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.
Discussion programme20146 mins
BFI curator Edward Anderson, director Xie Fei (Black Snow) and journalist Peng Wenlan explore the BFI's China on Film collection.
Travelogue193658 minsSilent Location: Guangzhou
An epic amateur travelogue of eastern China on the cusp of Japanese invasion, filmed by British writer Lady Dorothea Hosie.
Travelogue19301 minsSilent Location: Chongqing
Life among the limpet-like buildings clinging to the steep banks of the Yangtze in southwest 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.
Travelogue19252 minsSilent Location: Hangzhou
Enjoy a cruise along the ancient canals of Zhejiang Province in eastern China with this gorgeous stencil-coloured travelogue
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
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
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
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.