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

Why People Don’t want to go to China? – Reasons include lack of preservation

Posted: October 24th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

An interesting report from the China Tourism Academy (yes, you read that right, “an interesting report from the China Tourism Academy”) cited on the WSJ’s China blog about why China can’t rejuvenate its tourism numbers from the 2008 (Olympics) high. For once it’s quite an honest report that seems to seek the real problems – air pollution of course, toxic food chain, water quality, fears of terrorism of course. But they also cite lack of access for disabled visitors, which has been a long standing problem and also poor prservation. I’ll quote at some length from the piece….

A state media report on the topic carried earlier this year by China Daily also cited experts who faulted the country’s haphazard approach to historical preservation as a reason behind waning tourism enthusiasm. Across China, lanes built in a heavily reconstructed, faux-historical design selling identikit souvenirs are the norm, a disheartening phenomenon for tourists hoping for more of a sense the authentic.

“We have to value our local history and China’s cultural heritage. That’s what foreigners come to China to see, not soaring skyscrapers and wide streets, which can be seen in every Western country,” the report cited Peking University’s Wu Bihu, professor focusing on tourism development, as saying.

And yet here we are with Shanghai’s Xintiandi still being lauded as a best in class example of preservation (!!) and Dongtai Lu antiques market (admittedly long degenerated to largely “selling identikit souvenirs”) about to fall to the bulldozers for a series of “skyscrapers and wide streets.”

Not that anything will change – property developers in league with the Party will remain the dominant force, so-called renovations will remain haphazard and ill-planned and badly executed…but at least nobody can say they weren’t told.

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Not exactly an inducement to tourism

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There was once a hutong over there, but don’t worry you can’t see anything anyway

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Medianoche en Pekin Comes to Getafe Negro

Posted: October 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Midnight in Peking, or rather in Spanish Medianoche en Pekin, will be at Spain’s premier crime writing festival this week – Getafe Negro – in Getafe, just outside Madrid. To say I’m excited is an understatement – as well as the chance to attend the festival it has to be admitted that this is the author’s first ever visit to Spain (yes, an Englishman in his late forties who has never been to Spain!! – a mystery indeed). Many thanks to my great Spanish publishers Plataforma Editorial for arranging it all.

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·Friday 24th of October:
-5 pm:
‘Midnight in Peking’ with Paul French and Spanish crime fiction writer Joserra Gómez  – Carpa de Actividades (Tent of Activities).
-6 pm:
“Nosotros, los muertos” (“We, the Dead Ones”), a panel about the literary figure of the victims at the crime fiction with Paul French, Berna González Harbour, Víctor del Árbol and Carlos Zanón. Moderated by and the crime fiction writer David G. Panadero – auditorium Fábrica de Harinas (Flour Mill)
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Taipei’s Dihua Street Restoration – Update

Posted: October 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »

How excellent to see that the restoration of Taipei’s Dihua Street in the city’s Dadaocheng district has been continued (I blogged about the start of the process here back in 2011) and is being celebrated by local residents. Since I last wrote about the restoration of the 1920s local businesses have moved in with a bookstore, art gallery, pottery etc etc…It’s a pretty good example of how facades can be preserved, new businesses adopt the properties with government support and a community come together to celebrate both heritage (largely free of PRC like political correctness) and commercialization to maintain the area. The Taipei Times has an article on the now annual 1920s festival organised along the street. Around the same time, in 2011, I posted on several impressive buildings nearby that are also in need of refurbishment and, given the public and commercial success of Dihua Street, may get a makeover and be better preserved now. Shanghai, Beijing and a host of other Chinese towns and cities would do well to take a closer look at the Dihua Street initiative.

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Dihua Street on a busy market day

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Restored colonnades and shops

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Key corner building and colonnades

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Nicely restored facades

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Shop houses and street – still functioning without being ersatzed into a pedestrian street or Xintiandi type faux attraction  – remaining a working, vibrant, commercial street with shops, cafes etc for all wallet sizes and not just the nouveau riche and tourists

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The lost world of Ladakh: reclaiming the past, sustaining the future – Royal Geological Society, London – 24/10

Posted: October 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »

The lost world of Ladakh: reclaiming the past, sustaining the future

24 October 2014, 17:30-20:30, Royal Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG
More details here
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The Geological Society recently co-organised an international conference in Leh, the capital of the historic Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalayas brought together scientists from the Himalayan nations and around the world, to discuss with policy-makers and community representatives how to develop sustainably the rich and varied resources of the Himalaya, to benefit the local communities and nations to which they belong. This conference was preceded and followed by an education programme, with interactive classes focusing on topics such as energy efficiency, climate change and natural hazards. Students were encouraged to take personal responsibility for what they can do to help address these challenges, and to act as ambassadors in their communities. Students demonstrated both a willingness and personal commitment to such tasks, eager to take seriously sustainable development in the region.

History offers us a valuable tool to understand and plan for development.  The Lost World of Ladakh: Early Photographic Journeys in Indian Himalaya (1931-1934) is a recently published book, profiling the photographs of Rupert Wilmot, a British solider serving in India. These photographs give us a unique opportunity to visualise this region in the 1930s. The ability to contrast such images with images taken 80 years later provides an insight into both environmental and cultural change.

This evening event will include presentations by the authors of The Lost World of Ladakh and organisers of the Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalayas conference. A discussion session will draw upon wider expertise of this fascinating region, as we consider how an understanding of the past can help to build a sustainable future. A photo exhibition and wine reception will then give participants the opportunity to talk informally about this region and the work being undertaken.

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Maurice Dekobra’s Macao, L’enfer du jeu

Posted: October 21st, 2014 | No Comments »

Having posted yesterday about Jean Delannoy’s movie Macao, L’enfer du jeu, I thought it worth going back for a quick post on the original 1938 book that inspired the movie, Maurice Dekobra’s Macao, L’enfer du jeu. Dekobra was seen as a somewhat subversive writer in France in the interwar period, though was widely read and regularly a bestseller – indeed “dekobraism” was used to describe the use of journalist style narrative in novels at the time (though is now almost totally forgotten sadly). He did travel in Asia to Japan and China both before the war and after. His English and German were both excellent and, during the First World War, he was sent by France to be a liaison with, first the Indian Army, and then the United States forces. Dekobra decamped to America during the war rather than stay in France under the German occupation. He returned afterwards and wrote mystery novels, several set in China as well as a couple of travelogues of his journeys (of which more in a later post).

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1An early edition of Macao, L’enfer du jeu

4A later paperback

2A scene from the movie version

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Jean Delannoy’s Macao, L’enfer de jeu – A Tale of Two Movies about Macao

Posted: October 20th, 2014 | No Comments »

Many people may be familiar with the 1952 Josef von Sternberg/Robert Mitchum film Macao, but an earlier French film, Macao – L’enfer du jeu (Gambling Hell in English) is an interesting movie for a number of reasons. Jean Delannoy began shooting the movie in 1939 before the fall of France but, with Paris occupied by the Nazis, he had to stop filming. The movie was an adaptation of Maurice Dekobra’s 1938 best selling book of the same title. The film is set in Macao and attempts (on French film sets) to recreate the casinos of the island (quite well) and the louche mix of gamblers, adventurers, gun runners and dope smugglers.

However, two versions of the film exist – the first, pre-war version, starred Erich Von Stroheim. However, he was an outspoken opponent of Nazism and the scenes in which he appeared were redacted during the Occupation, and reshot with the actor Pierre Renoir (son of the painter, older brother of the film director, both called Jean) instead of Von Stroheim. Parisian starlet of the day Mireille Balin was the lead actress and Sessue Hayakawa the lead Asian actor (he was born in Japan though worked all over Europe and America, was trapped in France by the Nazi invasion and survived by selling watercolours and joining the French Resistance) in the film (doomed to death of course, but a major part). The Renoir version was released in France in 1942 during the occupation and then, in 1945, the original Von Stroheim version was released eventually. It’s really rather good….

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Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 21.07.41Balin and Von Stroheim

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Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 21.09.21Balin all alone

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 21.10.51Hayakawa as Ying Tchai in a dapper white suit looking over the balcony of a Macao casino

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 21.11.02The casino itself with the ubiquitous roulette wheels and baskets to move money and chips up and down between the croupiers and punters, an accurate feature of Macao casinos of the time, now sadly replaced by Vegas style glitzy nonsense

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 21.11.16Hiyakawa has a smoke

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 21.11.23Hiyakawa burns the casino shortly before killing himself

 

 

indexFilm poster highlighting Hiyakawa

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Film poster with Von Stroheim – the almost kiss pictured between Balin and Hiyakawa would have been unimaginable on an American film poster of the time

 

macao-l-enfer-du-jeuFilm poster with Renoir – during the war guns and bombers were stronger motifs than afterwards – note the junks and non-military motifs on the poster above issued in 1945

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Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer get the Limehouse Blues

Posted: October 19th, 2014 | No Comments »

A bit of entertainment for your weekend – Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer go down East and get the Limehouse Blues with Pearlies, Cockneys, swells and guttersnipes…and a lot of fans….plenty Yellow Face but some great dancing in this insert into 1946’s Zeigfeld Follies

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ZiegfeldFollies

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Triads, Gangs, Thugs and Chinese Politics – We’ve Been Here Before

Posted: October 17th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The apparent appearance of hired thugs, probably from Guangdong organised crime gangs, on the streets of Hong Kong harassing the democracy movement has been blamed on the Mainland Chinese government’s tendency to use such people to stir up trouble and chaos at everything from property development disputes (beating residents slow to leave) to labour strikes (beating up workers) in recent years. As well as a rather handy non-uniformed enforcement body, the thugs provide the government with the opportunity to claim divisions within society and justify the need for state forces to step in to stop the chaos. Some in the foreign media and casual observers have found this tactic hard to understand and difficult to countenance. However, there is a long history of China’s post-1911 governments using triads, gangs and hired thugs to intervene and either stir up, or repress, volatile situations and deal with perceived “enemies” of the state. The roots of the triads and other secret societies mostly reach back anti-Qing organisations, but we don’t need to go quite that far back…

So let’s go back to 1927….and Shanghai….

To cut a long story short (Chinese history stories are always long of course) Chiang Kai-shek, at the end of his Northern Expedition, wished to purge Shanghai of communists, leftists and unions. He needed help in the International Settlement and Frenchtown where his troops could not freely roam (as the PLA cannot in Hong Kong). The Green Gang and Red Gang offered to help. In April 1927 hundreds of left wing activists (some say over a thousand – the sources are confused to say the least – Edgar Snow claimed between 5,000 and 10,000 people were executed, but he had his own agenda as we all know) were killed, mostly by Green and Red Gang members wearing overalls and white armbands saying “worker”. They were hunted down and either shot or beheaded in the street, snipers shot more from rooftops.

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Nobody came out of the events of April 1927 well. The deal to suppress the Left involved all the major players in Shanghai. Du Yuesheng, the Green Gang leader, organised his own militia – the China Mutual Progress Association – while the French Consul General called for a public struggle against the communists with French police guarding the headquarters of Du’s Association and supplying them with guns. Du then used his contacts with Captain Fiori, the Frenchtown Chief of Police, to meet with Sterling Fessenden, the Chairman of the Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC) in the International Settlement. Fessenden, a short, plump American, persuaded the SMC to allow Du’s thugs passage through the International Settlement so they could slaughter the Leftists. Probably like today’s Communist Party politicians in Beijing, Chiang would have liked to think either of the gangs as (misguided) patriots to be worked with to do a good thing or as thugs he temporarily had to work with to achieve the right ends. However, the truth was that the nationalist’s links with the Green Gang went back to the founding of the Republic when Dr Sun’s confidant Chen Qimei had enlisted Green Gang support to seize Shanghai for the nationalist cause.

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The problem in 1927, and one presumably the Party in Beijing will have to deal with now in southern China, is what price the gangs extract for their services? In 1927 political insiders were not that surprised that the first civilian visitor to see Chiang in Shanghai after the putting down of the left was Huang Jinrong, the boss of the Red Gang. A deal had been done – the gangsters would back Chiang with thugs and arms in return for immunity and continued control of Shanghai’s lucrative drugs business. The government’s deal with the thugs was not necessarily much of a secret – consider a Secret General Staff Intelligence Report, Shanghai entitled ‘Chinese Secret Societies and Political Organisations’ from March 1937 (which anyone can read at the UK National Archives by calling up file WO 106/5375):

‘It is generally believed that in exchange for assistance rendered to him, General Chiang promised the Green Party in Shanghai a monopoly of the opium business, and it was not long before the party enjoyed the reputation of a gang of racketeers whose activities were on a par with those of their Chicago counterparts – the Capone gang. Nothing of importance happened in Shanghai in which could not be found the influence of the Green Party, workers organisations and labour unions being completely under its domination.’

13389Du Yuesheng – Gang leader who hired out thugs to the government – but not without a price

Of course later many of the thugs who cut their teeth in 1927 became even more formally politically aligned. After Du Yuesheng left Shanghai in 1938 (following the Japanese invasion) and headed to Hong Kong and Chongqing the Green Gang’s power collapsed in the city. Du eventually died in Hong Kong after time in Taiwan after 1949. With the Green Gang effectively neutered in Shanghai after 1938 many of his thugs moved effortlessly into the ranks of collaborator Wang Jing-wei’s puppet pro-Japanese government where they continued to operate as thugs, extortioners and murderers. After the war the Kuomintang government faced with weakened ranks after fighting the Japanese and the insurgent communist threat made contact again with those remnants of the old Green and Red gang as well as other gangs – the KMT in Shanghai in 1946 reactivated their branch of the Ang Bin Hoey and Hung League secret societies in order to fight the communists.

When current events in Hong Kong finally play out and the gangs and thugs are told to return to their lairs in Mongkok, or across the border in Guangdong, what price will they exact for their “loyalty” during these times?

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