These extraordinary views of life and landscape in Beijing were filmed during the last years of China's Qing dynasty, before the 1911 Xinhai Revolution overthrew imperial rule. The focus is on everyday life, and the views of hawkers, labourers, traders, and artisans reveal the city’s vibrant street culture. Especially striking is the shot of a barber preening his client’s 'Manchu queue' hairstyle.
The film is the surviving part of an epic – but unrealised – travelogue shot on over 7,000ft of film over 12 months. But most of that original footage never even left China – through bad luck, incompetence, or both (the producer, Charles Urban, subsequently sacked the photographer) more than 90% was lost or proved to be unusable. The footage had a long life in film catalogues and was in distribution at least until 1919, along the way acquiring the alternative title 'In Quaint Pekin'.