All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

Serge Vargasoff’s Chinese Marines on the Walls of Peking, 1937

Posted: May 22nd, 2024 | No Comments »

Chinese Marines on the wall round Peking, 1937. By Russian-born photographer Serge Vargassoff (1906-1965) who started work at 20 in Peking. He Later set up Serge Vargassoff Photography at 3A Wyndham Street, HK & worked at Gainsborough Studio, Morning Post Building, HK


Skies of Thunder: The Deadly World War II Mission Over the Roof of the World

Posted: May 21st, 2024 | No Comments »

Caroline Alexander’s Skies of Thunder: The Deadly World War II Mission Over the Roof of the World (Viking Press USA) remembers the pilots of the Hump…

In April 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army steamrolled through Burma, capturing the only ground route from India to China. Supplies to this critical zone would now have to come from India by air – meaning across the Himalayas, on the most hazardous air route in the world. SKIES OF THUNDER is a story of an epic human endeavor, in which Allied troops faced the monumental challenge of operating from airfields hacked from the jungle, and took on ‘the Hump,’ the fearsome mountain barrier that defined the air route.They flew fickle, untested aircraft through monsoons and enemy fire, with inaccurate maps and only primitive navigation technology. The result was a litany of both deadly crashes and astonishing feats of survival. The most chaotic of all the war’s arenas, the China-Burma-India theater was further confused by the conflicting political interests of Roosevelt, Churchill and their demanding, nominal ally, Chiang Kai-shek. Caroline Alexander, who wrote the defining books on Shackleton’s Endurance and Bligh’s Bounty, is brilliant at probing what it takes to survive extreme circumstances. She has unearthed obscure memoirs and long-ignored records to give us the pilots’ and soldiers’ eye views of flying and combat, as well as honest portraits of commanders like the celebrated ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stillwell and Claire Lee Chennault. She assesses the real contributions of units like the Flying Tigers, Merrill’s Marauders, and the British Chindits, who pioneered new and unconventional forms of warfare. Decisions in this theater exposed the fault-lines between the Allies – America and Britain, Britain and India, and ultimately and most fatefully between America and China, as FDR pressed to help the Chinese nationalists in order to forge a bond with China after the war. A masterpiece of modern war history.

There’s also a good piece on the book by the author at Crimeresads.com here.


Jonathan Chatwin’s The Southern Tour – An Excerpt

Posted: May 20th, 2024 | No Comments »

This weekends South China Morning Post magazine includes an extract from Jonathan Chatwin’s The Southern Tour – out this week from Bloomsbury Asian Arguments….click here


The Sinica China Ultimate Bookshelf #50 – Socialism is Great!

Posted: May 19th, 2024 | No Comments »

The Sinica Ultimate China Bookshelf #50 – Socialism is Great! By Lijia Zhang (2008) on Kaiser Kuo’s Sinica substack….. click here….


Faraway the Southern Sky: A Novel

Posted: May 18th, 2024 | No Comments »

A superb short novella – Faraway the Southern Sky – from Joseph Andras (translated by Simon Leser) published by Verso on the young Ho Chi Minh in Paris….

Fleeing persecution in Indochina, the young Ho Chi Minh arrived in Paris as World War I was sputtering to a close. A painfully shy twentysomething, he joined the shadowy figures of the demimonde, the radicals, poor artists, prostitutes, the luckless, and rebellious.

Six years later, he boarded a train bound for the young Soviet Union as the fiery, passionate leader of the Vietnamese independence movement and a founder of the French Communist Party. He had lived under various pseudonyms in a succession of seedy apartments. There had been arrests and beatings, jobs in restaurants and photo shops, revolutionary writing in the Bibliothèque nationale, and meetings with Chaplin and Colette, all while being dogged by French spies-much of what we know about the young man’s Paris years is thanks to that surveillance.

Searching for traces of the past in the streets of today, Joseph Andras hears echoes of other angry histories, from terror attacks to tent encampments to the protests of the Gilets jaunes. This intensely lyrical, genre-bending book is a meditation on what could be called the grandeur of the poor, the free, the outcast, and the rebellious-people who might not find a place in history books but without whom history could not be written.


Her Lotus Year – The Goodreads Giveaway

Posted: May 16th, 2024 | No Comments »

If you’re a book reviewer/recommender then my new book Her Lotus Year: China, The Roaring Twenties and the Making of Wallis Simpson (St. Martin’s Press, November 2024) is now up on Goodreads with the chance to win copies (sorry – US & Canada only for now – EU & UK coming). You’ve got 15 days to win a copy – click here.



The Old Gardenia Club’s Latest Incarnation

Posted: May 15th, 2024 | No Comments »

Every few years I seem to blog about a new incarnation occurring at what was once the great Alexander Vertinsky’s Gardenia Club (which features pretty prominently in my book City of Devils). Nobody seems to be able to keep a business running in the building any longer than the old Russian crooner himself did back in the late 1930s/1940 or thereabouts. So (thanks to George Godula of The Museum of Foreign Brand Advertising in Shanghai – MOFBA for this latest shot).

First we have a couple of shots the Gardenia on Yu Yuen Road (Yuyuen Lu) when it was The Gardenia and Vertisnky’s swank joint. Then a shot from 2019 sent to me in 2019 (when I did go and have a quick lunch there myself!) when it was the brilliantly titled Superman Hotpot. And finally George’s shot from May 2024, when the old Gardenia seems to have taken a rather Japanese swing….


Bill Lascher on Melville Jacoby – Hong Kong Heritage

Posted: May 14th, 2024 | No Comments »

Bill Lascher’s curated collection of Mel Jacoby’s amazing photography – A Danger Shared – of China, Hong Kong, Macao, the Philippines and Australia in the 1930s and World War Two is available from Blacksmith Books (and all good bookshops in Hong Kong and some key independents in the UK and USA). I was honoured to be asked by Bill to contribute a short foreword to the beautiful book… Bill recently did a long interview with Annemarie Evans on her excellent RTHK3 show Hong Kong Heritage (here)…