Website Review

The Hedda Morrison Photographs of China, 1933-1946

Those interested in visual reflections of the daily life of children will find the Hedda Morrison Photographs of China (1933-1946) a useful collection. Morrison (1908-1991), a freelance photographer who lived in Beijing during the years that the collection covers, has left 28 albums, roughly 5,000 photographs, and 10,000 negatives to the archival holdings the Harvard-Yenching Library. All of the photographs from the 28 albums are available for view as are a useful bibliography and a time-line of Hedda Morrison's life.

As organized by Morrison, the albums address specific themes, including religion (particularly Buddhism), architecture and material culture, artwork, social rituals, everyday life, handicrafts, street markets and entertainment, and common people in the midst of their daily labors. Albums can be searched for individual themes and images with search terms "children" and "family" being particularly productive for those exploring the theme of childhood. The images can also be viewed as virtual albums in the same collections assembled by Morrison herself. Indeed, this framework generates a theme worthy of classroom exploration, prompting valuable discussion of how Morrison organized, conceived, and shaped the "China" she was viewing as well as the ways in which images of children helped to define broader frames of meaning in regard to nation, culture, gender, class, and more.

Utilizing the search engine using the keyword "children"returns 123 hits, including candid portraits of children, kids in shared spaces with other family members (both siblings and adults), along with urban and domestic settings (e.g., courtyards, marketplaces, family portraits, scenes of meals and play.) The images offer useful material for a variety of lesson plans and thematic analyses. One example would be an exploration of the material culture of childhood, pursued by students conducting their own visual survey of the items represented, including clothing, toys, furniture, tools and even architecture. These visual surveys of childhood can be usefully tied to investigations of intersecting themes (e.g. childhood and domestic space, children and street culture, children and work or material production). Students could assemble and edit an assembly of images from the collection and accompany their collection with analytical narration.

Another useful line of inquiry regarding this collection and the theme of childhood contained in it is also an exploration of the foci – and the limits – of one subject's view. In other words, what did Hedda Morrison see and what is missing? How is an image of childhood constructed through this collection and how does it compare with other sources and views?

This latter exploration invokes both the strengths and weaknesses of the Hedda Morrison collection. One key limitation is that the collection's scenes are limited largely to the city of Beijing and the surrounding region of North China. As such, it does not capture the variety of material and social practice embodied across China's full range of regional and ethnic diversity. It is, nevertheless, a valuable collection that, matched with other resources, serves explorations of the dual themes of visual culture and childhood in early-to-mid 20th century China.

How to Cite This Source

"The Hedda Morrison Photographs of China, 1933-1946," in Children and Youth in History, Item #127, (accessed August 10, 2021).

Those interested in visual reflections of the daily life of children will find the Hedda Morrison Photographs of China (1933-1946) a useful collection.