Photos Collection

The image database of "Virtual Shanghai" presents a collection of photographs of the great metropolis from the late nineteenth century to today. Although the project originally centred on pre-1949 Shanghai, the absorption of new collections will open windows onto the Maosit and post-Maoist period. Moreover, historical photographs and other visual materials re also being extended to include other Chinese cities or even countries. The Institut d'Asie Orientale has established a main portal entitled Visual Cultures in East Asia to give access to all these resources and projects.

Photography in China

Photography in China started as early as Western intrusion. When the treaty ports in China were opened to international trade in 1842, photography was newly born, and ready to become of universal use throughout the world. In China, the recording of scenes, places and events was extensive from the beginning and these images are now an invaluable source of information on the period. Progress in technology and new cultural practicies, especially the introduction of mechanical printing and he rise of the press enhanced the position of photography as a medium in the twentieth century. All kinds of images on all sorts of media type eventually reached us -- glass slide, photographic print, book or journal illustration, postcard -- though with a high rate of attrition due to destruction, losses, and neglect by institutions. Photographs were commercial or private, the work of professional or amateur photographers, created and/or collected by Chinese or foreigners. What they all have in common is that most of what is shown in the early photographs of China, either the way of life or the architecture, is now history (for a reference site on photography in China, see the Bibliography of China related historical Photography).

Photography is used increasingly throughout the world as a valuable resource for historical research. Nevertheless, it has generally been neglected in Chinese studies. Scholars, students and even the larger public concerned with this region who might benefit from the use of these resources are either unaware of their existence or may have little idea of where to look for such material. It is precisely one of the objectives of the project to make as many valuable photographs as possible available on-line with as complete metadat as possible.


The image database has a triple vocation:

  1. It aims to make available to the public a large collection of photographs of Shanghai in pre- and post-Revolutionary China that permits to “see” the past, to visualize it. In particular, it has an educational vocation aimed at students interested in China, in Shanghai or also in architecture.

  2. It is meant to offer to scholars of all disciplines, research material that is otherwise often flawed, little known or scattered throughout a vast range of institutions. The close and systematic observation of photographs allows glimpses of a past which is generally visually inaccessible.

  3. It hopes to contribute to the formation of an “historic memory” of Shanghai, and the writing of a visual “biography” of the city. Thanks to the links made with the cartographic database, it is not only possible to locate the places represented in the photographs, but also to develop a history of the city across a series of historical maps.

The Institut d’Asie Orientale (email: is prepared to receive as donations or for electronic preservation any photographic collection on Shanghai and China before and after 1949. Information pertaining to possible collections shall be highly appreciated. The digitization of the photographs in no way indicates a loss of property rights for the owner of those photographs. We guarantee that the diffusion of the photographs on the Internet is conditioned upon prior approval by the owner. The publication online is customized so as not to allow print reproduction for commercial purposes.

Duplication of photographic materials: please consult our Services page.

- 最新更新 週四 26 一月 2012 (10:15) / C. Henriot -

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