The flourishing of photography as a medium in the mid-nineteenth century coincided with an increasing curiosity about China in the Western world. Among the Celestials assembles 136 fascinating images captured by the Western camera lens in the second half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth, bringing to life an intriguing period in Chinese history. The photographs convey the harsh realities of everyday existence as well as stunning views of palaces, temples, harbours and gardens. This juxtaposition of the sordid and the serene provides a multi-dimensional picture of China’s physical and social landscape before Mao Zedong’s ascent to power changed the country forever. The images, many published here for the first time, are both beautiful and moving, and together offer a new understanding of a social and cultural history associated with a time of significant historical change.

Ferdinand M. Bertholet is an artist, author and collector. Lambert van der Aalsvoort is a photographer, author and collector.