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

Old Shanghai Signage – The Bund, International Settlement vs French Concession

Posted: September 29th, 2022 | No Comments »

The latest in my occasional series of old Shanghai signage (use the search box if you want to see other examples). This time how the street signs changed along The Bund and between the International Settlement and the French Concession. Obviously The Bund became the Quai de France south of Avenue Edward VII (Yan’an Road) – slightly different signage…


Dalian Power Station Had a Big Chimney!

Posted: September 28th, 2022 | No Comments »

I was looking at the first picture below the other day – Dalian Power Station in, I think, the early 1920s. Quite a major construction. Then the second picture, which is of the famous “Bankers Circle” where 10 roads converge in downtown Dalian (now Zhongshan, eerrr Square – though it’s clearly round) and where the Yamato Hotel still stands (now the Dalian Hotel), once owned by the Southern Manchuria Railway Company and opened in 1914. In the distance you can see the chimney of the power station….which interested me….


Lu Xun’s Wild Grass and Morning Blossoms Gathered at Dusk

Posted: September 27th, 2022 | No Comments »

This captivating translation assembles two volumes by Lu Xun, the founder of modern Chinese literature and one of East Asia’s most important thinkers at the turn of the twentieth century. Wild Grass and Morning Blossoms Gathered at Dusk represent a pinnacle of achievement alongside Lu Xun’s famed short stories.

In Wild Grass, a collection of twenty-three experimental pieces, surreal scenes come alive through haunting language and vivid imagery. These are landscapes populated by ghosts, talking animals, and sentient plants, where a protagonist might come face-to-face with their own corpse. By depicting the common struggle of real and imagined creatures to survive in an inhospitable world, Lu Xun asks the deceptively simple question, “What does it mean to be human?”

Alongside Wild Grass is Morning Blossoms Gathered at Dusk, a memoir in eight essays capturing the literary master’s formative years and featuring a motley cast of dislocated characters—children, servants, outcasts, the dead and the dying. Giving voice to vulnerable subjects and depicting their hopes and despair as they negotiate an unforgiving existence, Morning Blossoms affirms the value of all beings and elucidates a central predicament of the human condition: feeling without a home in the world.

Beautifully translated and introduced by Eileen J. Cheng, these lyrical texts blur the line between autobiography and literary fiction. Together the two collections provide a new window into Lu Xun’s mind and his quest to find beauty and meaning in a cruel and unjust world.


Peter Thilly’s The Opium Business

Posted: September 26th, 2022 | No Comments »

Peter Thilly’s new history of opium, pubished by Stanford University Press

From its rise in the 1830s, to its pinnacle in the 1930s, the opium trade was a guiding force in the Chinese political economy. Opium money was inextricably bound up in local, national, and imperial finances, and the people who piloted the trade were integral to the fabric of Chinese society. In this book, Peter Thilly narrates the dangerous lives and shrewd business operations of opium traffickers in southeast China, situating them within a global history of capitalism. By tracing the evolution of the opium trade from clandestine offshore agreements in the 1830s, to multi-million dollar “Prohibition Bureau” contracts in the 1930s, Thilly demonstrates how the modernizing Chinese state was infiltrated, manipulated, and profoundly transformed by opium profiteers.

Opium merchants carried the drug by sea, over mountains, and up rivers, with leading traders establishing monopolies over trade routes and territories, and assembling “opium armies” to protect their businesses. Over time, and as their ranks grew, these organizations became more bureaucratized and militarized, mimicking—and then eventually influencing, infiltrating, or supplanting—the state. Through the chaos of revolution, warlordism, and foreign invasion, opium traders diligently expanded their power through corruption, bribery, and direct collaboration with the state. Drug traders mattered—not only in the seedy ways in which they have been caricatured, but crucially as shadowy architects of statecraft and China’s evolution on the world stage.

About the author

Peter Thilly is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Mississippi.


Hong Kong Takes Flight: Commercial Aviation and the Making of a Global Hub, 1930s–1998 – sep 30

Posted: September 25th, 2022 | No Comments »

John D Wong’s Hong Kong Takes Flight looks back at aviation in the colony from the 30s to the closure of Kai Tak Airport.

Commercial aviation took shape in Hong Kong as the city developed into a powerful economy. Rather than accepting air travel as an inevitability in the era of global mobility, John Wong argues that Hong Kong’s development into a regional and global airline hub was not preordained. By underscoring the shifting process through which this hub emerged, Hong Kong Takes Flight aims to describe globalization and global networks in the making. Viewing the globalization of the city through the prism of its airline industry, Wong examines how policymakers and businesses asserted themselves against international partners and competitors in a bid to accrue socioeconomic benefits, negotiated their interests in Hong Kong’s economic success, and articulated their expressions of modernity.


Gunboats, Empire and the China Station

Posted: September 23rd, 2022 | No Comments »

Matthew Heaslip’s history of the the Royal Navy in 1920s East Asia waters

Examining Britain’s imperial outposts in 1920s East Asia, this book explores the changes and challenges affecting the Royal Navy’s third largest fleet, the China Station, as its crews fought to hold back the changing tides of fortune.

Bridging the gap between high level naval strategy and everyday imperial culture, Heaslip highlights the importance of the China Station to the British imperial system, foreign policy and East Asian geopolitics, while also revealing the lived experiences of these imperial outposts. Following their immersion into a new world and the challenges they encountered along the way, it considers how its naval officers were perceived by the Chinese populations of the ports they visited, how the two communities interacted and what this meant at a time of ‘peace’.

Against the changing nature of Britain’s informal empire in the 1920s, Gunboats, Empire and the China Station highlights the complex nature of naval operations in-between major conflicts, and calls into question how peaceful this peacetime truly was.


Peking/Peiping Crow Map of Beijing…

Posted: September 22nd, 2022 | No Comments »

The tourist plan of Peking originally published for Carl Crow’s Handbook for China (first edition 1913) appeared in later editions as Peiping after the Nationalist Government changed the name and moved to Nanking in 1927….Here are both versions…(and a little still from 1932’s Shanghai Express)


Old Shanghai’s Restaurant Constantinople

Posted: September 21st, 2022 | No Comments »

A contact in China sent me this great photo of the Restaurant Constantinople, once resident on the 1011 Avenue Joffre (though usually described – post the end of Concessions initial KMT road renaming Lingsen Road and then in the post-1949 second renaming of the CCP Huai Hai Middle Road). A White Russian-run establishment that had been around since the 1930s described as a ‘Caucasian Restaurant’ with a garden at the back for outside dining. Sadly the Constaninople is now buried under the ghastly IAPM Mall, which I don’t think anyone sane would argue is an improvement.