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

Inside the Hotel des Colonies, Rue du Consulat, Frenchtown

Posted: February 27th, 2015 | No Comments »

A nice advert for the old Hotel des Colonies on the Rue du Consulat (Jingling Road now though the hotel is long gone) in Frenchtown showing its rather sumptuous interior….

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Kiukiang Road in the 1920s…

Posted: February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »

An impressive shot of Kiukiang Road (now Jiujiang Road) in the 1920s reflecting the whole “Wall Street of the East” image the city built up….

Jiujiang Rd Shanghai1920s

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Bath Literature Festival – Understanding China, the Country and the Myth – 28/2/15

Posted: February 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

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Understanding China, the Country and the Myth

Writer and broadcaster Isabel Hilton who has written extensively on China will be joined in conversation by Anne Witchard, whose research investigates changing conceptions of China in Britain. They will be joined by Jonathan Fenby, author of Will China Dominate the 21st Century?,  to discuss one of the most influential countries in the world today.

More details here

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What Happened the Last Time a Wild Tiger Went on the Loose in Shanghai? – Clue – It Didn’t End Well

Posted: February 24th, 2015 | No Comments »

In 1930 or thereabouts a circus visited Shanghai and camped out on some waste land behind the Astor House Hotel in Hongkew. However, security was not all it might have been and a wild tiger, part of the show, escaped and sought freedom in the lanes and alleyways north of the Soochow Creek. It first came to the Shanghai Municipal Police’s attention when it scratched a rickshaw puller who was sleeping next to his vehicle down near the Bund. Not too badly as the puller made it the Central Station (which means he couldn’t have been that badly scratched or alarmed as the Central Station was across the Soochow Creek, over the Garden Bridge and up on Foochow Road – Fuzhou Road if you prefer).

A police officer (called Conning in some accounts – though no officer of that name was ever in the SMP to my knowledge) headed over the wasteland behind the Astor with a nice piece of bloody steak – tied it to a stake and sat back and waited to see if the tiger would appear. The European officer took along a Sikh constable with him. They eventually found the tiger in the Summer House at the Public Gardens on the Bund, what is ow Huangpu Park.

Approaching the Summer House the European officer lobbed in the bloody steak to entice the tiger out and grapsed the rope ready to haul in the beast. Rather than wait and see what the plan was once the copper had a live tiger, that had tasted blood, on the end of a short rope the Sikh officer rather wisely took out his .455 revolver and shot it.

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The old Public Gardens on the Bund with the summer house where the tiger lurked to the left of the bandstand

 

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Getting a holiday in China before the Bamboo Curtain Falls

Posted: February 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »

Get a last gasp of China before it goes Red and Commie in the late 1940s with American President Lines….tourism was about to be off the Maoist agenda!!

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Low Life Druggies in China -1906ish

Posted: February 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Colin Watson’s eminently (still) readable 1971 history of crime writing, Snobbery With Violence, argues that (in England) just before and around the time of the First World War, ‘…drug taking, being expensive, was mainly the indulgence of wealthy and often well-connected people.’ True if you include the worlds of the underbelly and the theatrical. He goes on to note that therefore memoirs of drug taking are invariably few and far between and mostly by the wealthy and privileged. However, this got me thinking, this was not the case in the Far East where drugs were much more affordable closer to source and so pretty much anybody wishing to indulge could. This reminded me of James S. Lee’s druggie memoir Underworld of the East, first published in the 1930s but covering the period from the late 1890s to the early 1920s. Lee, a jobbing English engineer with a taste for narcotics and travel talks of his drug taking experiences in Africa, Brazil, Malaya, India, London and, of course, Shanghai. His Shanghai experiences involved opium, morphia, cocaine and other delights such as drink, prostitutes and pornography in the city in 1906-1907. It is, of course as with such a sensational memoir, long argued as to the complete truth of his memory, but is still interesting. I note that, while originals are hard to come by, it was republished some time back and so worthy of a mention here….

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The Big Sleep – Geiger’s Chinoiserie Porno Pad

Posted: February 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

I blogged a while back about the freuency with which hard boiled novelist Raymond Chandler mentions Chines rugs in his Philip Marlowe books. Happened to be watching the Bogart-Bacall movie of The Big Sleep the other night and realised I’d forgotten about the Chinoiserie house rented by the antiquarian bookseller/pornographer Geiger for his pornography shoots. In the book the girl Carmen Sternwood is naked, though in the movie she’s draped in Chinese style silks – but the implication is clear that she’s been snapped for porno cards and a bit of possible blackmail. Carmen has been doped by Geiger. Had forgotten that…..

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What Happened to the Chinese in the Tsar’s Army?

Posted: February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

Reading Mark O’Neill’s recent book on the Chinese who worked on the Eastern Front in WW1. I wondered what happened to those men – many came home, others stayed in Russia and their fates are lesser known. Many presumably ended up in various Chinatowns in Russia such as those at Vladivostok (there are some incredible pictures of Millionka here by the way that I didn’t know about) and Murmansk I’ve written about recently. Others? who knows – one small anecdote from Truman Capote when he visited Russia in 1956 is perhaps instructive – a young man in 1914 of say, 20, would be in his early sixties in 1956 and similar to Capote’s Chinese encountered on Brest-Litovsk Railway Station. Brest-Litovsk is now simply Brest in Belarus.

Capote recounts his encounter in The Muses are Heard as he wanders through the few kiosks set up to supply victuals to the train passengers heading to St Petersburg (Leningrad)…

It was puzzling to discover that each of the kiosks sold the same products, cans of Red Star salmon, Red Star sardines, Kremlin perfume, dusty bottles of Kremlin candy, pickled tomatoes, hairy slabs of raw bacon slapped between thick slices of grime coloured bread, weird liqueurs, cross buns (without the cross) that one somehow felt had been baked last July. And though the kiosks were attracting a brisk trade, the most sought after item was not on sale at any of them. It was in the private hands of a peddler, an elderly Chinese who carried a tray of apples. The apples were as shriveled and miniature as himself, but his waiting line of customers appeared disconsolate when the last of them evaporated. At the far end of the area a flight of steps led to the main entrance of the station, and the Chinese, folding his empty tray, wandered over to them and sat down next to a friend. The friend was a beggar bundled in an old army coat and with a pair of crutches sprawled beside him like the wings of a wounded bird. Every third or fourth person going by dropped a coin into his hand. The Chinese gave him something too. An apple. He’d saved one ofr the beggar, and one for himself. The two friends gnawed their apples and leaned against each other in the cutting cold. 

 

 

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Brest Litovsk train station around the time of the First World War

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