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

Muslim, Trader, Nomad, Spy: China’s Cold War and the People of the Tibetan Borderlands

Posted: April 26th, 2015 | No Comments »

Sulmaan Wasif Khan’s Muslim, Trader, Nomad, Spy looks to be of interest for those looking at the origins of the PRC’s occupation of Tibet, war against Tibetan culture and hatred of the Dalai Lama….


indexIn 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, leaving the People’s Republic of China with a crisis on its Tibetan frontier. Sulmaan Wasif Khan tells the story of the PRC’s response to that crisis and, in doing so, brings to life an extraordinary cast of characters: Chinese diplomats appalled by sky burials, Guomindang spies working with Tibetans in Nepal, traders carrying salt across the Himalayas, and Tibetan Muslims rioting in Lhasa. What Chinese policymakers confronted in Tibet, Khan argues, was not a “”third world”” but a “”fourth world”” problem: Beijing was dealing with peoples whose ways were defined by statelessness. As it sought to tighten control over the restive borderlands, Mao’s China moved from a lighter hand to a harder, heavier imperial structure. That change triggered long-lasting shifts in Chinese foreign policy. Moving from capital cities to far-flung mountain villages, from top diplomats to nomads crossing disputed boundaries in search of pasture, this book shows Cold War China as it has never been seen before and reveals the deep influence of the Tibetan crisis on the political fabric of present-day China.

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Hipster Ex-Pat Hutong Dwellers – Are You a Mrs. Mascot of a Philip Flower?

Posted: April 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

The tag line for this blog is Mark Twain’s ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.’ Reading Christina Larson’s recent piece on the Los Angeles Review of Books China blog, Two Views of a Hutong, definitely rhymed. Peking’s last few remaining hutongs as hipster ex-pat hangouts complete with plenty of bike riding, small dog ownership, tai-chi on the roof, gourmet granola shops (whatever they are!) and houses full of young folk from overseas apparently watching earnest documentaries and working for media companies or non-profits (same thing these days really). We could probably add to that anecdotes about searching for authentic food, language classes, developing a taste for Chinese opera, claiming years of long China service and extensive travel and repeatedly stating how much better and more authentic Peking is compared to the generally loathed arriviste alternative Shanghai. So here they are then, all these ex-pats in Peking seeking both the authentic China experience and modern comforts…nothing new though, thus was it ever, and I still believe Harold Acton perfectly captured both kinds of foreigner in Peking in his 1941 novel Peonies and Ponies.


Acton, the archetypal English aesthete resided in Peking between 1932 and 1939, studied Chinese, translated poetry and novels and hang out
(as much as anybody “hung out” in the 1930s) with the upper echelons of ex-pat society. The very readable Peonies and Ponies (and I wonder how many Peking hipsters have a copy on their hutong bookshelves these days?) gives us two types of ex-pat in the city, neatly condensed and still, I’m convinced, apposite today. So, Beijing ex-pat strolling your hutong after a DVD and some tai-chi in search of  high quality granola, are you a Mrs. Mascot or a Philip Flower?

Mrs. Mascot:

“Peking’s such loads of fun. Jugglers, fortune-tellers, acrobats, puppet-shows, temple tiffins, treasure hunts and Paomachang picnics – not to speak of costume jamborees, galas and fancy dress affairs – always something original! Home-made natural fun, not imported or artificially manufactured as in Shanghai. And there’s always a delicious spice of the unexpected.”

or Philip Flower:

“Sufficient to know and be profoundly grateful, to realise that he was as far as it was possible to be from post-war politics and the general jumpiness of Europe while comfortably within the orbit of its dubious civilisation, imbibing serenity from the geometrical quietude of China’s ancient capital. And everything about him still remained supernatural, brought grist for pantheistic reverie and wonder.”


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Truly Criminal – The Murder of Eliza Shapera in the Shanghai Trenches, 1907 – The Footnotes

Posted: April 24th, 2015 | No Comments »

Those who like their Shanghai history on the seedy and criminal side may be interested in a piece I have in a new true crime anthology – Truly Criminal - from the UK Crime Writers’ Association and published by The History Press. It concerns the murder of an East European prostitute known as Eliza Shapera in 1907 in the notorious red light district north of Soochow Creek (Suzhou Creek) called The Trenches. The wasn’t room in the article for footnotes so for anyone who’s read the piece here are some references to the places and roads mentioned and their current names that may be of interest.

Woosung Road – Wusong Road

Scott Road – Shanyang Road/Shande Road

Kiangse Road – Jiangxi Road

the junction of Szechuan Road and Dixwell Road- Sichuan Road North and Liyang Road

Hongkew Park – Lu Xun Park

Yangtsepoo – Yangpu

Hongkew – Hongkou

Whangpoo River – Huangpu Rover

the Astor House Hotel – Pujiang Hotel

Siccawei- Xujiahui

Pootung – Pudong

Sawgin Road – Shajing Road

Truly Criminal




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Truly Criminal – The Murder of Eliza Shapera in the Shanghai Trenches, 1907 – Some pictures

Posted: April 24th, 2015 | No Comments »

Following on from yesterday’s post about my new true crime short story A Murder in the Shanghai Trenches, as there wasn’t any room for pictures in Truly Criminal, here are a few….if you want to know how these locations are relevant you’ll need to buy the book and read the true story of the murder of Eliza Shapera in Hongkew in 1907 I’m afraid….

HongkewThe old Hongkew police station with water tower in the background…this building was replaced by a larger and more modern structure in 1930


Hongkew Park

Kiangse Rd bridge

The bridge across Soochow Creek to Kiangse Road – facing from north to south, i.e. towards Kiangse Road with its water tower (not the same tower as above obviously)

shapera minna detained-page-0The North China Herald on ‘The Hongkew Tragedy’, September 27th, 1907


The Russian Consulate (with red roof) on the banks of the Whangpoo at junction with Soochow Creek and the Astor House Hotel behind (with green roof)


Siccawei Creek

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Truly Criminal – A 1907 Murder in the Shanghai Trenches, the sad case of Eliza Shapera

Posted: April 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »

I’m delighted to be a contributor to the new true crime anthology from the UK Crime Writers’ Association – Truly Criminal. My contribution – A Murder in the Shanghai Trenches – is the true story of the 1907 murder of Eliza Shapera, a Jewish woman of dubious virtue, a prostitute, probably trafficked from Russia in the then notorious red light area of Scott Road in Hongkew, aka The Trenches. The murder was investigated by two veteran detectives of the Shanghai Municipal Police Detective-Sergeant Thomas Idwal Vaughn and Detective-Inspector John McDowell. Their investigation took them into the heart of The Trenches and the brothels of the area and their suspects included a mysterious Indian pimp, two Chinese house thieves and various Chinese and European prostitutes. It was a major cause celebre at the time and highlighted the dark underbelly of turn of the century Shanghai, a world of vice and crime that was to make the city notorious as it grew and festered throughout the first half of the twentieth century up to the Second World War. I’ve based my reinvestigation of the case on the newspaper articles and court documents of the time and, I think, that even after more than a century we can now see quite clearly who killed Eliza, and why they did it….

I’ve added some additional background on old Shanghai’s districts of sin and murder as well as an excerpt from the piece here on the Los Angeles Review of Books China blog and an interview on the case of Eliza Shapera and writing about old Shanghai on RTHK Radio 3 in Hong Kong…..


Truly Criminal

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Last Chance to Hear About China’s Ghost Cities in London – Tonight

Posted: April 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

A last chance to hear Wade Shepard on his new book Ghost Cities of China, the latest release in my Zed Books Asian Arguments series…

Arthur Probsthain Bookshop

22nd April 2015, 6.30pm
Ghost Cities of China
by Wade Shepard

DSC01494_7425London’s oldest Orientalist bookstore – Probsthains…as it was


and as it is now

The Arthur Probsthain Bookshop is pleased to invite you to a book launch reception co-hosted with Zed Books on Wednesday, 22nd April, at 6.30 pm at Arthur Probsthain Bookshop, 41 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3PE (opposite British Museum).

Wade Shepard, the author of Ghost Cities of China, will be happy to sign copies of his book on purchase.

Light refreshments and drinks will be available.

RSVP. Tel. 0207 636 1096


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Minnie the Lu Lu Terrier, Tunbridge Wells’s Most Famous Victorian Chinese Stuffed Dog

Posted: April 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Say hello to Minnie, the Lu Lu Terrier, born in China in 1871 and died in Tunbridge Wells, Kent in 1883 and is now preserved, stuffed, in a glass case in the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery as perhaps their strangest exhibit. Tunbridge Wells was once the home of rakes and dandies, rather than yummy mummies and tired commuters and so quite the place for Minnie. The cabinet (a bit hard to see in this photo I admit) was created by Minnie’s owner with preserved flowers and pictures of wide eyed children. Though described as a Lu Lu terrier, no such breed exists officially but Minnie’s owner called her a Lu Lu terrier and so that is what she has remained – a stuffed, preserved, garlanded, ball of white floss from China in a glass cabinet in Tunbridge Wells. Seems happy enough to me….




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The Best Writing by Diplomats from China – Don’t expect anything recent

Posted: April 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

51cYViS2VtL._AA160_Reading Kerry Brown’s recent short, but measured, Penguin Special on the parlous state of diplomacy when it comes to China I couldn’t help pondering one of the problems that Brown posits with tact but I’ll mention with none – the generally poor state of most western nations diplomatic staff in China. Britain in particular has not had anyone able to offer much thought on China for some time now in Beijing. But once diplomats in China were fun, fascinating and all-round intellectuals, scholars and poets. Blandness is today’s key to being a top diplomat in China it seems – say nothing, do less, hold no opinions. It wasn’t always like that and the books below prove it…books we will never see the like of again now the age of the diplomat-scholar and diplomat-poet is long past….

indexPaul S Reinsch, An American Diplomat in China (1922). Reinsch was an early China Hugger who had the temerity to like China and the Chinese and actually believe in promoting the Open Door Policy, Wilson’s 14 Points and agenda for smaller, less powerful nations and had to resign after the First World War when Washington turned its back on all that. He was attacked for being soft on China, and for having a German surname, but he was a great American Ambassador and wrote a considered and affectionate book about his time in Peking. In An American Diplomat Reinsch fought back and defended his position and the Chinese – not a likely thing to appear on bookshelves these days from an Ambassador to the PRC.

1401976315MLM_1Daniele Vare’s The Maker of Heavenly Trousers (1935) is the best of several books Vare wrote while an Italian diplomat in Peking. He was urbane, stylish, extremely well read and very popular. A modern day diplomat would find wandering the hutongs for chance conversations with interesting merchants a bit tricky – they’re pretty much all bulldozed and somehow the tale of a walk round a Carrefour and a chat with the staff at a new Subway Sandwiches franchise is just not as charming.

indexReginald Johnston was a British diplomat in Hong Kong and Weihaiwei and, of course, tutor to Pu Yi. Twilight in the Forbidden City (1934) is the story of that experience and the old Forbidden City. One imagines that the tutors of some horrid Red Prince at Harvard won’t get quite the same lush source material.


Saint-John Perse’s Anabasis is a wonderful poem written in 1924 and then translated by none other than TS Eliot in 1930 (any diplomat poetry worthy of an Eliot translation currently!). Perse was actually Alexis Leger, the press attache at the French Legation in Peking between 1916 and 1921. While in Peking he wrote Anabasis and so it is suffused with imagery from China and Asia.  It is simply beyond comprehension to imagine a diplomat in Beijing doing such a thing now!

indexThe marvelously named Count Damien de Martel and Baron Leon Viktorovich de Hoyer wrote Silhouettes of Peking in 1920 something or other – it was mildly scandalous at the time recounting various love affairs and infidelities. De Martel served as Chargé d’Affaires in the 1910s and Foreign Minister in the 1920s; De Hoyer was the Russian head of the Russo-Asiatic Bank’s Peking branch. Imagine the British Ambassador and the head of Standard Chartered in Beijing writing a racy, scandalous and immensely evocative book of the city after the fall of the Qing nowadays!

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