Photographic information and the Chinese frontier: Albert Pichon in Yunnan

Reisz, E. (Presenter)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


China’s southwestern frontier was loosely defined and poorly understood by the Qing and by neighbouring British and French colonial authorities even in the late nineteenth century. This became an increasing concern for governments as the growth of European colonial influence in Southeast Asia created significant friction in border areas.

In Yunnan after 1887, growing Western pressure led to the establishment of inland treaty ports and the intensification of trade along the ancient “Tea-Horse Road” and riverine networks. Yet the border remained a frontier zone in which both Qing and European colonial authority were weak and local groups held significant influence, and about which metropolitan authorities lacked information.

This paper focuses on a collection of photographs by Albert Pichon, an official in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, who documented the trade route between Bhamo and Tengyue (Tengchong) in 1908. This was one of several longstanding routes between Burma and China which were of increasing interest to both Britain and China after 1900. The Pichon photographs are explored as a source of visual information and intelligence, throwing light on the emerging use of photography in sensitive border regions to provide reconnaissance for administrative and governmental purposes.
Period23 Jun 2017
Event titleWiles Colloquium 2017: New Lenses on China: Photography in Modern Chinese History and Historiography
Event typeConference
LocationBelfast, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational