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

Thomson, J. 1837-1921.
  • Pictures

Selected images from this work

About this work


Two seated musicians. They both hold stringed instruments: the 'southern lute' and 'Taiwan harp'. Both instruments were originally from Central Asia. They have been present in popular local singing performances throughout southern China, especially in Guangdong and Hong Kong, since the 19th century. Such performances were seen in a wide range of venues, from brothels to the homes of the elite, and they were always performed by blind musicians. In addition to traditional themes, the musicians often provided improvisations on current affairs and local life. These two musicians were hired for festival celebrations. As Thomson observed, wandering minstrels were a Chinese institution: in most cases the musician was blind, but might be accompanied by a sing-song girl, who tuned his lute and sang simple ballads to his music



Physical description

1 photograph : paper photonegative on papier Joseph, wet collodion


Musicians, Canton


This is one of a collection of original (mainly glass) negatives made by John Thomson. The negatives, made between 1868 and 1872, were purchased from Thomson by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1921
This item is fragile and needs to be viewed in Conservation by appointment. If you would like to view this item please contact library@wellcome well in advance of your visit.

Publications note

John Thomson, Illustrations of China and its people, London, 1873-4, vol. I, pl. VII, (reversed) "Musicians"
China through the lens of John Thomson, 1868-1872, Beijing: Beijing World Art Museum, 2009, p. 138 (reproduced)


Wellcome Library no. 19618i

Lettering note

Bears Thomson's negative number: "687"
Bears number: 7


  • English

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