Hand-colored portraits of the people of China during Qing Dynasty, 1870-1880

During the 1870s, Baron Raimund von Stilfried-Ratniks (1839–1911) was the principal foreign photographer in Yokohama, a primary Japanese port for trade and tourism. The aristocratic Stilfried was born in Komoto, Austro-Hungary, and, like his father, began a military career.

While studying at the Imperial Marine Academy in Trieste and then the Imperial Military Engineering School in Tulln, Austria, he began painting.

Although his military career with the Austro-Hungarian Empire was short-lived, only from 1859 to 1863, his fascination with the sea and far-flung places inspired his naval education and his Orientalist painting teachers carried him to South America, China. And then Japan, which he reached in 1864.

For the Vienna World Exposition of 1873, the government of Japan commissioned Stilfried to travel to Hokkaido, where he took photographs documenting the process of modernization of the country as well as the ethnic Ainu people.

According to a review of a monographic book on his life and work, "Stillfried came to Japan just as it was opening up to trade, tourism and Western influences.

And with the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the new imperial government was figuring out how to present itself as a modern nation through photography, and Stillfried was well positioned to assist. ,

In the mid-1870s, Stilfried traveled to Shanghai and applied the same aesthetic conventions to traditional Chinese "types", representing beggars, workers, and people from high society in meticulously painted portraits. These memorable hand-coloured photographs were meant to bring home wealthy Western tourists.

Nineteenth-century China faced enormous problems, many of them as a result of a growing population. By the mid-nineteenth century, China's population reached 450 million or more, more than three times the level of 1500.

The inevitable consequences were land scarcity, famine and an increasingly poor rural population. Heavy taxes, inflation and greedy local officials made the farmer's condition worse.

Meanwhile, the government neglected public functions and the military, and as bureaucratic efficiency declined, landlords, secret societies, and military forces took over local affairs.

Rebellion, anarchy, and foreign exploitation continued to haunt the Qing regime until the 1911 Revolution that ended China's imperial tradition.

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