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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.

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Modern ChinaModern China

Non-Fiction19108 minsSilent Location: Beijing

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

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Peking and Its SurroundingsPeking and Its Surroundings

Travelogue19106 mins Location: Qinglongqiao

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

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Beijing - Coal Hill Street Scenes and the Forbidden CityBeijing - Coal Hill Street Scenes and the Forbidden City

Amateur film193815 minsSilent Location: Beijing

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.

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Visit to Beijing and the Forbidden CityVisit to Beijing and the Forbidden City

Amateur film19292 minsSilent Location: Beijing

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.

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My Oriental Friends, From Penang to PekingMy Oriental Friends, From Penang to Peking

Amateur film192316 minsSilent Location: Hong Kong

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

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Summer Palace Beijing and TsientsinSummer Palace Beijing and Tsientsin

Amateur film19293 minsSilent Location: Beijing

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.

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Wanderings in PekingWanderings in Peking

Amateur film193911 minsSilent Location: Taimiao (Imperial Ancestral Temple)

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

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This Is ChinaThis Is China

Documentary19469 mins

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

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Wedding Procession - China c.1932/33Wedding Procession - China c.1932/33

Amateur film19324 minsSilent

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

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Visit to ChinaVisit to China

Amateur film193830 minsSilent Location: Forbidden City

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.

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Beijing - Palaces and TemplesBeijing - Palaces and Temples

Amateur film19385 minsSilent Location: Beijing

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.

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Forbidden CityForbidden City

Amateur film19334 minsSilent Location: Forbidden City

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

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Street Scenes - Peking and ShanghaiStreet Scenes - Peking and Shanghai

Amateur film19335 minsSilent Location: Beijing

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

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Peking March/April 1937Peking March/April 1937

Amateur film193714 minsSilent Location: Tiantan (Temple of Heaven)

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

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Chinese Funeral c.1927Chinese Funeral c.1927

Amateur film19276 minsSilent

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

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China (1928)China (1928)

Amateur film192812 minsSilent Location: Forbidden City

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

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China TodayChina Today

Travelogue193658 minsSilent Location: Guangzhou

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

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Tientsin Street Scenes 1 (1929)Tientsin Street Scenes 1 (1929)

Amateur film19294 minsSilent Location: Tianjin

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

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Tientsin Street Scenes 2 (1929)Tientsin Street Scenes 2 (1929)

Amateur film19294 minsSilent Location: Tianjin

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

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

Amateur film192910 minsSilent

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.

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

Amateur film19334 minsSilent

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

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Street Scenes in ChinaStreet Scenes in China

Travelogue192549 minsSilent Location: Beijing

Scenes of bustling city life in east Beijing and the funeral procession of Sun Yat-Sen, founder of the Republic of China.

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In China - A Trip on the Imperial CanalIn China - A Trip on the Imperial Canal

Documentary19089 mins Location: Shanghai

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

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Beijing / Shantou c.1932Beijing / Shantou c.1932

Amateur film19322 minsSilent Location: Beijing

Home movie snapshots take in a visit to a rock-face, a Beijing temple and skilled Shantou seamstresses hard at work in Guangdong Province, South China.

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Beijing c.1932Beijing c.1932

Amateur film19320 minsSilent Location: Beihai Park

This home movie from the Eng family's collection includes scenes of Beihai Park and Forbidden City.

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Beijing Extract 1 c.1932Beijing Extract 1 c.1932

Amateur film19320 minsSilent Location: Beijing

This amateur film from the Eng family's collection includes views of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.