Shaman dancers, coolies and suffragettes: rare photos of 1900s Beijing discovered from Austrian archive

Collection sheds light on daily life in the capital dating back a century

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 September, 2014, 11:44am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 September, 2014, 2:45pm

When a relative of a long dead Austro-Hungarian navy soldier approached Gerd Kaminski, a China scholar in Vienna, in 2007, she pointed him towards a treasure trove of thousands of photos of Beijing, many of which were a century old. 

Kaminski, director of the Austrian Institute for China and Southeast Asia Studies in Vienna, worked his way through the photos and published a selection along with other photos he was given by descendants of Austrian diplomats and traders in imperial China. 

“These photos give precious insights into daily urban life in Beijing a century ago,” he said. “Many of the buildings don’t exist anymore and traditions seen in the photos have been lost in time.”

The photos show men dancing with animal masks, camels and traders on Changan Avenue - now Beijing’s 12-lane main thoroughfare - tea houses, the Imperial Court and women disfigured by footbinding and demonstrating for the right to vote.

Click on the photos below to view full-screen versions
or click here to view them as a slideshow

The Imperial Court returns to the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1901 after the suppression of the Boxer rebellion. Photo by Paula von Rosthorn, who had arrived in Beijing five years earlier and participated in the defence of foreign diplomatic missions against Boxer attacks during the uprising
A view of Beijing's south as the emperor returns to the city after the suppression of the Boxer rebellion in 1901. Photo by Von Rosthorn

Undated photo taken at a night market in Beijing. Photo by Heinz von Perckhammer, an Austrian marine navy soldier from Meran (now in Italy) who lived in China between 1914 and 1927. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his retirement from the military, he worked as a photographer in Beijing
An undated photo taken by Von Rosthorn during her time in Beijing as the wife of the Austro-Hungarian envoy
A tea house in Beijing. Photo by August Srebocan, an Austro-Hungarian marine who served as a guard at an area of Tianjin controlled by Vienna between 1914 until 1917. He was imprisoned by Chinese troops after Beijing declared war. He fled to Inner Mongolia but was re-arrested. He was freed and deported in 1920
Archway at Changan Avenue, now Beijing's main east-west thoroughfare. Undated photo by Von Rosthorn
Roadside foodstalls outside the since torn down city walls. Undated photo by Von Rosthorn
Undated photo by Von Perckhammer of farmers taking a rest
A ritual dance described as Tibetan Buddhist, likely photographed at the Yellow Temple near the since demolished Anding Gate in northern Beijing, photographed by Von Perckhammer
Coolies seen eating dinner in Beijing, in this undated photo by Von Perckhammer
A woman's feet disfigured by foot-binding, an ancient practice in which women's feet were tied together to reduce their size. Undated photo by Von Perckhammer
Women demand the right to vote in this protest at the city's gates. Undated photo by Von Rostock

Austrian arms trader Bruno Mueller seen with Chinese business partners in a photo taken in 1924 by his wife Lucy.

Mueller secretly sold Austrian arms to Chinese warlord Zhang Zuolin in the early 1920s at a time when Austria was banned from exporting arms under its first world war peace treaty obligations. 

Lucy Mueller smuggled the secret sales contract from China to Austria on the Transsiberian Railroad in a hidden pocket in her purse.

The pact risked being exposed when she was robbed during her journey through Russia and thieves took her purse. The thieves threw away the purse without discovering the contract before Russian police returned it to her

Traders and food stalls outside Beijing's city gates in an undated photo by Von Rosthorn
A bird market in Beijing in an undated photo taken by Lucy Mueller, the arms trader's wife, who travelled to China in 1924

Click here to view the photos as a slideshow