In 1895, a cultured, well-educated young German named Arnold Genthe arrived in San Francisco as a tutor to the son of an aristocratic family. Almost immediately, Genthe was attracted by Chinatown, or "Tangrenbu" — a teeming ten-block area of crowded buildings, narrow streets, and exotic sights and sounds in the shadow of Nob Hill.
Fascinated by a living culture totally foreign to his experience, Genthe began to photograph Tangrenbu and its inhabitants. Today, these photographs (over 200 are known to exist) are the best visual documentary record of Chinatown at the turn of the century, offering priceless glimpses of the rich street life of the district before it was leveled by the great earthquake and fire of 1906.
Rediscover the lost world of old Chinatown in serene and enduring images of cobbled streets and bustling shops, street vendors and merchants, fish and vegetable markets, Devil's Kitchen, the Street of the Gamblers, Portsmouth Square and more. But most of all, enjoy distinctive candid portraits of the people of old Chinatown: a pipe-bowl member, a paper gatherer, itinerant peddlers, toy merchants, boys playing shuttlecock, a fortune-teller, a sword dancer, women and children in ornate holiday finery, an aged opium smoker and many other unaffected and revealing images.
Rich in detail and atmosphere, the photographs are complemented by historian John Tchen's informative and well-researched text, which outlines the turbulent history of Chinese-Americans in California, dispels numerous myths about Chinatown and its residents, and illuminates the role of Genthe's photographs in capturing the subtle flavor and texture of everyday life in the district before 1906.