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

New (and Brilliant) from Penguin China – Lao She’s Great Novel of 1920s London, Mr Ma and Son

Posted: September 7th, 2013 | No Comments »

Personally, I could not be more thrilled that William Dolby’s translation of Mr Ma and Son is finally out and available (with an intro by Julia Lovell and a fantastic Limehouse Chinatown cover!) – a great Lao She novel and a great novel of 1920s London (and for those who like it, Lao She and London then a perfect companion read is Anne Witchard’s Lao She in London (Royal Asiatic Society-Hong Kong University Press, 2012), which sets the scene and describes the milieu perfectly.


‘Lao She’s bittersweet tale of a clash of cultures, generations and politics in twenties London has never been better brought to life than in Dolby’s marvelously fluent translation. This is the city as you have never seen it before, caught through Asian eyes, and by one of China’s finest modern novelists.’
                                    – Robert Bickers, author of Empire Made Me and The Scramble for China

‘At last a translation of Lao She’s neglected masterpiece that does justice to his comic genius.’
                                    – Anne Witchard, author of Lao She in London

‘This is an acute observation of London through the eyes of China’s supreme social observer of the twentieth century.’
                                    – Paul French, author of Midnight in Peking and The Badlands: Decadent Playground of Old Peking

Mr Ma and his son Ma Wei move to London from China to run an antiques shop and find that their presence brings with it mixed feelings and deeply rooted cultural misconceptions. As they try to navigate the streets of London and the social conventions thrown at them by 1920s English society, the Mas encounter all sorts from their well-meaning landlady and her carefree daughter, to old China hands the Reverend Ely and his formidable wife. And, as the Mas go about building their new lives in London, finding love in unexpected places, and striving to maintain a sense of cultural self, their own relationship finds itself tested.


Based on his own experiences in London, Lao She’s Mr Ma and Son is a compelling account of an often overlooked slice of London history. A witty story of cultural give-and-take written by one of China’s best-loved writers, Mr Ma and Son was a significant contributor to the early twentieth-century conversation on Sino-British relations and it is a masterpiece of the modern classical cannon.


Lao She was born in Peking in 1899 to a poor Manchu family. In his mid-twenties, Lao She left China to teach Chinese at the University of London. In London he developed an appetite for English literature. By the time he returned to China, he was an established author, known for his humourist style, and he continued to write novels, non-fiction works, and plays. In the sixties, Lao She was labelled an anti-Maoist and a counter-revolutionary by the Red Guards. In August 1966 he committed suicide in Peking. In 1979 Lao She was posthumously rehabilitated by the Communist Party.

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