Carter D. Holton Collection

See more than 5,000 historical photos taken in Northwestern China
Street, bookstore, shops, signs of the shops, people, peddler, Xi’an, Shaanxi, 1934.
Harvard-Yenching Library

Rev. Carter D. Holton was an American missionary working in Northwest China from 1923 to 1949. During that time, he documented the cultural life of many ethnic minorities in the Gansu and Qinghai regions.

Known by the Chinese name Hai Yingguang 海映光, Holton and his wife Lora Newberry Holton (or Hai Mude海慕德) were devoted to missionary work among Muslims in China and they left primary recordings, including more than 5,000 photographs.

The large photo collection left by Holton is not only a historical witness to the social and cultural life of the Tibetan-Gansu region, but also vividly displays interactions among different ethnic groups, including Tibetans, Qiang, Tu, Mongols, Salar, Hui, Dongxiang, Qargan, Bao’an, and Han Chinese. Furthermore, this photo collection provides a comprehensive picture on religious life among Tibetan Lama Buddhism, Han Chinese Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, and other religious dimensions during the Republic period.

The Tibetan-Gansu region is in most central part of inner Asia and is completely isolated from other parts of the world by deserts, mountains, valleys, rivers, and other natural barriers. The photo collection also documents a time that wars, ethnic confrontations, political turmoil, and other various social forces competed against each other, further preventing people from accessing the region. Holton’s photos provide us with rich information about the history of an isolated region.

Accessing These Materials

  • Most of the Carter D. Holton Collection has been digitized and is available to view here.
  • Use the Finding Aid of Carter D. Holton Collection for more information about this collection. This finding aid was created by Dr. Wang Jianping of Shanghai Normal University.