A Time Traveller's Guide to China


A programme of rarely-seen films from pioneers, missionaries and tourists plus travelogues and newsreels compiled before WWII.

See bustling and cosmopolitan Shanghai in 1901, visit Imperial Beijing in 1910; cruise the picturesque canals of Sanqiaopu in 1925 on this odyssey of the exotic and the everyday.

This programme is a ‘work in progress’ from BFI Distribution. It will be introduced by BFI Archive Curator Edward Anderson, and offers exhibitors the chance to discuss how best to present this kind of rare archive material to contemporary cinema audiences.


Chinese Scene (c.1920)

Suzhou is often called ‘the Venice of China’, and its canals and gardens have long been popular tourist attractions. The ancient method of cormorant fishing pictured here is still practised today. Little is known about the film’s producers.


Booking Information


Nankin Road, Shanghai (1901)

A window on to the cosmopolitan heart of Shanghai over a hundred years ago. This is the only surviving film reportage shot by British war correspondent Joe Rosenthal during his coverage of the Boxer Rebellion between 1900 and 1901.

China Today (1936)

Lady Dorothea Hosie was born to Methodist missionaries in China. This is an extract from her epic amateur travelogue of the country’s east coast, filmed while researching her book Brave New China (1938).

Riverside Scenes China (c.1922)

Shanghai’s famous waterfront: the Bund, seen from the Pudong side of the Huangpu River.

Shanghai Water Transport (c.1933)

A closer look at life on the Bund’s busy harbourside.

High Jinks for ‘Chinks’ – Topical Budget 954-1 (5 December 1929)

This offensively titled item from Topical Budget – one of Britain’s main silent newsreels – shows the fun of the fair at the newly-opened Great World Amusement Park, dubbed ‘Shanghai’s Coney Island’.

A City of Chaos – Topical Budget 815-1 (7 April 1927)

Panic on the streets of Shanghai as citizens seek protection from Communist and Kuomintang violence behind Allied barricades.

Filmed two days before Chiang Kai-shek declared martial law in the city.


An Oriental Venice (c.1925)

This short travelogue opens with a view of the Gong Chen Bridge. The film is rendered in Pathécolor, a system for mechanically stencilling colour dyes onto film prints to simulate realistic colour.


A Visit to Canton (1936)

Amateur filmmaker Edwin G. Phillips lived in Hong Kong in the late 1930s. Travelling by boat up the Pearl River, this is his trip to Guangzhou.

Hong Kong

A Gate of China (1927)

In the 1920s, British Instructional Films was the UK’s foremost producer of geographical, scientific and nature films. Their ‘Empire Series’ endorsed the social and industrial development of the Dominions and Colonies under British rule.

Hong Kong – East Meets West (c.1940)

This amateur travelogue was made for the Methodist Missionary Society. An intimate study of Hong Kong life and landscape, it makes fascinating comparisons between Chinese and European culture in the former British colony.

My Oriental Friends, From Penang to Peking (1933)

This travelogue of Southeast Asia and China was shot by Selwyn Driver, a musical comedian who toured the footage as ‘lecture entertainments’ around Britain’s schools and universities.


A Stilted City. Chungking. China (1928)

British Screen Tatler was a short-lived light-hearted weekly ‘cinemagazine’. This film was photographed from the confluence of the Yangtze and Jailing Rivers, but the ancient city pictured here is almost totally unrecognisable today.


Scenes in China (c.1902)

French consul, and part-time photographer and filmmaker, Auguste François – known as ‘the White Mandarin’ – made a series of films recording life in China between 1901 and 1904. Here: Miao soldiers training, opium smoking, and an opera performed at a private party.

Yunnan Province

Among the Tribes in South-west China (c.1948)

This amateur documentary was made for the Methodist Missionary Society, and records evangelical and medical activities in this remote and rural part of China.

Subscribe to our mailing list

What would you like to receive emails about? *
* indicates required