A short break for a sojourn on the continent before summer ends….
A short break for a sojourn on the continent before summer ends….
I’ve worked for some time trying to find traces of the old Roma community of Shanghai. The Roma of Shanghai in the first half of the twentieth century are a significantly under-researched community, not falling easily into any official classifications and also suffering the prejudices and discrimination common to the Roma in our own time too. However, there was a thriving Roma community in old Shanghai that was engaged in business and the entertainment industry and while we may not have as much information on them as we do on other groups of Shanghailanders they are no less important in understanding the total ethnic make up of the city, its International Settlement and French Concession.
My first post on old Shanghai lingerie retailers – Horace Beeson – was in the Settlement, south of Soochow Creek. But what if you were in Hongkew and couldn’t be bothered crossing south? then it’s got to be Cantorovich for you down on Broadway (Daming Road), close by the Astor House Hotel (Pujiang Hotel these days). Cantorovich certainly stocked plenty of imported brands – Poirette, Warner etc – and styled themselves a “corsetiere”. the Chinese name of the store was Yue Luen (豫纶洋行). It was run by a certain I. Cantorovich with his wife (who was called Mary) and had been established in the late 19 teens or early 1920s as a general milliners, drapers and outfitters (this advert is from 1930) at No.11 Broadway. The Cantorovich’s were apparently originally from Moscow and were obviously White Russian refugees in Shanghai.
NB: In the 1930s it seems the Canotorvich’s split up. He continued to run the store but his wife, Mary, apparently became quite a ‘woman-about-town’, involved in various shady deals, being squired by various western and Chinese businessmen around, claiming to be a Princess (hardly original!!) and generally being rather louche. Her greatest moment of notoriety came when she was involved with the corrupt Canadian businessman CC Julian who’d been involved in various oil stock related scams in California. She claimed to be Julian’s lover, claimed that she was representing interests who would buy his tell-all autobiography from him. When Julian committed suicide in Shanghai’s Astor House hotel in 1934 she turned up at the hospital too. Quite a notorious ride from selling underwear down by the Soochow Creek (PS: I blogged on the CC Julian scandal here)
I greatly enjoyed the new translation of White Russian writer Teffi’s Memories, from the excellent Pushkin Press. Though Teffi (below) eventually settled in Paris and never visited China she does mention some fellow writers, artists and journalists who escaped communism by settling in China. Some of these we know well – the singer and cabaret artist Alexander Vertinsky who ran a Shanghai nightclub and the artist Alexandre Jacovleff for instance.
Additionally, (and here’s where China Rhyming readers may be able to help) Teffi also mentions Fyodor Blagov, who was an editor with the Russian Word newspaper in Moscow before the Bolshevik Revolution. A footnote to Teffi’s mention of Blagov (not written by Teffi herself but by the published indicates that Blagov (1886-1934) worked for White Russian newspapers in Harbin and Shanghai up until his death.
However, I know of no references to Blagov’s time in China, either Harbin or Shanghai. I’ve consulted a few specialists on the Russian community in China who don’t know of him either. At least not in relation to Shanghai. Anybody out there know anything?
I know you’ve always wondered just where to get a fine item of lingerie in Shanghai? Beeson’s was certainly one possible solution. They were down on Nanyang Road (interestingly, one of the few roads that kept its pre-1949 name) behind the Bubbling Well Road. Fittingly there are still a few small clothing stores and tailoring businesses along that street as well as some bars. Beeson’s was a ground floor retail unit with apartments above. The company was run by Horace Beeson, an American (from Media, the county seat of Delaware County, Pennsylvania) and started, I think, in the mid-1920s. Horace had previously worked in the early 1920s for Gaston, Williams and Wigmore in Shanghai – a Canadian company that sold cars, motorcycles and even ship, I think, around the world. He’d also worked for Elbrook’s, American importers, engineers and exporters based on the Kiangse Road (Kiangxi Road). Obviously at some point lingerie (understandably) appealed a little more to Horace than piston engines.
This advert is from 1930 bit I think the company had some problems and shut down around 1933 being taken over by the Sheppard Import Company.
The Beeson family had quite a relationship with Shanghai. Horace briefly involved his nephew Price Beeson in the business (see the article on him below) and his brother (and obviously also a nephew of Horace’s), T. Frank Beeson, who worked for the silk mill that supplied Beeson’s. Price and T. Frank seem to have left Shanghai around the time of the troubles with Japan in 1932.
I’m not sure I could really recommend John P. Marquand’s Ming Yellow (1935), but it is an interesting and mostly forgotten China book. The blurb reads:
WHO was the ruler in this terrible kingdom of death?
Was it the General, a laughing giant who could break a dancing girl’s body in a fleeting moment of anger? Or was it the bandit, a mysterious wraith who could joke in the echo of her screams? Or was it the guide, who juggled four lives while he walked a fragile tightrope of deception?
For the four Americans, helpless strangers in a forbidden land, the answer could be the key to freedom and wealth – or a sentence of death!
You get the idea – American hardboiled in China
We’re in Warlord infested China on the trial of some rare and valuable pottery. Americans are generally good; Chinese (even American-educated ones) generally bad.
However, Ming Yellow is perhaps worth mentioning for two reasons. Firstly, John P Marquand (below), now best remembered as the creator of the Mr Moto series. Ming Yellow just slightly pre-dates the first Mr Moto books indicating Marquand was looking for both a good idea and a money spinner. Moto was to be that. Though generally derided (as well as the movies with Peter Lorre) I would suggest that the last in the series – Stopover: Tokyo (written much later than the others in 1957) is a taught and well crafted thriller that offers distinctly more than the earlier books.
However, some descriptive elements of China ring true in Ming Yellow. Marquand had visited China in 1934 to research “colour” and locations for the book and his Mr Moto series (I’ll blog separately on Marquand’s China trip).
Secondly, the edition of Ming Yellow below got a cover from the pen of Reginald Heade, undoubtedly Britain’s best pulp fiction cover artist. This cover was actually surprisingly subtle for Heade! His work was usually far more raunchy (see a selection here).
A slight diversion. I’m sure some readers of this blog think me permanently trapped in the past. This is true, largely, though I do attempt to monitor the state of things currently too. Mostly I do this through editing and commissioning a series of books for Zed Books in London on contemporary Asian issues – Asian Arguments. If I do say so myself Asian Arguments has built up over the last six or seven years or so into a nice list of a couple of titles a year covering the region fairly well and with a mix of authors including journalists, academics, NGO workers and activists. There’s been a blend of veteran writers as well as first timers and there’s more to come soon on Burma, Xinjiang, Thailand and elsewhere in Asia.
But this month we have the latest in the series – China and the New Maoists (here on Amazon.co.uk and , from Kerry Brown and Simone van Nieuwenhuizen….
Forty years after his death, Mao remains a totemic, if divisive, figure in contemporary China. Though many continue to revere him and he retains an immense symbolic importance within China’s national mythology, the rise of a capitalist economy has seen the ruling class become increasingly ambivalent towards him. And while he continues to be a highly visible and contentious presence in Chinese public life, Mao’s enduring influence has been little understood in the West. In China and the New Maoists, Kerry Brown and Simone van Nieuwenhuizen looks at the increasingly vocal elements who claim to be the true ideological heirs to Mao, ranging from academics to cyberactivists, as well as at the state’s efforts to draw on Mao’s image as a source of legitimacy. A fascinating portrait of a country undergoing dramatic upheavals while still struggling to come to terms with its past.
IThe old Fuhsingkang Film Production Studio is in Taipei. It is not used anymore and, though the last film made there was 1995, its heyday was really the 1950s and 1960s. As with everything about the early days of the Republic of China in Taiwan it was under the control of the military – specifically the Ministry of Defense Political Warfare Division. It is also the case that the history of the Fuhsingkang Film Production Studio is intertwined with that of Shanghai.
After 1949 of course some of the stars, directors, screenwriters and technicians associated with the Shanghai cinema industry remained in mainland China and took their chances with the new communist leadership (invariably that did not end well!). Many went to Hong Kong and that story is well known I think. Only an estimated 5% of the Shanghai film industry went with the KMT to Taiwan and (according to James Udden’s informative No Man an Island: The Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien) most of those were people who had worked on educational and propaganda films. Udden says this meant Taiwan got a lot of technical equipment and fair amount of expertise but rather less creative talent. However, some classics were produced – Storm Over the Yangtze River (1969 – pictured below), The Story of Tin-Ying (1970).
Now the Taipei authorities are about to decide whether to bulldoze the old site and build a new film studios (though some might say that Taipei’s Beitou District is a little too crowded for a major studio?) or turn the existing buildings into a museum of Taiwanese cinema and a film school. I rather hope the latter personally.