It’s a cat, Felix the Cat to be precise. To continue my discussion about dates, identifications and being corrected, I can provide a little demonstration of the power of crowd-sourcing data-annotation. Well, that is the technical term. In practical terms, an environmental historian of China queried a January 1928 date we had attributed to the photograph below, because in the caption we had said the children were holding a Mickey Mouse toy. But the might mouse, he pointed out, did not debut until 1928. It was unlikely that he had made his way across the Pacific quite so rapidly. Why not check the accuracy of the date, an art-historian with an expertise in the Ming suggested. We went back to the album page.
We checked the pencilled and overwritten date, which as you can see (perhaps) really is very unclear. But we revised our reading to January 1929.
Ah, said the art historian, having looked again more closely, but that is not Mickey Mouse. It is the trickster cat, Felix. And of course it is. Felix the Cat made his debut in a 1919 animation, and even Dalian (Dairen, Dalny) would have known of him by 1928, or 1929. He was a regular feature on Chinese movie programmes by 1924. Here is from the South China Morning Post in January that year.
So hello there, Felix. We have learned a great deal over ten years of looking at China through these photographs. Buildings, streets, bridges, shops have become familiar (for there is much repetition and predicability in the would be photographer’s gaze). We do as much research as is sensible with each photographer in order to provide a reasonable minimum of metadata to allow images to be found through searches. But sometimes, in fact probably often, we have missed the feline obvious, not recognised the building, not identified the individual, misunderstood the context. Do let us have your suggestions. They are not always right, but more often than not they are, as the combined expertise of our community of users far exceeds our own.
Felix the Cat joins our roster of notable and influential individuals in Historical Photographs of China, joining Chiang Kai-shek, Rabindranath Tagore, Sir Robert Hart and Song Qingling.