History

A boat arriving in Singapore with coolies, circa 1900. The coolies step out of the hold and stand on deck for a photograph taken by the German boat owner. This is a rare and valuable image because there are generally no photographs of early Chinese coolies. Coloured using modern image-processing technology, the photograph takes us right back to that boat deck a century ago, giving us a hint of how these coolies must have looked and felt upon arriving at their destination.

An album of rare photos: From Chinese coolies to Singaporeans

From the 19th century to the 1920s and 1930s, ships transporting hundreds of Chinese coolies ready to work hard and make their "fortune" in Nanyang often docked at Kallang River. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao recently obtained an album with rare photographs of such a ship bringing coolies from Xiamen in Fujian, China, to Singapore in the early 20th century. They are an authentic visual record of Chinese coolies in Singapore a century ago and a powerful throwback to that period.
Tan Kah Kee (L) and Aw Boon Haw made major contributions to China's resistance efforts during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Tan Kah Kee, Aw Boon Haw and the Second Sino-Japanese War [Photo story]

When Japan attacked China during the Second Sino-Japanese War, overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia made contributions to China’s war efforts. Among the most prominent community leaders were Tan Kah Kee and Aw Boon Haw, who corralled donations and made separate visits to Chongqing. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao takes us back to that period and shows us the atrocities of war and the indomitable human spirit reflected in old photos.
Chinese and American air force pilots talk, after a mission against the Japanese, March 1943. Both sides forged a deep friendship from fighting against the Japanese.

Soong Mei-ling and the flying tigers: When China and the US fought shoulder to shoulder

No one would deny that the US and China are not the best of friends at the moment. But there was a time ⁠— and not so long ago at that ⁠— when these two countries came together in goodwill and support. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao brings us back to the WWII period, when this seemingly improbable state of affairs was a reality.
Can the Covid-19 pandemic let us rethink how we treat foreigners, and whether and how our attitude toward foreigners reflects our character and our values as a person, a community, or a nation? A look at the attitude toward foreigners in an earlier time may give us some perspective on our current situation. This is an old map of Asia created by Willem Bleau and published in Amsterdam, ca. 1650. (iStock)

Us and them: Lessons from ancient China about demonising 'enemies'

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the notion of ethnic groups and accentuated the distinction between "us" and "them". What was it like in ancient China? How did the Chinese people look at the world around them and were the "outsiders" friends or enemies? While admitting that human society does not always act in its best interest, historian Prof Poo reminds us to differentiate between rhetoric and reality, to value good neighbourliness, and to be aware that groups are vulnerable to political manipulation.
In 1904, The Judge magazine ran this cartoon titled The New Square-Deal Deck, with Theodore Roosevelt saying, "Come, now, gentlemen; it is time to throw aside that worn-out deck and try one which will give both of you a square deal." The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repeatedly extended, sparking anger from the Chinese government and overseas Chinese. In the picture, a Chinese and Uncle Sam take turns to play their political cards, neither side willing to give in.

[Photo story] China-US relations in the late 19th century: Is history repeating itself?

Were China-US relations always as they are now? Or was there something that changed the situation? Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao presents powerful images from US magazines in the late 19th century, which depict sinophobia in US society and difficulties in China-US relations more than a century ago. Are these images proof that history repeats itself?
The plague outbreak in late 1910 spread with the use of railways. There were many cases and deaths in northeast China, and the Qing dynasty government pumped in plenty of medical resources. In this photo, medical staff gather in front of an inn. At the time, there were many confirmed and suspected cases, and there was a serious lack of medical spaces, leading to the use of inns as medical facilities.

[Photo story] The Manchurian plague outbreak and the Malayan doctor Wu Lien-teh

The current coronavirus outbreak is not the first epidemic in China. Photo collector and Taiwanese writer Hsu Chung-mao, looks at a plague outbreak in Manchuria over a century ago and the role played by a Malaya-born doctor and Nobel Prize nominee.
This Christmas tree in the home of early US immigrant Seid Back in the 1890s is full of decorative lights, with lots of presents below. But the children are not dressed as Santa Claus, or the three wise men visiting baby Jesus in the manger as written in the Bible, which are Western observances. Instead, we see the children quaintly dressed in Chinese-style Han clothing, reminiscent of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai in the classic Chinese story of The Butterfly Lovers.

Early Chinese immigrants: Embracing the American way of life

America has long been known as the land of opportunity for people from all over the world, not least China. As 2019 draws to a close, photo historian Hsu Chung-mao retells the stories of the first wave of Chinese immigrants to America in the 19th century, capturing how they quickly embraced the American way of life, some even accepting Christianity and celebrating Christmas.
Centenarian Ho Weng Toh is not only a WWII veteran, SIA pioneer pilot, but also a published author of his autobiography. A picture of him taken in 1945, hangs on the wall. (Long Kwok Hong/SPH)

War, love, and passion: The life of a WWII Flying Tiger (Video and text)

He was a student studying in Hong Kong in the 1940s. He flew the B-25 bomber during WWII. He was a pioneer pilot of SIA, and at the age of 90, returned to the US to seek closure on his love. Centenarian Ho Weng Toh chats with Chow Yian Ping, Editor of ThinkChina, about life, loss and love, at the launch of his book, Memoirs of a Flying Tiger: The Story of a WWII Veteran and SIA Pioneer Pilot.
Edgar Snow (left) and John Stuart were two Westerners in China who did their part to improve the country. (Internet)

John Stuart and Edgar Snow: Two Americans in China

As the PRC celebrates its 70th anniversary, and amid the China-US trade war, Prof Tian Fangmeng remembers two Americans who left their marks on China in the first half of the 20th century. One became the face of American imperialism and the enemy of communism, while the other became a familiar face in the Chinese government’s official propaganda. But are they so different?