Thank you for having made available your wonderful exhibition: China Through the Lens of John Thomson, 1868-1872.  It has been an enormous success at the new George Washington University Museum & Textile Museum.  Attendance rose by some 50% compared to audiences at the old Textile Museum on S Street.  More important, the show helped to draw diverse audiences of students, young professionals, international residents of our region, and visitors from around the world. 

We utilized the exhibition in numerous GW classes, as well as a springboard for community educational programming of all kinds.  China’s minister of Culture, Madame Li Hong, spoke at our museum as did many authorities on Chinese culture and history.  We also appreciate the assistance received from our local Confucius Institute.  GW students participated by leading tours and hosting student gatherings of various kinds, including international student nights.  As you also know, design for the show itself was developed as a class project for a GW seminar on museum design, reflecting students’ aesthetic response to the photographs.

We were most pleased that the documentary images presented in your exhibition provided a cultural context for the display of Chinese textiles from our collection.  Visitors overwhelming reported that seeing images of people and places from 19th century China added life and familiarity to the seemingly exotic fabrics and accessories that we displayed. 

Finally, I would like to thank you personally for your accessibility, collegiality, and expertise that contributed so much to the success of this project. Your helping us organize the exhibition and your public presentations in support of the show had significant impact. “



“The exhibition is a fresh and timely contribution to the understanding of the cultural and political dynamics connecting Nineteenth Century China with the Scottish photographer John Thomson (1837-1921). It gives visitors a chance to explore Thomson’s aesthetic vision which was destined to shape the western impressions of China’s landscape.”

Yupin Chung, The Burrell Collection, Glasgow


“This was a  museum exhibition which had a wide appeal. When we first talked about it earlier in London I decided the Hong Kong Maritime Museum should give it a try. I had no idea that the emotive nature of these early images would have such an impact on contemporary audiences. Word spread very quickly after the opening.

Thank you, Betty, for giving us this pearl of a show.”

Anthony J Hardy, Chairman, Hong Kong Maritime Museum


“This exhibition had tremendous presence when at Liverpool’s Merseyside Maritime Museum, and was received with vast interest. This is a remarkable exhibition that positions Thomson as a very real Victorian voyager and explorer. Rather than collect specimens from across worlds little known to western populations, or put descriptions of his travels in a book, he collected these extraordinary images of people and places. Thomson was a gifted photographer and relentless traveler who helped increase western understanding of China through his photography. The images, even now, hold a fascination, and the talent of the photographer is evident.”

Rachel Mulhearn, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool


“‘China through the lens of John Thomson’ was enjoyed by over 32,000 visitors during its run at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland from 17 November 2011 – 26 February 2012. Over 50 photographs were displayed along with some of the Chester Beatty Library’s own items – namely fans, clothing and shoes from the Irons Bequest and the John and Nicole Campbell Collection of Chinese Textiles. The Director, Fionnuala Croke, reported that it was a very successful collaboration. It was noted that Ms Betty Yao, Organiser of the exhibition, gave generously of her time while in Dublin. The exhibition also coincided with the Chinese New Year 2012, in which the Library and Dublin City Council partnered in their programme of celebrations. Following its success at the Chester Beatty Library, the show travelled to the Braid Museum in Northern Ireland and the Hunt Museum in Limerick.”

Chester Beatty Library, Dublin