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Old photos reveal Manchu royalties

FROM Manchu royalties in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to street beggars in the 19th century, the images captured by Scottish photographer John Thomson are now on show in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province.

"Thomson's photographs contributed greatly to Europe's view of China in the 19th Century and filled the visual gap between East and West," said Lin Dan, deputy curator of the Provincial Museum of Fujian Province.

She said the photos are from the Wellcome Library's collection in London, most of which have never been exhibited outside the library.

Yao Yongpei, a British-Chinese, sponsored the Fujian exhibition. She said the Wellcome Library has about 600 of Thomson's photos, 500 of which were taken in China.

She said she hoped the photos could be shown in their original places so that Chinese viewers could have a chance to appreciate images of the past.

The China tour started in Beijing in April. It will move to Guangzhou and Dongguan after Fujian, which is the same route Thomson took when he visited China, Yao said.

Life of seclusion

The exhibition of 148 pictures taken by Thomson in China between 1870 and 1872 will continue in Fuzhou until August 15.

One photo shows a Manchu lady dressed in a robe, standing with her maid in a rock garden. Like most women of well-off families, she lived a life of seclusion, knowing little or nothing of the world beyond the wall of the beautiful courtyard house, reads the picture's caption.

Wang Qian, a student of Fuzhou University, said he was fascinated by the photos of street scenes, which reflected the country's social outlook.

He said back in the 19th century most Chinese were unfamiliar with photography and many must have been afraid of cameras. But Thomson was able to communicate with his subjects and catch vivid moments that were rarely captured by other photographers at the time.

Lin said Thomson was one of the few Western photographers who traveled extensively in China in those days.

"Thomson's contribution was not just in the photography tour of China," Lin said. "After returning to Britain, he was active in informing the public about China. He continually published photographic and written works about China, and he also gave illustrated presentations," said Lin.


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