Guangzhou then and now: Documenting public life in the 1910s and 1920s

By Jocelyn Richards, May 19, 2015

0 0

In a series of articles and photographs, we're taking a look at how Guangzhou has evolved in the past century. This section examines the snapshots taken by visiting missionaries more than 100 years ago.

On the dusty lanes of early 20th-century Guangzhou, it would have been rare to spot a local resident fiddling around with a tripod. Instead, visiting missionaries were often the ones to develop snapshots of old Canton, though many of their photographs spent decades buried in basement archives overseas.

The images featured here only resurfaced in the fall of 2013, when George McKibbens, an avid historian based in Guangzhou, stumbled across one of the photos online and traced its origin back to the Presbyterian Archives Research Centre in New Zealand. From old dentist shops to mass protests, the complete collection reflects the experiences of Presbyterian missionaries Alexander Don, George McNeur and Annie James among many others, who worked together on the Canton Villages Mission from 1901-1951.

This past April, with additional support from the Guangzhou government and New Zealand Micrographics, over 2,000 photographs from the archive were scanned and added to the Guangzhou Library. Now, for the first time ever, a visual trip back to historic Canton is literally only a metro ride away.

Above, you can see Guangzhou's bund, which was packed with protestors on March 30, 1911, after the provincial assembly's decision to prohibit lotteries and make all gambling illegal. Scroll down to see more vignettes of daily life.

Shamian flood

The bund during the flood of 1915, when the new city and Shamian were submerged for 10 days to a depth of 6 to 10 feet after dikes burst on the north river.


dentist shop in canton

An average dentist's shop in Canton.


missionaries on a houseboat departing from fati

American Presbyterian missionaries departing from Fati (Fangcun) on two houseboats in 1905.


shoe and hat shop in old canton

Booth on a street in Canton selling hats and shoes.


view from shamian bridge

A view from Shamian Bridge looking down the crowded canal and street.


Alexander Don with James Shum

Alexander Don with James Shum, who was born in Panyu and was possibly the only Chinese miner Don converted. Photo taken in Ida Valley, New Zealand, in 1902.

// All photos courtesy of the Presbyterian Research Centre, New Zealand.

Other articles in this series:

more news

Explainer: Everything You Need to Know About October Holiday

Take a break from your holiday planning to find out why you're having one in the first place.

Journalist Stephen Claypole Reflects on His 1972 Trip to China

Peeking behind the bamboo curtain: Stephen Claypole recalls the 1972 press delegation to Shanghai.

This Day In History: Mao Coins Communist Slogan Serve the People

Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather...

This Day In History: Small Sword Society Take Shanghai

Never underestimate an emaciated, opium smoking Cantonese ex-sugar broker...

Cigars, Coffins & Concubines: Dogmeat, China's Basest Warlord

The day warlord Zhang Zongchang found out that it's a dog eat dog world.

This Day in History: The Central China Floods of 1931

The deadliest natural disaster ever recorded.

This Day in History: First NBA Team to Play Basketball in China

On August 24, 1979, the Washington Bullets became the first professional US sports team invited to China.

0 User Comments

In Case You Missed It…

We're on WeChat!

Scan our QR Code at right or follow us at thatsonline for events, guides, giveaways and much more!

7 Days in China With

Weekly updates to your email inbox every Wednesday


Download previous issues

Never miss an issue of That's Magazines!

Visit the archives