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

Eastern Fortress: A Military History of Hong Kong, 1840-1970

Posted: November 20th, 2014 | No Comments »

Chi Man Kwong’s Eastern Fortress looks like a good overview of Hong Kong’s role as a militarily strategic post….

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Celebrated as a trading port, Hong Kong was also Britain’s “eastern fortress.” Likened by many to Gibraltar and Malta, the colony was a vital but vulnerable link in imperial strategy, exposed to a succession of enemies in a turbulent age and a troubled region. This book examines Hong Kong’s developing role in the Victorian imperial defence system, the emerging challenges from Russia, France, the USA, Germany, Japan and other powers, and preparations in the years leading up to World War II. A detailed chapter offers new interpretations of the Battle of Hong Kong of 1941, when the colony succumbed to the Japanese invasion. The remaining chapters discuss Hong Kong’s changing strategic role during the Cold War and the winding down of the military presence. The book focuses on policies and events, but also explores the social life of the garrison in Hong Kong, the struggles between military and civil authorities, and relations between armed forces and civilians. Drawing on original research in archives around the world, including English, Japanese, and Chinese sources, this is the first full-length study of the defence of Hong Kong from the beginning of the colonial period to the end of British military interests East of Suez in 1970. Illustrated with photographs and detailed maps, Eastern Fortress will be of interest both to students of history and to the general reader.

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The Francis House, Colorado Chinoiserie

Posted: November 19th, 2014 | No Comments »

This picture is of the house of Harry E. Francis which was at 27 Broadmoor Avenue in Colorado. The house was built in 1924 with 4 bedrooms on its own lot. Quite who Harry Francis was I do not know but presumably he had made a fair bit of money in some business or other. A local Colorado photographer called Guy G Burgess took this photo of one of the bedrooms which had a distinctly Chinoiserie taste – not perhaps overly popular in Colorado in the 1920s. The most interesting thing to notice is the oriental flower motif across the entire ceiling as well as the night table which is clearly Chinoiserie and has “Oolong” painted across it. A lovely bedroom to be sure….

 

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A Ticket to Dance at Ciro’s

Posted: November 18th, 2014 | No Comments »

I’ve blogged a couple of times before regarding Sir Victor Sassoon’s Ciro’s nightclub (here and here) that once stood at 444 Bubbling Well Road, now the stunningly bland Ciro’s Plaza which defies any attempt to be remotely interesting with great strength. Should you have gone to the real nightclub, one of the city’s fanciest in the 1930s (and not sat in the dreary Costa Coffee that stands there today) you could have danced with a beautiful partner, providing you purchased a ticket of course….

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Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era through World War II

Posted: November 17th, 2014 | No Comments »

Elliott Young’s Alien Nation traces Chinese emigration to the US from the 1840s to WW2….

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In this sweeping work, Elliott Young traces the pivotal century of Chinese migration to the Americas, beginning with the 1840s at the start of the “coolie” trade and ending during World War II. The Chinese came as laborers, streaming across borders legally and illegally and working jobs few others wanted, from constructing railroads in California to harvesting sugar cane in Cuba. Though nations were built in part from their labor, Young argues that they were the first group of migrants to bear the stigma of being “alien.” Being neither black nor white and existing outside of the nineteenth century Western norms of sexuality and gender, the Chinese were viewed as permanent outsiders, culturally and legally. It was their presence that hastened the creation of immigration bureaucracies charged with capture, imprisonment, and deportation.

This book is the first transnational history of Chinese migration to the Americas. By focusing on the fluidity and complexity of border crossings throughout the Western Hemisphere, Young shows us how Chinese migrants constructed alternative communities and identities through these transnational pathways.

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Guy Burgess and the Chinese Fireplace

Posted: November 16th, 2014 | No Comments »

Recently read the excellent history of Kim Philby by Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. There was one China-related anecdote I hadn’t heard before…

Fellow Cambridge spy Guy Burgess (below) had already been forced to flee to Moscow. By the time Philby arrived as a defector in 1963 Burgess had descended into an alcoholic stupour, fallen out with his fellow Moscow-residing spy Donald Maclean and was generally an embarrassment to the KGB. Maclean and Burgess had understandably both been close when they first arrived in Moscow eleven years before in 1951. But they ahd fallen out when Burgess had apparently got so drunk at a reception at the Chinese embassy in Moscow and decided, in full view of everyone, to urinate in the embassy’s fireplace. This went down about as well then as it would now and Burgess was shunned by most diplomats. Philby never got to see Burgess in Moscow – he claimed his Soviet handlers prevented them from meeting due to Burgess’s severe disappointment with the reality of the communist state. Burgess died of liver failure in Moscow in 1963 leaving Philby his collection of 4,000 books meaning Kim at least had some reading for the long drab Soviet nights of exile.

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I’m afraid I don’t know if the Chinese embassy Burgess embarassed himself in was the same building as it had been in the 1940s, but I’m going to assume that it was…here then is a picture from 1946 of Jang Jing-guo (to the right), Chiang Kai-shek’s son (and future leader of Taiwan) in the Chinese embassy (then still the ROC embassy obviously) in Moscow. Behind them is a mantelpiece and fireplace with framed pictures of Cordell Hull (The US Secretary of State) and the Generalissimo. However, whether or not this is the fireplace into which Guy Burgess was later to deposit the contents of his full bladder I cannot confirm….(more on the picture and its history here by the way)

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Cocaine (1922) on the BFI Player

Posted: November 15th, 2014 | No Comments »

A classic of the post WW1 London drugs underworld, opium an Yellow Peril, Cocaine from 1922, is now available on the BFI Player for a good honest quid a show….

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In this decadent tale of drugs and the London underworld the cosseted daughter of a respectable businessman – in fact head of a cocaine racket – succumbs to the pleasures of drink and drugs. Vivid nightlife scenes recreate the interwar world of flappers and hedonists; the dapper club owner and seedy street dealer are both Chinese (played by white actors), common stereotypes at the time.

The third Chinese character, a sympathetic lackey, is played by an uncredited Chinese actor; his natural performance points up the hamminess of the other two. Retitled While London Sleeps following censorship problems, Cocaine was the directorial debut of Graham Cutts, a prominent figure in 1920s and 30s British cinema and a mentor (and later rival) to the young Alfred Hitchcock.

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The Battle of Penang : World War One in the Far East

Posted: November 14th, 2014 | No Comments »

Having part of the Penguin China World War One series of shorter e-books I’m glad to see others are writing on the war as it affected a wider Asian sphere….JR Robertson’s The Battle of Penang is out now and covers events around 1914-1918 in South East Asia and Hong Kong as well as China…

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From civil war-torn China to the Singapore Mutiny, Robertson traces the dramatic events at the beginning of WW1, as the imperial forces of the UK, France, Russia and Japan expelled the German navy from their colonial possessions in the Far East and Pacific. It follows the desperate rear-guard action fought by the German cruiser Emden, sinking a score of Allied merchant ships over several weeks around the Bay of Bengal and culminating in the Battle of Penang. Robertson throws new light on the debacle amongst the allied warships in Penang.

 

 

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Robert E. McGinnis and the art of the sexy Oriental Cover (or Asian stereotypes, if you prefer)

Posted: November 13th, 2014 | No Comments »

The Art of Robert E. McGinnis is a lovely new coffee table book detailing the prolific outpouring of one of America’s most recogniseable commercial artists. McGinnis began his career in 1947 as a cartoonist, and produced his first cover illustrations for 1956 issues of the magazines True Detective and Master Detective. Then in 1958, he painted his first paperback book cover, and from that day forward his work was in demand including to do several iconic Bond posters. He specialised in pulp and crime fiction covers and I’ve chosen just a few China/Oriental related ones to give a flavour of his work….

 

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This is McGinnis’s cover for Stephen Becker’s 1955 novel Shanghai Incident, which is extremely hard to find a copy of these days. This is the 1960 reprint cover. Incidentally, for the collectors, Shanghai Incident was first published in 1955 by Becker using an alias – Steve Dodge (a bit more pulply I guess). The story is set in 1948 and concerns a ex-OSS now CIA man running round China on the eve of the Communist takeover.

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A 1958 novel I don’t much about – oil, Eurasian beauties, SAigon – Lisette, the concubine is half-Tonkinese and half-French. Michael East was a pseudonym for Morris Langlo West (a great name but a little less good for writers of Oriental pulp novels perhaps). Anyway, the McGinnis cover is a fine example of his sexy women….

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The Silver Concubine was a 1962 novel by Hal G. Everts and is slightly different in being set in the Wild West in 1883, though not sure how 1883 those shoes are!! McGinnis didn’t really care about such details and tended to just go for the pretty girl and not worry too much about the fine details.

35329561-6444413317_2d042a7ae2_o1-600x1003And finally, The Dragon’s Eye by Scott CS Stone actually won the 1969 Edgar Award (your blogger got one in 2013!, so there’s a history of old China scooping Edgars it would seem). It’s about a British journalist in commie China, his beautiful Chinese mistress and it’s all done in a very hard boiled style. Personally I like the guy’s suit and the girl is vintage McGinnis….

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