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

Eight Hundred Heroes: China’s Lost Battalion and the Fall of Shanghai

Posted: June 14th, 2022 | No Comments »

I guess the recent Chinese movie The Eight Hundred raised awareness of the Nationalist army’s battle of Sihang Warehouse in 1937 Shanghai and perhaps partly prompted this book by Stephen Robinson, which i was asked to blurb: Here’s a link to the book and below my blurb….and I also note Guan Hu’s movie is available to rent on amazon

The story of the 1937 battle of Sihang Warehouse, the resistance against the Japanese onslaught of Shanghai, and the heroism of the 800 Chinese soldiers who fought to the bitter end is one of the great stories of bravery in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Yet it is so little acknowledged outside China. Stephen Robinson’s highly readable history of the event is both comprehensive and concise, detailed yet placing this definitive event within the broader history of wartime China. ― Paul French, author of City of Devils and Destination Shanghai


Kelly & Walsh Logo, 1915

Posted: June 11th, 2022 | No Comments »

Here a nice logo from the fantastic Shanghai publishers of old Kelly & Walsh – 1915…


TL Mogford’s The Plant Hunter – Up the Victorian Yangtze Looking for a Fabled Plant

Posted: June 10th, 2022 | No Comments »

Should you be looking for an escapist read with some China history thrown in…TL Mogford’s The Plant Hunter might do the job…

1867. King’s Road, Chelsea, is a sea of plant nurseries, catering to the Victorian obsession with rare and exotic flora. But each of the glossy emporiums is fuelled by the dangerous world of the plant hunters – daring adventurers sent into uncharted lands in search of untold wonders to grace England’s finest gardens.

Harry Compton is as far from a plant hunter as one could imagine – a salesman plucked from the obscurity of the nursery growing fields to become ‘the face that sold a thousand plants’.

But one small act of kindness sees him inherit a precious gift – a specimen of a fabled tree last heard of in The Travels of Marco Polo, and a map.

Seizing his chance for fame and fortune, Harry sets out to make his mark. But where there is wealth there is corruption, and soon Harry is fleeing England, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and sailing up the Yangtze alongside a young widow – both in pursuit of the plant that could transform both their lives forever.


Hong Kong’s Shek O Bus Terminus Restoration

Posted: June 10th, 2022 | No Comments »

Rarely much good news from Hong Kong in terms of heritage or restoration so the new Shek O Bus Terminus is most welcome. The Shek O Bus Terminus was built in 1955, designed by US-trained architect (the US influence is clear in the structure) Su Gin Djih of Hsin Yieh Architects and Associates, a Shanghai firm that relocated to Hong Kong in 1949. But it had fallen into a bad state of disrepair though the cantilevered balcony and some of the art deco lettering remained. The renovation was undertaken by bus operator NWFB, which holds the tenancy agreement on the terminus. Since 2013 the Antiquities Advisory Board hadgranted Grade 2 historic building status to the Terminus.

The Terminus in the 1950s
Having fallen into a rather poor state of repair
And now, post-restoration

Shooting North Korea’s Film Stars (with a camera)

Posted: June 8th, 2022 | No Comments »

The ever-pioneering Koryo Studios and Nick Bonner have a new project (sadly tours and many other events are off the agenda for some time now and some time to come). They’ve commissioned a North Korea photographer Kim Gwang Hun to shoot the DPRK’s best known actors and actresses to visit the Pyongyang film studios and recreate some of their most famous scenes. See the shots here – and, if you like them and/or want to help out Koryo at this trickiest of times, they’re for sale too. Click here

Small House at the Forefront (2013). Actor Choe Yong Ho, age 43: “My wife knows that I am often in character for a period of time, even at home!”

Crime and the City – Kathmandu

Posted: June 7th, 2022 | No Comments »

Regular readers will know I also write a fortnightly column for crimereads.com called Crime & the City – a different city every two weeks and the best crime writing from and about the place. The latest happens to be on an Asian city and so many interest China Rhyming readers – Kathmandu and Nepal. Click here to read.


The Grand Hotel des Wagons Lits Somewhat Disreputable Guests

Posted: June 6th, 2022 | No Comments »

Talking of the Grand Hotel des Wagons Lits in the Legation Quarter the other dayI then came across another interesting tit-bit of hotel life in the late 1930s.

Readers of my work will know I’m always keen to find evidence of the foreign underbelly of China in the first half of the twentieth century. Also, given the infamous role of Shanghai being well established, I’m keen to find examples of the underbelly of Peking, which is far less well researched.

Francis Rose is, admittedly, not always a reliable narrator, but he did visit Peking around the time of the Japanese occupation in 1937 and he did record his visit quite extensively in his memoir Saying Life (1961). After the Japanese attack on the city in the summer of 1937 many foreigners checked into Peking’s major hotels, including a rather run bunch (if Rose can be believed) in the Wagons Lits…

‘The hotel was full of that rabble of wealthy men who only appear in neutral places during a war. dishonest Chinese politicians, Japanese spies, gangsters, and beautiful Russian women mixed with army deserters who hoped to get money and work when the Japanese entered (Peking), together with elderly former diplomats from countries that no longer existed. Millions and millions of dollars were discussed over drinks, and a lot of hard cash was spent.’

Sir Francis Rose by Cecil Beaton

The Grand Hotel des Wagons Lits Breakfast Menu

Posted: June 4th, 2022 | 1 Comment »

The Grand Hotel des Wagons Lits was, after the Grand Hotel on Chang’an Avenue, the best hotel in Peking. It was also handy for the railway station at Chienmen (Qianmen) and the Legation Quarter, originally built in 1905 by the Compagnie Internationale des Grands Hotels. The better known later version of the hotel was built in 1904 on the same site in the Flemish Gothic style,. Unlike the Grand Hotel it was only a couple of floors though with incredibly long corridors. It was destroyed after 1949 in the Maoist ‘redevelopment’ of the area.

And what a breakfast menu (from 7-10am). I must admit i’d probably order it all except the mutton chop, which seems a little extreme to me as a breakfast item!