When most people travel, they think of travelling in space. Whether it’s hiking through a national park or learning about a distant culture, it’s usually about the destination. This time, I decided to travel in time. Here are some scenes from China as they looked over the past hundred years. The old pictures were pulled from various books and websites. I then re-took each of them, matching the angle and focal length as closely as possible.


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It’s interesting to see what humans are able to change and what humans are utterly incapable of changing. On one hand, a city may rise out of nowhere in just a matter of a decade or two, showing how powerful China’s economy has become, and how advanced engineering has enabled us to build so rapidly. At the same time, the profile of the mountains and rivers don’t budge, a constant reminder that we are still powerless compared to Mother Nature.

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Lanzhou (1930; 2016)

Lanzhou, China was a major stop along the Silk Road, once a walled city that is no longer walled. Almost everything has changed except for the mountains in the background and Yellow River in the foreground. We as humans don’t quite have the ability to change the mountains (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Xi’an city (1921; 2016)

Xi’an once was the ancient imperial capital of China, and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road that runs all the way to Istanbul. Xi’an’s city wall is amazingly preserved, with a little modern flair (old picture by Osvald Siren; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Yibin (1940; 2016)

Yibin, China is a city of 4 million residents situated at the confluence of the Min and Jinsha rivers, which then became the Yangtze (Changjiang) river. Yibin is often known as the “first town” on the Yangtze river. Today, Yibin is perhaps best known for Wuliangye, an alcoholic spirit producer which is the city’s largest employer and comprises 60% of Yibin’s GDP (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Wuhan (1960; 2016)

Here’s a park in Wuhan, China. Nothing’s changed much here except for the shape of the boats (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Guangzhou (1970; 2016)

Guangzhou is a massive city, port, and industrial centre in China. Upwards of 40 million people live in the urban area around Guangzhou. Here we see a mass of skyscrapers crop out of nowhere in the distance, all in a matter of 40 years (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Wuhan(1927; 2016)

The old customs building in Wuhan, China is still there, but it no longer defines the skyline, as massive skyscrapers and residences tower over the old city (old picture by Gould H. Thomas; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Xi’an (1949; 2016)

Xi’an’s clock tower shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Since then it too has taken on a more modern face, and now sits in the centre of one of the city’s busiest traffic circles (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Guiyang (1920; 2016)

European missionaries spread Christianity through China during the 19th and early 20th centuries, here with a little Chinese flair (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Hangzhou (~1900; 2016)

Hangzhou is best known for its tea and the West Lake, pictured here. Note again how the mountains are identical; humans haven’t figured out how to engineer those yet (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Chengdu (1994; 2016)

Chengdu is the capital and largest city in the province of Sichuan, and has been the subject of extremely rapid modernization in recent years. Here, in just a matter of two decades, a busy city rises behind a pavilion dating back to the 13th century (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Nanjing road in Shanghai (1940; 2016)

Tourists are sometimes seen riding the rubber-tired mini-trains along the pedestrian district in Nanjing road in Shanghai. Little do they know that actual trams once plied up and down this road (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Guangzhou (1980; 2016)

China was once known as the kingdom of bicycles. Bicycles are still very popular, but these days, instant same-day online shopping is the new thing (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Lanzhou (1910; 2016)

100 years, once trodden by camels, now trodden by people (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Wuhan (1931; 2016)

A major flood struck Wuhan in 1931. Today, this once-busy commercial centre sits modestly among stores (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)

Shanghai (1920 ; 2009)

Historically, it was not common for Chinese cities to be built on the coast. Shanghai, however, in the past 100 years grew from a mere fishing village to the largest city in the world (old picture by unknown; new picture – D. Venkatraman)