Wei-Hai-Wei (Port Edward) China Photo Albums
1905. Two photo albums, 6 by 9 inches, each with 24 pages with two photographs per page. The albums appear to have been prepared by a British soldier, E. Beckwith, for two different people, and there is some duplication of images. In total, there are 76 unique images and 20 duplicate prints, with one additional photo mounted to the back cover of one album. The photoraphs are mostly 4 by 3 inches.
The images appear to have been taken by a British soldier stationed at Port Arthur, a leased port at the entrance to Wei-Hai-Wei bay, in China. The British controlled this territory between 1898 and 1930, and the U.K.'s First Chinese Regiment was stationed there.
Unlike many such albums of snapshots, Beckwith was interested in occupational scenes and set out to document village life--indeed, that is the title he gave one album, "Village Life in China." He captured scenes of shops and workers and in most cases captioned them with British equivalents.
Among the subjects in these albums are grocers, fishmongers, a fish auction, shoe repair, an outdoor restaurant, the corn harvest, shipbuilding, sailmaking, ropemaking, street merchants, families doing laundry in streams, the mail, and a unique kind of cart indigenous to the region, where the goods are supported on poles with draft animals at either end.
The final leaves of one album are devoted to a funeral. Other sections document several kinds of local theater and statues of gods in the temple.
One album was presented to a "Mr. and Mrs. Harvey" in 1905. In it, Beckwith refers to the main figure in many images as "John," a sort of everyman, and offers rather condescending descriptions intended to be humorous. The second album has captions that reflect a more dismissive and perhaps honest view of the Chinese. For example, in the Harvey album, the photograph of the shoe repairer is captioned, "The American Book Emporium." In the second album, the same image is titled "Village Snob."
Beckwith also documents women in village life, with photographs of a bride in her wedding costume, a woman with bound feet walking on the street, women making sails, women in the market, women working on a farm, and several images of women in the cangue, the Chinese pillory (one image shows three women wearing a single large board). He shows children at play, at work, and doing chores.
In all, a superb pair of albums showing rural Chinese life at the turn of the 20th century.
About Beckwith, not much is known. A short note in an envelope addressed to Major Beckwith MC provides some clues. An E. Beckwith earned a Military Cross (MC) at Gallipoli and a field promotion to Major as an officer in the Royal Fusiliers Machine Gun Corps. He was wounded but survived the First World War and was in Essex in 1920.
The location of the images was identified from a distinctive market building and an arch that frequently appear in other photographs of Port Edward. ISBN: 281AIB1042166.
Both volumes very good or better. A few images are light, but there are better prints of the same image in the other volume. One leaf beginning to separate from binding. Overall, a nice pair of albums.