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

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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Advertising and Marketing in China: Chinese-Western Cultural Encounters (19th c. – Present) – Center for Asia Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco – 13/11/14

Posted: November 13th, 2014 | No Comments »

An interesting couple of days for anyone in the San Francisco area at the The Center for Asia Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco fall symposium, “Advertising and Marketing in China: Chinese-Western Cultural Encounters (19th c. – Present).” The panel on Creating Ads for Chinese Markets: From Treaty Ports to Mao may be of especial interest to China Rhymers…more details on the event here. Shame old Carl Crow’s not around anymore to tell them how it was!

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The symposium will provide a forum for an interdisciplinary conversation and the sharing of research among scholars and contemporary professionals on the topic of advertising and marketing in China from the 19th c. to the present. Presenters will examine advertising and marketing in China during this period as a lens for understanding cultural encounters between China and the West. Scholars as well as advertising and marketing professionals are invited to share their insight on how culture has influenced the advertising and marketing of Western products in China and Chinese products in the West. Proposed themes include but are not limited to: issues of modernity, visual culture, medical exchange, relations of power, issues of gender, cultural identity, e-business and the influence of smartphones and the internet, etc.

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A Quick Plug for the Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai’s Book Club

Posted: November 12th, 2014 | No Comments »

A change, and an expansion, to the RAS Shanghai book club: more details on their website

RAS Book Club has widened its focus to cover fiction and non-fiction separately. Our Monday night sessions will be dedicated to fiction, led by Sandra & Marcia. Our new Thursday events will be hosted by Christopher Murphy and will cover non-fiction. All Book Club events take place at the RAS Library. Below are our upcoming titles (full details on the website). Hope to see you at the events!

November 17 – ‘Big Breasts and Wide Hips’ by Mo Yan

November 20 – ‘The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why’ by Richard E. Nisbett

December 15 – ‘Nanjing 1937: A Love Story’ by Ye Zhaoyan

December 18 – ‘China’s War with Japan 1937-1945: A Struggle for Survival’ by Ranna Mitter

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Frontline Club Event – Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Thailand: A Kingdom in Crisis – 12/11/14

Posted: November 12th, 2014 | No Comments »

Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s controversial Thailand: A Kingdom in Crisis is the latest book in the Asian Arguments series that I commission and edit for Zed Books. Struggling to emerge from a despotic past, and convulsed by an intractable conflict that will determine its future, Thailand stands at a defining moment in its history. Scores have been killed on the streets of Bangkok. Freedom of speech is routinely denied. Democracy appears increasingly distant. Long dreaded by Thais, the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is expected to unleash even greater instability. Yet in spite of the impact of the crisis, and the extraordinary importance of the royal succession, they have never been comprehensively analyzed, because Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law has silenced most discussion.

Andrew will be speaking at the Frontline Club in London on November 12th…more details here

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In May 2014, Thailand underwent its 12th successful military coup in 82 years. This time, there has been no promise of a quick return to civilian rule; a spokesperson for the National Council of Peace and Order has stated that in Thailand’s current situation, normal democratic principles cannot be applied. In August, King Bhumibol officially endorsed General Prayuth Chan-ocha as the country’s Prime Minister.

As the country’s plans for political reform begin to take shape, we will be discussing the normalisation of coups in Thailand, the problematic issue of the country’s ageing king and the perennial conflict between the Thai elite and the rural majority.

We will be joined by a panel of experts to examine the root causes of Thailand’s ongoing political crisis and what actions, if any, can be taken to resolve it.

The panel:

Andrew MacGregor Marshall is a journalist, political risk consultant and corporate investigator, focusing mainly on Southeast Asia. He spent 17 years as a correspondent for Reuters, covering amongst others conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and political upheaval in Thailand. He is author of A Kingdom in Crisis.

Additional speaker to be announced.

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Rememberance Day – Betrayal at Versailles – To understand Beijing now, go back to Paris then

Posted: November 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

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November 11th, remembering the 11th day of the of the eleventh month of 1918 and the armistice of World War One. Time to link to a recent piece I penned for the China Economic Review on how the immediate fall out from World War One has affected China’s development from that moment till the present day….

Versailles signing ceremony 1919

Allied troops crowd round a window by Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors to witness the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty in 1919 – China chose not to sign…

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Raymond Chandler and Chinese Rugs

Posted: November 10th, 2014 | No Comments »

What was it with hard boiled crime writer Raymond Chandler and Chinese rugs? Regular China Rhyming readers will know I often go for a bit of a wander up some rather obscure alleyways of China studies and Chinoiserie and this is one of those alleys I’m afraid. However, I recently decided to reread a bit of Chandler and his Philip Marlowe novels as a hard boiled noir fan and because the great Glaswegian crime writer William Macillvaney recently recommended, at the Getafe Negro noir writing festival, Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake as the best noir novel ever written.

And it does seem Chinese rugs pop up rather a lot in Chandler. Take the aforementioned The Lady in the Lake (1943) for instance – page 1 in fact – when Marlowe visits the Treloar Building on LA’s Olive Street and the offices of the Gillerlain Company – “Their reception room had Chinese rugs, dull silver walls, angular but elaborate furniture, sharp shiny bits of abstract scultpture on pedestals and a tall display in a triangular showcase in the corner.” Just pages later an interior office also features more Chinese rugs. Shortly afterwards Marlowe heads off towards Malibu to see a man called Lavery, a gigolo – “He held the door wide and I went past him, into a dim pleasant room with an apricot Chinese rug that looked expensive….” There’s those Chinese rugs again!

battle-royal-movie-detectivesBogart as Marlowe

Chinoiserie pops up in his earlier novel The Big Sleep (1939) as well. Again Marlowe is on the prowl in LA – “A. G. Geiger’s place was a store frontage on the north side of the boulevard near Las Palmas. The entrance door was set far back in the middle and there was a copper trim on the windows, which were backed with Chinese screens, so I couldn’t see into the store. There was a lot of oriental junk in the windows. I didn’t know whether it was any good, not being a collector of antiques, except unpaid bills.” Later Marlowe get to the antique dealer Geiger’s house – examining the floor by a totem pole Marlowe notices things: “At its foot, beyond the margin of a Chinese rug, on the bare floor, another rug had been spread.” Geiger is dead and, you’ve guess it, laid out on top of a Chinese rug. We already know what this room looks like – “It was a wide room, the whole width of the house. It had a low beamed ceiling and brown plaster walls decked out with strips of Chinese embroidery and Chinese and Japanese prints in grained wood frames. There were low bookshelves, there was a thick pinkish Chinese rug in which a gopher could have spent a week without showing his nose above the nap.”

Indeed hardly a work of Chandler’s doesn’t feature a Chinese rug. In The Simple Art of Murder (1950), a collection of Philip Marlowe stories, Marlowe visits the house of a rather villainous Filipino character – “It was a big room with walls paneled in diagonal strips of  wood. A yellow Chinese rug on the floor, plenty of good furniture, countersunk doors that told of soundproofing, and no windows.” In Trouble is My Business (1950) a peach coloured Chinese rug makes an appearance.

So what was it with Raymond Chandler and Chinese rugs – sorry, no idea!

indexRaymond Chandler – a man who clearly appreciated a good Chinese rug

 

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Peake in China: Memoirs of Ernest Cromwell Peake

Posted: November 9th, 2014 | No Comments »

Ernest Cromwell Peake, medical missionary in northern China and father of Mervyn Peake of Gormenghast fame, has had his China memoirs published by the British Library….

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Dr Ernest Cromwell Peake was the first medical missionary to arrive in the region of Hankow, inland China, and he had to overcome significant obstacles in the building and establishment of his hospital, as well as the intense hostility of the Chinese towards foreigners and towards Western medical practice. He succeeded in his endeavour, and during his time in China he also married and had two children, one of whom was the writer and artist Mervyn Peake, whose first 12 years were spent there. Dr Peake wrote his memories of this period many years later when he had returned with his family to England, recording his arrival, his impressions of the Chinese, and the story of his establishment of a hospital. He also witnessed the historic events of the Chinese Revolution in 1911, the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the Boxer Rebellion. The memoirs provide a fascinating account of a Westerner in China at the turn of the last century. Of equal interest is the influence of the China years on Dr Peake’s son Mervyn, who was born in China and went on to become one of the most talented British writers and artists of the twentieth century. An introduction by the renowned biographer Hilary Spurling explores the connection between Mervyn Peake’s years in China and his Gormenghast novels.

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