Beijing of Dreams website archives old photos of Beijing

The new Beijing of Dreams website photo archive is a fine collection to place together with the work of John Thompson and Felice Beato (photogs in China during the mid-1860s). The images were “scanned in high resolution and where necessary digitally enhanced,” and they are presented in great variety, studies often of old gates and walls. There’s even an interactive map, for tourists with handheld devices walking around Beijing, but also for researchers and novelists wanting detailed location information; the site is an advance over the lithographs in the narratives of the Second China War (which, for example, may show only one view of the Anting Gate).  

Beijing of Dreams website (History of Chinese Science and Culture Foundation)

Now when Swinehoe, Wolesley, and others (in their narratives of the 1860 Second China War) describe a location in the city, I can go there on the interactive map. Peking (Beijing) figures prominently in the next book of Yang Shen (and Yankee Mandarin) because the war in the north of China between the Chinese and the British-French Allied Expeditionary Force had several substantial influences on the fate of Fletcher Thorson Wood’s Foreign Rifles defending Shanghai against the Taiping rebels. Coincidentally, the Allied force was just landing at Pehtang 北塘, for the march on the Tagu 大沽 Forts, on the same day that the Foreign Rifles attacked the town of Ch’ing-p’u 青浦, west of Shanghai, on August 2, 1860. Research and writing for that action at Ch’ing-p’u is underway “as we speak” today, so the Beijing of Dreams archive is a timely discovery of one more useful online resource for this beleaguered writer. 

Beijing of Dreams writes that “perhaps one day some of the lost gates may be rebuilt from the photos, and from some modern architects’ plans (which we will add to the website at a later date). …The website was planned and devised by Professor Robert Temple and designed by Jonathan Greet. …Where no individual photo credits are given, the images come from the Swedish architect, art historian, and photographer Osvald Sirén’s book The Walls and Gates of Peking, London, 1924, and when described as ‘Perckhammer’, they come from the German photographer Heinz von Perckhammer’s book Peking, Berlin, 1928.” The website is a project of The History of Chinese Science and Culture Foundation.

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