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Images of Bristol's twin city go on show to celebrate Chinese New Year

Image of Sheung Mun Tai Street, Canton, c.1870

Sheung Mun Tai Street, Canton, c.1870. Photograph by A. Chan (Ya Zhen). Bayley collection. © 2014 E.Tarrant.

Press release issued: 30 January 2014

A remarkable collection of historic photographs of Guangzhou (Canton), Bristol's twin city in China, goes on show this weekend as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Bristol.

The special pop-up exhibition, entitled ‘Canton Camera’, is on display at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 February.  It features twenty images of Canton from the Visualising China project, led by the University of Bristol. The images date from the 1860s to the 1940s, with each decade represented.

Guangzhou (Canton) has been an important point of contact between China and Europe since the early eighteenth century. From 1757 until 1842 all foreign trade was restricted to the port, and as a result this large and important city also became Europe’s only window on Chinese culture, society and thought.  Later eclipsed commercially by Hong Kong and Shanghai, it has stormed back to prominence under the economic reform policies of the last three decades.

The selection of photographs on display, taken by Chinese and foreign photographers, show the narrow city streets and temples, and the river and harbour life that so fascinated visitors. Caught too are the men and women who fought to change China, and the new city they helped bring about: a site of experiment, excitement, innovation and revolution.

The Visualising China project is a virtual online archive of Chinese life which gives users the opportunity to explore and interact with more than 9,000 digitised photos of China taken between 1850 and 1950.

Professor Robert Bickers, a historian at the University of Bristol and the Project Director, said: "The earliest surviving photographs of China were taken in Canton, and the city has been a rich source of images of the country ever since. We are very pleased to be able to showcase some of our collection about Bristol’s twin city, and to work with the Museum and Art Gallery again: not least as much of our materials were shared with us by local residents.  Bristol’s ties with China run deep."

'Canton Camera' is part of a series of events taking place this weekend at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery to mark the Year of the Horse which starts on 31 January 2014. According to the Chinese Zodiac, people born in the horse year are energetic, independent, clever, and kind to others.