Find thousands of books, manuscripts, visual materials and unpublished archives from our collections, many of them with free online access.

Canton, Kwangtung (Guangdong) province, China: two Buddhist priests. Photograph by John Thomson, 1869.

  • Thomson, J. (John), 1837-1921
  • Pictures

Selected images from this work

About this work


Two men standing, one young, with prayer beads in his hands, the other older with beads around his neck. A brick wall and a leafy bush in the background

The photographer John Thomson was not only fascinated by sacred structures and monuments, he showed much interest in the lives of religious men too. Yet as a man of the 19th century he often employed a typology in his portrayals of people. For him there were basically two types of Buddhist priest in China, the southern and the northern. These two men are Thomson's 'typical Buddhist priests of southern China': both men, with their heads shaven, are dressed in a long robe with very wide sleeves. 'To keep a daily reckoning with Heaven', the older priest wears a rosary around his neck, while the younger man carries one in his hand. For Thomson the features of each of these priests were 'those expressive of weakness of character', thus 'no foreigner would care to trust him out of sight with a coin, far less with the future welfare of his soul.'



Physical description

1 photograph : glass photonegative, wet collodion ; glass approximately 30.5 x 25.5 cm (12 x 10 in.)


Priests of Buddha


This is one of a collection of original glass negatives made by John Thomson. The negatives, made between 1868 and 1872, were purchased from Thomson by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1921

References note

China through the lens of John Thomson, 1868-1872, Beijing: Beijing World Art Museum, 2009, p. 151 (reproduced)

Lettering note

Bears Thomson's negative number: "639"


Wellcome Library no. 19526i


  • English

Where to find it

  • LocationStatusAccess
    Closed stores
    By appointmentManual request


Permanent link