The redesigned Historical Photographs of China web site ( was formally launched on 16 January 2017, showcasing over 10,500 images, including 1,400 recently added images from nine new collections.These including a large and diverse selection of photographs from Shanghai-based news photographer Malcolm Rosholt, the family photographs of Sikh life and work in Shanghai in the Ranjit Singh Sangha collection, and some of Felice Beato’s photographs of the bloody 1860 North China Campaign. Joining a cast of personalities are Mao Zedong, Rabindranath Tagore, the Tenth Panchen Lama, Felix the Cat, General Sir Robert Napier, Father Jacquinot, and sometime North China Daily News editor R.W. Little. The new images range from 1860 (with some earlier ones on their way soon), to 1949 (with some later ones on their way in the not too distant future).

The Historical Photographs of China Homepage.

After giving a presentation about the Historical Photographs of China project to the GW4 workshop Remediating the Archive on 9 December 2016, I was asked about the effectiveness of searching for images on our web site by keywords and about how consistent the keywording is on the site.  I rashly claimed that there was a general consistency in our keywording, but since then I have realised that some collections are more thoroughly keyworded than others.  It can also be said that if we had used a keyword glossary that would have ironed out other inconsistencies.

jn-s20Sikh family group, with amah, in a photographer’s studio, Shanghai, 1936.  Photograph by Cardon. Ranjit Singh Sangha Collection, Jn-s20.

On the relaunched HPC web site, we have tried to enhance discoverability and alleviate dependency on keyword searching, by offering several ways to find images, such as a ‘Lucky Dip‘ (a random sampling of images), via collection names, via names of photographers and via some themed collections (Featured Collections), as well as an advanced keyword search facility.  ‘Lucky Dip’, in which you find yourself with unexpected people in unexpected places, is proving to be a great way to pass time while procrastinating other work.


Related Images Feature.

Another new feature is a ‘Related Photographs’ link to other photographs linked in some way to the one displayed. We cannot say that coverage through this is comprehensive, but we are linking photographs where we can (where, for example, they might be split across albums, media (negatives and prints for example), or even collections.

Boy with silk animal face hat, Kunming, 1945. Arthur Fiddament Collection, RB-t0887.

The new platform also allows us to streamline the process in a way that cuts out one stage in the technical processing of images and metadata. This will, we hope, allow us to release more of our backlog of digitised collections through the site.

We’d be very happy for any general feedback from workshop attendees, and especially notification of factual/name/location/date errors, typos, glaring omissions, etc. Also, we are always interested to hear how you use the site.

Since 2006,the HPC project has found that whilst it’s obviously good to have a technically responsive web site, which is a useful image database and a source of images for research for scholars, school children and anyone in China, this, in itself, is not enough.  It really does help to raise awareness of the site’s existence, by holding exhibitions (such as at Chinese New Year celebrations in the city museum and at twinning association events), lectures, distributing post cards, posters, etc, as much as possible, in the physical world, as well as publicising the site online, in blogs, social media, etc.

Gas mask information poster, Shanghai, c.1937.  Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt. Malcolm Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0271.

The project aims to locate, digitise, archive, and disseminate online photographs from the substantial holdings of images of modern China held mostly in private hands outside the country. These are often of even greater historic interest than might ordinarily be the case, as the destruction of materials in China through war and revolution in the twentieth century, and especially during the 1966-69 Cultural Revolution, means that there is a relative dearth today of accessible photographic records in China itself. Turmoil in China, and emigration from the country, also led to the development of a large Chinese diaspora.

bl-s088Huxinting (湖心亭), ‘The Willow Pattern Tea House’, Shanghai, c.1875. Billie Love Historical Collection, BL-s088.

Moreover, tens of thousands of foreign nationals lived and worked in China between the 1840s and the 1950s, and many thousands more visited for longer or shorter periods. Chinese emigrants, foreign residents and visitors alike took, bought or otherwise acquired photographs. Many of these are in libraries and collections overseas, and in addition our research in modern Chinese history has led us to many interesting private collections. Images from both private and public collections are made available on the site, but most HPC images are owned by private individuals, and the greater part have never been shown outside family circles before.  Any of the images can be downloaded and used under a Creative Commons licence.

Developing the new HPC platform has been supported by awards from the AHRC, British Academy, the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, and Swire Trust, and with vital support from the University of Bristol’s IT Services.

Next up: an overhaul for our sister site, This platform, unveiled five years ago now, with funding from JISC, searches across different repositories, but the underlying technology is creaking. This will be rebuilt using the same Drupal system that has powered the new Historical Photographs of China.

– Professor Robert Bickers (HPC Project Director), Jamie Carstairs (HPC Project Manager). Email:

For more information

BBC Radio 4 documentary Old Photographs Fever – The Search for China’s Pictured Past.  First broadcast in July 2012.  Hear from some of the donors of the material we have digitised. Nearly 300 people got in touch with us shortly after this was broadcast, many with offers of material.

Picturing China: An AHRC 10th Anniversary film
The film highlights the rich variety of our photographs, and gives you a glimpse of how we work, and why we are doing this. Enjoy.

Visualising China blog.  We – and Guest bloggers – post on digitisation issues, new collections, discoveries and all things old China photo.

Main Image

Portrait of a careworn, elderly woman, near Shanghai, c.1933. Ephgrave Collection, Ep01-771.




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