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The first photographs of Hong Kong, the Second Opium War, and Beijing, Felice Beato in 1860

Last Updated on 2022/04/22

Felice Beato (born in Venice in 1832 and died in Florence in 1909) was an Italian-British photographer among the first to take photographs in East Asia and the Mediterranean and one of the first war photographers.

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Felice Beato

Through his work, many Westerners were able to see for the first time remote regions of Asia and the Mediterranean, hitherto only described through illustrations or stories.

Felice Beato in fact filmed fundamental moments of modern histories, such as the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and the Second Opium War.

During his time in Japan, where he took some of the most powerful images of that era, he influenced other Japanese artists and photographers.

Felice Beato, born in Venice, became an English citizen, perhaps after his stay in Corfù, at the time a British protectorate.

Beato arrived in China from India to photograph the Anglo-French military expedition during the Second Opium War.

Arrival in Hong Kong

Felice Beato arrived in Hong Kong in March 1860 and immediately began to tell the places he saw: the military camps in Hong Kong, then still only a piece of rocky land, and Canton.

Modern Building and View of Hong Kong 1860

His are among the first photographs of China.

After his meeting with Charles Wirgman, he began his collaboration with London News.

hong kong Kowloon 1860

The two accompanied the Anglo-French troops on their journey to Dalien Bay (Talien), then Pehtang and Taku Forts to Peiho boca, then Beijing and Qingyi Yuan, the summer palace.

The Anglo-French fleet gathered in the bay of Hong Kong, March 1860, prior to their assault on Beijing
Government House, Hong Kong

Canton and South of China

Nine story Pagoda and Tartar Street, Canton
Joss House, Canton
Howqua’s Gardens, Canton
Five storey building, canton
Confucius, Canton
Cantonese Masonry Pagoda
Twin Pagodas, Southern Sung Style
Pavilion on Water, S. China
Footbridges and Elaborate Commercial Building, S. China
Three arched Stone Bridge, S. China

The Second Opium War

His photographs of the Second Opium War, are the first images to document a military campaign in real time, while the events took place before his eyes, through a sequence of carefully archived images.

His photographs of Taku’s forts, tell the salient events of this moment: the approach to the fort, the effects of the bombing on the outer walls and on the fortifications, and finally the ravages inside the fort, including images of Chinese corpses.

Taku fort
Headquarter House, 1st Division, Pehtang, China, August 1, 1860
Interior of Pehtang Showing the Magazine and Wooden Gun, August 1, 1860
Courtyard with Fortified Walls and Figures 1860
An Pehtang fort was abondoned by the Chinese army. Printed in 1860
Beheading in the Qing Dynasty, China
Tomb near Pa li k’um. The Scene of the Commencement of the Attack on the 21st September 1860 near Pekin
Bridge of the Pa li k’um, the Scene of the Fight with Imperial Chinese Troops, September 21, 1860, near Pekin
Forest of Steles

The Summer Palace

Just outside Beijing, stands the splendid imperial summer residence, or the Summer Palace (Qingyi Yuan, today Yihe Yuan).

Some of these images, taken between 6 and 18 October, show the complex during the looting of the western troops.

By order of Lord Elgin, on October 18 and 19, some buildings were set on fire by the British First Division in retaliation for the death and torture suffered by a diplomatic group of twenty.

According to Bennett, these are the first photographs of Beijing so far discovered and thus constitute a corpus of photographic documents of inestimable historical and cultural value.

Among the images, Beato also took a picture of Prince Kung who signed the Beijing Convention on the part of Emperor Xianfeng.

Prince Kung
Portrait of Prince Kung, Brother of the Emperor of China, Who Signed the Treaty

Old Photos of Qing Dynasty

Temple Building, N. China
Tea Room on Water
Ruined Village, N. China
Portion of the Great Wall
Pavilion and Commericial Building at Water’s Edge
General Store Office in City of Song Tiang, Province of Wu
Crumbling Brick Pagoda, Sung Dynasty 1860
Bridge with Houseboats, China

Sources: wikipedia , wikimedia

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