Visit China for free
Press release issued: 15 January 2009
Take a free tour of China at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster between 17 January and 21 February. The Picturing China 1870–1950 exhibition, organised by the University, showcases some 180 photographs of life in China before 1950.
Take a free tour of China at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster between 17 January and 21 February for the Picturing China 1870–1950 exhibition. Organised by the University, the exhibition showcases some 180 photographs of life in China before 1950.
The photos belonged to Chinese and British families (or their descendants) who lived in China between 1870 and 1950. Discovered in attics and old photo albums, the photographs include images of everyday Chinese life, the British expatriate social scene and momentous political events. Together they form a unique virtual archive of China, where wars and revolutions destroyed buildings, ways of life, photographs and other records.
Now Professor Robert Bickers of the Department of Historical Studies at the University is collecting and digitising thousands of photographs taken between 1842 and 1954 as part of the Historical Photographs of China Project.
Professor Bickers, who curated the exhibition said:
‘During the twentieth century China's cultural heritage suffered tremendous losses through wars and revolutions, and public and private records of it were similarly destroyed or scattered. As a result, the records kept by visitors or residents now lodged overseas are of great importance in understanding Chinese history, and British relations with China. Our work brings these unique records out into the open from the family albums and tin trunks where they have been preserved, and makes them freely available to all who are interested.’The photographs offer fascinating insights into work and social life, architecture and history, dress and fashion, crime and punishment, foreigners in China and the Chinese abroad. They range in quality from holiday snaps to talented amateur shots to professional photography. Several thousand images have already been digitised and can be viewed here.
The exhibition will also feature a screening of photographs provided by local woman Mary Jane Steer, who works at the University.
Her father, Bill Elliott, lived in China until the age of nine.
His father, Charles Coyne Elliott, was a Canadian doctor who went with the China Inland Mission to Paoning in the Szechuan Province of China at the beginning of the twentieth century. There he built a hospital, trained 10 Chinese medical students, learnt Mandarin, and adopted Chinese dress.
Mary Jane’s grandmother, Bill’s mother, was Mary Martha Evans from Leicester, who went to China with the same mission as a teacher in the early 1900s, just after the Boxer Rebellion. She was extremely accomplished at embroidery, the piano and violin, and knew French, Latin and Greek. Her friends included George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell and Ramsay MacDonald.
Charles and Mary married in 1907 and had three children, before making the 6,000-mile journey on the Trans-Siberian-Railway to England in 1913 for the birth of Bill, Mary Jane’s father. They returned to China via Canada, travelling across the Atlantic, the Pacific, the East China Sea and up the Yangtze River. They stayed in China until 1922.
Mary Jane said:
‘Following the deaths of one of my aunts, and of my father, I acquired a collection of photographs and momentoes of the family's time in China. It was always clear that growing up in China had left a huge impression on my father and his siblings. These photographs and momentoes were important to them, as they are now to me, and I am very pleased that their story can now be part of a much greater research collection.’The exhibition, just one of many taking place in 2009 as part of the University’s centenary celebrations, will be at The Grant Bradley Gallery from 17 January to 21 February 2009. Opening times are 10.00–16.00 Monday–Saturday, closed Sundays. Tel. 0117 9637673.
A companion volume to the exhibition, Picturing China 1870-1950: Photographs from British Collections, is available to buy here, priced £10.
The exhibition will be complemented by a public celebration in the Wills Memorial Building from 11.00 to 16.00 on Sunday 25 January to mark Chinese New Year and the opening of China: Journey to the East at Bristol’s City Museum. The day’s events are free and open to all and will include performances from the Lion Dance Troupe and Kung Fu Society, a chance to try Mandarin and calligraphy, and stalls from a variety of Bristol’s Chinese businesses and communities.
Other related events include a public talk at the Watershed on ‘China Rising’ by Robin Porter (6pm, 27 January) and another in the Wills Memorial Building by Professor Robert Bickers, entitled ‘A stroll along Shanghai’s Bund: monuments and memorials in pre-1949 China’ (6pm, 28 January). Both talks are free and open to the public but must be booked in advance by contacting Margery Lever on 0117 331 8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.