50 Photos of China Before the Communist Cultural Revolution

Before China had communist leaders, it had hundreds of emperors.

This age of ancient rulers is known as Imperial China. Spanning millennia, it began in the reign of the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C.E. and lasted until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912 — the year of the founding of the Republic of China (ROC).

The fall of the Qing can be traced back to the Wuchang Uprising, an armed rebellion against the Qing dynasty in Wuchang, Hubei Province, central China. Led by the dynasty’s own New Army, it originated from an unrest over a railway crisis, which eventually ballooned and spread to other parts of the country. These events marked the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution, which soon led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty and proclamation of the Republic of China on January 1, 1912.

As the Chinese Civil War — a conflict between nationalists and communists — ended in 1949, the Republic of China (nationalists) lost control of mainland China and retreated to the islands of Taiwan, Hainan and other surrounding territories. The communists, led by Mao Zedong, then proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on September 21 of that year.

In the years that followed, Mao sought to preserve a true communist ideology in the country. This paved the way for a Cultural Revolution, formally known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, where millions of people suffered persecution between 1966 and 1976. Convinced of its downsides, the Communist Party declared in 1981 that it was “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”

These events, among many significant others, burned much if what symbolized Imperial China to prelude the China we know today.

Check out these photos before the country’s communist transformation:

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Peking Mission School children form a dragon, 1902. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Guangzhou, Guangdong province, southern China, 1880. Image via Wikimedia Commons / caviarkirch
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Qing men have meals in Hong Kong, 1880. Image via Wikimedia Commons / caviarkirch
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Island Pagoda, 1871. It is now known as the Jinshan Temple. Image via Wikimedia Commons / Peabody Essex Museum 迪美博物馆 (CC BY 3.0)
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Men laden with tea, Sichuan, 1908. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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A doctor checks his patient foot in Beijing, 1869.
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Mandarin man and son, 1869. Image via Wikimedia Commons / Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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Girls practice the Beijing Opera, 1934.
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Children practice dancing in Zhengjiang, 1905.
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Foot Bound Girls, Liao Chow, Shanxsi, China, 1920s. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Nanjing Jinling Arsenal, 1872. Image via Wikimedia Commons / John Thomson
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Beijing opera troop, 1919.
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Natives eat noodles for breakfast in Guangzhou, 1919. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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An elderly woman with elaborate hair style, 1869. Image via Wikimedia Commons / Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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Three merchants in Guangdong, 1869. Image via Wikimedia Commons / John Thomson (CC BY 4.0)
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A Beijing opera in Qingdao, 1908.
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A man rides a pony in Shaanxi, 1909.
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Rich merchants dining with girls in Beijing, 1901. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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A woman poses with her maid near a bronze incense burner in Beijing, 1869.
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Singing girls in Hong Kong, 1901. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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A girl in Beijing, 1869. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Chinese males pose with camels in Beijing. 1901. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Palace ladies of the Qing dynasty in Beijing, 1910-1925. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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A boatwoman in Guangdong, 1869. Image via Wikimedia Commons / John Thomson (CC BY 4.0)
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A family servant in 1874. Image via Wikimedia Commons
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A mother and her child in Beijing, 1869. Image via The Wellcome Library / John Thomson (CC BY 4.0)
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Manchu girl in Beijing, 1861-1864. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Man poses near a window, 1869.
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Two musicians in Guangdong, 1869. Image via Wikimedia Commons / John Thomson (CC BY 4.0)
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Wealthy woman rides a white pony led by a boy in Qingdao, 1900.
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A bride on her way to her wedding covers her head with a basket instead of a red veil in Fujian, 1911-1913. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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“The Abbot of the Monastery” in Chekiang, 1906. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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A bride in Beijing, 1867. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Men smoke opium in 1880. Image via Wikimedia Commons / caviarkirch
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A bride puts on her wedding dress in Beijing, 1871. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Muslim butcher poses with a mule in Beijing, 1869. Image via Wellcome Images / John Thomson (CC BY 4.0)
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A woman working with a stove in Hebei, 1936. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Opium smokers hide out in an underground den in Beijing, 1932.
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A young mother in Hong Kong, 1946. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Policemen punish a criminal in 1900. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Mercenary artillerymen supplied with British weapons, 1880. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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A family in Lanzhou, 1944. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Flower boats in Guangzhou, 1871. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Taiwanese aborigines from the Bunun tribe in Formosa Taiwan), 1900. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Men with leopard, 1932. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Men in traditional dress in Hebei, 1909. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Beggars in Beijing, 1917-1919. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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A Tibetan princess, 1879. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Kidnapped girls in Fuzhou, 1904. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)
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Chang the Chinese giant, 1870. Image via Flickr / Ralph Repo (CC BY 2.0)

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