All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

Royal Asiatic Society China in Shanghai – 14 Jan: Sir Edmund Backhouse Revisited (with Derek Sandhaus)

Posted: January 8th, 2021 | No Comments »

Few life stories illustrate the self-perpetuating cycles of misinformation and misunderstanding between East and West like that of Sir Edmund Backhouse. Celebrated in his own time as a foreigner with unique insider information at Qing-Dynasty China’s Manchu imperial court, some of his work was discredited as a fraud by subsequent generations, then re-visited again through recent research. His name evokes wildly versatile associations in the minds of China enthusiasts—a brilliant journalistic career, witness to one of China’s most turbulent eras, his alleged relationship with the Empire’s Empress Dowager.

In this virtual presentation and discussion, award-winning author Derek Sandhaus recounts not only the life story of Sir Edmund Backhouse from his early days at Oxford to internationally bestselling author to reclusive Peking eccentric, but also the meandering adventure of his legacy over time. He recalls how, while serving as managing editor of Earnshaw Books in 2011, he resurrected and annotated Sir Edmund Backhouse’s notorious China memoirs, Décadence Mandchoue. His research brought to light little-known facts about Sir Edmund’s battle with mental instability, social isolation and contemporary prejudice. More importantly, his research reveals that the unconventional life of this thoroughly misunderstood character might actually have granted him insights into the best-kept secrets of Qing-era China’s political elites unknown to his contemporaries, Chinese or Western.

About the Speaker: Derek Sandhaus is the author of several books on Chinese history and culture, including Tales of Old Hong Kong, Tales of Old Peking, Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits and most recently Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture. In 2018 he co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu in partnership with China’s oldest distillery. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Leave a Reply