Old Hong Kong Photos and the Tales They Tell, Volume 2, David Bellis (Gwulo, December 2018)
Old Hong Kong Photos and the Tales They Tell, Volume 2, David Bellis (Gwulo, December 2018)

The ARB reviewer of Volume 1 of Old Hong Kong Photos and the Tales They Tell wrote “Let’s hope the next one comes out soon.” As requested, Volume 2 is now available, with a new selection from David Bellis’s collection of old Hong Kong photos.

Western complaints about Chinese-manufactured copies are nothing new. In 1801, a certain Captain John E Swords approached Gilbert Stuart to purchase a copy of the painter’s famous portrait of George Washington. Stuart, who had burned before, extracted a promise from Swords as a condition of the sale that he would have no further copies executed.

For the better part of a century, painters flocked to Paris. Mary Cassatt and James Whistler came from the United States, Gris and Picasso from Spain, Kandinsky from Russia. Paris was the place to be even for, as is less known, for Chinese artists. It is a curious comment on China’s interaction with Art-with-a-capital-A that while many people will be familiar with Monet, few (including, one suspects, the Chinese themselves) will know much if anything about Pan Yu-lin (or Pan Yuliang, as she is also known).

Opera plots can often strain credulity; Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, on the other hand, cuts close to the bone. The story—of an American naval officer who woos, marries and deserts a young Japanese girl—matters: it is a tightly-constructed narrative and attempts to reframe it, reposition it in another time or place, can be fraught.