Sam Sanzetti: A Shanghai Photographer (1902-1986)

Ordinary professional commercial photographers tend to leave few traces behind them. Unlike a Robert Capa or a Henri Cartier-Bresson who became famous worldwide for their artistic or field photographs, they easily fall into oblivion despite the wealth and scope of pictures they produced. Yet, because what they photographed belonged mostly to the “ordinary”, portraits of common people (at least few became famous), it did not register in the history of photography. And yet, these photographs also offer a certain angle from which to look at how people had themselves represented in front of the camera. I have brought together a selection of 43 pictures gathered from three different web sites to introduce Sam Sanzetti and his work on Virtual Shanghai.

Sam Sanzetti belongs to a long genealogy of such commercial photographers in Shanghai whose career and fate went largely unnoticed. In part, this was due to their activity, which did not aim at high artistry (which does not preclude actual talent). But in the case of foreign photographers established in Shanghai before 1949, history simply shoved them aside when political change forced them to relocate outside of China when they no longer saw any hope to maintain their activity there after the communist takeover. Sam Sanzetti left Shanghai in 1957 — his second major migration in a lifetime — five years after his compatriot, also a major studio photographer, Micheal (Misha) Melnikoff.

Sam Sanzetti was born Sioma Lifshitz, to a Jewish family in Russia; his father was a schoolteacher. At 13, he followed his parents to Harbin, China, where he worked for two years as a delivery boy in a department store. At 15, he went to work for the Chinese Eastern Railway as a lathe specialist. Two years later, he re-joined his parents in Russia, after a railway labor strike. His family had moved to Siberia, where revolutionary forces had just taken over. Sanzetti started to work on restoring a demolished metal factory, and he was sent to Vladivostok to acquire some parts required for the job. “There,” writes Sanzetti, “I was prevented by the Japanese to carry out my mission and for some time was in hiding, and the day after the ‘slaughter night’ staged by the Japanese I escaped to Shanghai. I arrived in Shanghai in May 1921.”

According to an article written about Sanzetti in a 1928 photography magazine, he already had some experience taking photographs before he arrived. Once in Shanghai, he started working at the studio of a local photographer, “and after a few months became so interested in studio work that when an American business man offered to establish a studio for him in Shanghai he was quite willing to accept the offer.”  Sanzetti was able to build up one of the most successful photography studios in Shanghai, eventually opening up four branches throughout the city. When he left China after 30 years, in the 1950’s, he did so with 20,000 photographs in his bags.

Sanzetti spoke fluent Chinese Mandarin and Shanghainese, and married a Shanghainese lady. He left Shanghai in 1957 for Israel where he continued his activity as a photographer. He stayed there until his death in 1986. Unfortunately, very little is know of his work and the collection of photographs he produced through his lifetime. His setpson, Moshe Dexler, inherited the photographs and films of Sam Sanzetti, but many of them were in bad shape already. In 2011, the Israeli Consulate in Shanghai posted a selection of 200 portraits on its Weibo account, which led to half a dozen people coming out as those portrayed by Sanzetti. Although plans have been made to present Sam Sanzetti’s photographs is exhibitions, nothings has materialized so far. The actual location of the extant original collection is unknown.

Main sources:

Photography of China web site

So sah Shanghais teuerster Fotograf seine Kunden

NARA Bureau of foreign and domestic commerce (RG151)

During my last visit to NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) in Washington D.C. — in fact the facility located at College Park, Maryland —I had planned to re-visit the Consular Trade Report series. I may write later on my most recent findings in this series, but today I wish to point to another extremely valuable collection.

Thanks to the advice and precise indications provided by Cécile Armand (post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University), I “visited” the RG 151 series. It is made up of the reports and documents produced by the Bureau of foreign and domestic commerce, an agency that existed between 1912 and 1953. It included four units: Office of International Trade, Office of Business Economics, Office of Business and Defense Services, ad Office of Field Services. I was not able to ascertain which office posted officials abroad (commercial attaché), but the American representatives in China conducted numerous surveys on various aspects of business, including field work during which they took numerous photographs in various parts of China. One of the qualities of these photographs is that they were sent as part of the reports, usually mounted on cardboard with indications on place (not always in precise terms), date (usually precise), activity and topic.

Altogether, this represents hundreds of pictures by practical-minded and business-oriented American officials that cover topics rarely recorded by photographs (although there is of course some overlap with pictures seen elsewhere). Yet these commercial attaché were interested in understanding how commercial networks operated, how the transportation system worked, how American goods circulated in China and of course how to promote the sale of U.S. products in China. They focus on very practical aspects of economic life throughout China (see below)

Very few scholars have used this collection of photographs, and probably nobody in the China field. I explored it with increasing curiosity and excitement. I believe I have collected all that could be found on Shanghai (distributed in various topical folders), but also on various aspects of economic activity in China, which I am currently uploading and sharing Virtual Shanghai’s sister web platforms, and especially with Cécile Armand’s MadSpace platform.



New paper on the space of cinema in Shanghai (1919-1943)

Historian Zhao Weiqing (赵伟清) has contributed a new essay on the Virtual Shanghai platform on the process and underlying factors of change in the space of cinema in the foreign settlements of Shanghai before 1949. Written in Chinese and entitled 上海租界内电影院空间分布的演变过程及原因探析(1919-1943)[Shanghai zujie nei dianyingyuan kongjian fenbu de yanbian guocheng ji yuanyin tanxi], the papers offers original insight on the rise of cinema in the city. In the first decades of the 20th century, Shanghai  became China’s most important film center, both for production and distribution. The city hosted the largest number of movie theaters in China. From the establishment of the first theater in 1908 by a Spanish national, the distribution of movie theaters gradually transferred and expanded from the Hongkou District, north of Soochow Creek  (Suzhou River)  to the south bank of the International Settlement. This paper uses geographic information system to document and examine the characteristics of the distribution of movie theaters in the city from the perspective of population, traffic, war and other aspects. It analyze a series of factors leading to the particular geographical distribution and discusses the possible links between the space of cinema and urban development and urban cultural space .

Workshop: La fabrique numérique du passé. Sources, outils, récits: “What next?”

On Friday 16 September, IrAsia (Research Center on Asia) will hold a workshop (9h-18h) on the use of digital technologies and the exploration of the past. The event will take place at the Pôle Multimedia (Building T1) in the Schuman Campus of Aix-Marseille University at Aix-en-Provence. All presentations will be made in French.


Matinée – 9h00-12h15

9h00 – Ouverture et introduction

Christian Henriot (AMU) – Gérald Foliot (CNRS, Huma-Num)

9h20    – Bernard Cousin (AMU), Eric Carroll (AMU)

Le mur numérique des ex-voto peints provençaux

10h00  – Sophie Gebeil (AMU)

Le web comme source pour l’historien : la fabrique numérique des mémoires de l’immigration maghrébine sur le web français de 1999 à 2014

10h40  – Pause café/thé

10h55  –  Jean-Pierre Dedieu (CNRS)

De la source à la base de données. Les Répertoires d’Extrême Orient

11h35  – Anne Kerlan (IHTP, CNRS-Université Paris 8)

« Loin d’Hollywood » : une base de données croisées pour une histoire globale du cinéma

Après-midi – 13h45

14h00 – Cécile Armand (IAO)

MADSpace : un compagnon numérique pour écrire l’histoire spatiale de la publicité à Shanghai dans la première moitié du XXe siècle (1905-1949)

14h40  – Christian Henriot (IrAsia, AMU)

August 1937. Death en masse in Shanghai : A VizStory narrative

15h10 – Fleur Chabaille (Inalco, IAO)

Interpréter, écrire et publier le visuel : un retour réflexif sur Scalar

15h50  – Pause

16h00 – Mou Zhenyu (Collegium de Lyon/SASS)

Cadasters, land market and urban transformation in the foreign settlements of Shanghai (1843 – 1943)

16h40 – François Guillemot (CNRS, IAO)

Virtual Saigon : Retour d’expérience sur quatre années de collecte et de développement

17h10  – Discussion finale






[喜讯] 安克强教授新著Scythe and the city : a social history of death in Shanghai出版

安克强教授倾数年之力完成的专著Scythe and the city : a social history of death in Shanghai,新近由美国斯坦福大学出版社出版。作为国际学界著名的中国城市史与上海史专家,安教授在本书中选择了一个司空见惯,但从未引起学界注意的对象——死亡,作为考察的对象。以死亡、死者和丧葬风俗为中心,该书全面检讨了开埠以来上海城市死亡文化的变迁。以及在近代化与城市化过程中,死亡文化与新城市、新的生活方式之间的碰撞与适应。全书由九个章节组成,共计400余页。1




Virtual Shanghai just published on line the Chinese version —— 1937年8月:戰爭與平民的集體死亡 —— of “August 1937: War and the death en masse of civilians” presented by Christian Henriot at the “War in History and Memory: An International Conference on the Seventieth Anniversary of China’s Victory for the War against Japan” (戰爭的歷史與記憶:抗戰勝利七十週年學術討論會), Academia Historica 國史館 (Taipei), 7-9 July 2015.


The original English version will be published soon as well. The printed version can be found in Lü Fangshang (ed.), War in History and Memory, Taipei, Academia Historica, 2015, 492-568.




为纪念中国人民抗日战争暨世界反法西斯战争胜利七十周年,上海师范大学人文与传播学院于2015年8月15日举办了一场题为“从‘八·一三’到‘八·一五’:第二次世界大战中的上海”学术工作坊。此次工作坊由苏智良教授总召集,War Made Shanghai中方项目组成员蒋杰、江文君负责会议组织工作。马军研究员作为特邀专家出席会议。此外,项目组成员岳钦涛及里昂高师东亚学院博士生刘喆也参加了此次会议。













2015年5月22日上午,法国里昂高等师范学院历史系教授毕诺(Jean-Luc Pinol)在上海社科院历史所大会议室做了题为“巴黎与二战:一次空间研究的探索”的主题演讲。其间,主要介绍了“空间人文学视角下的巴黎轰炸”和“犹太儿童搜捕”这两个二战中的巴黎城市史话题。

Jean-Luc Pinol教授,汉文名毕诺,现任教于里昂高师历史系,著有Altas des Parisiens de la Révolution à nos jours,Parigramme(《巴黎地图集》)等著作,并设计完成了一套基于地理信息系统(GIS)技术的二战法国被捕犹太儿童研究的交互式地图。






The 1932 Shanghai Battle (淞滬戰爭)

On 18-19 May 2015, the French Société Asiatique (Asian Studies Society) held its annual conference at the Collège de France on “War in the societies of the Orient and the far East.” The conference brought together a wide array of scholars across time periods and boundaries, from ancient Egypt to medieval India, from the Ottoman empire to Vietnam. This provided the “War made Shanghai” group to present for the first time a work in progress on the 1932 Shanghai Battle.

Crédit photo: Fr. Guillemot


The presentation is based on unique Japanese military sources, including a full set of battle maps, a complete case study of the conflict produced for the training of Japanese officers, multiple visual documents, graphs, etc. The various materials have been processed through GIS into an integrated database. The main line of inquiry was to explore a core question: What does spatial approach bring into the analysis and interpretation of the Shanghai Batttle ? At this preliminary stage of analysis and interpretation, we contend that spatial analysis reveals patterns of warfare that highlight a combination of the use of modern weaponry (mass destruction, mobility) and past military strategy models (trench war) that reflected the nature of the battle ground. The contending parties met with a difficult and challenging terrain that played to the advantage of the disadvantaged Chinese troops and stalled Japanese battle plans and tactics which the latter overcame only through a massive input of weaponry.

Three people were involved in the preparatory work of this presentation, Christian Henriot (IAO), Zhang Peiyao (postdoctoral fellow, IAO), and Charlotte Aubrun (GIS specialist, IAO). The presenters were graced with the presence of two major historians of China in France, Prof. Alain Roux and Prof. Xiaohong Xiao-Planes (with whom they enjoyed a happy lunch).

From let to right: Zhang Peiyao, Christian Henriot, Xiaohong Xiao-Planes, Alain Roux

From let to right: Zhang Peiyao, Christian Henriot, Xiaohong Xiao-Planes, Alain Roux
















“War made Shanghai”课题组法方成员柯蓉(Christine Cornet)教授,应邀于2015年4月23日上午前往上海社会科学院历史研究所进行题为“上海法租界的战时管理(1937—1945年)”的专题讲座。此次讲座是上海社会科学院历史研究所现代史研究室为纪念抗日战争暨世界反法西斯战争胜利70周年所举办的系列讲座之一。该讲座由上海社科院历史所现代史研究室、“中国现代史”学术创新团队、中法“War Made Shanghai”课题组联合主办。

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作为“War Made Shanghai”研究项目的一个成果,由中方课题组成员蒋杰撰写的论文《抗战时期上海“虹桥——徐家汇军事区”研究(1937-1940)》发表于《上海学》第一辑。该文在写作过程中得到了项目主持人安克强教授全方位的支持,并给予了很多修改意见。



此外,作为“War Made Shanghai”研究计划的重要参考资料以及战时上海难民问题研究的主要成果,里昂高师东亚学院冯艺研究员的论文《地方精英与地缘纽带——论上海的难民救助(1937-1940)》发表于《上海学》第二辑。该文原标题为Élites locales et solidarités régionales: l’aide aux réfugiés à Shanghai (1937-1940)。原文1996年发表于法国的《中国研究》(Étude Chinoise),中文版由蒋杰编译。



《上海学》是由上海社会科学院历史研究所近代史研究室、“近代上海史创新型学科团队”新近编辑出版的学术性刊物。该刊主要刊布与上海历史相关的研究论文、档案资料与书评等。“War Made Shanghai”研究项目主持人安克强教授担任该刊顾问。项目组成员马军、江文君、段炼、蒋杰均担任编委。

地方精英与地缘纽带_上海学_第二辑_PDF 2






Made Shanghai”中方课题组成员马军、江文君、段炼以及蒋杰参会。





地点:上海市中山西路1610号 上海社会科学院分部2号楼8楼历史研究所会议室




下午 海外、外地学者报到



8:30 本地学者报到


9:009:15 开幕式

主持人 蒋宝麟(上海社科院历史所)

致 辞 马 军(上海社科院历史所)

王 健(上海社科院历史所)

9:15 与会者合影


9:3011:45 第一场 走向“最后关头”

主持人 周惠民(台湾政治大学) 周 武(上海社科院历史所)

杨卫华(上海大学) 蒋介石基督徒身份的建构与民国基督徒的政治认同

李 玉(南京大学) 蒋介石在日记中对日“雪耻”——以1928年“济案”为中心的考察

贺江枫(南开大学) 蒋介石、黄郛与1933年北平市公安局易长风潮研究

赵 伟(苏州科技学院) 论蒋介石对抗战的经济准备意识

钟 健(浙江大学) “运筹帷幄”之限界:蒋介石与抗战准备

张 生(南京大学) 卢沟桥事变时蒋介石的心态和应对

评论人 齐春风(南京师范大学) 江文君(上海社科院历史所)

11 :45  中午简餐

13:0015 :15 第二场 抗战中的委员长

主持人 郑会欣(香港中文大学) 陈 同(上海社科院历史所)

马 军(上海社科院历史所) 蒋介石、斯大林、罗斯福首次战争演讲之对比

杨维真(台湾中正大学) 蒋介石与武汉会战

潘晓霞(《近代史研究》编辑部) 抗战与建国:1942年蒋介石西北之行

李志茗(上海社科院历史所) 《从中国之命运》看蒋介石的现代化理念

刘维开(台湾政治大学) 抗战胜利时刻的蒋介石

陈红民(浙江大学) 政治判断与抉择:毛泽东蒋介石在抗战胜利前后

评论人 陈 雁(复旦大学) 陈进金(台湾东华大学)

15 :1515:45 茶歇

15:4518:00 第三场 中国政要与战时外交

主持人 张 生(南京大学) 张 剑(上海社科院历史所)

周惠民(台湾政治大学) 法肯豪森与蒋介石

陈进金(台湾东华大学) “斗争外交”:蒋介石与抗战时期的中英关系

肖如平(浙江大学) 错失的友谊:太平洋战争爆发后的中英关系——以英国邀请宋美龄访英为中心的探讨

陈 雁(复旦大学) 外交与绯闻:1943-1944年间的中美冲突

吴淑凤(台北“国史馆”) 抗战时期蒋介石的“译员”认知及培育

张天政(宁波工程学院) 从王宠惠到蒋介石——以战时对英、法扣留我外运易货的交涉为中心

评论人 李 玉(南京大学) 蒋 杰(上海师范大学)

18:30 晚宴



 9:0011:45 第四场 委员长的亲友与部属

主持人 吴淑凤(台北“国史馆”) 王瑞成(宁波大学)

段 炼(上海社科院历史所) 宋庆龄与世界反法西斯运动

郑会欣(香港中文大学) 抗战时期大后方的倒孔运动

齐春风(南京师范大学) 孔祥熙与战时财政

何方昱(上海社科院历史所) 学潮爆发与治理困局——以1942年浙江大学“倒孔运动”为中心

周雷鸣(中国药科大学) 民国时期留学史料整理述要

陈 涛(嘉兴学院) 试论陈诚与国民政府之抗战宣传——以武汉会战前后陈诚对《申报》传媒的运用为考察中心

评论人 白华山(上海东华大学) 刘维开(台湾政治大学)

 12 :00  中午简餐

 13:3015:45 第五场 大时代中的诸面相

主持人 杨维真(台湾中正大学) 张天政(宁波工程学院)

王瑞成(宁波大学) 危机与危机利用:日本侵台事件与李鸿章和淮军的转型

孙 云(江苏科技大学) 抗日战争时期陕甘宁边区劳模表彰运动的开展及其历史影响

夏 柯(宁波大红鹰学院) 宁波帮商人与抗战时期经济建设

蒋宝麟(上海社科院历史所) 强人与弱党:王子壮、陈克文对蒋介石的即时观察

林美莉(台北中研院) 关于中国列名四强的时人论断──以蒋介石、王世杰及胡适等人的记事为例

严海建(南京师范大学) 战后国民政府惩处日本战犯的若干特质与面相

评论人 李志茗(上海社科院历史所) 潘晓霞(《近代史研究》编辑部)

 15 :4516:15 茶歇

 16:1517:30 圆桌会议

主持人 马 军 蒋宝麟

引言人 陈红民 周惠民 郑会欣 张 生 林美莉 冯筱才(华东师范大学) 宋时娟(宋庆龄陵园管委会)

 18:00 晚宴