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Rare images revealing 19th century China set to fetch £20,000

Rarely seen photos taken by one of the first British photographers to explore China 150 years ago have emerged for sale for £20,000.

John Thomson travelled to the Far East in 1868, establishing a studio in the Commercial Bank building in Hong Kong.

He used it as a base to explore remote parts of the vast country for the next four years, photographing landmarks, scenery and the native population. 

One striking image shows a prisoner in chains with his head poking through a board which has words on it written in Chinese.

In another, a man poses next to a giant camel statue in the grounds around the Ming tombs of the Forbidden City.

Thomson photographed archers, street sellers and farmers, as well as a woman applying make up and elders in a temple.

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There are also images of traditional pagodas, bustling city scenes and mountainside villages.

In many cases, he was the first Westerner the people he photographed had encountered.  

Almost 100 of his photos feature in a rare first edition of 'Thomson Illustrations of China and Its People' (1873), which is going under the hammer with London-based Forum Auctions. 

It is being sold by a member of the book trade.

Max Hasler, specialist at Forum Auctions, said: 'John Thomson was a pioneering Scottish photographer, who was one of the first known photographers to travel to the Far East and document the people, landscapes and artefacts of the Chinese culture.

'He visited various remote and almost unpopulated regions, where many of the people he encountered had never seen a Westerner before, let alone a camera.

'These represent one of the best photographic records of China from that period, and they record a world that would vanish almost entirely in the years after.'

The sale takes place tomorrow.

Reference: Harry Howard, History Correspondent For Mailonline

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