the most recent outbreaks of COVID-19. The physical toilet itself, just like the physical extermination of a few (or even 12 million) flies, is only one link in the long chain of actions for health improvement that need to be performed by different levels of government and their constituents, from sewer updates, waste management, diligent restocking of toilet paper/hand soap/cleaning supplies, to individual toilet users’ personal behaviours. An air-conditioned, glass-roofed toilet may inspire, but certainly not compel, its user to aim, flush, and properly wash hands, that some well-placed spittoons will redirect phlegm from the sidewalks and into appropriate receptacles, or even that more, accessible hospitals will lead to more people getting regular health check-ups.

The distance between infrastructure progress and individual responsibility was, and remains, a significant barrier to public health improvement. In fact, Republican China’s continued war against the humble fly was really a series of efforts to knock down this barrier. The famed example of Qiaotou Village’s fly extermination campaign in 1934, published in multiple book series including the Commercial Press’ Xiaoxuesheng Wenku, is a perfect illustration. In this small but accessible village near Shanghai, students at a local school started a fly killing campaign to address the fact that local residents did not feel safe from disease. ‘There is a child in America who has caught 121,000 flies! And there are other cities in which people don’t see any flies. Let’s make this happen here too!’ The team promoted its proposal to kill then feed the flies to livestock to keep them plump, and then to secure enough fly swatters and traps for all participants. The students on the committee were directors, promoters, and suppliers of cleaning products; the participants included many of their elders – ‘farmers, workers, businessmen, and old women’. While an elderly man dismissed the seriousness of the campaign at its start, saying ‘we can now live more than seventy years, which would be impossible if flies and mosquitoes really were so harmful’, by the campaign’s end, no villager could deny that flies were dangerous enemies and capable murderers.

‘Meeting to celebrate the success of the Fly-Elimination Campaign’. Source: ‘Quchu Wencang Yundong [Fly-Elimination Campaign]’, Xiaoxuesheng Wenku (Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1934).

The final illustration in the book is striking – a young schoolboy stands at an auditorium podium backed by a portrait of Sun Yat-sen and flags of the Republic, speaking emphatically to an audience of adults at the celebratory meeting of the success of the campaign. ‘We hope that fly elimination campaigns will continue to spread, from our village to the entire county, to the entire province, to the country, to the entire world … only if we identify our enemies, and work hard to eliminate those enemies, will we reach the final victory of mankind!’[8]

The idea for fly elimination started from the mind of a precocious schoolchild, who then explained the rational, tangible benefits of his proposed campaign, and successfully led the wider community towards solving the problem. Just as a single student could start a campaign that would change the minds of hundreds in Qiaotou, every Chinese person could start from killing a few flies to make progress, and every individual living in a COVID-19 pandemic world can begin by wearing a mask or washing his or her hands.

[1] Isabella Jackson, Shaping Modern Shanghai: Colonialism in China’s Global City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 167—8.

[2] Yu Xinzhong, ‘The Treatment of Night Soil and Waste in Modern China’, in Angela Leung and Charlotte Furth (eds.), Health and Hygiene in Chinese East Asia: Policies and Publics in the Long Twentieth Century (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011)

[3] John B. Grant, ‘Fly and Mosquito Control in Nanjing’, 19 January 1924. Folder 348/Box 55/FA115, Series 601, RG 5, IHD, Rockefeller Archive Center (Sleepy Hollow, NY).

[4] ‘Guoli di erishier zhongxuexiao ben bu ji yi er liang fenxiao zhengjie shishi qingxing [cleanliness of the 22nd middle school and two affiliate schools]’, March 1943, Second Historical Archives of China 5/1927 (2) (Nanjing, China).

[5] John B. Grant, ‘Report of the Peking First Health Station for 1930’, 30 September 1930. Folder 471/Box 67/FA065. CMB Inc, Rockefeller Archive Center (Sleepy Hollow, NY).

[6] ‘Weishengshu yifang bibao [posters about medicine and defence]’, Kuomintang Party Archives 502/90 (Taipei, Taiwan).

[7] ‘Jiaoyubu guan yu gaohao qingjie weisheng fangfan huoluan shanghan he fenfa yimiao yaopin yu geji xuexao waiwenshu [Ministry of Education communications with various schools regarding sending cholera and typhoid medications and hygiene work]’, 1943. SHAC 5/1925(1) (Nanjing, China).

[8] ‘Quchu Wencang Yundong [Fly-Elimination Campaign]’, Xiaoxuesheng Wenku (Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1934).

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A round up of recent posts: internment, a church, a shipwreck, three missing Spanish diplomats, Wuhan

Some of our writers? Nuns? Nuns: at Cuifeng Si, Beijing. Photograph by Hedda Morrison, © President and Fellows of Harvard College. Hedda Morrison Collection, HPC ref Hv11-46.

This blog has hosted a fair few guest posts recently, and we have been writing our own as well. Just in case you missed them I thought I might recap a little, and flag up the fact that in the coming days we have Sarah Yu on flies and hygiene, and Anne Gerritsen on china, labour, and dust.

This blog aims to let you know more about what’s new on Historical Photographs of China, but also what’s old there. Frankly, we sometimes rather lose sight of what gems are tucked away, and after all we have 22,000 digitised gems in the platform for you: open access, and available for non-commercial reuse under a Creative Commons licence. Jamie Carstairs, Project Manager, and camera supremo, probably hasn’t forgotten what’s there, as his trained eye was focused on copying most of our holdings. Nor has metadata maestro Shannon Smith, who has pasted in suitable terms and captions for very many of these to help people find them. But I have.

It’s quite wonderful when new eyes are brought to bear on our holdings. Sometimes we have posts from scholars who have already used our images in books and articles, but recently we have offered authors a chance to introduce the theme of just-published books to what we have. So Jay Carter drew material together on racing in Shanghai, Benno Weiner on Tibet’s eastern Amdo region in the first decade of the PRC, Brian Dott on the history of the Chile pepper in China, Nick Kitto on his photobook survey of surviving treaty port architecture, and Gina Tam confounded us by finding the perfect hook for an essay on dialect and nationalism in China. But hey, you can still listen to a 30 minute BBC radio programme about our photographic archive. We transcend media.

We have also been working from home since 23 March, and I think most of our bloggers have been posting from home as well, although possibly not working from such congenial, onboard surroundings as these British diplomats did. Or perhaps such sights are indeed hidden behind the Zoom backgrounds and anonymity of online interaction.

Open plan working, 1920s style, China coast. Ann Phipps Collection, HPC ref Ph04-454.

What and who else? Xavier Ortells-Nicolau provided a powerful essay on the erasure of Spain from the history of treaty port China, while Andrew Hillier, project associate, and prolific blogger, has provided posts on our project to locate and digitise holdings in British Army Regimental Museums, and on his family’s long and deep entanglement in China here (with Buick) and here (with Amanuensis), and most recently on internment in Weihsien. Cole Roskam nosed around Trinity Church in Shanghai. Helena Lopes, shortly to take up a Leverhulme Research Fellowship with Bristol, has been working to help bring our Hong Kong collections online, such as the Hagger collection, and has blogged about some of these here (a doctor) and here (a queen), on China in an era of global war, and the sinking of the China Navigation Company steamer, SS Chusan.

Chris Courtney blogged on Wuhan and cholera, Yang Chan on Wuhan’s resilience in a time of crisis, Jamie introduced the John Gurney Fry Collection, and the work (his, with others) to commemorate John Thomson with a Bronze Plaque. All this since February.

Get reading! And get writing: we are open for business. Please do get in touch if you would like to propose a post. After all, look at the wonderful company you’ll join. There’s no point our placing these gems online if you don’t use them, and we would love to see what you can do with them.

A new shop opening for business, Beijing, c.1912-14. William Cooper Collection, HPC ref WC01-161.

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‘A Miniature World’: Photographs and Memories of Internment in China

Drawing on his own records and images from the Historical Photographs of China platform, Dr Andrew Hillier, author of Mediating Empire: An English family in China 1817-1927 (2020) has posted a number of blogs here and elsewhere about his family. In this post he provides an account from other family records of a phase of the history of the foreign communities in treaty port China of which we have only a few photographic records: the years of Allied civilian internment during the Pacific War.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Ella Hillier, whose husband, former Hongkong & Shanghai Bank Peking Manager Guy Hillier, had died in 1924, was in Tsingtao (Qingdao). She would go on to spend almost three years as an internee, and whilst the story of these years is well-known, her account, which is summarised in this post, shows how life, in such circumstances, can be banal, farcical and frightening but also, on occasions, uplifting.[1]

1. Ella Hillier. Image courtesy of Jennifer Peles and Fiona Dunlop.

Following the death of her husband (on whom see A Banker and his Amanuensis), Ella Hillier spent her time travelling and looking after her four nephews and nieces, who were at school in England. In 1940, now in her early sixties, she returned to China and stayed with her sister, Mary Celia Napier, in Qingdao, the cosmopolitan port-city and former German colony on the Southeast coast of Shandong province.

2. Butterfield & Swire’s office, Qingdao, 1938. The building had been completed in 1936 and was sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Chartered Bank building as the bank leased the ground floor for a branch office. It was located in what was the southern end of the general business district. HPC ref: Sw08-142.

In May 1941, Mary Celia left to join her family in Shanghai and Ella stayed to look after the house. By this time, Shandong was under Japanese military control, but, within limits, the British and nationals of other neutral powers were able to carry on their lives as before.[2] With the outbreak of the Pacific War on 7 December 1941, this abruptly ended.

3. The house belonging to Norman and Mary Celia Napier in Qingdao, c.1938. Image courtesy of Jennifer Peles and Fiona Dunlop.

For the first ten months, Ella was confined to her house, but was allowed to go out for shopping and exercise from noon until three p.m. each day.  In July, 1942, she was joined by a Mr and Mrs X (as she calls them) and ‘life became less nerve-wracking’.  In October, Mrs X was taken to the German hospital and two days later Ella and Mr X were collected by lorry and taken to the Iltis Hydro Hotel at Iltis Huk, a seaside suburb of Qingdao.

To their consternation, they were told they would be sharing a room. ‘“But this is not my wife!”, said Mr X. “You must put this lady elsewhere!” The officer drew a hissing breath.  “So, she is not your wife?  Then she must join the loose ladies – the ah – unattached – women in the Dance Hall.”’  And so, Ella bedded down in the Trocadero Dance Hall, which, from then on, became known as ‘The Dormitory for Loose Ladies’ and its inmates as the ‘Trocadero Dance Girls.’

The 27 ‘loose ladies’ comprised a mixture of nuns, missionary nurses, teachers, typists, and ‘at least three genuine loose women, very much divorced from their husbands.’  With a total of 147 internees in a space designed for 45 guests, life was far from comfortable. However, a routine was quickly developed, tasks were assigned and Ella was put in charge of the library. A caterer was instructed to provide meals, ‘with two Chinese cooks in the kitchen being supervised by ladies who took turns week by week.  Volunteer young men and girls waited at table, a week at a time, and helped to wash up.’ Without any sort of heating, it became painfully cold as winter set in. Eventually, they were able to obtain some stoves and these provided some minimal heat.

Our most wonderful memory was the festival on Christmas Eve.  After breakfast, strong men cleared the Trocadero of all the beds… a large Christmas tree was put up and decorated with tinsel ornaments and silver rain.  Carols and Christmas glees were sung in the afternoon, followed by a Nativity Play.  At the end Father Christmas appeared and distributed toys for the children, including 3 beautiful bride-dolls, dressed by our Dutch friend.  It was a happy radiant time for all.  On Christmas morning we held services and opened the gifts sent to us by neutral friends outside.

Whilst ‘a beast’ of a commander then took over, and some internees were subjected to brutal and humiliating treatment, in the main, life was manageable.

In March, 1943, having been told that they were being transferred to a former American Presbyterian College, situated just outside Weihsien (Weifang), they were ‘the first to burst into that silent camp, empty and unfinished, to prepare for all the rest’. Eventually, the Civil Assembly Centre would house some 1,800 internees, including 500 priests and nuns, many from Mongolia.

4. Aerial view of Weihsien Civilian Assembly Centre (internment camp), previously the American Presbyterian College compound, Weifang.

The Camp Commandant, who had been the former Japanese Consul-General in Honolulu, was ‘quite good-natured, allowing the internees to administer the internal affairs of the Camp’.  The rows of students’ rooms were given over to married couples, while the class-rooms were transformed into dormitories for single men and women.  Internees from the north were allowed unlimited quantities of baggage and two grand pianos arrived. ‘There was’, she reported, ‘a Salvation army brass band from Peking, a Hawaiian jazz band from Tientsin and a camp orchestra of 26 instruments, including a beautiful American nun playing the saxophone’. There was also a sixty strong Choral Society, which sang choruses from The Messiah, Elijah, Hiawatha and St. Paul and presented various glees and madrigals.  A Labour Bureau operated at first, finding camp jobs for everyone.

We were a miniature world, having merchants, engineers, bank clerks, architects, professors, typists, dressmakers, nurses , doctors, manicurists, barbers, bar-tenders, shop keepers, prostitutes, an Olympic champion runner [Eric Liddell, whom the children called ‘Jesus in running shoes’] a Rhodes scholar, as well as two Basque pelote players who had come to China from Cuba.

A bakery was started by two Armenian bakers, with men working shifts under them, so there was good bread but otherwise food was scanty, save when parcels were sent by neutral friends.  Carpenters began making necessary tables and benches, and stools for the water-closets which the Japanese had erected in their style – holes in the floor.

5. Planting an avenue of trees leading to the main building and bell tower, American Presbyterian College, Weifang. Later the compound became the Weihsien Civilian Assembly Centre (internment camp).

The Church was renamed the Assembly Hall, and was used during the week for lectures, plays and concerts and classes. Four schools functioned:  the Peking American School, the Tientsin Grammar-School, the Chefoo School (‘some 250 pupils with excellent teachers and apparatus’) and a Catholic School.  Once again, Ella was appointed Head of the Library, which, amongst the 3000 titles, included some 500 books for children and was run by three ladies, with nine assistants.

6. Shadyside Hospital building which was a central part of the camp and now houses the museum. Photograph by Nicholas Kitto, ref DSC0593.

7. Blocks 58 (left) and 59 (right), ‘Wall St’. Photograph by Nicholas Kitto, ref DSC0596.

On Sundays the Hall functioned as a church, with early mass for the Catholics, followed by early communion for the Anglicans, then High Mass at ten, with five Catholic Bishops on the dais, followed by Matins at eleven under the Anglican Bishop Scott of North China.  At 3 pm. there was Sunday School and at 4.30, Union church for non-conformists, while in the evening the Salvation Army held a song service, preceded by their band playing in the churchyard.  And amongst the Catholics, there was an Australian Trappist priest from a monastery faraway in the North-West.

He considered himself absolved from his vow of silence in the Camp, and the talk bottled up in him for thirteen years gushed out in an ever-flowing stream.  He gave us two lectures on the Trappist Order.  He contacted all the Aussies and New Zealanders and persuaded them to celebrate Anzac Day.  At night he used to buy quantities of eggs from the Chinese for the women and babies in camp, through a hole made by loosening bricks in the wall.  Though he and the other priests made use of singing their prayers as a warning when Japanese guards were approaching, he was caught one night and sentenced to solitary confinement for one month, with two books of breviary.  He used to chant his daily offices and prayers and hymns, and when no more came to his mind, he would start on interminable verses of “Waltzing Matilda”.  His singing got on the Japanese nerves, so that they released him a week before his time.

On 17 August 1945, two days after the official surrender, a rescue team parachuted from an American B24 bomber and liberated the prisoners, although many had to remain there until they could find other accommodation. For the next six weeks after that, they received food and medical supplies by parachute.

8. A leaflet picked up by Margaret Vinden, who was born in 1926, and was interned in the camp with her parents, Gilbert and Ethel Linden. HPC ref: GV-s02.

9. An American plane ‘barrel bombing’ supplies of food and clothing, Weihsien Civilian Assembly Centre, August-September 1945. Photograph retained by Margaret Vinden at the time. HPC ref: GV-s17.

Although delighted to be free, for Ella and many of the other internees, the next months were not easy. Keen to shake ‘the dust of China off [her] feet’, as she said in one of her letters, she finally left on 18 December 1945. She would not return to China but the memory of these extraordinary years would remain with her, most of all the way people had responded.

Some came with such deep resentment in their hearts that it festered like a poison, spoiling their life.  Others were adaptable, making the best of things with humour, enjoying the lectures and concerts and above all the communal life.

10. The Liberation Memorial at Weihsien Civilian Assembly Centre, Weifang. The memorial was formerly unveiled in August 2005, the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. The centre column has all the Chinese names of the internees, while the plaques on the surrounding circular wall list the names in English. Photograph by Nicholas Kitto, ref: Weifang 3A 1060.

Mediating Empire: An English Family in China 1817-1927 was published by Renaissance Books in April. For details, see


[1] I am extremely grateful to Jennifer Peles and Fiona Dunlop (two of Ella’s great-nieces) for allowing me access to Ella’s full account and to quote from it. I am also grateful to Nick Kitto for his advice and permission to use his images. See Trading Places a photographic journey through China’s former Treaty Ports. Two of Nick’s great-great uncles and their wives were interned with Ella. The subject is comprehensively described in Greg Leck, Captives of Empire: The Japanese Internment of Allied Civilians in China, 1941- 1945 (Bangor, Pa: Shandy Press, 2006); see also Captives of Empire. The new China Families platform contains extensive lists of Allied internees across China and Hong Kong, and also neutral foreign residents in occupied Shanghai.

[2] For an account of life in Qingdao immediately before the outbreak of war, see Forgiven but not Forgotten, Memoirs of a Teenage Girl Prisoner of the Japanese in China by Joyce Bradbury.

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Guest post: Spaniards in the treaty ports: Archivo China-España and Juan Mencarini

Our latest post comes from Xavier Ortells-Nicolau, an adjunct professor at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and English Studies, Universitat de Barcelona. His recent work has focused on images of China in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Spanish media and on the figure of Juan Mencarini, a Customs employee and amateur photographer who promoted photography associations in Shanghai and Fuzhou.

The seal of the Municipal Council of the International Settlement in Shanghai famously included the flags of the some of the foreign states that composed that multinational enclave: the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan — those with the largest number of residents and greatest economic power — but it also contained the emblems of smaller European countries such as Denmark or Spain, with a minor role in the history of the treaty ports. The presence of Spaniards in the treaty ports increased after the loss of the Philippine colony in 1898 and in the 1920s and 1930s one might find a hat store named La Espana or a Sevilla restaurant in the French Concession.[1] Among the foreign communities of Fuzhou, Hankow or Xiamen one would surely meet Spanish diplomats and businessmen, and venturing into the interior (as china beyond its maritime or riverine territories was once routinely known), any of the countless Spanish Catholic missionaries, distributed along vicariates and provinces: Augustinians in north Hunan, Franciscans in Shaanxi, Dominicans in Fujian, and Jesuits in Jiangsu and Anhui.

Advertisement for the Sevilla Restaurant published in Le Journal de Shanghai, 29 June 1935. Located in Avenue du Roi Albert (Shaanxi Nanlu), the restaurant was opposite the Shanghai Hai-alai Auditorium, where the Basque pelotaris who opened the restaurant in 1930 played. Source: Archivo China-España.

Over the last decades, different research projects have been looking into the activities and presence of the nationals of Norway, Italy, the Netherlands or Hungary in nineteenth and early twentieth century China. ALTER at UOC-Barcelona, a research group led by Carles Prado-Fonts and David Martínez-Robles and focusing on the Sino-Spanish relationships, has produced outcomes that reveal a limited but nonetheless significant impact: the first Sino-Spanish treaty in 1864, for example, was a much less unequal business than other treaties, as it granted the most-favoured-nation clause … to China; its negotiation depended on the skills of Sinibald de Mas, who was later required by the Zongli Yamen to act as secret agent in an operation to get Macao back.[2]  In a recent publication, Monica Ginés-Blasi has dissected the schemes of Spanish merchant-consuls in the coolie trade off Xiamen.[3] These and many others cases exemplify the contributions that such from a peripheral perspectives can afford to the historiography of the Western presence in China’s ports, and the extent to which cases like the Spanish one can provide some nuance to our understanding of the ‘Western’ presence in China.

Sinibald de Mas credentials as Qing agent, 1868. Source: Archivo China-España.

Many of the images in this blog entry come from yet another outcome of ALTER’s research, the Archivo China-España, an online catalogue of images, documents and pieces of historical media covering Sino-Spanish relationships during the 19th and 20th centuries up to Franco’s regime. In addition to individual entries, the archive (for the moment, mostly in Spanish) includes narrative itineraries and visual collections, such as the one obtained by Diplomat Enrique Otal y Ric in China. In a photograph included in the collection, four bearers and other attendants, ready to carry a sedan chair, pose in front of a building credited as the residence of the Spanish minister in Beijing between 1876 and 1879, Carlos Antonio de España. Behind a white pony, three Western figures are discernible, including Minister de España next to a pillar (with a beard) and Otal y Ric to his right wearing a bowler hat.

Mandarin’s Chair. Source: Archivo de los Barones de Valdeolivos de Fonz, Documentos y Archivos de Aragón, Gobierno de Aragón, Enrique Otal y Ric Collection. Archivo China-España.

Research into Historical Photographs of China’s virtual archive has opened a fascinating line of inquiry into the circulation of China images in the nineteenth century. In the National Archives in Kew collection, we can see a second print of the same negative, which credits the photograph to Thomas Child. However, in this copy the three Spanish diplomats have disappeared: actually, traces of the erasure are evident as spectral presences over the window.

This photograph is in an album in The National Archives, London, entitled ‘The Chinese Customs in Peking 1889-1891’ (CO1069-421). The photograph is signed by Thomas Child and captioned in the album: Mandarin Chair. HPC ref: NA01-90.

Later on, the same photograph would be reproduced as a postcard by Max Nössler in Shanghai, and in turn confirmed it as an image of a “chair of a mandarin”, in addition to favouring the relocation at convenience, as in this postcard send from Shanghai to Würzburg in 1901.[4] As if it were true that a picture is worth a thousand words, the vicissitudes of this negative stand for the historical irrelevance of Spanish presences in China, which ALTER’s research has worked to correct.

A post card published by Max Nössler & Co., 38 Nanking Road, Shanghai, c.1907, entitled ‘Mandarins chair’. Source: Archivo China-España.

As Carles Prado-Fonts[5] has amply demonstrated, the mediations of English and French cultures were key in the China-related knowledge and literature of fin-de-siècle Spain. That is why the few cases of Spaniards with direct knowledge of China in the nineteenth and early twentieth century become particularly relevant. A case in point is Juan Mencarini, a middle-ranked Imperial Maritime Customs Service employee, esteemed philatelist and photography aficionado with a key role in the development of photography in China. I have explored at large Mencarini’s life, career and photographs in the paper ‘Juan Mencarini and Amateur Photography in Fin-de-siècle China’.

Mencarini standing in the foreground at the summer resort of Gustav Siemssen (who is sitting to the left of Mencarini at the front, wearing a dark waistcoat and a cap). HPC ref: Os03-075.

In 1891, Mencarini was deployed to Fuzhou to act as Second Assistant B under the Hungarian commissioner Edmund Faragó. It was not long after his arrival that, as he had just done during his previous service in Shanghai, he joined other foreigners (like Siemssen) in creating the first club of amateur photographers in town, the Foochow Camera Club. In 1893, the club organized an exhibition of photographs of its members. A review published abroad described Mencarini’s works: it commended high praise ‘to No. 18, ‘Foochow Autumn Races, 1892’, taken at the time of presentation of ‘The Ladies’ Purse’. Full of figures, each one comes out in the picture with singular clearness, and the faces of each are easily recognizable’, [6] a description of a scene which is recurrent in HPC.

If not for the blurred figures, this might be Mencarini’s photograph at the Fuzhou races of December 1892. From the John Oswald collection, HPC ref: Os03-074.

Similarly, the review noted that his photograph of the ‘Sacred Fish Pond’ at Gushan Monastery was ‘distinctly good’. This photograph, reproduced in different albums and press articles, is easily identifiable among Mencarini’s preserved works. In it, Mencarini tried to capture the reflection on the water of the trees in the background, while drawing our attention to a number of female figures standing at the veranda of the right hand pavilion, located at the entrance of the Buddhist mountain compound of Gushan, then on the outskirts of Fuzhou. In words of the North China Herald when the image was exhibited in Shanghai, the photograph has “all the charm of picturesqueness with the added touch of life in a few figures”.[7]

Juan Mencarini, “Sacred Fish Pond at Monastery. No. 22”, Foochow Album, Harvard Yenching-Library. Reproduced with permission in Archivo China-España.

This image presents us with another felicitous case of visual collaboration across repositories, as an image attributed to the local studio Tung Hing shows the spot from where Mencarini obtained his image. As if granted a peek behind the scenes, we can perhaps imagine the moment of the shot, with the photographer standing on the stones that line the road and directing the people posing in the pavilion.

Fishpond and paved approach to Buddhist monastery of Kushan, near Fuzhou. Photograph attributed to Tung Hing. HPC ref: Hv36-43.

The provincial capital Fuzhou, its famed tea district in the Wuyi Mountains north of the province of Fujian, and its variated river courses provided some of the most reproduced landscapes and vistas of the last quarter of the nineteenth century in China. Even though by the time Mencarini arrived to Fuzhou the tea trade was in decline, he was similarly attracted, like professionals and amateurs alike before him, to the picturesqueness of the sumptuary or religious constructions, like the horse-shoe tomb of the revered local official Chen Ruolin and the Gushan and Yuanfu monasteries. Albums by him or including his images, owned by friends or colleagues at the Customs, featured agricultural scenes, the lush riverbanks of the Min River, or the Jinshan temple on an island.

Quite idiosyncratically, Mencarini was as attracted to the aesthetics of photography as to their pedagogical power. He used them in press articles and magic lantern projections to elaborate historical and economic narratives of the different regions he got to know during his service in the Imperial Customs (as was also member of the Royal Asiatic Society). A North China Herald report on a lecture in April 1905 offers us a glimpse of Mencarini’s style:

Mr. Mencarini has done a great deal of camera work in this beautiful country and it will be remembered that he won the gold medal at the recent exhibition with a picture taken a few miles from Foochow. He was able to illustrate his remarks last night with some excellent views of scenery which he did not hesitate to compare with that of Switzerland and the Riviera. Mr. Mencarini supplemented his purely descriptive passages with a sketch of the history of the port, from the time of the first Portuguese traders in the 16th century through the period of its 19th century prosperity, till the present time, when “through the unpardonable neglect of the natives”, the tea trade has departed to India. A similar fate may overtake another leading industry, Mr. Mencarini said, unless speedy steps are taken to check the wholesale felling of the pine forests, the lumber of which is a considerable export.

A Foochow pole junk, with a full cargo of poles, Shanghai. Photograph by Charles Ewart Darwent. HPC ref: Da01-21.


[2] See David Martínez-Robles, ‘Constructing sovereignty in Nineteenth century China: the negotiation of reciprocity in the Sino-Spanish Treaty of 1864’. International History Review, 38: 4; Entre dos imperios Sinibaldo de Mas y la empresa colonial en China (1844-1868), Marcial Pons, 2018.

[3] Mònica Ginés-Blasi, ‘Exploiting Chinese Labour Emigration in Treaty Ports: The Role of Spanish Consulates in the “Coolie Trade’, International Review of Social History, 1-24.


[5] ‘Disconnecting the Other: Translating China in Spain, Indirectly’, Modernism/Modernity, 3. 3, 2018; ‘Writing China from the Rest of the West: Travels and Transculturation in 1920s Spain‘. Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, Vol. 19: 2, 2018.

[6]  Anthony’s photographic bulletin, vol. XXIV, no.11, 10-6-1983.

[7]  The North China Herald, 24 February 1905.

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