1907 – Photograph Album – SMS Leipzig in Imperial China and a Visit to Japan – Ming Tombs – Nanking Walled City – Public Executions

Photograph Album
Exquisite Lacquer Boards
SMS Leipzig in Imperial China
With a Visit to Japan

Ming Tombs Prior to Restoration
Nanking Walled City
Public Execution Scenes


China, Japan, 1907-1909. Album of photographs taken and compiled by a German marine who spent some time in Imperial China and in Japan, serving onboard the SMS Leipzig with the East Asia Squadron of the German Imperial Navy, featuring excellent snapshot scenes, as well as shocking professional photographs of Chinese justice, followed by a few beautiful photographs of tribal costume and island life captured during a voyage to the West Indies. Contains 143 gelatin silver print photographs, some of which are extra-large prints, and one panoramic view, most of which are captioned in manuscript, in German. Photographs vary in size, the smallest measuring approximately 6 x 9 cm, and the largest 27 x 22 cm. With a manuscript title page illustrated with a photograph, also with a hand coloured manuscript nautical chart mounted to end pastedown showing a multi-national formation of vessels at the outer Firth of Forth, surrounding the Isle of May. Oblong Quarto album, maroon lacquered wood boards illustrated with floral motif featuring gilt vines and birds, thick cardstock leaves with gilt fore edge, green endpapers. Album measures approximately 37 x 27 x 6 cm. Some wear and minor chips to boards particularly at corners, otherwise in Very Good Condition, a pleasing album with numerous extra large and rare scenes.

Title: “Zur Erinnerung an Marine Reisen. China-Japan 1907-1909.”
The German marine who compiled this album is not identified, but in chronicling his marine travels and duties he provides a most engaging visual account of China at the dawn of the revolution which would end the Empire era.

In September 1906, SMS Leipzig, one of the seven-strong Bremen-class of light cruisers for the Imperial German Navy, was assigned to the East Asia Squadron. The present album illustrates this period of her service most beautifully and thoroughly with scenes of the marines on the ship, at port, and touring inland regions of both China and Japan. In 1909 a voyage was made to Suva and Samoa.

During this period of time, the possibility of a revolution was brewing ever stronger. In July 1907 several members of Tongmenhui in Tokyo advocated a revolution in the area of the Yangtze River. Liu Quiyi, Jiao Dafeng, Zhang Boxiang, and Sun Wu established Gongjinhui (Progressive Association). Indeed, two years after these scenes, the Xinhai Chinese Revolution would begin. HMS Leipzig would continue to serve with the East Asia Squadron during and after the Chinese Revolution of 1911, remaining in Chinese waters until September 1913 when she underwent thorough repair. Early in 1914 was sent to the west coast of Mexico to protect residents during the civil war.

This album presents nostalgic and scarce photographs from multiple cities during the final years of Imperial China, pre-dating the influx of foreign occupation and the formation of the Republic of China, including uncommon photographs of the ancient Ming Tomb monuments prior to restoration.

The album begins with views of the Suez Canal and Port Said. Dispersed throughout, we also find a scant few scenes from Cairo in Egypt, suggesting that a brief tour was made there.

In Japan, some exquisitely nostalgic snapshot views are taken at Tsuruga, Yokohama, Miyazu, and Hakodate several years before it would be awarded city status in 1922. There are 21 photographs of Japan, for a delightful illustration of the local customs there.

Moored at the port of Tsingtau (Qingdao) on 15 November 1907, according to a captioned photograph of the ship’s stern and crew, a stellar visual tour of China unfolds. Following are some of the highlights preserved by a German marine in China in the early 1900s.

Remarkable photographs of Nanking (Nanjing) serve to highlight the monumental works of the Ming Dynasty, while also memorializing the city as it was some 110 years ago, long before industrialization. These include a city view of an ancient city gate and dirt street with a cattle-drawn cart and foot traffic only, the porcelain pagoda, a fortress wall following alongside the Yangtze River. One shows two travellers in front of two stone elephant statues at the start of the “Sacred Way” to the ancient Ming tombs prior to restoration and the grounds being manicured. Another view captures a long-distance view of the immense walled city perimeter. On 22 October 1908, on the Yangtse River at Nanking, SMS Leipzig fires a gun salute for the Emperor.

Shanghai was a lively and bustling place, as seen at the commercial port and in the street scenes, including the famous Bund and Nanking Road. Transportation included sedan chairs, rickshaws, horse-drawn carriages, and even bicycles. An exceedingly rare photograph shows the foremost obelisk monument erected for SMS Iltis and a cemetery gate in honour of the 77 deceased marines of that gunboat, which had foundered off the Shandong coast in July 1896. Another photograph shows the magnificent bronze memorial cast in Germany and delivered to Shanghai to stand on the Bund, also for SMS Iltis, this one being unveiled on 21 November 1898 by Prinz Albert Wilhelm Heinrich von Preußen (Crown Prince Henry of Prussia). The famous Bavarian-style three storey “Concordia Club’ constructed on the Bund by the German community is seen in the album.

Swatow [Shantou], on the eastern coast of Guangdong, was also visited by the German marine, who incidentally captures a lovely view of colonial buildings perched on the jagged rocks of the promontory to the south. [Swatow would not become a city until 1919, and was separated from Chenghai in 1921.]

There are five photographs of Amoy [Xiamen], including a stellar view of the facade structures built as an entrance to the ‘Thousand Rocks’ cave temples. A few European sailors and some Chinese civilians sit at a rock painted in commemoration of USS Monterey. Also from Amoy, the marine captured a view of Kulangsu island.

Another uncommon highlight in this album are the seldom seen images of Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War, three in number, including striking scenes taken by a professional photographer showing an overturned vessel, two others sinking in the harbour, and buildings catching fire in the port, taken during the Siege of Port Arthur (1 August 1904 – 2 January 1905), which was the longest and most violent land battle of the Russo-Japanese War. [In 1905, the Japanese defeated the Russians and took over Port Arthur.] An additional image shows the ruins of East Chikuanshan [Chi-Kuan-Shan Fort]. Port Arthur, in present-day Manchuria, had just been ceded to Japan in 1905, two years before our German marine arrived in Japan.

A scarce and early panoramic photograph of Dalny [Dalian], located off Korea Bay north of the Yellow Sea, illustrates a much more tranquil period. [Unlike the quaint view in the present album, today Dalian is one of the most heavily developed industrial areas of China, consisting of Dalian proper and the smaller Lüshunkou (formerly Lüshun city, known in Western and Russian historic references as Port Arthur), situated about 74 kilometres farther along the Liaodong Peninsula.]

Some rare and graphic images of corporal punishment and public torture from the period appear in this volume. A public decapitation scene with embedded caption stating ‘Execution at Mukden’ and showing four Russian spies bound and decapitated (Japanese are beheading Asian traitors who were allied with the Russians) circa 1905. There is also an earlier photograph of the notorious Namoa pirates being executed in 1891. [Chinese authorities beheaded 15 men at Kowloon, including the leaders, on the 11th of May]. Scenes from the “Chinesisches Gericht” (Chinese court) show a zig-zag wooden path above water leading to a large traditional edifice, possibly being the courthouse. Shocking photographs illustrate other forms of physical torment doled out as justice for crimes, for instance men in tall cages tortured or hanged to death slowly by a wooden neck brace of sorts, known as a cangue. Another man crouches before a panel of judges and officials holding bamboo paddles in preparation for the Qing Dynasty punishment known as Chi.

The Hong Kong harbour is dotted with Chinese junks and foreign cruisers. A visit was also made to the Kiukiang (Jiujiang) tiered rice fields.

Near the end of the volume, a good number of photographs were taken at Samoa and of Suva in Fiji. Here the marine seems to have been most captivated by tribal costume, which is the focus of most of the stunning photographs.

Please Note:
Scenes of Decapitation and Torture
Cannot be Shown Here

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The German East Asia Squadron (Ger Kreuzergeschwader or Ostasiengeschwader) was an Imperial German Navy cruiser squadron which operated mainly in the Pacific Ocean between the mid-1890s and 1914. It was Germany’s only major “blue water” or overseas naval formation independent of home ports in Germany. With the convention at Peking on 6 March 1898, the German ambassador and Chinese viceroy signed a 99-year lease for Kiautschou and colonization of the territory began in earnest. A naval base with a supporting, neighboring infrastructure (including the Tsingtao brewery) was then built at the impoverished fishing village of Tsingtao (now Qingdao) to create the Ostasiatische Station [East Asian Station] of the Imperial Navy. In 1914, the East Asia Squadron numbered a total of six major warships under the command of Vice Admiral Maximilian, Reichsgraf von Spee, including SMS Leipzig.

During the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905, Germany was present in the Sea of Japan but maintained efforts of neutrality. Although German merchant ships are affected by the Russian auxiliary cruiser waging war in the oceans, the intervention of German warships on the firing Russian floating mines and the internment of Russian warships in Qingdao was limited.

The Commander of the East Asia Cruiser Squadron and the High Seas Fleet during the period in which the present album was created, was Vice Admiral Carl Coerper (1854-1942); he was based at Tsingtao.

SMS Leipzig (1906-August 1914) was a Bremen Light Class Steam Cruiser of the Imperial German Navy or Kaiserliche Marine, seeing service in the East-Asia squadron and West Coast of America squadron from 1906 – 1914. She took part in the Battle of Coronel in November 1914 and was sunk in action by HMS Cornwall and HMS Glasgow during the Battle of the Falkland in December 1914.

One of the seven-strong Bremen-class of light cruisers for the Imperial German Navy, Leipzig was a “multi-mission” warship outfitted with offensive measures designed to support larger fleet actions. She was first commissioned into the High Seas Fleet on 20 April 1906, Franz von Hipper serving first commanding officer. In September 1906, SMS Leipzig was deployed overseas, assigned to the East Asia Squadron, together with the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruisers Emden and Nürnberg.

In 1908 she made a voyage to the West Indies, including Samoa and Fiji. On her return voyage to China, in January 1910 she visited Bangkok, Sumatra and Borneo to Manila. In July 1910 she went up the Yangtze to Hankow because riots had erupted. Responding to riots would be a recurring theme throughout China and Southeast Asia. During the Agadir Crisis, also called the Second Moroccan Crisis, in the spring of 1911, the squadron was north of Vladivostok in the Vladimir bay. From there the squadron returned to Qingdao in September. After the outbreak of the Chinese Civil War in October 1911, SMS Leipzig was again commissioned to Hankow on the Yangtze River to support gunboats SMS Fatherland and SMS Tiger. This location had become dangerous for foreigners, necessitating international troops to be deployed on land to evacuate women and children to Shanghai for protection. SMS Leipzig was sent to Shanghai in November 1911 and by August 1912 she had shuttled several times between Qingdao and the troubled regions on the Yangtze River. In July she took part in the funeral for the late Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito. In August 1913 her crew witnessed heavy fighting between the Imperial and Republican forces in Nanking and region. After serving six years in East Asia in September and October she underwent thorough repair.

Early in 1914 she was sent to replace the light cruiser SMS Nürnberg on the west coast of Mexico, to protect residents during the civil war. On 14 October, she joined Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron at Easter Island. She was capsized and sank on 8 December 1914 in the Battle of the Falkland Islands, Captain Haun going down with his ship, and only eighteen men being pulled from the freezing water.


History of beheading in China:
In China, beheading has an ancient tradition going back thousands of years, and continued to be considered acceptable methods of execution well into the 19th century, as well as strangulation, stretching and starvation. What’s more, even those not sentenced to death could endure days of suffering. The Boxer Rebellion was a particularly violent and turbulent time, all over the country, Boxer rebels and criminals were put to death in full public view, dismembered parts of their corpses being displayed as a warning to others. A scant few brave individuals such as American traveller and photographer James Ricalton, and William Arthur Curtis of Kentucky, observed the horrific events to capture them in photograph. In 1912 beheading was officially abolished by the newly established Republic of China and was replaced with shooting, however the practice returned during the Chinese Civil War and Japanese occupation.

Slow slicing, or ling-ch’ih, was a form of torture and execution used in China from roughly AD 900 until it was banned in 1905. In this form of execution, the condemned person was killed by using a knife to methodically remove portions of the body over an extended period of time. The term língchí derives from a classical description of ascending a mountain slowly. Lingchi was reserved for crimes viewed as especially severe, such as treason and killing one’s parents. The process involved tying the person to be executed to a wooden frame, usually in a public place. The flesh was then cut from the body in multiple slices in a process that was not specified in detail in Chinese law and therefore most likely varied. In later times, opium was sometimes administered either as an act of mercy or as a way of preventing fainting. The punishment worked on three levels: as a form of public humiliation, as a slow and lingering death, and as a punishment after death.


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