Illustrations of China and Its People: A Series of Two Hundred Photographs, with Letterpress Descriptive of the Places and People Represented


John Thomson (1837-1921) was the first known photographer to document the people and landscape of China for publication and dissemination to the Western world. Between 1868 and 1872, he traveled over 6,500 kilometers with his camera, equipment, and darkroom, capturing all aspects of Chinese life. The photographs in these four volumes show the many sides of China: sweeping landscapes, royalty and ruling classes, merchants and economic activity, everyday life, and the faces of men, women, and children. Thomson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of a tobacco spinner and seller. He was apprenticed to an optician and scientific instrument maker in 1851, and attended evening classes to study science. In April 1862, he set out for Singapore, where his older brother William was a watchmaker and photographer. While jointly operating with his brother a business making chronometers and optical and nautical instruments, Thomson began using Singapore as a base from which to travel extensively throughout Asia, taking photographs and recording his observations. In 1868, he moved to Hong Kong and began his project to photograph the people of China. After a decade in Asia, he returned to Britain, where he published the results of his travels and operated a portrait studio in London.

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Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, London


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4 volumes : illustrations ; 49 x 37 centimeters

Last updated: September 25, 2015