One of 2,000 photos given to doctoral student Joseph Ho that show life in China.

One of 2,000 photos given to doctoral student Joseph Ho that show life in China.

Credit:

With permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

Have you ever had one of those moments where you couldn't believe your luck? Perhaps a promotion at work? Finding much-needed cash in the couch cushions or on the ground?

Or, how about being at that perfect time at that perfect place when you're handed something of historical value?

That happened to Joseph Ho while he was working the front desk at the Chinese Historical Museum in San Diego.

"This gentleman came in with materials he wanted to donate to the museum and he told me that his parents were Presbyterian missionaries in China. And that he was born in China in 1934."

A notebook of photos taken by an American Presbyterian medical missionary couple - Dr. Ralph C. Lewis and Roberta T. Lewis - in China between 1933 and 1949.

Credit:

with permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

It couldn't have fallen in a more perfect lap. Ho was working on his thesis about Western photographers in wartime China. And the elderly man was the China-born Dr. Richard Henke, who had more photos to share and more families to introduce.

Ho, now a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Michigan, soon received more than 2,000 photos and a few hours of 16mm film dating back to the 1920s. The trove has become the basis of his doctoral thesis.

"The volume of images that missionaries were producing in China is extremely large," he says. And for many of those people, this may very well have been their first time photographed and filmed.

Photo taken by an American Presbyterian medical missionary couple - Dr. Ralph C. Lewis and Roberta T. Lewis - in China between 1933 and 1949.

Photo taken by an American Presbyterian medical missionary couple - Dr. Ralph C. Lewis and Roberta T. Lewis - in China between 1933 and 1949.

Credit:

with permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

The images show a "slice of Chinese life as captured by [the] American missionaries in the 1920s till the 1940s," he says. "And it's taken from the perspective of people who lived with the Chinese communities for years and years at a particularity turbulent time in Chinese history." It was a period of warlords, Chinese Nationalists vs.Communists, civil war and an invasion by Japan.

Some of the photos are in color, which was rather rare at the time. These photos show people at an outdoor market in Shanghai during the spring of 1949, before the Communist takeover.

The shoppers are dressed in blue silk or cotton clothing and go about their business "without a trace of panic in their faces." The photo also shows a little boy wearing a red sweater.  "And I look at that picture and I wonder whether he's still alive today and what he would he say about that picture."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this Incorrectly reported several details, including who Ho met, when that man was born and whether he was imprisoned in China as a child — he wasn't. Ho also collected the 2,000 photos over four years, not solely as an undergraduate.

 

Photo of a boy with a red sweater taken by an American Presbyterian medical missionary couple - Dr. Ralph C. Lewis and Roberta T. Lewis - in China between 1933 and 1949.

Credit:

with permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

Credit:

with permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

Credit:

with permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

Credit:

with permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

Credit:

with permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

Credit:

with permission from the Lewis family and Joseph W. Ho

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