Harold Giedt, the child of American missionary parents who was born and raised in Shanghai, where he attended the Shanghai American School, found himself back in China in 1945 as a newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Having received training from the military in Mandarin Chinese, he was posted to an assignment in Civil Affairs in Tientsin. He writes:
"On reporting for duty in Tientsin my limited grasp of written Chinese resulted in a shift in assignment from the Intelligence Section to Civil Affairs. There we dealt with the repatriation of Japanese military and civilians, reopening of schools and businesses, and helping Europeans and Americans who had been in POW or civilian internment camps. Some were repatriated to their home countries or helped to immigrate to new countries. Others wanted to resume their lives in China. There were interesting shifts in roles from the prison camps, where people's status depended on their skills and human qualities, to postwar status where education, money and professional roles counted. In the camp a former race horse jockey was highly regard for his skill in obtaining needed medicines, food and other help and an older former courtesan to military officers was loved for her tenderness and patience with troubled children."
Giedt was an enthusiastic amateur photographer, and, before leaving for China, acquired a Kodak Bantam 828 camera for colored slides and a twin lens reflex for black and white photography. In Tientsin he found most of his afternoons free and used the time to roam about, practicing his Mandarin and photographing street scenes and people. A foreign officer in uniform who tried to speak the language proved to be an attraction and helped to break the ice between himself and his subjects.
Giedt returned to the States, resumed his education, became a psychologist (at Cal State Northridge), and raised a family. His China photographs were put away, many remaining in negative form for some 60 years until, with assistance and encouragement of the Old China Hands Archive, they were seen by the photographer and the public for the first time. The photographs revealed both skill in composition and selection of subject and genuine sympathy for the people of China.
In 2007, the Archive mounted an exhibition of Harold Giedt’s Tientsin photographs called Faces of Tientsin, 1946. A sampling of these may be seen by following this link.