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

Quinsan Gardens Postcard – Mislabelled…

Posted: May 20th, 2019 | No Comments »

This undated postcard is labelled “Shanghai, Hongkew Park” (which is now Lu Xun Park). However, i think it is the old Quinsan Gardens. Hongkew Park was (and remains) far larger than this. True – Quinsan Gardens was a park in Hongkew (Hongkou), but they were too different places….

the mis-labelled card

Quinsan Gardens, or alternatively Quinsan Square, just off Quinsan Road (now Kunshan Hua Yuan Road) was named after the town (often spelt Qinsan or Qinshan) in Zhejiang Province. Actually the Gardens (pictured below – as well as misidentified above) were not entirely a park but a road with a green square for the public.

However, they were a centre of serious do- gooding. The Nurses Association of China was based along the road (10) as well as The China Christian Educational Association and the China Continuation Committee (dedicated to linking up all Christians across China) which was at No. 5 with its Christian Book Room at No. 3, while the China Christian Endeavour Union was at No. 1, run by Mr. and Mrs. Edgar E. Strother (who eventually gave up missionary work in Shanghai to “convert the heathen of New York”). Given the presence of all these nurses and missionaries, both believed to be good-hearted, the Gardens became a congregating spot for beggars hoping for plenty of charitable donating from those visiting the local offices.

a correctly labelled postcard of Quinsan Gardens..sadly long gone to redevelopment
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Roland Dorgeles’s On the Mandarin Road, 1926…

Posted: May 16th, 2019 | No Comments »

French novelist Roland Dorgelès’s 1926 On the Mandarin Road, a journey through Vietnam, Cambodia and other part of French Indo-China. The small American review is rather succinct and does capture the essence of the travelogue…

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Lu Xun on the Rebuilt North Sichuan Road, September 1933

Posted: May 15th, 2019 | No Comments »

The North Sichuan Road, like today’s Sichuan Bei Lu, ran from Avenue Edward VII (Yanan Lu), the border between the International Settlement and Frenchtown, as far as the northern edge of the Settlement at Range Road (now Wujin Road). Beyond that it was in Chinese territory, though the Settlement had a lot of sway and the area became known as The Northern External Roads. Around the early 1930s the somewhat substandard Sichuan North Road between Range Road and Hongkou Park (now Lu Xun Park), where it ends, was upgraded with a better roadway, utilities and new housing. It became quite desirable, though a little way beyond the Settlement boundaries, and was on the trolleybus route. Further south Sichuan North Road had long been popular with foreigners and so the northern extension would prove to be while still retaining a very Chinese flavour.

The following is from a piece by Lu Xun called ‘Shanghai Children’ and published in Vol.2, issue 9 of the Shen bao Monthly in September 1933. This translation of the opening two paragraphs is by Andrew F. Jones and appears in the new Lu Xun collection Jottings Under Lamplight (edited by Eileen J Cheng & Kirk A Denton – Harvard University Press)…

‘The newly built section of Sichuan North Road just beyond the boundary of the concessions went quiet for the better part of a year because of the war (i.e. the Battle of Shanghai, Jan-March 1932), but this year (i.e. summer 1933) it’s as lively as ever. The stores have moved back from their safe haven in the French Concession, the cinemas have long since re-opened (including the famous Isis), and you often see lovers walking hand in hand in the vicinity of the park (Hongkou/Lu Xun Park). None of this was in sight last summer.

If you walk into the narrow residential alleys, you’ll see public toilets, cooked rice sold from carrying poles, swarms of mosquitoes flying through the air, groups of children making mischief, dramatic disturbances, richly developed obscenities. It is truly a chaotic little world unto itself. Yet once you come back out to the boulevard, what projects itself into your vision are the spirited and lively foreign children playing and walking down the sidewalk. Somehow it is as if the Chinese children are no longer visible. It is not that they aren’t there, just that with their shabby clothes and dispirited manner they have been reduced to shadows by the others and hardly catch one’s eye at all.’   

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Lu Xun, Ruo Shi & Kathe Kollwitz

Posted: May 14th, 2019 | No Comments »

In my recently published collection of essays on old Shanghai, Destination Shanghai (Blacksmith Books, 2018), I mention the Zeitgeist Bookstore, a small left-wing establishment run by the German communist Irene Weitermeyer in the late 1920s. It was on the North Soochow Road (now Suzhou Bei Lu). Lu Xun was a regular visitor, as was Agnes Smedley, as well as the Cominetern agents Richard Sorge & Hotsumi Ozaki. I’m convinced Roger Hollis was recruited there by the Soviets in the late 1920s and later became Britain’s “Fifth Man”. You’ll have to read the essay ‘Red Sojourners at the Zeitgeist Bookstore’ for the whole argument.

Anyway, Lu Xun, himself of course a man of generally left wing opinions, also spoke German and enjoyed the conversation there. He recalled in his memoirs being introduced, in 1932, by Agnes Smedley, and Ursula Hamburger (another Comintern spy in Shanghai), to the woodcuts by the Berlin artist Kathe Kollwitz. Kollwitz was a friend of Smedley’s from her Berlin sojourn between 1921 and 1928. However, I think either the exhibition was a year earlier, or Lu Xun already knew Kollwitz’s woodcuts.

The fascinating new collection of various pieces of journalism by Lu Xun, Jottings Under Lamplight (edited by Eileen J Cheng & Kirk A Denton – Harvard University Press) shows his thinking when he selected a Kollwitz woodcut – The Sacrifice (1923) – to commemorate his friend Rou Shi (who had been devoted to his mother), a left wing writer executed by the KMT for his communist beliefs in 1931. Lu Xun was an admirer of Kollwitz’s and German expressionism; Rou Shi apparently introduced him to woodcuts in general as an art form.

The image appeared in the inaugural issue of Beidou (Big Dipper)


[1] Elizabeth Emrich, Modernity Through Experimentation: Lu Xun and the Modern Chinese Woodcut Movement, (Leiden: Brill, 2014).

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Exhibition: ‘Asia Chic: The Influence of Chinese and Japanese textiles on the fashions of the Roaring Twenties’ – Geneva, Switzerland – till July 7th

Posted: May 10th, 2019 | No Comments »

In France, around the 1920s, a great number of magazines written for and about women were founded. The Gazette du bon ton, art, modes et frivolités was one of the best to reflect the period, but there were also Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Costumes parisiens, Journal des dames et des modes, the French version of Vogue and Les Modes, for example. They offered advice on different topics, such as home decoration, lifestyles, the theatre, fashionable holiday resorts, and of course fashion, all abundantly illustrated with colour plates. These were generally created from a drawing whose outlines were first engraved, then printed with black ink. The areas within the outlines were then filled in with watercolours or gouaches, applied using a stencil. The composition of the images, the different stages of their production, and the themes developed all strongly resemble the Japanese woodblock prints by which they were inspired.

The Baur Foundation in Geneva has a sufficiently ample and representative collection of Asian textiles to provide a comparison with the Western fashions of this period. The remarkable encounter of the two has given rise to an exhibition and catalogue in which designs by Parisian creators are displayed alongside pieces of contemporary Far Eastern textiles. The accompanying book makes it possible also to publish the donations of Japanese kimonos and other clothes received by the Baur Foundation – including the Sato Mariko (2008) and Sugawara Keiko (2015) donations – but also certain Chinese textiles that add to the richness of the institution’s collections. And there’s a book….

When? 10 April 2019 – 7 July 2019, Tuesday to Sunday  2 pm to 6 pm

Where? Baur Foundation, Museum of Far Eastern Art, 8 rue Munier-Romilly 1206 Geneva – Switzerland

Admission fees: adults: CHF 15.- , students, seniors and unemployed:  CHF 10.-, Free of charge: AMS/VMS, ICOM, Press, children under 16, Groups above 10: CHF 10.-

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The Teatro Apollo, Macao

Posted: May 9th, 2019 | No Comments »

A quick visit to the Teatro Apollo on Macao’s Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, just off the Leal Senado. Completed in 1935 and opened with the English language motion picture “The Merry Widow”. The cinema could seat over a thousand paying customers and the complex always included some ground level retail and adjacent apartments, which must have been a great address. In the 1940s and 50s the cinema also hosted some stage shows and began to show more Cantonese films.

Sadly there’s nothing much to see now except the exterior. The once grand lobby is a clothes shop with false lowered ceilings – who knows what’s behind the paint and plaster. The old auditorium is now used as a warehouse and is inaccessible.

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Seagulls in Shanghai and Hong Kong

Posted: May 9th, 2019 | No Comments »

There is a tale, told by Ian Fleming in his 1963 book Thrilling Cities, that (in the early 1960s) there were no seagulls in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour due to the remaining number of sampans picking all the trash out of the water. Fleming says that he was told that this was also the case in Shanghai on the Huangpu River until 1949 when sampan families were largely forced to come ashore and settle. Seagulls then appeared in Shanghai where none had been seen for generations. Good story and told since at least the 1930s – but is it true?

I can’t find any photographs of seagulls in Shanghai before 1949, though Shi Zhecun, the inter-war modernist writer in Shanghai did pen a short story entitled Seagulls in 1932. He is imagining seagulls, but obviously knows what they are! However the story is not set in Shanghai but a seaside village just outside the city.

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Chiang Yee Blue Plaque Unveiling & Symposium – June 29 2019 – Oxford

Posted: May 7th, 2019 | No Comments »

A few years ago Anne Witchard at University of Westminster told me that she had read an article on the BBC website that the people who do the Blue Plaques thought there were not enough in the UK to black and Asian people. Indeed, there are only two (to our knowledge) to Chinese people – the one to Dr Sun Yat-sen in Cottered, Hertfordshire, and one to Lao She in Bayswater. So we contacted the Oxford Blue Plaques Committee and suggested Chiang Yee – and now he’s getting one…as Anne Witchard has organised a symposium on the same day…

‘The Silent Traveller: Chiang Yee in Britain 1933-55’

Saturday 29th June 2019

Time: 10.00 am – 16.00 pm

Headley Lecture Theatre, Ashmolean Museum

Open to the public and free of charge but booking essential

You are cordially invited to attend a symposium at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, to celebrate the awarding of a Blue Plaque to Chinese artist Chiang Yee (1903-1977) author of the Silent Traveller series, much loved for its Chinese perspective on Britain’s landscapes and people.

Chiang Yee lived for fifteen years in Southmoor Road, Oxford, after his London home was destroyed in the Blitz.  We will be joined by Chiang Yee’s biographer Da Zheng, author of The Silent Traveller from the East, Paul French author of Midnight in Peking, acclaimed historian Frances Wood, and other China experts to discussthe surprisingly eventful life behind the modest persona of the self-styled Silent Traveller.

Booking Essential for purposes of catering

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-silent-traveller-chiang-yee-in-britain-1933-55-tickets-58563545140

Programme

10.00 registration

10.20 Welcome Paul Bevan (Ashmolean Museum) and Anne Witchard (University of Westminster) 

10.30 Da Zheng ‘The Silent Traveller at Home’

11.15 coffee

11.30 Paul Bevan ‘Chiang Yee in Hampstead’

12.00 Paul French ‘Chiang Yee’s War Effort’

12.30 Tessa Thorniley ‘Chiang Yee and Children’s Books’

13.00 complimentary lunch provided (hence booking essential!)

13.45 Anne Witchard ‘Chiang Yee and English ballet’

14.15 Diana Yeh ‘Chiang Yee and Oxford friendships – the Hsiungs’

14.45 Frances Wood ‘Chiang Yee, a lonely Chinese Intellectual in 1930s Britain’

15.15 Sarah Cheang ‘Chiang Yee, Race and Story-Telling’

15.45 summary discussion/questions

16.00 Closing words from Professor Robert Evans and walk to plaque unveiling

contact A.Witchard@westminster.ac.uk

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