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

The Last of the Chinese Labour Corp Return Home from France – 21 Years Later

Posted: May 2nd, 2016 | No Comments »

Among the men of the Chinese Labour Corps (the so-called Coolie Corps) that went to Europe in World War One to work for the British and French governments some never returned home – dead in France or Belgium – while others opted to stay in Europe, married, had families, started businesses etc. Some stayed for a while after the war, helping/working in the reconstruction of the continent after the conflict. Most of these only stayed a few years. But some it seems stayed a lot longer. Here, in 1937, is a record of perhaps the last of the Chinese Labour Corps to return home to China – 21 years after they signed up for the Corps in China in 1916 – in 1937….

(PS: this Wednesday – May 4th no less!! – a one-day China and the Great War Symposium is being held at the Imperial War Museum in London with several speakers on the Chinese Labour Corps – their history and contribution – including Xu Guoqi, Paul Bailey, Gregory James and Guo Xiaolu  as well as an exhibition of photographs from the Imperial War Museum of the Labour Corps – tickets are free and bookable here)

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Die Gelbe Post and AJ Storfer

Posted: May 1st, 2016 | No Comments »

The headed paper and details of the Shanghai newspaper, Gelbe Post, run by A.J. Storfer from 17 Canton Road (Guangdong Road now)…more on the paper and Storfer below from my book Through the Looking Glass

Gelbe Post headed paper 1940

In 1931 a weekly was launched called Die Gelbe Post (The Yellow Post) that concentrated more on Jewish cultural affairs, some news and commentary. In 1938 Albert Joseph Storfer (below) took over the editorship and eventually turned it into a daily. Storfer had been a noted Viennese psychoanalyst and a founder of, and writer for, the International Psychoanalytical Press, which published Freud’s works. He was also employed by the Frankfurter Zeitung and had even tried, largely unsuccessfully, to make “psychoanalytical films” in Berlin. After this brief foray into movie-making, he returned to publishing, working in Berlin for the Ullstein Publishing Company. Storfer had moved around Europe through Switzerland and Germany as a psychoanalyst and writer and, in December 1938, he emigrated to Shanghai to get back into the newspaper business and enjoy some Nazi-free nightlife. In 1939 he announced his intention of turning Die Gelbe Post into a weekly, then, in 1940, a bi-weekly and eventually a daily. Storfer eventually left Shanghai to settle in Melbourne.

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Shanghai’s 1922 Refugee Crisis

Posted: April 30th, 2016 | No Comments »

I’ve posted before about various refugee waves and crises that hit old Shanghai….here in 1932, here in 1937 and here in 1947…1922 saw the sudden influx of a large number of White Russian refugees in sensational circumstances and is well worth remembering.

By the end of 1922 the Bolsheviks had effectively consolidated power across Russia…the civil war came to end and the Wars of Intervention forces withdrew. A flotilla left Vladivostok headed by a hero of the Russo-Japanese War Admiral Stark (below) of the White Army…30 boats, some in serious danger of sinking, 8,000 refugees crowded aboard. The boats made it down the coast to Korea where the Japanese refused to let sixteen of the boats leave due to their obvious un-seaworthiness. Those left behind stayed in the care of the Japanese Red Cross. The remaining boats with 3,000 refugees left and headed for Shanghai – two boats were lost at sea with all hands during the journey in a typhoon – the destroyer Dydymov and the transport Asia.

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Despite their sufferings the refugees arrival at Shanghai was seen as problematic – the Chinese authorities and Settlement police were worried about illicit guns and ammunition on the boats that could be traded to warlords while the general view among many Shanghailanders was that they were about to be “swamped” by Russian refugees. The Chinese authorities (he was at Woosung, not yet in foreign Shanghai) ordered the ships to leave within 48 hours or be attacked. The ships did indeed have arms aboard but the Russians sold them to the Chinese army.

gilyak-and-angaraOne of the refugee fleets dilapidated boats

Eventually most of the poor refugees stayed – about 2,000 out of the 3,000 who were non-naval or military personnel. Admiral Stark sailed out of town headed for Manila where he sold the remaining boats to raise money to support White Russian refugees – most of his crews eventually got passage to America, Stark himself went to France and then on to Finland where he died in 1928.

Shanghai easily absorbed a couple of thousand White Russians….and many, many more Russians and other refugees from across China and fleeing fascism for the remainder of its time as an International Settlement.

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Scythe and the City: A Social History of Death in Shanghai

Posted: April 29th, 2016 | No Comments »

Christian Henriot’s history of death in Shanghai is now out….

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The issue of death has loomed large in Chinese cities in the modern era. Throughout the Republican period, Shanghai swallowed up lives by the thousands. Exposed bodies strewn around in public spaces were a threat to social order as well as to public health. In a place where every group had its own beliefs and set of death and funeral practices, how did they adapt to a modern, urbanized environment? How did the interactions of social organizations and state authorities manage these new ways of thinking and acting?

Recent historiography has almost completely ignored the ways in which death created such immense social change in China. Now, Scythe and the City corrects this problem. Christian Henriot’s pioneering and original study of Shanghai between 1865 and 1965 offers new insights into this crucial aspect of modern society in a global commercial hub and guides readers through this tumultuous era that radically redefined the Chinese relationship with death.

About the author

Christian Henriot is Professor of Modern History at Aix-Marseille University and the author of numerous books on modern Chinese history, including Prostitution and Sexuality in Shanghai: A Social History, 1849–1949 (2001). He is also Project Director of Virtual Shanghai (virtualshanghai.net).

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Orwell’s Thoughts on Support for China in World War Two & the Closure of the Burma Road – 16th July 1940

Posted: April 28th, 2016 | No Comments »

Orwell considered the war in the Far East and the British decision to safeguard Hong Kong by closing the Burma Road to British arms supplies to China on the 16th July 1940 in his diary:

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“No real news for some days, except the British semi-surrender to Japan, i.e. the agreement to stop sending war supplies along the Burma Road for a stated period. This however is not so definite that it could not be revoked by a subsequent government. F.* thinks it is the British government’s last effort (i.e. the last effort of those with investments in Hong Kong, etc.) to appease Japan, after which they will be driven into definitely supporting China. It may be so. But what a way to do things – never perform a decent action until you are kicked into it and the rest of the world has ceased to believe that your motives can possibly be honest.’**

*F. is thought to be Tosco Fyvel, a Jewish emigre and Zionist of Orwell’s acquaintance.

** Britain did close the Burma Road to British arms traffic after Japan threatened Hong Kong – it did show the desire to safeguard the Colony and lack of support for China against Japanese attack – a contemporary retelling of the tale below…

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Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier

Posted: April 27th, 2016 | No Comments »

David Brophy’s Uyghur Nation adds to the growing shelf of Turkestan studies…all that helps to improve understanding and raise awareness of issues in the region is, of course, helpful….

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The meeting of the Russian and Qing empires in the nineteenth century had dramatic consequences for Central Asia’s Muslim communities. Along this frontier, a new political space emerged, shaped by competing imperial and spiritual loyalties, cross-border economic and social ties, and the revolutions that engulfed Russia and China in the early twentieth century. David Brophy explores how a community of Central Asian Muslims responded to these historic changes by reinventing themselves as the modern Uyghur nation. A diverse diaspora of Muslims from China’s northwest province of Xinjiang spread to Russian territory and became enmeshed with national and transnational discourses of identity among Russia’s Muslims. In the tumult of the Bolshevik Revolution, the rhetoric of Uyghur nationhood emerged as a rallying point. A shifting alliance of constituencies invoked the idea of a Uyghur nation to secure a place for itself in Soviet Central Asia and to spread the revolution to Xinjiang. Although its existence was contested in the fractious politics of the 1920s, in the 1930s the Uyghur nation achieved official recognition in the Soviet Union and China. Grounded in archives from across Eurasia, Uyghur Nation provides crucial background to the ongoing contest for the history and identity of Xinjiang.

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Shanghai April 1937 – Time to Buy a Gas Mask

Posted: April 26th, 2016 | No Comments »

 

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1976 – The Year Mao Died Remembered

Posted: April 25th, 2016 | No Comments »

Ragnar Baldursson’s memoir of Beijing in the tumultuous year of 1976 now out as a Penguin China Special…

Reviewed in the Asian Review of Books here

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The events of 1976 convulsed China: Mao died, the Gang of Four fell, hundreds of thousands perished in the Tangshan earthquake. Ragnar Baldursson, an idealistic true believer in the Chinese socialist experiment, was one of the few foreigners present to witness these events. Forty years on, living in a very different China, Ragnar revisits his experiences as a student in Beijing, offering rare glimpses of life during this turbulent and decisive year.

 

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