Vintage Photos Of China That Show Just How Much Has Changed In The Last 100 Years

China is quickly overtaking the United States and Europe in so many ways that it's hard to keep track. It's not crazy to imagine China as the world's sole superpower a decade or two down the line — but that wasn't always the case. Most people forget that China has been enduring constant change since the 1800s, which continues today.

Looking at pictures of sprawling cities and huge factories, it's easy to forget that China used to be a largely agrarian society. These vintage pictures of China and the island of Hong Kong by Scottish photographer John Thomson show what that life was like between 1886 and 1872, long before China became the economic superpower it is today.

A Cantonese schoolboy in Hong Kong.
A bride-to-be in Beijing.

A boat operator.

Escaping the mid-afternoon sun.

Lounging on the terrace of a Chinese teahouse in Hong Kong.

A Cantonese family of 5 in Hong Kong.

Cochrane Street in Hong Kong.

Street near the Hong Kong's old Wan Chai Market.

The HMS Princess Charlotte.

A Cantonese woman.

Looking north from Pedder Street.

Looking north from Pedder Street.

Lyndhurst Street in Hong Kong during the Duke of Edinburgh's visit in 1869.

Cantonese trading vessels off the shore.

Hong Kong City Hall.