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

Don Smith’s 1952 China Coaster – Sexy High Jinks & Spy Shenanigans in a Shanghai Just After the Commies Arrived

Posted: March 31st, 2015 | 6 Comments »

I picked up a copy of Don Smith’s 1952 novel China Coaster the other day. It came to my attention because it has a few references to Shanghai before the revolution that interested me. However, Smith’s novel is quite interesting in that it does (aside from the more sensational aspects of the plot) describe a Shanghai shortly after the revolution where the old Shanghai of gangsters, white Russians, opium dealers and China Coast adventurers still co-exists with the new no-fun Reds, the brutal commissars and a Communist Party enslaved to Moscow and Mao. This fascinating period is under-written about and under-researched so Smith’s description of how worker grievances against foreign companies were upheld by Commun9st courts to force them to hand over their businesses, along woith ridiculously high “taxes” by the commies on foreign firms forced people to just dump their assets and flee. Smith also describes the last remnants of the White Russian community – many, stateless, didn’t manage to leave until the mid-1950s in some cases.

Much of the action of Smith’s book takes place on Wayside (now Huoshan Road) down in Hongkew, an area that did remain home to a number of foreigners into the 1950s – it was poor, indigent lodging houses and at a time when tramp steamers still docked occasionally and so sailors came ashore for the bars that remained in business. A couple of years later all this became impossible and went – of course some of the hotels (the East Asia) and lodging houses – still a few along Huoshan Road remained, but the foreigners all went.

I know nothing about Don Smith himself except that he wrote this book and quite a few others that were Cold War thrillers in the “Secret Mission” series. I believe he must have at least visited Shanghai at some point, while a book like China Coaster could conceivably be written without visiting Shanghai and based on nes reports (Malraux did it!!), I feel some of the more obscure but accurate points of China Coaster, such as scenes set in the old boating centre of Minghong betray some familiarity. If anyone knows I’d love to know.





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6 Comments on “Don Smith’s 1952 China Coaster – Sexy High Jinks & Spy Shenanigans in a Shanghai Just After the Commies Arrived”

  1. 1 Loanemu.com said at 1:41 pm on October 11th, 2015:

    I love reading information that makes my brain work and you really have my gears turning. Thank you this information. You have a talent for putting things into words and making it easy to understand.

  2. 2 Jennifer M. Smith said at 1:26 am on May 14th, 2017:

    Don Smith was my Great Uncle. He was born in Port Colborne Ontario Canada in 1909 (see https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Smith). He was always a dashing, somewhat mysterious figure to me as a child. I did not know him well, as he spent his adult life living in Paris, rarely crossing the pond to visit his extended family. I will ask some of the more senior members of my family if they know whether or not Uncle Don actually spent time in Shanghai.

  3. 3 Jennifer M. Smith said at 5:36 am on May 14th, 2017:

    A little further information on Don Smith – he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission he flew in the WW2 over Dieppe. With this information I was also able to dig up the following on my Great Uncle Don:http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nbpennfi/penn8b3Smith_DT.htm

    My Mom tells me that when Don wrote uncomplimentary words about the Russians he used the pen name Donald Taylor to veil his identity.

    I am continuing to seek further information on Don Smith from family members.

  4. 4 Paul French said at 5:11 pm on May 16th, 2017:

    thank you Jennifer – I would guess, given the locations, slang and descriptions in the book, that if Don didn’t go to Shanghai he knew someone who did visit the city and checked his copy. However I have never found any evidence that he did.

  5. 5 Jennifer Smith said at 8:56 pm on May 16th, 2017:

    Paul, I have since found out that my Aunt has many letters sent by Donald to his Father in Oakville. I have learned that Donald did live in Shanghai for a time working as a publisher, from a letter written by his Father (Rev Canon D. Russell Smith) about Donald’s travels, there is this quote:”For eighteen months he ran this business. He
    employed one hundred Chinese. He published several papers, pamphlets for
    missionaries etc. As there seemed no future for the white man – Donald thinks
    that Japan will drive all the whites out of Shanghai as she has out of Manchoukuo..
    He also said there were was a saying in the Orient “He is a fine fellow but he has
    missed too many boats” He didn’t wish the people to say this of him.
    On November 1st after selling his business he began his long journey towards
    London. He travelled via boat to Dairen…” The only thing is we don’t know exact dates of his time there – it was definitely pre-WW2 and I would guess that Donald was about 25 or 26 at the time, so it may have been around 1934-5. We may be able to find more detailed information and more accurate dates regarding his time in Shanghai from Donald’s own letters. But I thought you might be interested to know that he definitely was in Shanghai.

  6. 6 Allen J. Hubin said at 3:53 am on December 11th, 2018:

    For the Don Smith entry in my “Crime Fiction IV: A Comprehensive Bibliography 1749-2000,” I’d much appreciate his death date. Thanks for any help.

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