Manchurian Woman 1900-10
Tiananmen with Chiang Kaishek
Peking Opera
Postcard stories


Beijing 1910s. The Qing dynasty's long distance donkey routes were quite unique. Between Beijing and Tongzhou, the donkeys had no driver. You would just have to sit up, hold on and trust the donkey. The donkey would allow you to stop or adjust the pace. But if you tried to lead him off the road, he would resist wildly. Just like bus routes, there were fixed donkey stops, making the donkey routes one of the earliest types of public transport.



Beijing around 1910. In Imperial China it was very important how you travelled. During the Qing dynasty only officials of the highest level were allowed to leave or enter the city with a four span of horses. Most officials had personal carts ensuring that they would be commuting in style. Arriving at the Imperial palace, officials would have to leave the carts behind. From here most of them would walk in, but a selected few had the special privilege of entering the palace either on horseback or in a sedan chair.



Camels in front of Qianmen Railway Station around 1915-20. A thousand years ago camels were already a familiar sight in the town that is now Beijing. Later, in the Qing dynasty, camels plied the coal trade from the western outskirts in Mentougou. Every day, long camel caravans arrived in Beijing, the beasts tied together by their noses. But from 1906, the camels faced a challenge: the new railway between Mentougou and Xizhimen. The camels held on for a while yet. They could still be seen as pack animals in the outskirts of Beijing as late as the 1970s.



Shanghai North Railway Station 1929. In 1876 the first railway in Shanghai was built. Despite being very popular, it was dismantled just one year later. A lethal accident turned the population against the steam “monster”, dubbed “dragonhead” by the Shanghainese. The Qing government saw no other solution than to buy up the tracks, which were later dumped on Taiwan. It took 20 years before the railway was allowed a comeback in the city. The Shanghai North Railway Station was opened in 1909 and still exists today, although it has been restored and altered several times. It was taken out of use in 1987.



Tobacco shop in a dusty commercial hutong of Beijing around 1900. More than 500 years ago, several shops in Beijing already had their own distinctive shop signs and trademarks. Many of the signs were models of what the shop was selling. In the picture character boards are advertising cigarettes. To the right of the boards hang big betel nut bags used as a shop sign. Betel nut chewing was popular in many southern provinces, but during the Qing dynasty the little red nuts also found a market in Beijing. Betel nut bags thus became a commonly used sign for a tobacco salesman.



Man with telephone, photo studio in Beijing’s Dashalan area 1920-30s. In 1881 the Chinese newspaper “Shenbao” reported the marvelous wonder of telecommunication: ” You lift one end and speak into the receiver, the sound is transmitted to the other end, which the listener places against his ear”. The first telephone system in China was established in Guangzhou in 1903. As of late 2010 there were more than 300 million subscribers of fixed telephones in the country, whereas the number for mobile phones was 842 million.



The old Beijing Qianmen Train Station around 1930. The station was opened in 1906. At the time of its opening it was the biggest train station in China, but in 1958 it was closed down, already dwarfed by the demand of a "new China". This train station was replaced by the Beijing Train Station, which is still in use today. The Qianmen and Zhengyangmen gates can be seen in the background.



Camels passing the southwestern corner tower of Beijing's inner city wall. Bad road conditions and scarcity of water made the slow but reliable camel a very popular drought animal in northern China. It was often preferred over the more vulnerable horses and donkeys. Camels were still seen bearing coal to Beijing in the early 1970s.



High class courtesan or prostitute 1910-20. To be pictured reclining in a chaise longue and even look the viewer straight in the eye, would clearly distinguish this young woman from a respectable lady. The photo studios would keep the glass negatives so a fan of a particular courtesan could order her portrait for his collection.



On the frozen lakes of Beijing, 1949. For centuries, sledges have been available for hire on the lakes west of the Drum Tower. During the cold winters, the neighborhood laborers conducted a cheap ice transport service covering about two kilometers, offering sledge rides from the Silver Ingot Bridge to Deshengmen Gate.