China in Vibrant Color: A Journey Through the 1920s & 30s with Serge Vargassoff

Forget the faded black-and-white images you usually see from the past. Serge Vargassoff’s photographs of China are bursting with color, offering a unique glimpse into a time when the country was undergoing immense change.

 This young Russian photographer set up shop in Peking (now Beijing) in the early 1900s, quickly earning a reputation for his stunning images. He wasn’t just interested in famous landmarks, though. Vargassoff wanted to capture the heart and soul of China, its people, and their daily lives. Vargassoff’s glass slides allow us to do just that. His use of color was revolutionary for the time, bringing the past to life in a way that black-and-white photos simply couldn’t.

You’ll see traditional architecture juxtaposed with modern buildings, horse-drawn carts sharing the streets with automobiles, and people dressed in both traditional and Western clothing. These images capture a city in transition, where centuries-old traditions were being challenged by new ideas and ways of life.

 He photographed everyone from humble street vendors to members of the imperial court. He captured the grandeur of imperial palaces and the intimacy of family homes. He documented religious ceremonies, festivals, and everyday routines. His photos are a testament to the diversity of Chinese society in the early 20th century.

Vargassoff’s journey eventually led him to Hong Kong, a bustling port city where East met West. His photos of Hong Kong capture the city’s unique energy and vibrancy. You’ll see towering skyscrapers alongside traditional Chinese temples, bustling harbors filled with ships from all over the world, and crowded streets teeming with life.

#3 The wall of Tuan Cheng (Circular City) in Beihai Park

#10 The marble statue of a standing camel on the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs

#15 Painted clay sculptures of Ming dynasty in Dahui Si (Temple of the Great Wisdom)

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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