Shanghai before the war was of course a city famed for 24/7, 365 partying and nightlife. Nothing interrupted it – not war, civil strife, plague outbreaks, freezing cold or stinking humidity – except, it seems, the death of King George V in January 1936. So significant was this that the papers at the time felt it important to record that the city’s nightlife halted for a moment. Of course, as a footnote, George V’s death meant the accession to the throne of Edward VIII who had to abdicate after a short stint due to a certain American lady with a rather shady Shanghai past!!
In 1930 senior American missionary Dr Tompkins told his local newspaper in Benton Harbor, Michigan of his long years in China and the conclusions he had reached after all that time….
Flood of Fire, the final book Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy which has so wonderfully evoked the old Canton Factories takes us to the eve of the Opium Wars….
It is 1839 and tension has been rapidly mounting between China and British India following the crackdown on opium smuggling by Beijing. With no resolution in sight, the colonial government declares war. One of the vessels requisitioned for the attack, the Hind, travels eastwards from Bengal to China, sailing into the midst of the First Opium War. The turbulent voyage brings together a diverse group of travellers, each with their own agenda to pursue. Among them is Kesri Singh, a sepoy in the East India Company who leads a company of Indian sepoys; Zachary Reid, an impoverished young sailor searching for his lost love, and Shireen Modi, a determined widow en route to China to reclaim her opium-trader husband’s wealth and reputation. Flood of Fire follows a varied cast of characters from India to China, through the outbreak of the First Opium War and China’s devastating defeat, to Britain’s seizure of Hong Kong. Flood of Fire is a thrillingly realised and richly populated novel, imbued with a wealth of historical detail, suffused with the magic of place and plotted with verve. It is a beautiful novel in its own right, and a compelling conclusion to an epic and sweeping story – it is nothing short of a masterpiece.
MAY 23, SATURDAY:
“SECRETS OF THE BOXER REBELLION: MYTHS, MEDIA AND MADAMES“,
AN RASBJ PANEL
“Secrets of the Boxer Rebellion: Myths, Media and Madames,” a panel discussion about little-known aspects of the anti-imperialist uprising and seige of foreign legations in Beijing. Their 1900 struggle thrust the “Militia United in Righteousness” or Yihetuan — known in English as the “Boxers” — into worldwide headlines, inspiring commentary, books and films.
But the movement remains greatly misunderstood. Did you know the Boxers would never have considered themselves “Boxers” at all? That foreign media propagated some surprisingly “noble” images of the rebels? That daily life in the beleaguered legations included morale-lifting performances and stage plays? That women on all sides — including Boxers and foreigners — played significant roles during the uprising and its aftermath?
On the eve of the 115th anniversary of the seige, these revelations will be discussed by our panelists: Lars Ulrik-Thom and Rosie Levine of Beijing Postcards — which collects archival photos, prints and maps and conducts research on old Beijing — and Dr. Ines von Racknitz who teaches Chinese history at Nanjing University, focusing on the late Qing era.
WHEN: May 23, Saturday 3:30-5:30 pm
WHERE: Capital M http://www.m-restaurantgroup.
3/F, No.2 Qianmen Pedestrian Street (just south of Tiananmen Square)
HOW MUCH: 75 RMB per person. This includes the cost of one drink.
RSVP: please email email@example.com indicating your name, how many seats you wish to reserve and a phone number.
This event is jointly organized by the Royal Asiatic Society in Beijing and Capital M. We hope to see you there!
I’ve blogged previously a couple of times about the English occultist Aleister Crowley and his interests in China (his perception of himself as Master Kwaw etc). Crowley did visit Shanghai briefly in 1906 for most of the month of April. Interestingly I recently came across a reference to him contacting the wife of the Chinese diplomat Wellington Koo soliciting funds and sending a copy of his book. Madame Koo, the stylish and beautiful Perakanese sugar fortune heiress Oei Hui-lan, sent a rather charming reply, returning the copy of Crowley’s Book of the Law with a note reading:
‘Instead of destroying your Book of the Law, I venture to return it to you in case you might be short of copies.’
No new recruits to the Beast there then!…
FYI: for more on Crowley’s time in Shanghai read Ned Kelly’s tale of the Beast’s brief sojourn on the Whangpoo here…
Owners of lovely bookshops Daunt Books are now purveyors of their own lovely books too; a seller becoming a publisher . They specialise in publishing “brilliant, yet neglected books” (you can check out their catalogue here). Their latest is a reissue of Ann Bridge’s Peking Picnic, from 1932. It was her first novel and one of only two she wrote about China (The Ginger Griffin being the other). You can read a good summation of the novel here – a classic that I’d rank alongside Acton’s Peonies and Ponies as a description of the life of privileged foreigners in Peking between the wars). If you’ve read it before then it’s worth a re-read and if you’ve never read it, then shame on you!
As the Nationalists secured control of the country in 1929 they started enacting laws on various outdated customs. One problem was to deal with the rapid escalation in bride prices over the last decade that had left many families either destitute or unable to marry off their daughters while other families couldn’t afford to pay for their sons weddings. Regulation required. So, hence the new guidelines – $150 max to future son-in-laws with a discount to $100 bucks if the bride had been married before. Of course, whether this new regulation ever worked or not is another matter, as is whether or not anyone in China’s government today would think to step in and regulate bride prices?
Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own ArmyPosted: May 19th, 2015 | No Comments »
Phyllis Bimbaun’s Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy looks like a good read…..
Aisin Gioro Xianyu (1907-1948) was the fourteenth daughter of a Manchu prince and a legendary figure in China’s bloody struggle with Japan. After the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1912, Xianyu’s father gave his daughter to a Japanese friend who was sympathetic to his efforts to reclaim power. This man raised Xianyu, now known as Kawashima Yoshiko, to restore the Manchus to their former glory. Her fearsome dedication to this cause ultimately got her killed. Yoshiko had a fiery personality and loved the limelight. She shocked Japanese society by dressing in men’s clothes and rose to prominence as Commander Jin, touted in Japan’s media as a new Joan of Arc. Boasting a short, handsome haircut and a genuine military uniform, Commander Jin was credited with various daring exploits, among them riding horseback as leader of her own army during the Japanese occupation of China. While trying to promote the Manchus, Yoshiko supported the puppet Manchu state established by the Japanese in 1932, which became one of the reasons she was executed for treason after Japan’s 1945 defeat. The truth of Yoshiko’s life is still a source of contention between China and Japan–some believe she was exploited by powerful men, others claim she relished her role as political provocateur. China holds her responsible for unspeakable crimes, while Japan has forgiven her transgressions. This biography presents the most accurate and colorful portrait to date of the controversial princess spy, recognizing her truly novel role in conflicts that transformed East Asia.