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

Skvirsky Photo Studio, Nanking Road, Shanghai

Posted: June 24th, 2019 | No Comments »

On some levels Skvirsky’s was just another White Russian emigre-run photo studio in Shanghai. There were quite a few. Leonid “Leo” Skvirsky had a good address on Nanking Road East (Nanjing Dong Lu). Formerly the company had been Sanzetti and Skvirsky.

Skvirsky was a much-in-demand wedding photographer with both the Russian emigre and wealthy Chinese elite. In many albums of China sojourners or army/Navy Skvirsky photos sit alongside the better known names of Afong (based in Yantai, formerly Chefoo), and Joseffa. He was a popular photographer, it seems, with the US Navy – see his picture of the officers and men of “E” Division of the USS Sacramento, that docked in Shanghai in (the rather tense month of) February 1938

However, Skvirsky also did some really interesting photographs, as you can see below….the portrait of a western woman dressed in a Japanese costume is from the 1930s (possibly a performer in a production of the Mikado).

I believe Skvisky eventually left for the USA and settled in Atlanta.

fourth daughter of the Kwok Bews, a prestigious family in charge of the Wing On Department Store in Shanghai in the early 20th century, Daisy Kwok – photographed on her wedding day by Skvirsky.
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Is China About to Witness a Crime Wave? On Chinese Crime Writers & Readers….

Posted: June 21st, 2019 | No Comments »

An article by me for the Crime Reads web site composed after my March /April tour round China talking to Chinese audiences in various bookshops about crime novels, true crime and gangster movies in the PRC….

Is China About to Witness a Crime Wave?

Jia Zhangke’s 2019 Ash is the Purest White – The Jianghu lifestyle writ large on the silver screen..
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The Mayflower – the go-to joint for Cantonese Food on old Shanghai’s Love Lane in the 1930s…

Posted: June 19th, 2019 | No Comments »

Let’s hit the Mayflower Restaurant – Cantonese Food served in a foreign style (which, I suspect, meant western cutlery as opposed to any particularly different dishes – though invariably a little chop suey was added to the menu to attract the Americans).

Right there on Love Lane (see my previous posts on this now sadly totally destroyed but once charming – and by once I mean, still so into the early twenty first century) by the Santa Anna dance hall, Van’s Dutch Inn and a host of other hostelries, bars, dance halls and a bordello or two. Wukiang Road became Wujiang Road. The food stall lunch time and night market many will remember still operating in the 1990s was bulldozed, crappy chains poliferated, ugly tower blocks and then finally, in the late 2000s, the eastern end of the street, that had hung on for some time, was trashed too.

The Roxy was next to the old Marines Club on Bubbling Well Road (now Nanjing Xi Lu, and still hanging on. After the war I think the Mayflower became the Diana Cafe (but could be wrong there), popular with GIs.

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Stalin’s superspy in China and Japan: champagne Communist Richard Sorge seen in a new light in An Impeccable Spy

Posted: June 17th, 2019 | No Comments »

My review of Owen Matthews’s recent biography of Richard Sorge in the South China Morning Post….

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/books/article/3014213/stalins-superspy-china-and-japan-champagne-communist

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The Silent Traveller: Chiang Yee in Britain 1933-55 – Blue Plaque Unveiling and Symposium in Oxford (29/6/19)

Posted: June 15th, 2019 | No Comments »

International Symposium:

‘The Silent Traveller: Chiang Yee in Britain 1933-55’

Join Da Zheng, Chiang Yee’s biographer, historian Paul French (author of Midnight in Peking),and other China experts to learn about Chiang’s eventful life. The unveiling of an Oxford Blue Plaque at Chiang Yee’s former residence will follow the symposium.

Speakers: Paul Bevan (Ashmolean Museum), Sarah Cheang (Royal College of Art), Paul French (author), Tessa Thorniley (University of Westminster), Anne Witchard (University of Westminster), Frances Wood (Formerly of the British Library), Da Zheng (Suffolk University, Boston).

More details – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-silent-traveller-chiang-yee-in-britain-1933-55-tickets-58563545140

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P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Posted: June 12th, 2019 | No Comments »

A long overdue biography of PC Chang…from Hans Ingvar Roth….

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the world’s best-known and most translated documents. When it was presented to the United Nations General Assembly in December in 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the writing group, called it a new “Magna Carta for all mankind.” The passage of time has shown Roosevelt to have been largely correct in her prediction as to the declaration’s importance. No other document in the world today can claim a comparable standing in the international community.

Roosevelt and French legal expert René Cassin have often been represented as the principal authors of the declaration. But in fact, it resulted from a collaborative effort involving a number of individuals in different capacities. One of the declaration’s most important authors was the vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Peng Chun Chang (1892-1957), a Chinese diplomat and philosopher whose contribution has been the focus of growing attention in recent years. Indeed, it is Chang who deserves the credit for the universality and religious ecumenism that are now regarded as the declaration’s defining features. Despite this, Chang’s extraordinary contribution has been overlooked by historians.

Peng Chun Chang was a modern-day Renaissance man—teacher, scholar, university chancellor, playwright, diplomat, and politician. A true cosmopolitan, he was deeply involved in the cultural exchange between East and West, and the dramatic events of his life left a profound mark on his intellectual and political work. P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first biography of this extraordinary actor on the world stage, who belonged to the same generation as Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. Drawing on previously unknown sources, it casts new light on Chang’s multifaceted life and involvement with one of modern history’s most important documents.

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Shanghai’s Broadway Theatre and Roy’s Roof Garden

Posted: June 11th, 2019 | No Comments »

An April stroll through what remains of Tilanqiao and the old Jewish Ghetto. A favourite building is the old Boadway Theatre. The Broadway Theatre was on Wayside (Huoshan Lu) and the Wayside Theatre was on Broadway (Daming Lu). What interested me was that there was a plaque to Roy’s Roof Garden – which I’ve written about before – see below. I may be wrong, but I’m sure there only used to be a plaque to the theatre. Some years ago I slipped up the impressive main stairs, through the pool hall and onto the roof where Roy’s was – but it was all just old boxes of junk and a Jewish ghost or three….My description of it in the old days below….

“Now cross the Soochow Creek, head east and consider those stateless European Jewish refugees who flocked from Berlin or Vienna to Hongkew. They liked nothing better than to go drinking and dancing on Roy’s Roof Garden above the Broadway Theatre on Wayside Road, in the heart of their newfound Oriental ghetto and hoped-for safety from persecution. Ascend through a down-at-heel pool hall to the roof (if the fire door is left open) and see that nothing remains but the rooftop itself – the rattan chairs and plain deal tables, the makeshift bar, the ice buckets, the red and green light bulbs strung around the wood planking that once made a small stage.

The band and the dancing are all gone. Of course in the 1940s, when leaving the ‘Heim’ was problematic, Roy’s offered both music and dancing; a chance to socialise, fall in love, have a little Yiddish conversation, swap ghetto gossip, or enjoy a Friday evening shabbat shalom in the Far East. To climb the broad stairway to the roof of Roy’s was to escape the everyday food queues, fights for onward visas, and the petty squabbles and inevitable kvetching of Wayside Road. It was in itself, perhaps, a kind of freedom for those whose future was so uncertain.”

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Shanghai Vs Hong Kong, 1937 – was it ever thus? A Soviet Spy’s View…

Posted: June 10th, 2019 | No Comments »

A small anecdote from Owen Matthews’s biography of Richard Sorge, An Impeccable Spy

1937 – Shanghai is under fire from the Japanese and a Soviet secret agent, Anna Clausen, is told she cannot go there as it may be too dangerous. The secret meeting will be changed to Hong Kong. But despite the danger Anna insists of Shanghai….

‘I don’t like Hong Kong because I have no friends and there is nothing to buy there…’

Hong Kong: safe, but boring…(just one spy’s view!)
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