François, Auguste (1857-1935)*

Auguste François dressed as a Chinese mandarin

Auguste François was the French consul in southern China, first in Guangxi province, then in Yunnan, from 1896 to 1904. He travelled widely in China, and also Vietnam, and was an accomplished photographer and filmmaker. While he was resident in Kunming, capital of Yunnan, from 1901 to 1904, he shot a series of film sequences in and around the city. These seem to be the very first moving images shot in China.

François was in direct contact with the cinema industry pioneer Léon Gaumont who supplied him with stock for his still cameras, and presumably for his moving image camera as well. This seems likely because a number of his Kunming sequences are preserved – without attribution – in the Gaumont-Pathé Archives. Also, in 1905, Gaumont released a compilation of some this footage under the title, Au pays des mandarinsThe quality and variety of the material in this film are remarkable, providing a rich account of everyday urban life in the final years of the Qing dynasty.