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 andrewhillier.org.

—————

[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 Georg Siemssen (who is sitting to the left of Mencarini, with white suit and trimmed moustache). 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.

[1]  http://ace.uoc.edu/items/show/649

[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.

[4]  http://project-postcard.com/november-1901-a-mandarins-chair-with-carriers-in-shanghai

[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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Guest blog: A ‘Magic Weapon’ on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier

The author of our latest guest post is Benno Weiner, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University. He is author of The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier (Cornell University Press, 2020) and co-editor of Conflicting Memories: Tibetan History under Mao Retold (with Robert Barnett and Françoise Robin, Brill, 2020).

Amdo Tibetans in Qinghai Province, ca. 1933, photographed by Rev. Claude L Pickens Jr. HPC ref: Hv44-210.

In recent years, the United Front has made headlines as the agency tasked with polishing China’s image abroad through such “soft power” instruments as sponsoring Confucius Institutes (language and cultural centres installed on college campuses around the globe) and the co-option of overseas Chinese willing to quietly promote the interests of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, scholars have paid relatively little attention to the role of the United Front in China since 1949, where it was tasked with gaining the vital support of important non-Party elements of Chinese society and incorporating them into the new nation. This is despite Mao Zedong himself having declared the United Front, along with Party building and armed struggle, one of the ‘three magic weapons’ of the Chinese Revolution. What limited scrutiny it has received has mainly focused on the Party’s attempts to co-opt and control non-Party intellectuals. By contrast, little scholarship has been directed toward another major target of the United Front—what the CCP refers to as ‘minority nationalities.’

The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier is the first in-depth study of an ethnic minority region during the first decade of the People’s Republic of China (PRC): the vast borderland region known to Tibetan speakers as Amdo. The tendency has been to assume that the United Front as deployed in ethnic minority areas was little more than a cynical ruse meant to placate local elites until the CCP was in position to forcibly implement its radical agenda. Instead, I argue that in 1950s Amdo the United Front was considered by its proponents to be a progressive, transformative methodology of nation building. It was designed to be the primary means by which non-Chinese people—who inhabited a full 60 percent of the landmass of the PRC—would be transformed into citizens of socialist China.

Hui Muslim man spinning yarn with a child, Qinghai, ca. 1933, photographed by Rev. Claude L Pickens Jr. HPC ref: Hv44-120.

The majority of Amdo (sometimes called northeast Tibet) lies in present-day Qinghai province, with the remainder spilling into neighbouring areas of southern Gansu and northern Sichuan. As demonstrated by these wonderful photographs by the Reverend Claude L. Pickens Jr. — who traveled in northwest China from 1933 to 1936 as part of the China Inland Mission — Amdo has long been an ethnocultural frontier where the Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, and Central Asian worlds meet. Its expansive but sparsely populated southern and western grasslands are primarily populated by Tibetan and, to a lesser degree, Mongol and Kazakh pastoralists, while the more densely populated agricultural districts along Amdo’s eastern edges have long been home to a multi-confessional mix of Chinese, Tibetan, Mongol and Turkic-speaking communities. In the eighteenth century, Amdo was incorporated into the expanding Qing Empire (1644-1912). However, as in most imperial borderlands, oversight was generally light and rule was exercised indirectly through a myriad of local powerbrokers and religious leaders who were awarded honours, titles, and rewards in exchange for expressions of loyalty and their service as intermediaries between the imperial state and local society.

Tibetans in Xunhua County, Qinghai, with the flag of the Kuomintang behind them, ca. 1933, photographed by Rev. Claude L Pickens Jr. HPC ref: Hv44-144.

After the collapse of the imperial system in 1912, Amdo came under the contested rule of the ‘Ma-family warlords.’ Chinese sources reserve particular disdain for the Hui Muslim Ma clan—their ethnic and religious pogroms are said to have severely damaged the historical unity between the region’s various nationalities. And confrontation between the Mas and their rivals was often marked by tremendous cruelty. Yet despite their militaristic, authoritarian instincts, time and again the Mas were forced to negotiate with an assortment of the region’s religious and secular authorities, who were again granted positions and rewards in exchange for their support. These were often the same people and institutions that had long served as intermediaries between the imperial state and local communities. Broadly speaking, Amdo’s political elite continued to operate according to imperial practices and assumptions.

This, then, was the challenge the Communist Party faced in Amdo and many other non-Han (ethnic Chinese) regions of the former Qing Empire: how to transform loosely governed imperial possessions into component parts of a unified, consolidated nation-state. While state building presumably could be accomplished through force, Party leaders realized that nation making required constructing narratives and policies capable of convincing Amdo’s inhabitants of their membership in a wider political community. The CCP then, as now, was insistent that China was a historical, inseparable, multinational state. Yet they recognized that many non-Han communities held deep grievances toward the Han majority and were suspicious of the Party and its platforms. According to CCP leaders, this was due to discrimination and exploitation committed by the Han against ethnic minorities over centuries, what it referred to as “Great Han chauvinism.” If the Party wanted to gain the support of ethnic minorities, it first needed to eradicate the cause of their antipathy.

Turkic Salar woman, Xunhua County, Qinghai, ca. 1933, photographed by Rev. Claude L Pickens Jr. HPC ref: Hv44-131.

In its attempt to repair this tear in the aspirational nation, the CCP employed a strategy known as the United Front. In Amdo, simply put, this referred to a transitional period of indeterminate length during which class struggle would be de-emphasized in favour of forming alliances with the region’s religious and secular elite. Unlike traditional imperial practices, however, the United Front was imagined as a ‘gradual,’ ‘voluntary’ and ‘organic’ method of nation building. By eliminating the exploitation Amdo Tibetans and others allegedly had suffered under the Ma regime and its predecessors, and replacing it with the autonomy, equality, religious freedom, mutual respect, and material prosperity promised by the CCP, Party leaders confidently predicted that both class awareness and patriotic consciousness would rise and eventually the masses themselves would indicate that they were ready for the transition to socialism and to be fully integrated into the PRC.

As my book shows, however, United Front gradualism existed in constant tension with a revolutionary impatience within the Party that was deeply suspicious of practices that eschewed class struggle in favour of allying with members of Amdo’s ‘feudal’ leadership. Finally, at the onset of the Great Leap Forward in 1958, the contest was decided in favour of the latter. With checks on Han chauvinism eliminated, the path was cleared for the rapid collectivization of Amdo’s grasslands which in turn sparked the massive 1958 Amdo Rebellion and its brutal ‘pacification.’ Although the uprising began among Tibetans, it also came to include Mongols, Hui, Salar, and others. Tens of thousands were arrested; many thousands were killed. Rather than a voluntary union, as Party leaders had envisioned, Amdo was incorporated into the PRC through the widespread and often indiscriminate use of state violence.

Tibetan pilgrims traveling to Kumbum Monastery, Qinghai, ca. 1933, photographed by Rev. Claude L Pickens Jr. HPC ref: Hv44-181.

It was never going to be easy to convince Amdo Tibetans and others on China’s ethnic borderlands that they were members of a Han-majority nation. And my book suggests that there are reasons to be deeply skeptical that if left intact the United Front could have worked its “magic.” Nevertheless, in its place the Party has been unable to erase the memory of the violence that accompanied Amdo’s integration into the PRC or the decades of state repression that followed. While the CCP’s warnings against Han chauvinism in the 1950s were reductionist, at least they contained an implicit acknowledgement that creating a nation out of the disparate remnants of a fallen empire rarely can be achieved through ethnocultural violence. And intermittently Party leaders have remembered this lesson, most noticeably for a brief moment in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward and again during the early 1980s as the Deng Xiaoping regime sought to deal with the fallout from the Cultural Revolution. Each time, however, commitments to return to the stated (although never actualized) tenants of the 1950s United Front were quickly forgotten.

Most recently, in the wake of ethnic riots in Tibet in 2008 and Xinjiang in 2009 and the ascension of Xi Jinping to national leadership a few years later, Beijing seems to have jettisoned many of its gestures toward the relative pluralism represented by the 1950s United Front in favor of a nakedly assimilationist Han-centric nationalism. This can be most clearly seen in Xinjiang, where the CCP has pursued an unprecedented campaign of securitization, surveillance, mass imprisonment, and forced labor intended to erode the cultural identities of indigenous Muslim communities. However, it can also be found in Tibetan areas, where many of the mechanisms of both high-tech surveillance and street-level policing that have raised concerns in Xinjiang first originated. While violence (or the threat of violence) may prove to be an effective means of clamping down on ethnic unrest in western China and consolidating state control, there is little reason to believe that it will be any more successful than previous attempts to nation-build through coercion. Then again, it is sobering to think that nation building, as it was once understood, may no longer be the Party’s goal.

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New Perspective: Trinity Church and Treaty Port-Era Shanghai

Cole Roskam is an Associate Professor of Architectural History in the Department of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong. The author of Improvised City: Architecture and Governance in Shanghai, 1843-1937 (University of Washington Press, 2019), his research explores architecture’s role in mediating China’s relationship to the world. Cole has just completed work on a book-length manuscript Yale University Press tentatively titled Designing Reform: Architecture in the People’s Republic of China, 1970-1992.

A look at contemporary Shanghai’s skyline makes it hard to believe that Trinity Church (renamed Trinity Cathedral in 1875) was once the tallest and one of the best-known buildings in the city (Figure 1). Only through a closer look at historical images of the building available on the Historical Photographs of China web site do we gain a sense of its striking verticality and monumentality, particularly in relation to the existing Chinese walled city and the emerging urban fabric of the British Settlement. Shaped by the ambitions of a foreign community seeking to distinguish itself within Britain’s vast imperial sphere, the building stands as a reminder that desire on the part of cities around the world for globally recognizable architectural icons is nothing new.

Figure 1. Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai, c.1902. HPC ref: LD01-100.

The cathedral is one of the numerous architectural projects detailed in my recently published book, Improvised City: Architecture and Governance in Shanghai, 1843-1937 (University of Washington Press), which examines architecture’s manifold contributions to the production of the treaty port’s unique extraterritorial environment. The existing structure, designed by the famed British architect George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) and completed in 1865, was built to replace an earlier iteration of the church completed by George Strachan in 1848, which had been built largely through the efforts of the American missionary and bishop William Jones Boone (1811-1864) and with the financial backing of the British government (Figure 2). In 1863, the first structure’s deterioration due to poor construction standards – its roof collapsed one Sunday in July 1850 prior to service – prompted the British Settlement’s British Episcopal Church Society to write to Scott requesting his services in the design of a new edifice.

Scott was Britain’s most preeminent Gothic Revival architect and a designer of notable renown whose involvement in the project imbued it with certain international distinction. No architect was arguably more closely associated with architectural representations of Britain’s evolving imperial ideology at the time than Scott. In addition to completing the designs and/or construction of the exterior of London’s Foreign and India Offices in 1858, its Colonial Office (1870-74), as well as its Home Office (1870-75), he was also responsible for the design of numerous projects in Great Britain, Newfoundland, India, South Africa, and Australia.[i] Through his involvement, the settlement’s British community connected itself, albeit tangentially, to active and ongoing public debate back in England over the search for an appropriately British architectural style, and, not unrelatedly, the future of British imperialism.[ii]

Figure 2. Trinity Church after a fall of snow, Shanghai, 1858. Photograph by William Jocelyn. Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution reference: L04357-012b. HPC ref: VH02-038.

Scott accepted the commission and its requirements that the new building be able to support a congregation of eight hundred people, at a construction cost of no more than twenty thousand pounds. Drawings for an ‘early-thirteenth-century Gothic style’ design were completed in November 1864. Unfortunately, however, Scott’s plans did not adhere to the community’s initial requests. For example, the proposed church included seating for only 460 members. Equally disappointing and potentially damaging to its international status, the church as proposed did not feature a spire, which residents desired as archetypal of ecclesiastical architecture back home in Britain. William Kidner, a Scottish designer employed by Scott who relocated to Shanghai in 1864 to assist with the project’s construction, was subsequently asked to complete revisions to the scheme while additional funding was raised. Kidner’s proposed revisions were approved by Scott, who purportedly expressed relief that Kidner, who ‘so thoroughly understood his views and who appeared to be so capable of carrying them out satisfactorily,’ would see the project to completion.[iii]

The building’s foundation stone was eventually laid on the most ‘favourable’ afternoon of May 26, 1866. Numerous American, European, and Chinese residents attended the ceremony, which was led by members of the settlement’s various Masonic lodges – an active and influential social organisation not only in Shanghai, but in numerous locales throughout the British empire. Upon its completion, the building measured 152 feet long and 54 feet high and featured an impressive ribbed vault ceiling and a detailed mosaic floor.

Kidner’s redesign accommodated three hundred more people and featured brick construction rather than Scott’s proposed stonework; it also included a wooden ceiling, rather than brick, to alleviate the building’s weight given Shanghai’s soft, alluvial soil (Figure 3). These gestures also accommodated the skills of the city’s Chinese workforce, which was an often unacknowledged but vital force in the treaty port’s construction. Other notable features include the church’s organ, which was manufactured by Walkers of London – another of the building’s many links to the imperial metropole. The church’s stained-glass windows were gradually accumulated and installed through local donations. Due to a lack of funding, the church’s spire was not completed until 1893.

Figure 3. Interior of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai, c.1870. HPC ref: Fr01-128.

Trinity Church-related images included in the Historical Photographs of China database capture the building and its groundbreaking monumentality, though they do so in new and unusual ways. In particular, a series of photographs taken from the first church of its surrounding environs provide us with a rare vantage point from which we may better understand its surrounding urban fabric (Figure 4). Taken together, these wonderful images offer a unique panoramic view of the fortress-like mercantile compounds designed for and by capitalism that dominated the foreign settlements’ emergent urban fabric, thereby underscoring the church’s early and notable physical prominence.

Figure 4. View from Trinity Church tower, looking northwards, towards Wusong, Shanghai, 1859. Photograph by William Jocelyn. Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution reference: L04357-065b. HPC ref: VH02-148.

[i] See M. H. Port, Imperial London: Civil Government Building in London, 1851-1915 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995) 2–3; and G. A. Bremner, Imperial Gothic: Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture in the British Empire, 1840-1870 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), xiii, 203.
[ii] G.A. Bremner, ‘Nation and Empire in the Government Architecture of Mid-Victorian London: The Foreign and India Office Reconsidered,’ The Historical Journal 48, no. 3 (September 2005): 703–42.
[iii] Minutes of Annual Meeting of Subscribers to the British Episcopal Church, January 25, 1866, F.O. 17/454, National Archives, Kew.

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The joys of everyday life on the China Coast

The F. Hagger collection encompasses some 260 photographs of China in the early 1930s, as well as many of Japan, Singapore, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), North Borneo, Manila, India, Egypt, and others which are not on the Historical Photographs of China website. The album will be available for consultation at University of Bristol Special Collections.

A neatly captioned page from F.Hagger’s album (HPC ref FH01), which has an olive green cloth cover, woven with a playing cards design, manufactured by Yeikwan.

A neatly captioned page from Hagger’s album (HPC ref FH01), which has an olive green cloth cover, woven with a playing cards design, manufactured by Yeikwan.

We currently know little about Hagger other than he was an Electrical Artificer in the Royal Navy. His job involved the installation and maintenance of electrical systems, including in generators and motors, on ships. He almost certainly served on the China Station aboard H.M.S. Medway, the first purpose-built large submarine depot ship built for the Royal Navy.[1] An album of photographs inscribed with his name ‘F. HAGGER, E.A.’ [E.A.=Electrical Artificer] was donated to the Historical Photographs of China a few years ago, but even then the connection with Hagger himself had been lost. Although some of the photographs in the album appear to be duplicates of images found elsewhere, many seem to have been taken by Hagger himself – or perhaps by someone close to him. The album is thoroughly captioned, and the HPC team was able to identify Hagger from some of the indications provided in the captions. He appears in several photographs, either in individual portraits – in uniform, in civilian clothes or with little clothes – or in group shots with other Royal Navy personnel.

F. Hagger by a mooring bollard, H.M.S. Medway. HPC ref: FH01-261.

F. Hagger reading on the beach, Huangpu (黃埔), Guangzhou (廣州). HPC ref: FH01-253.

Whilst photograph albums of China coast Navy servicemen are not uncommon, the Hagger collection is impressive for the quality and variety of images. It is a rich holding for historians interested in China’s social, economic, and international history. Those working on urban and rural life in Republican China, the British military presence in the country, everyday life in the treaty ports, Hong Kong history, and maritime history (there are several photographs taken at sea and a few portraying the people who worked and lived on boats) will likely find images in this collection of interest.

A woman and a child on a sampan, Hong Kong. HPC ref: FH01-279.

The collection offers a visual record of the human and material dimensions of the routine exercise of British naval power at a period of transition when other competitors, notably Japan, were in the ascendancy. Hagger’s tour in China took place in 1932-33, at the height of the Manchurian Crisis and in the aftermath of the Shanghai War of 1932, key events in the origins of the Second World War in East Asia.[2] A state of tension was very much in the order of the day. During a visit to Japan in 1933, H.M.S. Medway was reported to ‘have been observing photographing the fortified area while traversing the Moji Straits’ by the Moji water police, an allegation denied by the Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief of the China Station, Admiral Sir Frederic Charles Dreyer (1878-1956).[3] The suspicion was not unfounded, though. According to Antony Best, the Medway was indeed being used to ‘gather information on Japanese consular, military, and mandated islands traffic’ as part of a three-month watch on Japanese wireless transmissions activities in East Asia that had been planned by the Naval Intelligence Directorate and the Government Code and Cipher School.[4]

The Hagger album is also a treasure trove for those interested in gender history. Scholars of masculinities would find here plenty of inspiration: there’s a variety of depictions of male bodies, portraits of homosociality and spaces of masculine leisure and consumption (including a before-and-after sequence of a New Year’s party onboard), and examples of photographic imperial and male gaze, as well as racialised categorisation – an album page on ‘types’ of Japanese women is an illustrative example of that.

A picnic party apparently applying sun tan oil, Weihai (威海). HPC ref: FH01-266.

Royal Navy personnel resting after a Christmas party, Hong Kong. HPC ref: FH01-200.

Although images of male camaraderie abound, the collection also holds very interesting images of women, especially outside shots of women at work – such as one of women road members in Hong Kong – or simply walking on the street. If 1930s China is often associated with the much-debated ‘new women’, Hagger’s photographs provide, intentionally or not, a testimony of the visibility and confident deportment of women in Chinese streets. Two photographs of ‘café girls’, seemingly photographed in Japan, also provide an interesting prompt to reflect on the transnationality of ‘modern girl’ archetypes.[5]

Women road menders, with a roller, Hong Kong. HPC ref: FH01-239.

Red Cross Road, Yantai (煙台). HPC ref: FH01-099.

Women and children walking on the street, Hong Kong. HPC ref: FH01-226.

One of two photographs in the album, captioned ‘Café Girls’. HPC ref: FH01-097.

One of two photographs in the album, captioned ‘Café Girls’, most probably taken in Japan. HPC ref: FH01-097.

Images of bustling city life are aplenty in this collection, capturing fascinating details of the many people, businesses, and means of transport that dotted everyday activities in mainland China and Hong Kong in the 1930s. Some carefully framed images offer postcard-like distant views over the urban landscape, such as a serene shot of the Peak Tram or an impressive view over Qianmen street in Beijing.

The Peak Tramway, 1933. HPC ref: FH01-307.

View over Qianmen street (前門大街), Beijing (北京). HPC ref: FH01-147.

Other photographs, taken at street level, show random shots of daily activities such as eating or chatting. The Hong Kong photographs offer quite a few gems: a side view of a fruit stall in front of a wall full of advertisements with a man eating, standing nearby, a moment of contrasts in a busy Des Voeux Road, with a barefoot girl standing on one side of the road while pedestrians, cars and rickshaws rush on the other side, or a seamstress with bound feet concentrated on mending clothes while a passer-by glances at the photographer.

A fruit and vegetable stall, Hong Kong. HPC ref: FH01-194.

A girl standing on Des Voeux Road, Hong Kong. HPC ref: FH01-313.

A seamstress with bound feet, repairing clothes by a shopping street, Hong Kong. HPC ref: FH01-159.

One of my favourites, probably taken in Weihai, depicts a neighbourhood ally where women, children and what appear to be itinerant food sellers congregate. It was photographed from under an archway – a curious suggestion of the photographer’s position: an outsider looking in, from a distance.

People in a back alley, with an itinerant fruit seller. HPC ref: FH01-247.

Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Yantai, Weihai, and other China coast locales can be found in the extensive Hagger collection. Its photographs celebrate the opportunities offered to male agents of empire, but also offer fleeting glimpses of the everyday pleasures and pains of urban China during the ‘Nanjing decade’. You can browse the whole collection here and will no doubt find something interesting.

If you have information on F. Hagger or the 1932-33 China Coast tour of H.M.S. Medway please get in touch with the Historical Photographs of China Project.

[1] The ship was launched in 1928 and was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean in 1942.
[2] About the latter, see Donald A. Jordan, China’s Trial by Fire: The Shanghai War of 1932 (Ann Arbor, 2001).
[3] ‘Admiral Dreyer Denies Medway Took Pictures of Nippon Forts’, The China Press, 29 September 1933, p. 1.
[4] Antony Best, British Intelligence and the Japanese Challenge in Asia, 1914-1941 (Basingstoke, 2002), p. 109.
[5] On this topic see: Alys Eve Weinbaum et al (eds), The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (Durham, NC, 2008)

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The sinking of the Chusan

There are several photographs of disasters, including some of shipwrecks, on the Historical Photographs of China site. A collection we are in the midst of readying for publication includes several that show the aftermath of the disaster that befell the S.S. Chusan, a China Navigation Company (CNCo) steamer wrecked near Weihaiwei (now Weihai) in early October 1932. This series of photographs comes from the F. Hagger Collection (about which more soon). We can relate them to other images on HPC, such as this one below, taken by the CNCo Chairman, Warren Swire, and with other materials.

S.S. Chusan berthed at Tianjin (天津). Photograph by G. Warren Swire. HPC ref: Sw06-028.

Built in Greenock, Scotland in 1914 by Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. – the Scotts had intertwined interests with Swire – the Chusan was commissioned by CNCo, one of the associated companies owned or managed by John Swire & Sons in London. In China, CNCo was managed by the firm’s subsidiary, Butterfield & Swire. On the evening of 2-3 October 1932, while en route to Shanghai from Yantai (Chefoo), the Chusan ran aground, wedging on rocks of an outer island near Half Moon Bay.[1] Maritime accidents in China’s coastal waters were rarer by 1932 than they had been in the nineteenth century, when the Chinese Maritime Customs Service was still developing its lighthouse network, but they still occurred.

News reports of the time are not very clear as to the exact cause of the accident, but it seems likely the Chusan ran aground after hitting a reef. Its Captain, George Alfred Evans, a twelve-year veteran with the firm, was immediately dismissed, suggesting that he was found to be at fault; the Chief Officer was promoted. The North China Herald had reported that ‘the spot upon which the vessel ran aground is probably that known as the “Pinnacle”, which has on its crest a lime-washed piled of stones […],’ which suggests the area’s risks were not unknown.[2]

Map pointing the location where the Chusan ran aground, The North China Herald, 12 October 1932.

More than a hundred passengers and crew, most of them Chinese, were on board the Chusan when the accident happened. Assistance was provided by the British Royal Navy warships HMS Kent and HMS Medway and it is thought that someone from one of these ships, or possibly F. Hagger himself, photographed the events. These warships picked up the Chusan’s S.O.S. signals and came to rescue the passengers. They were taken to Weihaiwei and later transferred on the steamship Shuntien to Shanghai, arriving there on 6 October.[3] After saving the passengers, attention turned to recovering the cargo onboard. About one hundred packages were reported saved.[4] The crew was taken off the ship on Monday 4 October and, like the passengers was first moved to Weihaiwei and then moved to Shanghai onboard the steamer Tungchow. Like the S. S. Chusan, the S.S. Shuntien and the S.S.  Tungchow were CNCo ships built by Scotts. The two would be out of operation in the following years.

The vessels involved in the salvaging operation attest to the internationalisation of China’s shipping in the early twentieth century – a period of often-competing but occasionally collaborating foreign, commercial, and nationalist interests. According to The North China Herald, apart from the two British naval vessels, the Royal Navy tug St Breock was sent ‘with divers and carpenters with hawsers, timber and other needed appliances to assist in salvage operations’. The Japanese ships Dairen Maru and Yusho Maru were sent from Dalian (Dairen) – in Japanese-occupied Manchuria – and Moji, respectively, to assist the Chusan. Both the Herald and The China Press reported that ‘Japanese tugs with almost superhuman effort have managed to manoeuvre a sampan alongside the outer island and rescue the remainder of the Chusan’s crew and one officer, totalling about 17 persons’.[5] While these Japanese ships assisted the Chusan, Sino-Japanese tensions brewed elsewhere. The ship’s intended destination, Shanghai, had seen military clashes in the early months of 1932. Interestingly, one of the first reports of the steamer’s ordeal appeared in the same front page of The China Press whose headline celebrated: ‘Lytton Report Recognizes China Sovereignty,’ a major development in the Manchurian Crisis which would eventually lead to Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933.[6] The fragile peace of the interwar years had started to go under, much like the Chusan.

Bad weather made the salvaging operations difficult. By 4 October ‘the fore-part of the ship had been broken off by the force of waves’ and the deck was already ‘partly submerged’.[7] The Chusan was reported ‘abandoned as a total loss’ a few days later.[8] The Herald published a sequence of three photographs showing the gradual sinking of the vessel on its edition of 19 October.[9]

‘Ship-wreck near Weihaihei’, The North China Herald, 19 October 1932.

The Hagger collection includes four other images, from different angles, of the salvaging operations, which offer an impressive closer look at the different phases of the ship’s sinking – the last image, taken three days after the first, shows only a few remaining parts still above water. Historians of maritime history may find them of interest – and those wanting to recreate similar events in historical fiction have here a set of images captured on site for their reference.

When I first saw it, the sequence caught my attention as it had a certain cinematic flair to it: a step-by-step account of a ship going down, from the first impressions in which a good deal of the vessel remains above water to a final shot in which only small reminders of its physical presence are visible, most of it having been swallowed by the waters. Together, the photos tell a dramatic story. After searching for some information on the event, I realised that what the photographs do not depict is arguably even more impressive. None of them shows (at least not up close) the ship’s passengers who, unlike the ship, all survived. Other potentially interesting details are also left to the imagination of the 2020 reader of 1932 news reports: the divers who were amongst the first sent to the scene, the removal of a good deal of the cargo, the several ships involved in the rescue operations… these are largely off frame here. Perhaps someone else’s camera registered different images at the time and they now rest in a private album or archives storage somewhere in the world?

The wreck of the S.S. Chusan, Weihai (威海). HPC ref: FH01-143.

The wreck of the S.S. Chusan, Weihai (威海). HPC ref: FH01-144.

The wreck of the S.S. Chusan, Weihai (威海) – the bows, three days late. HPC ref: FH01-145.

The wreck of the S.S. Chusan, Weihai (威海) – the stern, three days later. HPC ref: FH01-146.

Perhaps because after the accident the association with the name might not be positive, CNCo did not name any of its new builds Chusan. Chairman J.K. Swire would still register annoyance in 1948, however, when he heard that P&O was planing to use the name for a new liner it had commissioned for the UK-East Asia route. Nonetheless, P&O, which had already owned two vessels with the name, took delivery of its third SS Chusan in June 1950. For more on the history of John Swire & Sons and its China interests, including its maritime operations, see the recently published China Bound: John Swire & Sons and Its World, 1916-1980 by Robert Bickers.

[1] ‘Str. Chusan goes aground’, The North China Herald, 5 Oct. 1932, p. 15.
[2] Ibid.
[3] ‘Wrecked vessel sinks’, The North China Herald, 12 Oct. 1932, p. 50.
[4] ‘Str. Chusan goes aground’, p. 15.
[5] Ibid.; ‘Last of Crew of Chusan Are Rescued’, The China Press, 5 Oct. 1932, p. 7.
[6] ‘Chusan Grounds Off Weihaiwei; All Saved’, The China Press, 3 Oct. 1932, p. 1.
[7] ‘Wrecked vessel sinks’, p. 50.
[8] ‘Chusan Now Regarded As Complete Loss’, The China Press, 9 Oct. 1932, p.3.
[9] ‘Ship-wreck near Weihaihei’, The North China Herald, 19 Oct. 1932, p. 91.

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Guest blog: It’s the End of the World as They Knew It

James Carter is the author of the forthcoming Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai (W.W. Norton), which uses the events of 12 November 1941 at the Shanghai Race Club to tell the story of China on the eve of World War II. He has written two previous books on Chinese history, and contributed to the Times Literary Supplement, the LA Review of Books, ChinaFile, and the Washington Post Monkey Cage blog, among other venues. He is Professor of History and Director of the Nealis Program in Asian Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, USA.

Fires viewed from the Race Club, Shanghai, 1937. Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt. HPC ref: Ro-n0744.

Covid19 has fueled a fascination with apocalypses. The end of fictional worlds dominate our media choices: Contagion, 2012, Train to Busan, Deep Impact … we can fill our socially isolated nights with demise of worlds that never were. But worlds end all the time, and not just in fiction, and perhaps it is a good time to look back at some one of them. Historical Photographs of China provides us glimpses of what those moments of impending doom.

Perched at what seems like the end — if not the end of the world, at least the end of the world we have been living in up to now — I’m thrown back to think about when worlds ended before.

I’ve been immersed for some time in Shanghai as it toppled into World War II. I focused my research on a single day — Champions Day, 12 November 1941 — chosen precisely because it was on the margins between one world — old Shanghai, with all its cosmopolitanism and cruelty — and what would follow. It would not re-emerge, at least not as it had been.

Shanghai had existed as unique enclave since the 1840s. It looked like a colony, swam like a colony, and quacked like a colony … but officially, at least, it was not a colony. The International Settlement and French Concession, though, were unique spaces, insulated from most of the trials that swept across China in the last decades of the Qing dynasty, a revolution that overthrew it, and the turmoil that followed.

By the 1930s, the autonomy of these concessions was well established, but their future was increasingly hazy. The 1932 ‘Shanghai War,’ sparked by nationalist tensions and the death of a Japanese monk, killed more than 10,000 people in and around the city as Japanese and Chinese forces fought one another. For the ‘Shanghailanders’ — white (mainly British) inhabitants of the International Settlement — the fighting caused concern, but little real disruption to their lives. Consideration was even given to postponing Champions Day, the holiday in the Settlement when life paused for the running of the Champions’ Stakes, and crowds of 20,000 or more would see one of the city’s fastest horses crowned ‘King of the Turf,’ but in the end, a delay was not necessary. A ceasefire took hold in March, and life in Shanghai quickly recovered. Even the city’s two Chinese-owned and operated racetracks, which had been damaged in the fighting, quickly re-opened and began hosting races once again. Shanghai had survived the end of the world … for now.

Shanghai Volunteer Corps billet in Racecourse grandstand, Shanghai, 1932. Photograph attributed to Jack Ephgrave. HPC ref: Ep01-291.

The world would end again in the summer of 1937. If 1932 hinted that the world of Old Shanghai might not be permanent, 1937 shouted it. The hostilities that broke out between Japan and China at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peiping (as Peking was then officially known) in July spread to Shanghai later that summer. ‘Black’ or ‘Bloody Saturday’ — 14 August 1937 — was an accident. Chinese pilots mistakenly dropped bombs over the International Settlement, which was supposedly neutral in the conflict at the time, but the effect was no less deadly for having been inadvertent. Thousands died, including many refugees fleeing the fighting all around, and also the first Americans to die in World War II.

Casualties and debris, Cathay Hotel bombing, Shanghai, 14 August 1937. HPC ref: AL-s59.

From 1937 on, Shanghai entered its Lone Island (gudao 孤岛) era. Japanese armies completed their occupation of the city — except for the foreign concessions — in November, and for four years, until Japanese armies marched onto the Bund on 8 December 1941, the Settlement at the heart of Shanghai clung to its autonomy. We might routinely describe the moment as liminal, poised between the world the ending and the one about to begin. I often think of it more as Wile E. Coyote, suspended in mid-air while the smoke cleared and revealed the abyss below.[1]

Though glimpses into the chasm were common in the Lone Island period, the cartoon coyote stayed somehow aloft. Scarcity and hoarding led to inflation. Foreign consulates advised their nationals to leave. Refugees found their way to the city, escaping the war that was brutalizing China (the atrocities of the ‘Rape of Nanking’ were less than 200 miles away). But amid this chaos, life in the Settlement went on.

Racing went on too—the Chinese-owned tracks were closed (destroyed, really) by the war, but the Shanghai Race Club at the city’s centre was soon drawing larger crowds than ever as Shanghai residents sought escape from the grim reality surrounding them.

Shanghai Race Club clock tower, Shanghai, 1937. Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt. HPC ref: Ro-n0312.

It was not until December 1941 that the world ended again. The same offensive that Americans remember mainly for Pearl Harbor included Japanese attacks on Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, and Shanghai. The Japanese strike on Shanghai was quick — sinking or seizing the two remaining  Allied gunboats moored in the Huangpu River — but the fate of Shanghai was, as usual, slow to resolve. Although long apprehensive about its fate, Shanghai suffered less during the war than just about any city in Asia. Although there were a few arrests, it was eight months before a large number of Allied men were imprisoned, and another six months before most remaining Allied nationals were interned by the Japanese in euphemistically designed Civilian Assembly Centres.

Rev. Dr Forbes Scott Tocher, goats and staff, at the ‘farm’, Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre, Shanghai, 1945. Photograph by Oscar Seepol. HPC ref: To-s27.

Even the race track stayed open, dominated still by British nationals into 1942, then controlled by Japanese interests who continued racing right into the summer of 1945. Just weeks before an atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, newspapers in Shanghai were still advertising the races.

Old Shanghai did not return. Racing did not restart after the Japanese surrender. Although the city’s architecture survived the war (much of it lasting to be destroyed as part of the city’s economic resurgence in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries), it was fundamentally changed, in ways that few people looking at the gathering clouds in 1932, or 1937, or 1941 could have predicted.

[1] Ed.: for those too young to catch this reference, follow this link.

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