“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Beggars Turn Shanghai into a 1930 “Winter Haven”

Posted: February 6th, 2016 | No Comments »

Shanghai was transformed into a “winter haven” for beggars in February 1930….

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The Shanghai Marriage of Benno Moiseiwitsch

Posted: February 5th, 2016 | No Comments »

Benno Moiseiwitsch was born in 1890 in Odessa and soon emerged as a talented pianist. He made his London debut in 1909 and his American debut in 1919. His first marriage, to the Australian violinist Daisy Kennedy, broke down after their hectic tour schedules proved incompatible. In 1928 he toured Australia and then headed back to England, which was by then his adopted country (he would become a British subject in 1937). He stopped off in Shanghai late that year.

In Shanghai he fell in love with Anita “Annie” Gensburger, the French-born daughter of a prosperous Franco-Russian family living in Shanghai. They met in the green room after one of Benno’s concerts in the city. Anita was Russian and her mother, Sarah, cooked Benno Russian food while he was visiting. Her father, Henri, apparently invariably fell asleep at concerts. It was, so it seems, a whirlwind romance and on December 30th they announced their engagement.

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They married in 1929 in Shanghai. A couple of years later they had a son, Boris. They left Shanghai in January 1929 to continue Benno’s world tour.  En-route he appeared in Singapore, just a week after the marriage. They then went to Kuala Lumpur and on to India. Then it was down to South America and then to the USA.Talking in the 1930s Anita recalled that two hours after their marriage she started acting as Benno’s secretary and answering his fan mail.

The marriage lasted until Anita’s death in 1956; Benno died in 1963.

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Visiting Gulangyu and old Amoy

Posted: February 4th, 2016 | No Comments »

Noting a new guide to Xiamen (Amoy as was) from Robert Barge and Camphor Press as it contains a lot of good historical information on the city and former treaty port. Not least, its section on Gulangyu, which I visited in an age, but think fondly of the place often. Apparently, a lot has happened recently, including raising the entry price and the length of the boat trip to reduce visitor numbers, while some houses (which when I last viisted were often rather run down and you could walk through what felt like old Antebellum mansions that had been deserted) have been restored. Anyway, Mr. Barge has the low down and the details of how, when and where…..

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Vibrant, modern, and drenched in history from centuries as a gateway to China, this garden city of two million is a hidden gem. When the author, Robert Barge, arrived in Xiamen to take up an engineering position, he was expecting a typical gray Chinese city; instead, what he found left such an impression that he was inspired to write this book, the first guide dedicated exclusively to Xiamen.

Explore Xiamen’s temples, markets, and old alleyways; stroll through gardens and traverse waterfront boardwalks; hike hills of subtropical forest for sweeping island views, and as night falls sample the street food around Zhongshan Road or watch the sunset over the mainland from seaside Haiwan Park; take a short ferry ride to Xiamen’s crown jewel, the car-free island of Gulangyu, with its beautiful colonial buildings and eccentric museums, and step back in time to the treaty port days when Xiamen was known to the world as Amoy.

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A Tragic 1933 Plane Crash in China…and Rumours of Assassination

Posted: February 3rd, 2016 | No Comments »

The terrible crash in February 1933 of T.V. Soong’s personal amphibian plane. The pilot managed to escape but not his recent bride who died in the wreckage. Christy Mathewson Jr. (below), the son of the same named famous New York Giants pitcher) was a pilot in China and managed to survive. He had only got married to Margaret (Peggy) Philips of Philadelphia the previous Christmas Eve in Hangchow (Hangzhou). They had then gone down to Shanghai for their honeymoon. On January 8 they were due to go back to Hangchow where Christy was working for the Chinese government as a flying instructor. Their friends took the train but Christy had a surprise for Peggy – a ride home in TV Soong’s personal plane – a Sikorsky. Soong, then China’s finance minister and a fan of all-things aviation, had loaned Christy his plane as a wedding present. Peggy was apparently excited about the flight, her first alongside her new husband, and laughed with friends at his flying helmet. The plane took off (I’m not quite sure from where?) and 30 seconds later appeared to lose control and pitched into the Whangpoo (Huangpu) River. It skimmed the surface for a moment before hitting a mudflat and overturned, crushing Peggy fatally. Christy suffered two broken arms and a broken leg.

Just why the accident occurred was never fully determined but one theory was that the plane was sabotaged (perhaps by the Japanese) in an attempt to assassinate TV Soong.

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Shanghai’s New Recreation Ground, 1903

Posted: February 2nd, 2016 | No Comments »

A plan showing the commissioned design for the New Recreation Ground, Shanghai by W. Innis Stuckley, landscape Gardener. Drawn for and published by The Shanghai Municipal Council in 1903 and what became the Hongkew (Hongkou) Recreation Ground and Park.

I am not sure, but I don’t believe the landscape gardener for the project was in Shanghai at the time or ever visited – William Innis Stuckley is listed as having offices in 1902 at Piccadilly Mansions, Piccadilly Circus, London. This is not that odd, many architects and designers never actually visited China but sent in plans from afar. Innis Stuckley appears to have spent 13 years with Mr. H. E. Milner at 46 Dyne Road, Brondesbury (out past Hampstead).

In some ways the use of Innis Stuckley shows that the more recent fad in the PRC for “Starchitects” at all costs (and obviously, with the likes of Hadid etc, regardless of the ultimate suitability of their creations to the surrounding environment or otherwise) is nothing new. Innes Stuckley was a landscape designer of the moment having laid out gardens at quite a few locations including the Edgwarebury hotel in Elstree, Hertfordshire (later to become the home of textile designer Laura Ashley and now a hotel called “Laura Ashley The Manor” and with Innes Stuckley’s original gardens brought back to life).

 

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Great Power Naval Bases of the Orient, 1932

Posted: February 1st, 2016 | No Comments »

A map showing the naval reach of the Great Powers in 1932. The newspaper noted the problems in China in 1932 with Japanese fighting in Shanghai – Britain had already dispatched ships to Hong Kong and Shanghai in case of any incursion into the International Settlement. The US had battle fleets capable of reaching Shanghai in Cavite and Pearl Harbor. The French were a bit stuck as Saigon could only handle smaller ships. Rangoon sadly gets misspelled. You can click on the map to enlarge….

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1927 – Shanghai Bound with Richard Dix

Posted: January 31st, 2016 | No Comments »

Shanghai Bound with Richard Dix and Mary Brian was a silent hit in 1927. Mutinous river freighters in China were a regular news item at the time so it was a “ripped from the front pages” type story about a chaotic China and love on board ship. Sadly the term “tenderfoot” (a person who is not used to living in rough conditions or outdoors) has rather slipped from everyday usage….

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China Trouble 1926

Posted: January 30th, 2016 | No Comments »

Nowadays a triptych of those with “China Trouble” would probably be either three disgraced corrupt politicians/businessmen or three unfortunate Hong Kong booksellers. In 1926 it was the following: an imprisoned ex-president and two warlords…..

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