Based at the University of Bristol, the 'Historical Photographs of China' project began work in 2006. It grew from being a focused strand in an Arts & Humanities Research Council funded project on the 'History of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service' into an initiative that searched for material far beyond descendants of the staff of the Customs Service. The project now locates, digitises, and publishes online photographs of China held, largely, in private hands outside the country. Although there are some sets of material from institutional repositories, the principal sources of our materials are families living outside China who have historical connections with it, typically this involves a family history of living and working there. Our sources are families who were involved in public service, business, missionary work, police or foreign armed forces. Most of our photographers were 'amateurs', although we have some material from journalists, and much from individuals who applied themselves seriously to the art of photography. The collection also includes much material that was commissioned, bought or otherwise acquired, photographs not actually taken by those within whose albums or boxes they came to be preserved. Our aim is to help make this virtual photographic archive of modern China publicaly available, without cost, and with limited restriction on use for non-commercial purposes.
To find out more about the project's various activities please look at our project blog. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Sina Weibo, and you can find a short film about the project here, and a BBC Radio 4 programme about us here. We have held several exhibitions of our materials since 2007: 'Picturing China 1870-1950: Photographs from British Collections' took place in London, Bath, and Durham in 2007-2008, and Bristol in 2009. Collaborators in Spain held an exhibition of photographs from the collection in Pamplona in November 2009. During February, March and April 2011, fifty images from Historical Photographs of China collections were exhibited in three different venues in Navarre, Spain. This exhibition in the Basque country was organised by the Red Navarra de Estudios Chinos (Navarre Network of Chinese Studies), and the Universidad Pública de Navarra (Navarre Public University). In 2013 in collaboration with communications teams at the British Embassy in Beijing, and Consulate-General in Chongqing we held two new exhibitions; and in March 2015 a selection of the images was showcased at the GREAT Festival of Creativity in Shanghai, organised by the UK government's Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. We have also been showcased in a British Library exhibition held at the National Museum of China, and through an exhibition at Nanjing University.