Some of the most creative of human expression has originated in the collision of cultures. So it is with this extraordinary archive. The Corporal and the Celestials publishes for the first time a truly absorbing collection of photographs of China in the early years of the twentieth century, taken by a young corporal of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, James Hutchinson, when stationed there from 1909. His battalion was guarding the British Legation in Peking and Concession in Tientsin in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, which had seen the massacre of civilian and military personnel of the foreign powers and of Christian Chinese.
Despite the alien and volatile setting, Hutchinson, born in Co. Laois, was fascinated by the ancient civilisation of ‘the Celestials’ and its dawning modernisation. He not only photographed it but, incredibly, developed his prints and lantern slides without benefit of darkroom: 140 of the best are here reproduced, including 18 of those he hand-coloured. It is by any standards a remarkable portrayal of a civilisation to which few westerners had had access.
Wounded later at Gallipoli, Hutchinson re-settled with his family in Northern Ireland in the 1920s, where he gave talks on his experiences. These commentaries, together with his photographs of the great monuments and the people of China and of his comrades-in-arms, make for a very personal, uniquely Irish and visually stunning record of a transient moment when the paths of two great empires, the British and the Chinese, collided.