Scholarly Workshop: China Through Two Photographic Books

This event is part of the 2022 Sydney Asian Art Series, Troubling Images.


Wednesday, 20 April 2022
11:00am-12:15pm (AEST)


You will receive a Zoom link upon registration.
Registration is limited to 20 participants.



A workshop designed for scholars, students and curators of Asian art and photography.

This workshop will examine two photographically illustrated books on China: John Thomson’s Illustrations of China and Its People (1873-74), and Lang Jingshan’s (or Long Chin-san) catalogue, Exhibition of Pictorial Photography (1939). Though both books are apart in time and purpose, they are similar in using photography and text to depict China as a culture and concept at different geopolitical moments. Thomson’s book appears at a moment shortly after the Opium Wars and colonisation of Hong Kong, and seeks to examine a newly visible China through its people, culture, sights, and institutions. Over sixty years later, Lang Jingshan’s catalogue depicts China during the Sino-Japanese conflict to an international audience, and uses the subjects of Chinese landscape, women, and culture to frame an aestheticized vision of the nation-state. By comparing the two books, we will consider how each conceptualizes China: in narrative and sequencing, persistent motifs and symbols, and through visual systems and strategies.

Workshop Materials

The following materials will form the basis of discussion in the workshop – click on the links below to access. Registrants are asked to familiarise themselves with these in advance.

1. John Thomson, Illustrations of China and Its People (Vols 1-4) (1873-4).

2. Allen Hockley, “John Thomson’s China”, MIT Visualizing Cultures.

3. Lang Jingshan (a.k.a Long Chin-San), Exhibition of Pictorial Photography (1939).

4. Mia Liu, “The Allegorical Landscape: Lang Jingshan’s Photography in Context”, Archives of Asian Art, Vol. 65, No. 1/2 (2015): 1-24. 



Roberta Wue is associate professor of Art History at the University of California, Irvine. She has published on painting, photography, print culture, and advertising in modern China. She is author of Art Worlds: Artists, Images, and Audiences in Late Nineteenth-Century Shanghai (Hong Kong University Press, 2014) and co-editor with Luke Gartlan of Portraiture and Early Studio Photography in China and Japan (Ashgate/Routledge, 2017). Most recently she is interested in serial images (such as comics), drawing, and the book format in Republican-era China.


Image: John Thomson, “Peking Peep Show,” from Illustrations of China and Its People, (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1874), vol. 4, plate 27.