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

Frontline Club, London – 18/1/17 – Death Squads and Diplomacy: Drug War in The Philippines

Posted: January 16th, 2017 | No Comments »

Just a quick non-historical post to say i’ll be moderating this event this coming Wednesday at the Frontline Club in London – ticket details here

Death Squads and Diplomacy: Drug War in The Philippines


After a campaign that promised to cleanse the country of drug crime, the new President of the Philippines Rodriguo Duterte has launched a brutal and unrelenting mission to expunge drug dealers from the country. Since he took office in July 2016, there have been nearly 4,000 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users at the hands of police and vigilantes. Among the victims are young children and bystanders, whom the president has publicly referred to as ‘collateral damage’.

At the same time, the controversial leader has shaken up the country’s diplomatic ties, calling for a split from the United States and turning toward China as a new ally. This move presents an obstacle to the United States’ efforts in the South China Sea, unsettling its position as the dominant power in the Pacific.

Will president Duterte be held accountable for the mass killings taking place in the Philippines? How did the disturbing violence currently sweeping the country begin, and what does it teach us about impunity, power and the spread of violence?

Chaired by Paul French, an author and widely published analyst and commentator on Asia, Asian politics and current affairs.

Speakers (full panel announced soon):

Gilberto G.B. Asuque is Deputy Chief of Mission of the Philippine Embassy

Vladimir Hernandez has been working as a journalist for over 15 years in Latin America, covering big stories like the drug war in Mexico, the years of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the Kirchner rule in Argentina.

Eric Gutierrez is Christian Aid’s Senior Governance Adviser, and author of the report “Drugs and Illicit Practices: Assessing its impact on governance and development”. He grew up in Manila, where he published on criminal entrepreneurs in illicit economies, and the conflict in the Muslim areas of southern Philippines. His PhD dissertation is entitled “Criminals Without Borders: Agrarian Change and Interdependency in Opium and Coca Producing Territories”, a comparative study of the political economy of illicit drugs in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Colombia, and Bolivia.

Daniel Berehulak (via Skype) is an independent Australian photojournalist and frequent contributor to the New York Times. He won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for his coverage of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa for the New York Time and was a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his coverage of the 2010 Pakistan floods. His photography has also earned three World Press Photo awards and the John Faber award from the Overseas Press Club. Berehulak recently spent one month in the Philippines where he covered Duerte’s drug war, photographing over 40 murder scenes.

Dr Tom Smith is an academic working for the University of Portsmouths team teaching at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell. His PhD focused on the muslim insurgencies in southern Thailand and the Philippines. Since May 2016 Tom has had 5 op-eds for the Guardian published, 2 in the Conversation and the Diplomat Magazine as well as several other international media outlets including the UN Dispatch podcast, all focused on the many complex issues in the Philippines.

Header image by Daniel Berehulak for the New York Times

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Take a Day Off & Browse the Malcolm Rosholt Collection

Posted: January 15th, 2017 | No Comments »

Wonderful that the people at Visualising China have scanned and uploaded the photographic archive of Malcolm Rosholt…a little detail below and at this link….do take a look…


Today we are able to unveil a significant new addition to our collections that is now available for viewing: the photographs of Malcolm Rosholt. Born in Wisconsin in 1907, Malcolm Rosholt arrived in China in 1931 with the intention of undertaking graduate work at Yenching University in Beijing. Instead he parlayed some journalistic experience into what became a seven-year stint as a staff writer on the American-run China Press newspaper in Shanghai. He returned for a few months in late 1940, and in October 1944 arrived in Kunming assigned to work with the US Fourteenth Air Force. The majority of the 1,086 photographs date from his earlier stint, and in particular from the August-November 1937 conflict where, as Rosholt later put it, ‘I covered the battlefronts and press conferences and took a stack of pictures with the Leica, some of which were used in the China Press and others I sold to the Associated Press and New York Times.’

Of course the eagle eyed among you will know that i slipped Rosholt onto the cover of my history of the foreign press corps in China, Through the Looking Glass, nearly a decade ago – the man with the dapper suit and stick amid the rubble of a bombed section of Shanghai…



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Now Available – Ultra-Modernism Architecture and Modernity in Manchuria

Posted: January 14th, 2017 | No Comments »

Ultra-Modernism Architecture and Modernity in Manchuria is the eagerly awaited new book from Edward Denison and Guangyu Ren…a feast for fans of Manchuria and north east China history and modernist architecture….


The first half of the twentieth century was fraught with global tensions and political machinations. However, for all the destruction in that period, these geopolitical conditions in Manchuria cultivated an extraordinary variety of architecture and urban planning, which has completely escaped international attention until now. With over forty carefully chosen images, Ultra-Modernism: Architecture and Modernity in Manchuria is the first book in English that illustrates Manchuria’s encounter with modernity through its built environment. Edward Denison and Guangyu Ren take readers through Russia’s early territorial claims, Japan’s construction of the South Manchuria Railway (SMR), and the establishment of Manchukuo in 1932. The book examines in detail the creation of modern cities along the SMR and focuses on three of the most important modern urban centres in Manchuria: the Russian-dominated city of Harbin, the port of Dalian, and the new capital of Manchukuo, Hsinking (Changchun).Like so much of the world outside ‘the West’ during the twentieth century, Manchuria’s encounter with modernity is merely a faint whisper drowned out by the deafening master narrative of Western-centric modernism. This book attempts to redress an imbalance in the modern history of China by studying the impact of Japan on architecture and planning beyond the depredations of the Sino-Japanese War.

Edward Denison is an architectural historian and photographer based in London, where he is lecturer in architectural history and theory at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Guangyu Ren is an architect and researcher based in London.

‘Ultra-Modernism: Architecture and Modernity in Manchuria is a concise, fascinating reminder of northeast China’s transformation a century ago, when it was known as Manchuria. Denison and Ren show how Dalian, Shenyang, Changchun, and Harbin went from a sleepy port, a decaying imperial seat, and small agricultural settlements to sleek, manicured metropolises linked by the world’s longest railway to Europe. This is an excellent addition to both syllabus and bookshelf.’

—Michael Meyer, author of In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China and The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

‘Manchuria today conjures up images of rusting heavy industry and a hostile environment. But beneath the coal dust is a built environment that was once at the cutting edge of what was meant to be modern. This creative and comprehensive book takes readers back to a time when the region was an outdoor laboratory for modernity and cosmopolitanism.’

—James Carter, author of Creating a Chinese Harbin: Nationalism in an International City, 1916–1932

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The Villa Fersen Opium Den, Graham Greene and his Couple of Pipes

Posted: January 13th, 2017 | No Comments »

Following the sad death of Shirley Hazzard last December I re-read her 2000 book Greene on Capri – her short memoir of her life on Capri, her friendship with her neighbour Greene and the island in general. A couple of things were thus remembered by me – the opium den in Capri’s Villa Fersen and Greene’s own supposed trial of the drug.


The Villa Fersen, now the Villa Lysis, was built by the industrialist and poet Jacques d’Adelsward-Fersen (below) in 1905. Fersen had had to decamp from Paris after a rather unsavoury sex scandal. While the house was being built Fersen went on an extended trip to Sri Lanka, where he got addicted to opium.


So Fersen created an opium den in the villa (below) where he could indulge his habit – ‘a low ceilinged room furnished with a curve of divans…an opium den in supposed imitation of a Roman nymphaeum.’ In other words quite marvellous. Sadly the ceiling fell in and largely destroyed the interior. Fersen died in 1923 after an overdose of cocaine.


The villa fell to ruin, which was how Hazzard and Greene discovered it much later. They were able to see the ruins of the old opium den, which apparently pleased Greene much. Greene then told Hazzard that after he had been in Indo-China researching what became his novel The Quiet American a local Capri countessa had given him a tin of opium that she herself had been given by Fersen in the early 1920s but never opened. Greene remarked, ‘Very good it was, too. It provided several pipes, smoked in my London flat.’ Hazzard notes though that with Greene, ‘References to opium – or to Kim Philby – were never without bravado.’


Greene maintained that unlike Cocteau (who he enjoyed reading apparently) he never became an opium addict. Greene had of course once wanted to journey to China to work, had indeed briefly studied Chinese with Lao She in London in the 1920s and was a great fan of Maurice Collis’s book on opium Foreign Mud.


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Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai – Tavern at the Radisson Xingguo Hotel Book Launch: Ruth’s Record – The Diary of an American in Japanese-Occupied Shanghai 1941-1945

Posted: January 12th, 2017 | No Comments »
Saturday, 14th January 2017
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Tavern at the Radisson Xingguo Hotel

Book Launch: Ruth’s Record – The Diary of an American in Japanese-Occupied Shanghai 1941-1945

Speaker: Betty Barr


The year 1941 was a turning point for the world, but long-time Shanghai resident Ruth Hill Barr had no way of knowing that when she started her five-year diary on January 1st. Before the year was over, the Japanese Army had occupied Shanghai’s International Settlement, and she and her family were stranded as enemy aliens, soon to be placed in a Japanese internment camp. The Barrs were confined in the Lunghwa internment camp, in the same block as J.G. Ballard, author of the book Empire of the Sun. Ruth’s daughter Dr. Elizabeth Barr, M.B.E. (aka Betty Barr) has included explanations and memories to her mother’s diary, which is recently published as Ruth’s Record: The Diary of an American in Japanese-Occupied Shanghai 1941-1945. A longtime RAS member, Betty Barr will discuss the book, which her mother had written in secret during the camp years, revealing the fascinating details of anguish and the incredible perseverance of life inside and outside the Shanghai camps during the war.

About the speaker:

Dr. Elizabeth Barr, M.B.E. (aka Betty Barr) was born in Shanghai in 1933 and was interned in Lunghwa Camp in 1943-1945. She graduated from Shanghai American School in 1949 and then attended Wellesley College. After teacher training in Glasgow, she taught at Ying Wa Girls’ School in Hong Kong. In 1973-1975 she was a teacher at the then Shanghai Foreign Language University. Following that, she was a teacher of English as a Second Language in Fife, Scotland, from 1975 to 1984. In 1984 she returned to Shanghai to marry George Wang and taught at Shanghai International Studies Institute until her retirement in 2002. Since her retirement she has co-authored six books with her husband.

RSVP: bookings@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn

ENTRANCE: Members: 70 RMB Non Members: 100 RMB
VENUE: Tavern; Radisson Plaza Xingguo Hotel, 78 Xing Guo Road (兴国宾馆, 兴国路78号)
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RAS Shanghai Book Club – 16/1/17 – Stephen Platt’s Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom

Posted: January 12th, 2017 | No Comments »
Monday, 16th January 2017
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom

Author: Stephen R. Platt, 2012

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War


Stephen R. Platt is an historian of late imperial China, specializing in 19th century and China’s foreign relations. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom won the 2012 Cundill Prize, the largest international literary prize for a work on history. Platt is professor of history at University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA, where he teaches courses on modern Chinese history and the writing of history.

Set in a global context Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom is an account of China’s 19th century Taiping Rebellion/Civil War (1850-1864), one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars in human history. The movement’s supreme leader Hong Xiuquan (b.1814 – d.1864), self-proclaimed son of God and younger brother of Jesus, strove to transform China by fulfilling a quasi-Christian millenarian vision. The Taiping rebels drew their power from the poor and the disenfranchised, unleashing the ethnic rage of millions of Chinese against their Manchu rulers. The war was fought mostly in the south but, over 14 years of war, the Taiping Army marched through every province of China proper except Gansu. At its apogee the Taipings held sway over a territory roughly the size of Italy.

Platt tells the epic story from a fresh perspective. A major element he brings to the fore is the equivocal involvement of Britain and the international context of this Chinese power struggle. Officially London was neutral towards both the Qing and the rebels, even though some missionaries who met the Taiping saw them as a force that might modernize China and open up relations with the West. Hong Rengan, a far-sighted cousin of the Taiping leader, encouraged this prospect and plays a major role in Platt’s narrative.

The movement seemed all but unstoppable until Britain and the United States, along with armies raised by rural Han gentry, stepped in and threw their support behind the Manchus. After years of massive carnage, all opposition to Qing rule was effectively snuffed out for generations.

RSVP: bookevents@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn

ENTRANCE: Members: RMB Non Members: RMB

Complimentary for Members, RMB 50 Non-Members

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Robert Shaw’s Dragon Tattoo in 1973’s ‘The Hireling’

Posted: January 11th, 2017 | No Comments »

If you haven’t seen the 1973 Robert Shaw and Sarah Miles film, The Hireling, then I strongly recommend it. Miles plays Lady Franklin, a distraught upper class widow in Bath in the 1920s who hires Leadbitter (Shaw), a Great War veteran as her chauffeur. Of course there’s an attraction but the harshness of life and fall out from the war on one side and the strictures of class on the other intervene.

Anyway, the reason the film rates a mention on China Rhyming is that at one point we are given a nice close up of Shaw’s forearm with a splendid Chinese dragon tattoo. Ledbetter was stationed in Hong Kong and was regimental boxing champion – as the local Chinese tattooist couldn’t do boxing gloves, he got a dragon instead.

The film is based on the 1957 novel by LP Hartley, though I don’t think the reference to Hong Kong, tattoos and dragons appears in the book.





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Royal Asiatic Society Beijing Walk & Talk – “Portrait of Dashilar” led by Lars Ulrik Thom – 14/1/17

Posted: January 10th, 2017 | No Comments »

“Portrait of Dashilar” led by Lars Ulrik Thom for RASBJ


Please join the RASBJ for a special talk and walk, led by Lars Ulrik Thom of Beijing Postcards and focused on the fabled Dashilar neighborhood just south of Tiananmen Square. We’ll meet in Beijing Postcards’ newly renovated Public History space and gallery for Lars’ presentation on “Beijing Arrivals”, a project exploring residents’ early memories of the Chinese capital. Then we’ll venture into the alleyways of this former “red-light district”,  stopping at historic sites and the home of Hu Chengming, the last inkbrush-maker of Beijing. Attendees will receive a free calendar and welcome drink.

WHAT: “Portrait of Dashilar, led by Lars Ulrik Thom”
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 14, from 2:00 – 4:30 PM
WHERE: meet at Beijing Postcards’ new gallery at #97 Yangmeizhuxiejie, Xicheng district, walkable from Hepingmen or Qianmen subway stops (details will be sent to those who RSVP)
HOW MUCH: RMB 150 for RASBJ members, RMB 200 for non-members
RSVP: please email events@rasbj.org and write “Dashilar” in the subject header

NOTE: Please dress appropriately for winter weather!

MORE ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Beijing Postcards was co-founded by Lars Ulrik Thom and Simon Rom Gjeroe, who first indulged their passion for Chinese history by collecting visual interpretations of China such as photographs, prints and maps.  Many of these artefacts were discovered outside China because they were originally taken, drawn or published by foreigners.  Lars conducts talks, walks and research on the varied layers of history in China’s ancient capital.


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