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

Judge Dee Returns…Courtesy of Qiu Xialong

Posted: December 1st, 2021 | No Comments »

Qiu Xiaolong – the Shanghai-born/US resident author of the Inspector Chen (1990s Shanghai) series – has decided to revive Judge Dee, the Robert van Gulik series about a Tang Dynasty magistrate that he began writing during World War Two. The first in Qiu’s new series is just out…A Shadow of the Empire….

Judge Dee Renjie, Empress Wu’s newly appointed Imperial Circuit Supervisor for the Tang Empire, is visiting provinces surrounding the grand capital of Chang’an. One night a knife is thrown through his window with a cryptic note attached: ‘A high-flying dragon will have something to regret!

Minutes after the ominous warning appears, Judge Dee is approached by an emissary of Internal Minister Wu, Empress Wu’s nephew. Minister Wu wants Judge Dee to investigate a high-profile murder supposedly committed by the well-known poetess and courtesan, Xuanji, who locals believe is possessed by the spirit of a black fox.

Why is Minister Wu interested in Xuanji? Despite Xuanji confessing to the murder, is there more to the case than first appears? With the mysterious warning and a fierce power struggle playing out at the imperial court, Judge Dee knows he must tread carefully . . .

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“The Ancient East in the West End”: Margaret Morris and Angkorr (1917) at the London Coliseum

Posted: November 30th, 2021 | No Comments »

An especially interesting article by Anne Witchard of the University of Westminister available via open access in the latest edition of Feminist Modern Studies (Volume 4, 2021 – Issue 3: Feminist Modernist Dance Studies)….click here to read…

Given that Fauvist, Futurist, Rhythmist and Vorticist painting and sculpture took dance and the dancer as an endlessly inspirational point of departure in their exploration of what Clive Bell termed “significant form,” Modernist scholarship has remained neglectful of the mutual borrowings of this synaesthetic relationship. “Above all let us dance and devise dances” wrote Bell, enthused by Henri Bergson’s espousal of rhythmic sequence and gesture in dance to illustrate his philosophy of time, durée and individual consciousness. Modern dance for Bell was on a par with primitive art, “the highest art form” because it too “dispenses with attempts to be representational” (Art 1914). In London’s avant-garde reordering of aesthetic merit, Asia no longer stood for stasis, but the static perfection of the transcendental. While Jacob Epstein’s scandalous assault on London’s architecture at one end of the Strand continued to reverberate, his iconoclastic abandonment of the Greek in favor of East Asian forms found its aesthetic counterpart in Margaret Morris’s ballet Angkorr at the Coliseum Theatre some blocks away. This paper aims to situate Morris within these Bergsonian influenced movements and to position British Modernist dance as a core element of their innovations.

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Colin Thubron’s The Amur River

Posted: November 29th, 2021 | No Comments »

Thubron’s recently published The Amur River: Between Russia and China has (I’m only 50 pages in so far…) some good background on twentieth century Mongolia and Buryatia….I should mention that the Amur remains a popular subject at the moment – Dominic Ziegler’s Black Dragon River was also very good and Franck Bille and Caroline Humphrey’s On the Edge: Life Along the Russia-China Border (out 10/12/21) too (I’ll blog on that later)….

The Amur River is almost unknown. Yet it is the tenth longest river in the world, rising in the Mongolian mountains and flowing through Siberia to the Pacific to form the tense, highly fortified border between Russia and China.

In his eightieth year, Colin Thubron takes a dramatic 3,000-mile long journey from the Amur’s secret source to its giant mouth. Harassed by injury and by arrest from the local police, he makes his way along both the Russian and Chinese shores on horseback, on foot, by boat and via the Trans-Siberian Railway, talking to everyone he meets. By the time he reaches the river’s desolate end, where Russia’s nineteenth-century imperial dream petered out, a whole, pivotal world has come alive.

The Amur River is a shining masterpiece by the acknowledged laureate of travel writing, an urgent lesson in history and the culmination of an astonishing career.

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Translating the Occupation: The Japanese Invasion of China, 1931–45

Posted: November 26th, 2021 | No Comments »

Translating the Occupation: The Japanese Invasion of China, 1931–45, edited by Jonathan Henshaw, Craig A Smith and Norman Smith….

From 1931 to 1945, Chinese citizens were subjugated to Japanese imperialism. Despite the enduring historical importance of the occupation, Translating the Occupation is the first English-language volume to provide such a diverse selection of important primary sources from this period. Contributors have translated Chinese, Japanese, and Korean texts on a wide range of subjects, focusing on writers who have long been considered problematic or outright traitorous. This volume offers a practical, accessible sourcebook from which to challenge standard narratives. It deepens our understanding of the myriad tensions and transformations at work in Chinese wartime society.

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Mulk Raj Anand’s 1945 The Big Heart dedicated to Xiao Qian (Hsiao Ch’ien)

Posted: November 25th, 2021 | No Comments »

The Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand and the Chinese journalist Hsiao Ch’ien (Xiao Qian) were both in London at the same time during World War Two. They lived quite close – Anand in Primrose Hill, Hsiao in Belsize Park, and they both worked on the Eastern Service of the BBC with many notable names, including Orwell (who was good friends with Anand. They became friends. In 1945 Anand published a novel, The Big Heart

first edition

‘The theme of the novel is the conflict between hereditary copper smiths and the capitalists. It is a novel about a village of artisans in Amritsar District in the early 1940s whose livelihood is destroyed by the establishment of a factory producing copper utensils…The story ends with the machine emerging the winner over human.’

Interestingly Anand chose to dedicate the novel to Hsiao and ‘the friendship of India and China.’

Mulk Raj Anand (1905-2004)
Hsiao at the BBC during WW2
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Peonies & Ponies – From Acton to Beaton

Posted: November 24th, 2021 | No Comments »

Any fans of the 1930s Peking aesthetes with a bit of cash to spare my find this the perfect Christmas gift…

Inscribed to Cecil Beaton

PEONIES AND PONIES A NOVEL.

Acton, Harold:

London: Chatto & Windus, 1941. Gilt cloth. Spine cocked, binding a bit darkened and handsoiled, a few spots to the top edge with a bit of bleed to the top edge of the front endsheets, some light foxing and creasing to a few corners, but a good copy, without dust jacket. Item #WRCAM85435

First edition. An association copy of a high order, inscribed by the author on the front free endsheet to his contemporary, friend and fellow “Bright Young Thing,” Cecil Beaton: “To my dear friend Cecil, the brilliant perpetuator of Paquita Gossamer’s charms (see p. 288) with much love from Harold.” The reference on p.288 is to a film star and hostess of late-night parties on the roof of the Peiping Palace Hotel, who has promised Freddie Follicle, social editor of the PEIPING STAR BULLETIN, “an autographed ‘study’ of herself in SEMIRAMIS by Cecil Beaton.” A few smudges on that page suggest that Beaton turned to it more than once. The first impression consisted of 1250 copies.

You can buy it here for US$1,650

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Remembering when Xiao Hengqin, Da Hengqin and Wanzai were Dom João, Montanha and Lapa

Posted: November 23rd, 2021 | No Comments »

My latest Long Read for the South China Morning Post history of the one-time verdant and mountainous islands (now mostly landfill) of Dom João, Montanha and Lapa – later Xiao Hengqin, Da Hengqin and Wanzai – between Macao and Guangdong for the South China Morning Post Weekend Magazine – sorry, it’s paywalled, if anyone is a Hengqin fan email and i’ll send a pdf….

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Hong Kong’s Chinese YMCA Three Bridges Centre Building and Harry Hussey

Posted: November 22nd, 2021 | No Comments »

An interesting piece in Zolima magazine on Hong Kong’s Chinese YMCA’s Bridges Street Centre building and its architect Harry Hussey, who was also involved with the YMCAs in Shanghai and the Peking Union Medical Building in Peking as well as having one of the best hutong homes of all time (see my post on that here).

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