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

Lulu Chen on the Rise of Tencent

Posted: September 21st, 2022 | No Comments »

My China-Britain Business Council Focus magazine Q&A with Lulu Chen on her new book Influence Empire: The Story of Tencent and China’s Tech Ambition (Hodder & Stoughton) – & now on the longlist for the FT Business Book of the Year 2022 – click here


Pearl Buck Getting a Little Pushback from the Common Man in 1934

Posted: September 20th, 2022 | No Comments »

I have to admit (though I know she still has legions of fans) that I’m generally with ‘the mate of a ship at Shanghai’ when it comes to Pearl Buck – “drivel”. However, Van Dyke’s Peking Madness is not one of the great classics of Peking ‘Foreign Colony’ writing either it must be said….But it’s nice to see a bit of pushback against Buck in 1934….


Anglo-Chinese Export Armchair in Padouk Wood, 18th Century – Possibly Made in Canton or Macao

Posted: September 18th, 2022 | No Comments »

I saw this chair come up at auction recently and thought it interesting as I had never seen such Asian made European-style chairs before. My own knowledge is scant so i’ll just reprint the auction catalogue text below….

A RARE ANGLO-CHINESE EXPORT PADOUK ARMCHAIR 18th Century, of Irish style, with scrolled crest rail, the pierced and interlaced splat carved with bird’s heads, drop-in seat, on leaf and rosette carved cabriole front legs with claw and ball feet, 99cm high x 71cm wide x 52cm deep. Note: an identical pair of chairs sold at Woolley & Wallis, 30th June 2022, lot 526, raising the intriguing possibility of a larger set split and scattered across Southern England, with perhaps further examples yet to be found. As mentioned in the Woolley’s catalogue, such chairs were commissioned by European clients and made by cabinet makers in Canton or Macau – part of a long tradition of decorative art and furnishing items made in China to European designs but constructed in a Chinese manner. The high quality of this chair would indicate a wealthy client, perhaps an East India Company official. The splat design echoes Irish examples noted in The Knight of Glin and James Peill, Irish Furniture, p.213, figs. 38 & 39, whilst for further information on Chinese cabinet making see Carl L. Crossman, The Decorative Arts of the China Trade, pp.220-234. This particular chair, unlike the pair recently sold, bears two labels worded in ink. The earlier label is worded – ‘This chair came from the Palace of the Prince of Arcot, Madras, India, During the Napoleonic Wars between France and Britain. Tippoo Sultan was defeated in Mysore in 1799 and as a result the Prince of Arcot was deposed….it was reconditioned in 1926, the seating worked by Miss L. Edwards’. The other label reads – ‘We bought this chair in a House Auction in Highcliff and the following information was pinned underneath by the owner at that time…’ Sadly, we have no direct provenance to support these labels (the chair being sold by a private individual who acquired it locally in recent years), but the overall dating and exotic story are feasible – particularly as the Chepauk Palace (official residence of the Nawab of Arcot from 1768-1855) was constructed by Paul Benfield (1742-1810) an English East India Company official, who was a close associate of Irish born British statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797).


Useful Bullshit: Constitutions in Chinese Politics and Society

Posted: September 16th, 2022 | No Comments »

Neil J Dimant’s Useful Bullshit on the history of constitutional conversations in the PRC…

In Useful Bullshit Neil J. Diamant pulls back the curtain on early constitutional conversations between citizens and officials in the PRC. Scholars have argued that China, like the former USSR, promulgated constitutions to enhance its domestic and international legitimacy by opening up the constitution-making process to ordinary people, and by granting its citizens political and socioeconomic rights. But what did ordinary officials and people say about their constitutions and rights? Did constitutions contribute to state legitimacy?

Over the course of four decades, the PRC government encouraged millions of citizens to pose questions about, and suggest revisions to, the draft of a new constitution. Seizing this opportunity, people asked both straightforward questions like “what is a state?”, but also others that, through implication, harshly criticized the document and the government that sponsored it. They pressed officials to clarify the meaning of words, phrases, and ideas in the constitution, proposing numerous revisions. Despite many considering the document “bullshit,” successive PRC governments have promulgated it, amending the constitution, debating it at length, and even inaugurating a “Constitution Day.”

Drawing upon a wealth of archival sources from the Maoist and reform eras, Diamant deals with all facets of this constitutional discussion, as well as its afterlives in the late ’50s, the Cultural Revolution, and the post-Mao era. Useful Bullshit illuminates how the Chinese government understands and makes use of the constitution as a political document, and how a vast array of citizens—police, workers, university students, women, and members of different ethnic and religious groups—have responded.


William Greener’s A Secret Agent in Port Arthur, 1905

Posted: September 15th, 2022 | No Comments »

I’m afraid I don’t know much about William Greener except he rather offered himself up to the newspapers as an expert on all things China in the early 1900s and certainly hinted at his connections with British Intelligence. He regularly appears commenting on the work of missionaries in China, the comforts of the Trans-Siberian Express and does seem to have been in northern China during the start of the Russo-Japanese War. It is claimed Greener was an employee of the London Times who got to Port Arthur (Lushun) around February 1904. He was apparently expelled from Port Arthur and moved to nearby Newchwang (Yingkou). Some reviewers considered him unreliable and the Times did receive some criticism for contining to run his pieces, often considered inaccurate and so stopped using him.

But, much of this criticism cvame from those Greener didn’t think much of and writes about in his book – lazy and ineffecutal British diplomats (very often the case in China at the time) and corrupt US Consuls (which annoyed Washington and US newspapers but was true and later led to several sensational trials of corrupt US Consuls in China).

So while A Secret Agent in Port Arthur seems at the outset a little sensationalist, a mix of excited reportage and sub-John Buchan shenanigans, it may actually be a more accurate account than the more censored newspaper articles.


Sine Pharmacy Billboard, Nanking Road, 1949

Posted: September 14th, 2022 | No Comments »

A close up of the large Sine Pharmacy billboard on Nanking Road (Nanjing East Road) in 1949. Rather than repeat the excellent work of the Industrial History of Hong Kong Group’s blog I’ll link to them here for the history of the firm…


Read the Brooklyn Eagle in China, 1925…

Posted: September 13th, 2022 | No Comments »

Want to keep up with news from Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Eagle home while travelling in China…in 1925…no problem (expect it seems in Shanghai surprisingly, but anyway…maybe Brooklynites were a little vulgar and low class for snooty Shanghai?)…


My SCMP Review of Adam Brookes’s Fragile Cargo

Posted: September 12th, 2022 | No Comments »

My review of Adam Brookes’s excellent Fragile Cargo: China’s Wartime Race to Save the Treasures of the Forbidden City (Penguin)….in this weekends SCMP Post magazine…here