Contributed by Ronna Fleischman
The Chinese embraced photography quickly after it was introduced in 1839. The Chinese traditions of ancestral and funeral portraiture, and their emphasis on realism, made photography an attractive and less expensive solution to painting. Cameras first made their way to China through the nation’s port cities, and by the 1850’s, photographers were setting up studios where not only the wealthy but middle class could have their photos taken for family occasions and posterity.
By the end of the nineteenth century, all major cities had photographic studios where Chinese could have their portraits taken. Even the Empress Dowager Cixi thought having one’s picture taken was very trendy and she liked to pose for photographs, which was very unconventional because traditionally, Chinese people were quite shy about having their picture taken. She even had a personal court photographer.