A glimpse of Taiwan in 1896

Scholar posts rare photos online of Taiwan from the beginning of the Japanese colonial era in 1896

Anping in Tainan City. (Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Scans of 55 photographs of Taiwan from famed Japanese photographer Ogawa Kazumasa's publication "Souvenirs de Formose et des Îles Pescadores" (Ogawa, Tokyo 1896) taken of Taiwan in 1896 can now be viewed on a website created by scholar Thomas H. Hahn, Ph.D. 

The sites and scenes captured in the archive date from the end of the 19th century and roughly follow the main western transportation artery of Taiwan from Taipei in the north through Chiayi and Tainan, and ultimately Kaohsiung in the south. Also included are images of Penghu (Pescadore Islands) and structures built by Spanish, British, French colonists and traders over the centuries. 

Children of Formosa. (Thomas H. Hahn docu-images)

Hahn describes Ogawa as, "one of the most important and prolific photographers Japan has ever produced, not only in terms of documentary style or artistic vision, but also in terms of technical developments." An overview of his many works can be found on the Baxley Stamps website.

According to Hahn, the book documents Ogawa's assignment by the Japanese government to document what was thought to be characteristic of Taiwan, including what was of strategic importance a year after the Treaty of Shimonseki (1895), which ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores (modern day Penghu) to Japan.

Taipei - The pier in front of "the club" (presumably the Japanese Club). (Thomas H. Hahn docu-images)

Hahn was fortunate enough to gain access to these extremely rare photographic plates bound in a book form, which he was able to fully digitize. He then identified place names and translated the captions from French to English.

It is somewhat of a mystery as to why the images were labeled in French by the Japanese photographer. Hahn speculates that it may have been in French due to the conventions of international law at the time and Japan's effort to place its stake there.

​Makung (Magong, Pescadore Islands) - The port. (Thomas H. Hahn docu-images)

Hahn first came in contact with Taiwan through his studies at Furen University in 1981, before moving on to Fudan University, Sichuan University, and Peiking University in the mid-1980s.  Hahn received his Ph.D. from University of Heidelberg in Chinese history, language and geography.

Between Kaghi [Jiayi] and Tainan - The narrow-gauge railway line. (Thomas H. Hahn docu-images)

Hahn is currently doing research on the history of the Grand Canal in China. He is based in Berkeley, California where he also pursues an interest in visual anthropology and has been a collector of historical photographs of China for "longer than I care to remember."

Hahn has published and given many lectures on various aspects related to the history of photography in China, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Chinatowns in the United States.

Anping, Tainan. (Thomas H. Hahn docu-images)

More of Ogawa's collection, as well as many other works, can be viewed on Hahn's website Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images