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China on Film

Travel back in time to a lost China with this collection of extraordinary, rare and beautiful travelogues, newsreels and home movies from the first half of the 20th century.

See bustling, cosmopolitan Shanghai in 1901. Wander the streets around the Qianmen, Beijing, in 1910. Cruise Hangzhou's picturesque canals in 1925. Visit China's great cities - Hong Kong, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Kashgar, Kunming, Suzhou, Tianjin - before concrete expressways and steel-and-glass towers transformed their skylines. And discover rural China almost untouched by modernity, as farmhands bend their backs in paddy fields. In an odyssey embracing the exotic and the everyday, these remarkable films - many of them never published before - will guide you through thousands of miles of Chinese landscape and 50 years of history. This is a unique and exceptional visual history of China - captured by a wealth of different filmmakers, from professionals to intrepid tourists, colonial-era ex-pats and Christian missionaries. Western filmmakers were visiting China years before any Chinese native first used a film camera. Yes, this is a China seen through Western eyes, reflecting European attitudes and expectations. But even so, it's a rare and fascinating record of a people and a country since changed almost beyond recognition.

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China on Film - an introduction
China on Film - an introduction
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China on Film - an introduction

Discussion programme20146 mins

BFI curator Edward Anderson, director Xie Fei (Black Snow) and journalist Peng Wenlan explore the BFI's China on Film collection.

China Today
China Today
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China Today

Travelogue193658 mins Location: Guangzhou

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

A Stilted City. Chungking. China
A Stilted City. Chungking. China
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A Stilted City. Chungking. China

Travelogue19301 mins Location: Chongqing

Life among the limpet-like buildings clinging to the steep banks of the Yangtze in southwest China.

Visit to China
Visit to China
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Visit to China

Amateur film193830 mins 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.

An Oriental Venice
An Oriental Venice
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An Oriental Venice

Travelogue19252 mins Location: Hangzhou

Enjoy a cruise along the ancient canals of Zhejiang Province in eastern China with this gorgeous stencil-coloured travelogue

Modern China
Modern China
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Modern China

Non-Fiction19108 mins Location: Beijing

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

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Beijing - Northern Capital
Beijing - Northern Capital
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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.

Shanghai - Pearl of the Orient
Shanghai - Pearl of the Orient
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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.

Hong Kong - Fragrant Harbour
Hong Kong - Fragrant Harbour
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Hong Kong - Fragrant Harbour

Discover a Hong Kong before the tide of modernity swept all before it, a land of striking contrasts where old and new, European and Chinese shared a crowded island.

Somewhere in China
Somewhere in China
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Somewhere in China

There's so much more to China than Western eyes usually see. Explore the country's giant interior in the footsteps of some of the early 20th century's more intrepid filmmakers.