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Canton, Kwangtung (Guangdong) province, China: three Chinese merchants. Photograph by John Thomson, 1869.

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

Selected images from this work

About this work


Three men photographed outside. The two older ones are seated in front, a younger one is standing behind. All three men look square on at the camera. This arrangement of sitters reflected the hierarchy within traditional Chinese society. The man seated on the left wears a fur jacket, the one on the right a silk coat with fur cuffs, and the young man is plainly dressed. Fur was a fashionable luxury in 19th-century China and thus a sign of wealth, and therefore greatly desired by the rising professional class in coastal towns

Among this class were the compradores (compradors), of which this man is an example. The rise of the comprador(e) was a peculiar feature connected to mercantile life in Chinese open ports in the second half of the 19th century and after. The compradores were native Chinese employed by foreign companies to run businesses locally. Although a number of compradores had become fairly successful in business and were financially well off, their social position was never settled, and until much later times they were given very little credit in China



Physical description

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


Chinese mandarins, Canton


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. 127 (reproduced)

Lettering note

Bears Thomson's negative number: "663"


Wellcome Library no. 19570i


  • English

Where to find it

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    By appointmentManual request


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