Dr Andrew Hillier completes his introduction to The Regimental Museums Project by discussing some of the more nuanced aspects of military photography and the importance of regimental archives.
Aside from Felix Beato’s photographs of the Second Opium War, referred to in the first blog, and similarly brutal images surrounding the Boxer Uprising, photographs could often bring out the more complex aspects of Britain’s presence in China, for example, the fact that the 1st Chinese Regiment comprised, as rank and file, mainly Chinese subjects, who were required to fight against their fellow countrymen, under the command of British officers. 
Photographs also show how, outside the combat zone, the military could also be engaged on a range of civilian tasks, albeit these would generally have an underlying strategic purpose. The Royal Engineers, for example, in the aftermath of the Uprising, took part in an extensive programme, rebuilding the infrastructure destroyed during the conflict, including bridges, railways and railway stations and, for a time, running the railway between Peking and Shan-hai-kwan (Shanhaiguan).) Whilst this was to ensure troops could be speedily deployed, it was also to protect the interests of British bondholders in the Tianjin-Mukden railway.
Later, as Britain sought to reduce its imperial role and civil war in China intensified in the 1920s, , so government policy wavered between maintaining neutrality and using military force if that was seen as necessary to protect British interests.If these images depict the military presence on a public level, many collections also bring out a more personal aspect of regimental life – both the soldier’s daily routines and also his interaction with the local people and his surroundings.
Whilst the camera’s ‘imperial gaze’ was not always welcome for those being photographed, many images reflect a lively curiosity and show how photographs could articulate a new form of cultural understanding. Enclosed in letters home, they would also be a way of maintaining contact with family and friends as well as importing the experiences into the regimental record.
Photographs thus form a particularly important part of regimental archives, reflecting, as they do, not only the history of the regiment but also the careers of individual soldiers serving far from home. Similar material can also be found in public collections such as the British Library, the National Archives, the National Army Museum and the Royal Geographical Society. However, whilst those archives are secure, the future of regimental archives is more uncertain, not least because many regiments have been disbanded or merged and are having difficulty finding an identity in post-imperial and post-Cold War Britain. Whilst some collections are housed in buildings which form part of the regimental history, others are struggling to find a home or have already become incorporated in the local county archives and thus, although in safe hands, have lost that important local connection.
As with other artefacts, such as plunder and loot, issues arise as to how these photographs should be displayed, given the problematic nature of Britain’s imperial history. That debate can only take place if there is proper access to the material and understanding of the surrounding events and this is where the regimental museums have a vital role to play, precisely because of the close connection between the regiment and the events in question.
The aim of the Regimental Museums Project, therefore, is to use these collections to examine the British military presence in China and how the serving soldier interacted with the Chinese people and his surroundings. Since the military would often explore locations seldom visited by westerners, for example, for intelligence and route-mapping purposes, whilst soldiers would embark on ambitious expeditions during their leave, there can be found within museum collections a wider set of images of the country. Wherever possible, the focus will be on individuals who, whether as part of their official duties, or simply from personal interest, recorded that presence, frequently adding comments and annotations. Chance has largely dictated how these photographs, whether neatly pasted into albums or hurriedly stuffed into envelopes, have found their way into museums, and often their origins are unknown or cannot be disclosed for reasons of confidentiality. The project will, therefore, be in the nature of work in progress and will not follow any particular thematic or chronological path. Hopefully, it will raise the profile of these collections and stimulate discussion in the context of Sino–British relations and history more generally. It may also encourage readers to rummage through trunks in attics in search of mementoes of their military forbears in China.
 The 1st Chinese Regiment will be the subject of the next blog.
 Robert Bickers, Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination (London: Allen Lane, 2017), p. 64.