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A collection of early photographs of cultural landmarks in Canton (Guangzhou) by Lai Fong

LAI FONG. A Collection of Three Early Views of Canton (Guangzhou) Landmarks.

Canton, ca. 1870

3 Albumen prints, mounted. 8 ¼ x 10 ½ inches. Printed letterpress captions versos.

This is an excellent group of early photographs of cultural landmarks in Canton (Guangzhou), by Lai Fong, China’s foremost 19th century Chinese photographer.

Guangzhou, often called the City of Five Goats based on the legend that five beings with five goats brought bunches of grain to the local people blessing them for eternity with fertility and prosperity, has always held an important role in the history of China.  It was the capital of three local dynasties: the Nanyue, Southern Han, and Southern Ming. The city’s harbor was one of the starting points of the Marine Silk Road.

This collection of photographs by the great 19th century Chinese photographer Lai Fong, whose work is distinct for its artfulness and high quality, offers early photographic views of three of Canton’s most revered landmarks: the Hall of 500 Louhan, the Pazhou Pagoda, and the Zhenhai Tower.

Hall of 500 Louhan of Hualin Temple

LAI, FONG, Canton. No. 317. Wa Lum Temple. Canton, ca. 1870. Albumen print, mounted. 8 ¼ x 10 ½. Printed letterpress caption on verso: “No. 317. – …”

This is an important photograph by Lai Fong of the original Hall of 500 Louhan (Arhat) at Haulin Temple.

According to legend during the 6th century Bodhidharma, a revered Buddhist monk, preached Buddhism from an alter he set up in Xiguan. In 1655, Zongfu, a Zen master, built a temple at this location that he named Hualin. The temple was divided into several halls. The most impressive hall was the Hall of 500 Louhan, which contained 500 gold painted life-sized statues of monks each with their unique characteristics. Buddhist tradition gives accounts of groups of 16, 18, or 500 luohans who were commanded by Buddha to await the coming of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. The original sculptures photographed by Lai Fong were destroyed. The Hall of 500 Louhan was rebuilt in 1997 and remains one of Guangzhou’s great cultural landmarks.

Pazhou Pagoda

LAI, FONG, Pazhou Pagoda No. 289. Canton, ca.1875. Albumen print, mounted. 8 ¼ x 10 ½ inches. Printed letterpress caption: “No. 289. – Pachao Pagoda, Canton. This pagoda is near to Whampoa, it is nine stories in height and has been built for a great number of years ….”

This is an early photograph by Lai Fong of the Pazhou Pagoda, which was referred to as the “Pillar of Pazhou” during the Qing Dynasty.

The Pazhou Pagoda was built during the Ming Dynasty as a Buddhist landmark on an island on the southern bank of the Pearl River close to Guangzhou’s two other ancient pagodas, Chigang Pagoda and Flower or Hua Ta Pagoda. The Pazhou Pagoda was used as a guide for merchant ships traveling on the Marine Silk Road.

Zhenhai Tower

LAI, FONG, Zhenhai Tower, No. 260. Canton, ca.1875. Albumen print, mounted. 8 ¼ x 10 ½ inches. Printed letterpress caption: “No. 260. – Pagoda, Canton. This place of worship is built on the walls of the city and is Five Storey in height… ”

Lai Fong’s early photograph of Zhenhai Tower, or the Five-Story Pagoda, offers a unique view of the tower and the old city wall, an important Guangzhou landmark.

Zhenhai Tower was built during the Ming Dynasty by Zhu Liangzu in an effort to subdue an omen. Once called the First Tower of South China, Zhenhai Tower was one of old Guangzhou’s most famous monuments. The tower’s elevated location provided a spectacular view of the city. The tower is now the Guangzhou Museum which houses over 5,000 years of relics and documents related to Guangzhou’s history.  Zhenhai Tower is one of the tallest and oldest buildings in Yuexiu Park.

$9,500