China, Early 20th Century

Nankin Road, Shanghai
K: Joe Rosenthal. P: Warwick Trading Company. UK 1901
Print: BFI

“This is an extraordinary window on to the heart of cosmopolitan Shanghai, over a hundred years ago, featuring a Nanjing Road bustling with crowds of Chinese, Sikhs and Europeans. It is the only known surviving example of the film reportage shot by British war correspondent Joe Rosenthal during his coverage of the Boxer Rebellion in China between 1900 and 1901.”
BFI Player

Pékin et ses environs
R: Unknown. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1910

“Around China with a Movie Camera contains such a wide variety of footage. How unlikely is it that these kinds of films survived?
We are lucky that anything from this period has survived, especially pre-WWI. Be it inflammable cellulose nitrate base or more modern ‘safety’ acetate stock — film is exceptionally fragile. What’s more, these films have spent a lifetime in circulation. They are worn through use and warped by time; they may have been buckled, bent, twisted, or torn; their splices broken, perforations ripped, images scratched. There is an enormous range of factors threatening a film’s physical survival. There’s also a cultural aspect. Film certainly had not been treasured in the same way as museum artifacts or literary works and, with new sound technologies, silent era films were rendered not only old-fashioned, but obsolete. For films never part of the commercial distribution cycle — home movies or missionary films — there’s an extra risk, as they are so often considered by their makers as mere holiday snaps or somehow too personal or private for anyone to think they could be valued by an archive.”
Interview with BFI Curator Edward Anderson by Shari Kizirian (in conjunction with the screening of the program Around China with a Movie Camera at A Day of Silents, San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2015)

>>> The Final Years of Imperial China on this site