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

Just Published…

Chiang Yee and his Circle: Chinese Artistic and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1930–1950

Edited by Paul Bevan, Anne Witchard, and Da Zheng

This book, Chiang Yee and His Circle: Chinese Artistic and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1930–1950, celebrates the life and work of Chiang Yee (1903–1977), a Chinese writer, poet, and painter who made his home in London, England during the 1930s and 1940s. It examines Chiang’s relationship with his circle of friends and colleagues in the English capital, and assesses the work he produced during his sojourn there. This edited volume, with contributions from eleven distinguished scholars, tells a story of a Chinese intellectual community in London that up to now has been largely overlooked. It portrays a dynamic picture of the London-based émigré life during the years that led up to the war and during the conflict that was the catalyst for many of them moving on. In addition, the book broadens our understanding of cultural interactions between China and the West in Hampstead, one of the most vibrant artistic communities in London.

And Just Published in Chinese…

A new translation into Chinese of Carl Crow’s Four Hundred Million Customers by Beijing’s Gingko Books, with a new foreword for Chinese readers introducing Carl Crow…

and also still available…

Listed below are books on China and Asia by me and then some classic reprints for which I’ve contributed forewords…

Now Available:

Strangers on the Praia (Blacksmith Books, 2020)

Destination Shanghai (Destination Book #1) (Blacksmith Books, 2019)

City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir (UK: Riverrun; US: Picador; Asia, Australia, New Zealand: Penguin, 2018)

Bloody Saturday: Shanghai’s Darkest Day (Penguin China Special, 2017)

Our Supreme Leader: The Making of Kim Jong-un (Zed E-Book, 2016)

North Korea: State of Paranoid (B-format edition) (2015)

Truly Criminal: A Crime Writers’ Association Anthology of True Crime (2015)

Betrayal in Paris: How the Treaty of Versailles led to China’s Long Revolution (2014)

North Korea: State of Paranoia (2014)

The Badlands: Decadent Playground of Old Peking (2013)

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China (2012)

The Old Shanghai A-Z – (2010)

Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines Will Change a Nation – Paul French and Matthew Crabbe - ( 2010)

Oil on Water: Tankers, Pirates and the Rise of China (with Sam Chambers) (2010)

Through the Looking Glass: China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao (2009)

Carl Crow – A Tough Old China Hand: The Life, Times, and Adventures of an American in Shanghai (2006)

North Korea Paranoid Peninsula – A Modern History (2005 & 2007)

One Billion Shoppers: Accessing Asia’s Consuming Passions and Fast Moving Markets (with Matthew Crabbe, 1998)

Books and Reprints Edited by and with Forewords by Paul French:

Shanghai: A History in Photographs, 1842-Today – Shing Heung Liu and Karen Smith (2010)

The Long Road Back to China: Carl Crow – The Burma Road Wartime Diaries (2009)

I Sailed With Chinese Pirates – Aleko E. Lilus (2009)

400 Million Customers – Carl Crow (2008)

Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom – Carl Crow (2007)


Asia Literary Review (2009)

Beijing: Portrait of a City (2008)

Mala (2010)

Available Now:

Destination Shanghai (Destination Book #1)

18 true stories of those who went.

For the privileged a cosmopolitan pleasure ground; for the desperate a port of last resort.

A pot of gold at the end of an Oriental rainbow; a thick slice of hell denounced from the pulpit.

The start of a journey for many; the end of the road for some.

A place to find fame, or to seek anonymity; rogues, chancers, showgirls, criminals…

For so many people from so many lands, there was one phrase that sent a tingle of hope or a shiver of anticipation down every spine:


Amazon UK

Amazon US

City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir (2018)

Shanghai, 1930s: It was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, and fortunes made―and lost.

“Lucky” Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex–U.S. Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison and rose to become the Slots King of Shanghai. “Dapper” Joe Farren―a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto―ruled the nightclubs. His chorus lines rivaled Ziegfeld’s.

In 1940, Lucky Jack and Dapper Joe bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation, and war. They thought they ruled Shanghai, but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams could come true.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Bloody Saturday: Shanghai’s Darkest Day (August 2017)

Saturday, August 14, 1937 – that summer Shanghai was expecting to be hit by a typhoon of ‘violent intensity’. The typhoon passed, but what did strike Shanghai was a man-made typhoon of bombs and shrapnel that brought aerial death and destruction such as no city had ever seen before. The clock outside the Cathay Hotel stopped at 4.27 p.m. precisely as the first bombs landed on the junction of the Nanking Road and the Bund; the second wave of explosions struck the dense crowds outside the Great World amusement centre in the French Concession. Bloody Saturday reconstructs the events of that dreadful day from eyewitness accounts.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Our Supreme Leader: The Making of Kim Jong-un (July 2016)

Our Supreme Leader cover

Since his accession to power in 2012, Kim Jong-un has come to personify North Korea in the eyes of the outside world. An object of derision as much as fear, he has nevertheless succeeded in strengthening his grip on the country, purging potential rivals and strengthening the personality cult around himself and his predecessors. This process is set to culminate at the Seventh Congress of the Korean Workers’ Party, the first such congress in over thirty-five years, where Kim is widely expected to proclaim the dawn of a new era under his leadership.

In Our Supreme Leader, Paul French explores the ways in which the North Korean regime has evolved under Kim’s direction, with a detailed analysis of the history and development of its infamous cult of The Great Leader. Featuring the first in-depth assessment of the Seventh Congress and its significance within North Korea, French also offers fresh insights into the inner workings of this secretive regime, as well as looking ahead to its likely future direction.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

North Korea: State of Paranoia (August 2015)

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A new B-format edition of my history of North Korea is now available.

Truly Criminal: A Crime Writers’ Association Anthology of True Crime

Truly Criminal

Truly Criminal showcases a group of highly regarded, award-winning writers who all share a special passion for crime, which is reflected in this superb collection of essays re-examining notorious cases from British criminal history. Among these real-life crimes, famous and forgotten, are such notorious cases as Samuel Herbert Dougal, the Moat Farm murderer; George Joseph Smith, the Brides in the Bath killers; and Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, one of the most infamous killers in British history. Featuring a dazzling list of contributors, including leading crim novelists Peter Lovesey, Andrew Taylor and Catherine Aird, as well as 2013 CWA Crime Non-Fiction Dagger winner Paul French; a bonus essay by the late great Margery Allingham about the controversial William Herbert Wallace case has also been rediscovered. With a foreword by international best-selling writer Peter James, this collection will thrill lovers of true-crime writing.

Betrayal in Paris: How the Treaty of Versailles Led to China’s Long Revolution

Betrayal in Paris cover

At the conclusion of ‘the war to end war’, the victorious powers set about redesigning the world map at the Paris Peace Conference. For China, Versailles presented an opportunity to regain territory lost to Japan at the start of the war. Yet, despite early encouragement from the world’s superpowers, the country was to be severely disappointed, an outcome whose consequences can still be felt today.

North Korea: State of Paranoia (August 2014)

North Korea cover - spring 2014

North Korea is a country that continues to make headlines – arousing curiosity and fear in equal measure. The world’s mhistoryost secretive nuclear power, it is a nation that still has Gulag-style prison camps, no internet and bans its people from talking to foreigners without official approval. In this remarkable and eye-opening book, internationally bestselling author Paul French examines in forensic detail the  and politics of North Korea, Pyongyang’s complex relations with South Korea, Japan, China and America, and the implications of Kim Jong-un’s increasingly belligerent leadership following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.


The Badlands: Decadent Playground of Old Peking (May 2013)

Available as an e-book only (though there is a limited edition illustrated hardback available – just 3,000)



More tales of intrigue in Old Peking from bestselling author Paul French

Through portraits of eight residents of Peking’s infamous Badlands district, Paul French brings the area and 1930s Peking vividly to life. A small warren of narrow hutongs, the Badlands sat just inside the eastern flank of the Tartar Wall, which at that time enclosed the old Imperial City of Peking. Its habitués were a mix of the good, the bad and the poor unfortunates, among them the fiery brothel madams Brana Shazker and Rosie Gerbert; the pimp Saxsen, who had no regard for the women he exploited; the young prostitutes Marie and Peggy, whose dreadful working lives drove them to madness and addiction. There was the cabaret dancer Tatiana Korovina, a White Russian girl who did not succumb to the vice of the district but instead married, had a family, and eventually left China to lead a long and happy life. There was the American Joe Knauf, who dealt violence and fear as well as drugs, and finally the enigmatic Shura Giraldi, of indeterminate sex, who was to some a charmer and to others a master criminal, but to everyone the uncrowned King of the Badlands.

Paul French first discovered the Badlands while researching his bestselling Midnight in Peking. As the book was published in China, Australia, America, and the UK, the families and acquaintances of the people he had written about contacted him from around the globe, adding stories and recollections to his own research. The result is this short but potent portrait of a time and place now lost to history, here vividly brought to life.


Midnight in Peking – Paul French – Penguin ( August 2011 – Asia and Australia/New Zealand; April 2012 – North America; May 2012 – UK)

UK edition – paperback/kindle

US edition – hardback

Australia – paperback

the Midnight in Peking website

On a winter’s night in January 1937 in Peking, as Japanese troops surrounded the city poised to invade, the body of a 19 year old English girl, Pamela Werner was discovered. Dumped underneath the ancient Fox Tower, she had been brutally murdered in a crime that shocked and terrified an already nervous international community. In this true crime book, Shanghai historian Paul French uncovers Pamela’s double life – a seemingly plain schoolgirl who became the victim of a horrific sex cult – and solves a long unsolved murder. Retracing the investigation, French recreates the brothels and bars of Peking’s Badlands, the city’s white criminal underworld and a city on the brink of invasion and total war.



The Old Shanghai A-Z – Paul French – Hong Kong University Press (November 2010)

A beautifully illustrated small guide to the old road names of Shanghai pre-1949. The book covers the former International Settlement, French Concession and External Roads area with all former and current road names indexed. Each street is covered with an explanation of its former name and any interesting facts about the road. A great companion for the Shanghai history lover and interested visitor. Included in the book is a 1947 map of Shanghai – the last map that included all the former road names of Shanghai.

“Shanghai is one of the greatest cities in the world to walk, wander, and wonder. In this book, Paul French brings the streets of the old city to life. Simply put, there is nothing on the market to compete with this book. Readers can get an instant historical reference to wherever they find themselves in ‘Old Shanghai’.” — Peter Hibbard, author of The Bund Shanghai

Purchase from Hong Kong University Press website



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Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines Will Change a Nation – Paul French and Matthew Crabbe – Anthem Press – China in the 21st Century Series – (July 2010)

China is getting fatter.  From a situation 20 years ago when diets were limited by food availability, and famine was still a recent memory, China’s urban centres have seen alarmingly rising rates of obesity. This study provides all the available data on China’s growing urban obesity rates, the causes of this rise in obesity and the effects on society and the country’s fragile healthcare system as ‘lifestyle diseases’ become a major strain on the system.

‘In this remarkably well researched and thought-provoking book, French and Crabbe expose a darker side of globalisation in China… Western multinationals have submerged the Chinese consumer in a sea of chocolate and ice cream. The consequences for public health are incalculable.’

Tim Clissold, China investment specialist and author of Mr China

Anthem Press


oil on water - final coverOil on Water: Tankers, Pirates and the Rise of China – Paul French and Sam Chambers – Zed Books (May 2010)

Out of sight, out of mind. That’s the general public’s reaction to the crucial movement of oil around the world’s oceans. Yet this vital supply chain that allows the world to function is constantly under enormous, largely unreported pressure. The uninterrupted flow of oil is essential to globalisation and increasingly so as manufacturing and markets move Eastwards to Asia. However, it is threatened by conflicts between nation states, pirates and global warming. All too often the movement of oil by ocean is something taken for granted by the majority of the world yet it is fraught with difficulty, and could hemorrhage global growth if issues covered in this book are not resolved or allowed to escalate. From reporting onboard giant tankers to looking at the geopolitical shift in oil consumption, “Oil on Water” is holistic, all encompassing and engrossing look at the way oil is moved and consumed mixing reportage, examples and hard-hitting facts.

“East Asia’s growing share of the 2 trillion tons of oil shipped each year across the world’s oceans is one of the great, but little-told, stories of our age. By tracking this very literal shift of power from West to East, French and Chambers provide invaluable insights into energy security, environmental pressure and areas of potential conflict and cooperation.”

Jonathan Watts, The Guardian’s Asia Environment Correspondent and author of When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save the World – or Destroy it

“An engaging and informed book about vitally important, yet little-discussed areas in business and geopolitics. Oil and water clearly do mix, and the result is well worth reading about, as this important book ably demonstrates”

Toby Webb, founding editor, Ethical Corporation magazine

Zed Books


Read an online excerpt

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Through the Looking Glass: China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao – Hong Kong University Press (2009)

The convulsive history of foreign journalists in China starts with the newspapers printed in the European Factories of Canton in the 1820s and ends with the Communist revolution in 1949. It also starts with a duel between two editors over the China’s future and ends with a fistfight in Shanghai over the revolution.

“Opium-addict, concubine, missionary, spy – Paul French brings to life the larger-than-life personalities of a bygone China foreign press corps. Reading Through the Looking Glass makes me wish I’d become an old China hand a century earlier.”

Melinda Liu, who first began reporting on China 25 years ago. Liu is Newsweek’s Beijing Bureau Chief and former president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.

Hong Kong University Press with a 10% discount



Carl Crow – A Tough Old China Hand: The Life, Times, and Adventures of an American in Shanghai – Hong Kong University Press (2006)

Carl Crow arrived in Shanghai in 1911 and made the city his home for the next quarter of a century, working there as a journalist, newspaper proprietor, and groundbreaking adman. He also did stints as a hostage negotiator, emergency police sergeant, gentleman farmer, go-between for the American government, and propagandist. As his career progressed, so did the fortunes of Shanghai. The city transformed itself from a dull colonial backwater when Crow arrived, to the thriving and ruthless cosmopolitan metropolis of the 1930s when Crow wrote his pioneering book – 400 Million Customers – that encouraged a flood of businesses into the China market in an intriguing foreshadowing of today’s boom.

“With the latest gang of get-rich-quick hucksters, hustlers and fools still washing up thick on the muddy banks of Shanghai, there could be no better timing for this lively, anecdote-rich account of the life of Carl Crow, who saw the whole thing unfold the last go round. His wry take on the desperate quest for profit in the world’s most populous nation is as relevant today as ever. “

Peter S. Goodman, Asian Economic Correspondent/ Shanghai Bureau Chief, The Washington Post

Hong Kong University Press with a 10% discount



North Korea Paranoid Peninsula – A Modern History – Zed Books (first edition- 2005; second edition – 2007)


This reissue of Paul French’s acclaimed introduction to North Korea provides an up-to-the-minute overview of the politics, economics and history of the DPRK, with added chapters dealing with recent events. A new foreword examines why North Korea has not gone away as a country or as an issue and argues that an understanding of the country is more important now than ever. A new in-depth postscript offers analysis of recent years and why Pyongyang felt compelled to test a bomb.


North Korea remains one of the least understood nations on earth; a nuclear enabled “Hermit Kingdom” ravaged by economic mismanagement and reliant on illegal weapons sales, smuggling and counterfeiting for most of its foreign reserves while undergoing a prolonged famine and propped up by aid donations. Not a normal country in any sense of the word, its nuclear weapons program makes it a country whose actions could have global ramifications. This book demystifies North Korea through revealing the daily life of its citizens; the political and economic history of the nation; the reasoning behind the country’s combative way of engaging the world and the tentative economic reform process now being undertaken. The prospect of a nuclear North Korea preferring brinksmanship to engagement and negotiation, makes understanding Pyongyang’s guiding principles, motives and possible future increasingly important.

“This longer historical view is essential, if one is to grasp not only what drives the North Korean regime but what it shares (to the growing irritation of the Americans) with the South.”

John Gittings, The Guardian

Zed Books


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One Billion Shoppers: Accessing Asia’s Consuming Passions and Fast Moving Markets – Paul French & Matthew Crabbe – Nicholas Brealey Publishing (1998)

A guide to the tastes and aspirations of the consumer population of China, South East Asia and India, aimed at businesses who want to break into the markets there.


Edited Books, Reprints and Forewords:


China 1921: The Travel Guide – Carl Crow – Camphor Press (Published August 2014)

Set the time machine for China, the year 1921. Experience first-hand the Middle Kingdom’s Golden Age of Travel, a time when steamships and railways had opened up new possibilities for the adventurous sojourner, yet the country had “lost none of its unique charm” and remained “as interesting and strange as it was to Europeans who more than five hundred years ago read Marco Polo’s amazing account of the land of the Great Khan.” This Camphor Press book is a specially abridged version of the original The Travelers’ Handbook for China by Shanghai-based American newsman Carl Crow. It comes with maps, illustrations, and has a new introduction from Paul French (Carl Crow biographer and author of the true crime bestseller Midnight in Peking).

Camphor Press

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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Shanghai: A History in Photographs, 1842-Today – Shing Heung Liu and Karen Smith – Penguin (published April 10th 2010)

Shanghai is a visual history that tells the story of modern China as witnessed by this romantic city.  The end of the Opium Wars in 1842 effected a dramatic transformation, turning a sleepy backwater into a bustling treaty port.  Over the intervening 160 years, Shanghai has been shaped by outside forces – foreign concessions, Japanese invasions, the arrival of the Communists and the cult of Mao, they have all played their part in sculpting today’s Shanghai.

China’s turbulent history is traced through Shanghai’s evocative, beautiful, and sometimes painful images.  As we reach the present day with its helter-skelter development, lavish wealth is juxtaposed against grinding poverty, and documented through the lenses of Shanghai’s most important contemporary artists.

Told through rare official archive photographs, images taken from private collections, new commissions, and co-author Liu Heung Shing’s own work, Shanghai is the definitive history of the most beautiful of China’s cities.

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The Long Road Back to China: Carl Crow – The Burma Road Wartime Diaries – Earnshaw Books (2009)

In 1939 Carl Crow – an American who had lived in Shanghai for 25 years – travelled up the Burma Road from Rangoon to Chongqing on assignment for Liberty magazine – ‘the most interesting assignment I have ever been given’. The Burma Road (‘the road of a thousand thrills and a thousand dangers’) was China’s vital but perilous 717-mile lifeline to the outside world. In China’s wartime capital Crow found himself in the most heavily bombed city on earth in 1939 witnessing the daily struggle of the Chinese people under Japanese bombardment and interviewing the most senior Chinese figures in the government. Published here for the first time from his archived diaries and notes, The Long Road Back to China is Crow’s typically observant and sympathetic first hand memoir of China’s darkest hour.

“Carl Crow’s fascinating journal – splendidly edited by Paul French – provides an extraordinary window into wartime China, and into the difficulties of travel in the isolated inland of the country. For old China hands and armchair travellers alike, Crow’s sharp observations, and French’s helpful introduction and notes, open up a crucial period of Chinese history to a whole new generation of readers.”

Rob Gifford, former National Public Radio Beijing correspondent and author of China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power

Earnshaw Books


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I Sailed With Chinese Pirates – Aleko E. Lilus  – Earnshaw Books (2009)

It is 1930 and piracy is rampant on the South China seas. Murderous bands of cutthroats roam the Pearl River Delta and coastal shipping routes, an ever-present menace to the trade of Hong Kong and beyond. Globetrotting journalist Aleko E. Lilius sets out to infiltrate these mysterious pirate gangs and is eventually taken into the confidence of South China’s notorious pirate queen, Lai Choi San. Lilius lives, eats, sleeps and of course sails with the pirates, witnessing their harrowing misdeeds and delivering a sensational, rollicking tale of adventure. With a new foreword by Paul French.

“Yo ho ho and a bottle of maotai! Lilius’s forgotten classic reads as boldly and bloodily as a Chinese‘Treasure Island’. What is perhaps most remarkable about this extraordinary piece of journalism is that the writer lived to tell the tale.”

Adam Williams – author of The Dragon’s Tail

Earnshaw Books



400 Million Customers – Carl Crow – Earnshaw Books (2008)

Probably the best selling book on doing in business in China ever – and undoubtedly the best ever written – Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers is both amusing and informed. First published in 1937, 400 Million Customers is the distillation of the experiences of one of the most successful foreign businessmen ever to wash up on the China coast. Crow brilliantly explains the eternal truths about doing business in the Middle Kingdom. Enhanced with a foreword by Carl Crow expert and admirer, Paul French.

“A rich trove of anecdotes and insights about the Chinese people and doing business in China, much of which still holds true today.”

James McGregor, author of One Billion Customers

Earnshaw Books



Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom – Carl Crow – Earnshaw Books (2007)

Originally published in 1940, this is Carl Crow’s entertaining autobiography, the story of his more than 25 years of adventures and success in Shanghai during the tumultuous early decades of the 20th century. This book is a tale of East meets West set in the wild and heady days of inter-war China. It is an account of how two cultures clashed, bickering over business deals and social norms as they tried to find a way to live with each other. With a new foreword by Paul French.

“Carl Crow’s experience offers valuable clues on how to be successful in China – and just as importantly, how to remain sane. “

James McGregor, author of One Billion Customers

Earnshaw Books




Asia Literary Review – No. 11, Spring 2009 – Aye, There be Pirates!

Paul French voyages into the pirate-infested waters of the South China Seas.

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Beijing: Portrait of a City – Editor, Alexandra Pearson & photographs by Lucy Cavender – Odyssey Publications (2008)

Beijing: Portrait of a City is a captivating collection of stories, essays, poetry and reminiscence by leading China authors, storytellers and academics, about a city they know from the inside. The book is the shared work of some of the city’s finest writers who lead us through ‘hutong’ alleys, antique markets, artists’ communities, gay bars, parks and the nostalgic streets of memory. They beguile with poems, amuse with camel anecdotes and thrill with two murder stories – one a genuine antique, the other a fictional contemporary. They take us back to the often-ignored Mongolian roots of the city and project forward to ask whether spectacular modern architecture will suffice to return Beijing to what it sees as its ancient place at the centre of the world. Compiled by Alexandra Pearson and Lucy Cavender, the book interweaves its written work with a collection of wry and telling photographs of different aspects of the city, creating a compelling portrait of Beijing. The contributors – including Zhu Wen, Adam Williams, Roy Kesey, Ma Jian, Alfreda Murck, Tim Clissold, Catherine Sampson, Peter Hessler, Karen Smith, Paul French, Michael Aldrich, Hong Ying and Rob Gifford, all published authors and experts in their field – have spent many years living in Beijing and know it from the inside. Their individual contributions combine to leave a highly original and unforgettable impression of one of the world’s oldest and most fascinating cities.


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Mala – The Chengdu Bookworm Literary Journal (Vol. 1 Issue 1, June 2010)

The inaugural issue of Mala, published out of Chengdu, includes a piece by me – A Night on “The Line” – about Gracie Gale’s infamous bordello on Shanghai’s Kiange Road (“The Line”) in 1906.

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