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

Art Deco – The France-China Connection, City University of Hong Kong till June 30…

Posted: June 7th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Sounds interesting…

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How Richard Sorge Met Agnes Smedley…

Posted: June 5th, 2019 | No Comments »

As I mentioned yesterday I was looking through German WW2 diplomat Hans-Otto Meissner’s biography of the Soviet spy Richard Sorge – The Man With Three Faces (1955). Meissner is not completely reliable on every detail and gets some basic things wrong but this is his account of how Richard Sorge, newly arrived in Shanghai to establish secret radio links between north and south China met Agnes Smedley…except it was a pre-arranged meeting…Sorge took the name Johnson…

‘The evening he arrived Johnson (Sorge) drove by taxi to a small restaurant on the Nanking Road. He ordered champagne and started reading the New York Times. A few minutes later a woman left the bar and went over to his table.

Sorge/Johnson

“You must be American,” she said. It was a statement rather than a question. “Mind if I join you?” Johnson smiled. “Of course not. Sit down. You were right first time. I am an American. Got in this afternoon and came right up here. A friend of mine in the States warned me about food in China and told me this little place would educate my stomach in easy stages. Have some champagne?”

The woman laughed. “No, thanks. I’ll have a gin sling, if I may. And if you want to keep expenses down you had better drink the same while you are here. Champagne is expensive stuff, you know. Incidentally, my name is Smedley.”

Smedley…

It was a code drawn up in Moscow – Sorge would visit that Nanking Road restaurant and order champagne which he would offer a woman who encountered him – the contact sign. The woman would decline and ask for a gin sling – the counter sign. Sorge and Smedley had met and recognised each other as fellow spies.

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The Man With Three Faces – Richard Sorge…

Posted: June 4th, 2019 | No Comments »

I came across this colourful edition of Hans-Otto Meissener’s The Man With Three Faces, his 1955 biography of the Russian super spy who operated in Shanghai and Tokyo, Richard Sorge. It’s not the most detailed biography of Sorge (and there’s a new one out just recently) but Meissner was secretary to General Eugen Ott, the Nazi Ambassador in Tokyo who came under Sorge’s sway and met him a number of times. Indeed Sorge attended Meissner’s wedding in the gardens of the German Embassy in Tokyo…

a pretty good likeness from his photo too…
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Coreia do Norte: Estado de Paranoia – now out in Portuguese….

Posted: June 3rd, 2019 | No Comments »

I’m in Portugal this week launching the new Portuguese edition of my book North Korea: State of Paranoia – or, as they say down Lisbon way….

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Plaza Hotel Shanghai Logos, 1935 – “Absolutely Fireproof”

Posted: May 24th, 2019 | No Comments »

A couple of nice logos from Shanghai’s old Plaza Hotel (courtesy of Doug Clark). The Plaza was at 36 Rue Montauban (Sichuan Nan Lu nowadays) in the French Concession, next to St Joseph’s Church. Quite a contemporary logo and they felt it a good marketing idea to stress that the hotel was ‘absolutely fireproof’.

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Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912 till June 23, Freer Sackler….

Posted: May 23rd, 2019 | No Comments »

I’m sure everybody knows but I would just mention that, should you be fortunate enough to be in Washington DC before June 23 you have a chance to see this…

The lives of the Qing dynasty empresses offer a compelling tale of opulence and influence as told in this first-ever, in-depth exhibition of the subject. Their vital presence over the 260-year course of the Qing is brought to light through an unprecedented assembly of spectacular objects. Featured are royal portraits, paintings depicting court life, seals and symbols of imperial power, Buddhist sutras and other objects of religious devotion, along with costumes, jewelry, tableware, and furniture that were used by the empresses in the imperial complex known as the Forbidden City.

The empresses’ significance in shaping Qing history is told through the objects made for, about, and by them. Dispelling a common misapprehension that the women were passive figures, the exhibition breaks stereotypes of them as being merely glamorous or subservient wives. Instead, these women frequently traveled, rode horses, and performed myriad royal duties, from playing a dynamic role in the imperial family to being praised as the “Mother of the State.” Many empresses expressed ambition, displayed intelligence, and some challenged protocol—even the tradition that “women shall not rule.” The exhibition allows us to see how the empresses exerted influence in the arts, religion, politics, and diplomacy. By reclaiming multiple dimensions of their lives, we also direct attention to the broader issue that women’s accomplishments are too often left untold.

Most of these artworks are from the Palace Museum, and many have never been exhibited outside of China. This extraordinary exhibition, accompanied by a major catalogue, is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts; the Freer|Sackler in Washington, DC; and the Palace Museum in Beijing, China.

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Talking of Roland Dorgeles – Departure, 1928

Posted: May 21st, 2019 | No Comments »

Talking a couple of days ago of the French writer Roland Dorgeles and his 1926 On the Mandarin Road travelogue to French Indo-China, here’s his 1928 novel Departure about a Messagerie Maritime voyage on a liner from Marseille to Saigon. It is largely forgotten now but was, apparently, a classic of the popular genre in the 1920s of la litterature d’escale, or port-of-call novels…

Dorgeles

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Quinsan Gardens Postcard – Mislabelled…

Posted: May 20th, 2019 | No Comments »

This undated postcard is labelled “Shanghai, Hongkew Park” (which is now Lu Xun Park). However, i think it is the old Quinsan Gardens. Hongkew Park was (and remains) far larger than this. True – Quinsan Gardens was a park in Hongkew (Hongkou), but they were too different places….

the mis-labelled card

Quinsan Gardens, or alternatively Quinsan Square, just off Quinsan Road (now Kunshan Hua Yuan Road) was named after the town (often spelt Qinsan or Qinshan) in Zhejiang Province. Actually the Gardens (pictured below – as well as misidentified above) were not entirely a park but a road with a green square for the public.

However, they were a centre of serious do- gooding. The Nurses Association of China was based along the road (10) as well as The China Christian Educational Association and the China Continuation Committee (dedicated to linking up all Christians across China) which was at No. 5 with its Christian Book Room at No. 3, while the China Christian Endeavour Union was at No. 1, run by Mr. and Mrs. Edgar E. Strother (who eventually gave up missionary work in Shanghai to “convert the heathen of New York”). Given the presence of all these nurses and missionaries, both believed to be good-hearted, the Gardens became a congregating spot for beggars hoping for plenty of charitable donating from those visiting the local offices.

a correctly labelled postcard of Quinsan Gardens..sadly long gone to redevelopment
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