The museum and library collections, exhibitions and corresponding catalogs, and sales and auction catalogs listed in this section offer insights about the institutional and personal history of collecting photographs. The two earliest exhibitions of photographs of China appeared in the United States almost simultaneously in 1978; the catalogs printed in conjunction with the exhibitions Imperial China and The Face of China, although featuring exclusively Western photographers, still remain important references. Hong Kong, as one of the cities through which photography entered and bloomed, took the lead in staging exhibitions of early photographs of China. The earliest photography exhibition, titled Hong Kong 1851–1910, dates to April 1863 and was held at the Hong Kong Museum of History. Some of these exhibitions also traveled to the United States.
Historical photographs of China have only recently been the focus of exhibitions in mainland China. For example, the Shanghai Library has mounted large exhibitions of historical photographs, such as the Picture Exhibition on the 700th Anniversary of Shanghai City (1991) and published books such as Records of Old Shanghai. In China, photography has been perceived primarily as historical documentation for scholarly research rather than as material deserving exhibition programming. Although many museums and archives in China have published a large number of early photographs from their collections, these images are not commonly found in exhibition catalogs. Furthermore, in these multivolume publications, more effort was directed toward identifying the place and people represented, rather than toward securing accurate information on the dates or makers of the photographs. Compared to publications from mainland China, publications in Hong Kong and abroad usually place greater emphasis on the production of the photographs and their makers in order to contribute to the study and writing of the history of photography. Notably, exhibitions drawn from collections held abroad often convey the histories of circulating and collecting these cultural artifacts. The recent exhibition Western Eyes: Historical Photographs of China in British Collections, 1860–1930 (2008), held at the National Library in Beijing, featured reproductions of early photographs housed in London collections. This exhibition and its well-illustrated, bilingual catalog demonstrate that increasingly many Chinese are interested in viewing and researching early photographs not held in domestic collections.
Recent websites related to historical Chinese photographs have facilitated scholarly research and responded to a growing interest by nonscholars in this topic. Also, the publication of auction catalogs developed in conjunction with the publication of exhibitions, museum, and library catalogs reflects an increasing interest both inside and outside China in collecting photographs of China.