John Thomson’s Remarkable Photographs of China from the 1870s

Portrait of Young Manchu Woman in her Wedding Dress.

John Thomson (1837-1921) created work that was ground-breaking and pioneering. Far more pioneering than an innovative coiffure or a teen’s product placement on YouTube.

Thomson was an Edinburgh-born photographer who travelled to China in the late 1860s. From 1870-71, Thomson travelled extensively in China photographing the people he met, documenting their customs, lives, costumes, and traditions. Thomson feared much of China’s culture would be swamped by the expansion of Empire and the opening of trading routes.

More: Wikipedia h/t: flashbak

A Manchu lady wearing a coiffure.

Thomson travelled with a camera the size of a large packing crate. He used the collodion process or wet plate process which was a time-consuming and difficult. Thomson hoped his work would bring an appreciation of the rich diversity of ethnicity and culture to Victorian Britain. That he succeeded and his works are still held in high esteem today is testament to Thomson’s pioneering work as a photographer.

Mandarin and Son.

A Mandarin’s house.

Old Chinese woman with elaborate hair style.

A Pekingese chiropodist.

A painter at work.

Manchu lady having her hair styled.

Manchu Lady and her Maid.

Three men, two older with beards, one younger with a moustache.

A Cantonese boat girl.

A man, with laden panniers, selling fruit outside a house.

A tradesman selling vases on the street.

An old Mongol woman and her horse.

A Nightwatchman, Peking.

Manchu women buying flowers for their headdress.

Prince Kung, now about forty years of age, is the sixth son of the Emperor Tao Kwang, who reigned from A.D. 1820 to 1850. He is a younger brother of the late Emperor Hien-foong, and, consequently an uncle to the reigning Emperor Tung-che.

Camel sculptures on the road to the Ming tombs.

Island Pagoda.

Amoy, Fukien province, China: two Manchu soldiers with John Thomson.

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