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Beijing - Northern Capital

Beijing's ancient streets and palaces come alive in a collection of fascinating and often beautiful travelogues and home movies shot between 1908 and 1939.

Beijing has been at the heart of China's political and cultural life for almost a thousand years. Though much of its ancient fabric is preserved, swathes of the city were lost in decades of urban regeneration projects. So these films from the first half of the 20th century open a window on to the city's lost past.

Chinese filmmakers weren't active when the earliest films of Beijing (then known as Peking) were made, so these British and European films are among the only moving images of that time. Thanks to these pioneering cameramen, we can witness everyday life in the last years of the Qing dynasty, make our way from the European quarter of the city to the magnificent Forbidden Palace and the bustling Grand Canal, or roam the streets around the Qianmen gate.

These often amateur cinematographers offer us a fresh look at a majestic and complex city, from the palaces and pagodas of Beihai Park, a trek around the Great Wall with intrepid honeymooners, to a cruise down the Grand Canal to Shanghai. This may be a Beijing seen through western eyes, but they are the eyes of a rapt enthusiast, not a jaded tour guide.

"I particularly liked the scenes taken in Beijing... I can see the gates that used to be in front of Qianmen, and also the old city walls. It’s truly valuable to see the former architecture of the city."

Xei Fei, director, Black Snow

triangle triangle
Beijing - Northern Capital

Recommended

View Modern China
Modern China
Watch for free 8 mins

Modern China 1910

Extraordinary and rare views of life and landscape in Beijing during the late Qing dynasty.

8 mins United Kingdom

View Peking and Its Surroundings
Peking and Its Surroundings
Watch for free

Peking and Its Surroundings 1910

The austere beauty of the Great Wall of China's rugged mountain passes, in a travelogue tracing a caravan of camels' journey to Beijing.

France

View Beijing - Coal Hill Street Scenes and the Forbidden City
Beijing - Coal Hill Street Scenes and the Forbidden City
Watch for free 15 mins

Beijing - Coal Hill Street Scenes and the Forbidden City 1938

This delightful colour film features Beijing's Forbidden City, the Summer and Winter palaces as well as parks, processions, a drama school and a Chinese picnic.

15 mins United Kingdom

View Visit to Great Wall and Temple of Heaven, Peking c.1934
Visit to Great Wall and Temple of Heaven, Peking c.1934
Watch for free 4 mins

Visit to Great Wall and Temple of Heaven, Peking c.1934 1934

You can’t see it from space after all, so you’ll get a better view in this amateur film from the 1930s, with Beijing’s Temple of Heaven thrown in too.

4 mins United Kingdom

View A Visit to Beijing and the Forbidden City
A Visit to Beijing and the Forbidden City
Watch for free 1 mins

A Visit to Beijing and the Forbidden City 1929

Beijing's Forbidden City is the star attraction in this film from the late 1920s, featuring historic buildings, the Lion's Gate and an early panorama across the city.

1 mins United Kingdom

View My Oriental Friends, From Penang to Peking
My Oriental Friends, From Penang to Peking
Watch for free 17 mins

My Oriental Friends, From Penang to Peking 1923

This unique and beautiful tour of Southeast Asia and China is a treasure trove of picturesque views of Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

17 mins United Kingdom Director. Selwyn Driver

View Summer Palace Beijing and Tsientsin
Summer Palace Beijing and Tsientsin
Watch for free 4 mins

Summer Palace Beijing and Tsientsin 1929

Dancing bears and camels feature in views of Beijing's Summer Palace in the late 1920s filmed by an expat couple who are later seen enjoying a traditional Chinese meal.

4 mins United Kingdom

View Wanderings in Peking
Wanderings in Peking
Watch for free 11 mins

Wanderings in Peking 1939

These wanderings of an amateur filmmaker take in city streets, markets and Chinese acrobats in lively 1930s Beijing.

11 mins United Kingdom

View This Is China
This Is China
Watch for free 9 mins

This Is China 1946

Mesmerising snapshot of a China full of extreme contrasts: Nationalists versus Communists, urban versus rural, advanced versus primitive.

9 mins United Kingdom

View Wedding Procession - China c.1932/33
Wedding Procession - China c.1932/33
Watch for free 4 mins

Wedding Procession - China c.1932/33 1932

A sumptuous city wedding, captured on film by a retired British teacher and amateur filmmaker, during a trip to China.

4 mins United Kingdom

View A Visit to China
A Visit to China
Watch for free

A Visit to China 1938

This stunning colour film features the only known pre-war footage of Seoul as well as Beijing, the Great Wall, the Marco Polo Bridge and many other famous landmarks.

30 mins United Kingdom

View Beijing - Palaces and Temples
Beijing - Palaces and Temples
Watch for free 4 mins

Beijing - Palaces and Temples 1938

Gates, palaces and temples all feature in this rare colour film from 1938 filmed mainly in the seemingly empty grounds of Beijing's Forbidden City.

4 mins United Kingdom

View Forbidden City
Forbidden City
Watch for free 4 mins

Forbidden City 1933

Take a tour around the gates of Beijing’s sprawling Forbidden City during its transition from Imperial home to World Heritage Site.

4 mins United Kingdom

View Street Scenes - Peking and Shanghai
Street Scenes - Peking and Shanghai
Watch for free 5 mins

Street Scenes - Peking and Shanghai 1933

Join the hustle and bustle of Peking and Shanghai city life with this richly detailed 1930s home movie.

5 mins United Kingdom

View Peking March/April 1937
Peking March/April 1937
Watch for free 6 mins

Peking March/April 1937 1937

Indulge in a spot of time-travel with this 1930s sightseeing tour of ancient Chinese monuments.

6 mins United Kingdom

View Chinese Funeral c.1927
Chinese Funeral c.1927
Watch for free 6 mins

Chinese Funeral c.1927 1927

Engrossing home movie images of an extravagant funeral procession on the streets of a Chinese city.

6 mins United Kingdom

View China (1928)
China (1928)
Watch for free 12 mins

China (1928) 1928

A pair of honeymooners take in Beijing on their way to the Great Wall of China in this intrepid and intimate adventure.

12 mins Great Britain

View China Today
China Today
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China Today 1936

An epic amateur travelogue of eastern China on the cusp of Japanese invasion, filmed by British writer Lady Dorothea Hosie.

44 mins United Kingdom

View Tientsin Street Scenes 1 (1929)
Tientsin Street Scenes 1 (1929)
Watch for free 4 mins

Tientsin Street Scenes 1 (1929) 1929

Fascinating snapshots of life in Tianjin, northern China's largest coastal city.

4 mins United Kingdom

View Tientsin Street Scenes 2 (1929)
Tientsin Street Scenes 2 (1929)
Watch for free 4 mins

Tientsin Street Scenes 2 (1929) 1929

Revealing amateur snapshots of Chinese and European communities in Tianjin, northern China's largest coastal city.

4 mins United Kingdom

View John Mills Collection Film 37 - China/Hayley-Bells
John Mills Collection Film 37 - China/Hayley-Bells
Watch for free 10 mins

John Mills Collection Film 37 - China/Hayley-Bells 1929

An amateur film of rural China in the early 1930s shot by the actor John Mills’ father-in-law, showing farming and transport methods in Tianjin.

10 mins United Kingdom

View City Streets; Funeral; Rural Scenes - China, C1932/33
City Streets; Funeral; Rural Scenes - China, C1932/33
Watch for free 5 mins

City Streets; Funeral; Rural Scenes - China, C1932/33 1933

The buzz of Chinese city street life is contrasted with an elaborate funeral procession and brief rural scenes in this absorbing amateur film.

5 mins United Kingdom

View Street Scenes in China
Street Scenes in China
Watch for free

Street Scenes in China 1925

Watch a film that includes the funeral procession of Dr Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the Chinese Republic, born on this day in 1866.

45 mins United Kingdom

View In China - A Trip on the Imperial Canal
In China - A Trip on the Imperial Canal
Watch for free 8 mins

In China - A Trip on the Imperial Canal 1908

Take a cruise through imperial China on the world's longest man-made waterway, the Grand Canal.

8 mins France

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