Photo exhibition shows life in China in 1870s (Beijing)

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Taken between 1870 and 1871 by the Scottish photographer John "China" Thomson, the images reveal with often startling intimacy a cast of characters from orphans and street gamblers, to beautiful peasant girls and their high-born ladies.

Hailed as a pioneer of photojournalism, Thomson spent two years travelling more than 5,000 miles in pursuit of the images that historians say are unique in their empathy towards their subjects.

As well as shooting traditional, stiff-backed portraits of Manchu noblemen, Thomson plied the streets in search of scenes that would bring the exotic world of China to life for a curious public back in England.

"These pictures are fascinating because they reveal a world that most artists of that period ignored," said Betty Yao, who has organised the exhibition that opens in Beijing next week. "Most material from this late Qing era is stuffy, formal and posed, but Thomson's work is full of life."..

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