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Shanghai - Pearl of the Orient

Western filmmakers captured the first moving images of one of the world's great cities. These remarkable films preserve a metropolis whose streets and waterways teem with life.

When cinema first came to China's shores, Shanghai was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The new technology was exhibited at the city's Xu Gardens in August 1896 (just months after the Lumière Brothers' first demonstration in Paris), and the earliest ever filmed images of the city were captured - by Western filmmakers - soon after.

Some of the oldest surviving footage of Shanghai was shot by a British war correspondent, dispatched to China to cover the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. It captures the teeming multi-national traffic on the central Nanjing Lu thoroughfare, from gliding bicycles and rattling rickshaws, to a Sikh police detachment and German soldiers enjoying a cigarette.

Shanghai's famous waterfront, the Bund, captivated numerous filmmakers in the 20s and 30s, and several films here show a remarkable thronging harbour life, with sampans clustering beneath the Bund's baroque temples of commerce and leisure.

Also featuring in this collection of newsreels, travelogues and home movies are scenes of the Japanese occupation of the city in 1937, and the death and destruction that followed. These are sombre, even harrowing scenes, but a crucial chapter in Shanghai's history.

"Except for some remaining architectural features, [Nanjing Road] has changed dramatically. This archival footage clearly shows how lively the street was, even so long ago."

Xei Fei, director, Black Snow

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Shanghai - Pearl of the Orient

Recommended

View Nankin Road, Shanghai
Nankin Road, Shanghai
Watch for free 2 mins

Nankin Road, Shanghai 1901

An extraordinary window on to the cosmopolitan heart of Shanghai - Nanjing Road - over a hundred years ago.

2 mins United Kingdom

View High Jinks
High Jinks
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High Jinks 1929

All the fun of the fair: lovely, lively record of 'Shanghai's Coney Island'.

1 mins United Kingdom

View A City of Chaos
A City of Chaos
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A City of Chaos 1927

Scenes of panic on the streets of Shanghai as Chinese citizens seek protection from Communist and Kuomintang violence behind Allied barricades.

1 mins United Kingdom

View Riverside Scenes China
Riverside Scenes China
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Riverside Scenes China 1922

Four exquisite panoramic views of the Bund in Shanghai show life on the Huangpu River.

2 mins United Kingdom

View A Chinese Boat Trip and Views of Shanghai
A Chinese Boat Trip and Views of Shanghai
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A Chinese Boat Trip and Views of Shanghai 1934

The famous waterfront of 1930s Shanghai is the star of this tantalising film which captures the bustling street life of China's most cosmopolitain city.

8 mins United Kingdom

View Shanghai: Water Transport
Shanghai: Water Transport
Watch for free 1 mins

Shanghai: Water Transport 1933

A beautifully photographed trip back to the Shanghai of the 1930s, with views of the Bund's busy harbourside.

1 mins Great Britain

View Outward Bound through the Suez Canal and on to Shanghai
Outward Bound through the Suez Canal and on to Shanghai
Watch for free 9 mins

Outward Bound through the Suez Canal and on to Shanghai 1938

Travel in luxury on the 'slow boat to China' in this remarkable film from 1938, passing through the Suez Canal to Hong Kong, Shanghai and beyond.

9 mins United Kingdom

View Street Scenes - Peking and Shanghai
Street Scenes - Peking and Shanghai
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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 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

View Shanghai China - Personal Film 1 - C. 1937
Shanghai China - Personal Film 1 - C. 1937
Watch for free 11 mins

Shanghai China - Personal Film 1 - C. 1937 1937

Gruesome home movie scenes of metropolitan Shanghai brought to its knees in the first major battle of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

11 mins United Kingdom

View Chinese Scene
Chinese Scene
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Chinese Scene 1920

Take a serene tour of the canals, bridges and pagodas of Suzhou in Eastern China.

4 mins United Kingdom

View At Home in Shanghai and a Trip to Hong Kong
At Home in Shanghai and a Trip to Hong Kong
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At Home in Shanghai and a Trip to Hong Kong 1928

Chinese junks and British battleships appear together in this film depicting the 1928 Armistice Day in Hong Kong.

3 mins United Kingdom

View Shanghai, China c.1937
Shanghai, China c.1937
Watch for free 16 mins

Shanghai, China c.1937 1937

Ordinary life in extraordinary times - these ex-pats' home-movie snapshots of Shanghai capture the city on the brink of Japanese invasion.

16 mins United Kingdom

View Refugees in Shanghai: Their Life and Their Education
Refugees in Shanghai: Their Life and Their Education
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Refugees in Shanghai: Their Life and Their Education 1945

Fascinating, sometimes harrowing record of life in camps run by international aid agencies following the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese.

21 mins United Kingdom

View Marines Arrive in Shanghai
Marines Arrive in Shanghai
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Marines Arrive in Shanghai 1927

Battalions of the Royal Marines and the Coldstream Guards parade through Shanghai as the Chinese Civil War looms.

1 mins United Kingdom

View Street scenes in Shanghai
Street scenes in Shanghai
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Street scenes in Shanghai 1933

A Dragon Festival tops the bill in this atmospheric look at life in the streets, parks and harbourside of 1930s Shanghai.

26 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 This Is China
This Is China
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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 Allied Reinforcements
Allied Reinforcements
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Allied Reinforcements 1927

Allied forces vigorously parade their strength in China's commercial capital in a bid to protect European interests.

1 mins United Kingdom

View Our Boys
Our Boys
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Our Boys 1927

British troops make their presence felt in Shanghai as China slides towards civil war.

1 mins United Kingdom

View Scenes in Chinese City
Scenes in Chinese City
Watch for free 1 mins

Scenes in Chinese City 1930

Tantalising stock-shot glimpses of mid-century Shanghai, probably snipped from a documentary – but which?

1 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 Parades and air-raids in Shanghai
Parades and air-raids in Shanghai
Watch for free 16 mins

Parades and air-raids in Shanghai 1937

While the bombs fall on Shanghai its foreign expats continue to play, as this unique film shows. But it's only the lull before the storm - because the Japanese are on their way.

16 mins United Kingdom

View Life in Shanghai
Life in Shanghai
Watch for free 16 mins

Life in Shanghai 1933

A Dragon procession, a Japanese beer festival, two duck shoots and a day at the races all feature in this remarkable film from 1930s Shanghai.

16 mins United Kingdom

View Parades in Shanghai
Parades in Shanghai
Watch for free 15 mins

Parades in Shanghai 1938

The brooding cityscape of 1930s Shanghai appears throughout this film as well as military parades and marches by British troops while Japanese soldiers look on.

15 mins United Kingdom

View Wedding in Shanghai Cathedral
Wedding in Shanghai Cathedral
Watch for free 2 mins

Wedding in Shanghai Cathedral 1928

Period fashions and cloche hats abound in this film showing a newly married expat couple and their guests in one of Shanghai's more leafy suburbs.

2 mins United Kingdom

View Colonial Wedding
Colonial Wedding
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Colonial Wedding 1930

Cloche-hatted wedding guests, armed with confetti, lie in wait for the newly weds as they exit from a Shanghai church while their limousine gets the treatment.

2 mins United Kingdom

View Hangzhou and a Trip to the Baochu Pagoda
Hangzhou and a Trip to the Baochu Pagoda
Watch for free 4 mins

Hangzhou and a Trip to the Baochu Pagoda 1930

The remarkable Baochu pagoda dominates this film about a visit to the West Lake at Hangzhou.

4 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

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