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

Shanghai Movie Stars with Parasols

Posted: November 12th, 2020 | 1 Comment »

Another in my occasional series of Chinese parasol pictures – here a studio portrait of Liang Caizhu, Chinese singer, dancer and film star, with an Art Deco parasol, in Shanghai ,1936, taken by the Ling Far Studio.

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RAS China – Hudec and Gonda Walk – 15/11/20

Posted: November 11th, 2020 | No Comments »
Exploring the legacy of the Hungarian architects in the former International Settlement in Shanghai [Members-only event]
15 November, 13:00–15:30 | Speaker: Lívia Szentmártoni
The Royal Asiatic Society China, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai, is pleased to present the architectural heritage of Hungarian architects in Shanghai in the 1920–30s, through a guided walk around the former International Settlement. The walk will be led by Lívia Szentmártoni, the Consul for Culture and Education of the Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai.




On this guided walk, we will visit some of the stunning buildings in Huangpu District designed by László Hudec, Károly (Charles Henry) Gonda and the lesser known János Komor, which are part of Shanghai’s 20th century architectural heritage, and hear some of the amazing stories behind their production.


This event is free for RAS members. Meeting place will be provided to confirmed attendees prior to the event. Please allow for 2½ hours for this walk.
Please note: This event is for RAS members only. Membership will be available at the event. You can also sign up for membership online here.


Planned tour-schedule:
Park Hotel (Hudec)
Sun Sun Department Store (Gonda)
Christian Literature Society Building / China Baptist Publication Building (Hudec)
Capitol Building / Theatre (Gonda)
Mitsubishi Bank (Komor)
Bank of Communications (Gonda)
Union Building of the Joint Savings Society (Hudec)
Bank of East Asia (Gonda)
Lívia Szentmártoni is the Consul for Culture and Education at the Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai since 2014. She is the former Director of Confucius Institute at University of Szeged and former Program Director of Confucius Institute at Eötvös Loránd University. Before starting her career as a diplomat, she gave lectures on Chinese etiquette and protocol in many institutions, offices and forums (Ministry for National Economy; Bank of China, Budapest; 11th International Protocol Congress; Immigration Office; MFB Invest Ltd. etc.). Ms. Szentmártoni is an enthusiastic promoter of Hungary and Hungarian culture. In her spare time she loves doing research on Hungarians – living and working in Shanghai at the beginning of the 20th century – who greatly contributed to the development and success of Shanghai. By 2019 she had edited two books on the two famous Hungarian architects László Hudec and Károly Gonda, whose works remain hallmarks of Shanghai to the present day. The albums were published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary / Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai with the strong support of many Chinese and Hungarian bureaus, offices, institutions and individuals.
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The Invention of China

Posted: November 10th, 2020 | No Comments »

Bill Hayton’s new book The Invention of China looks fascinating….

China’s current leadership lays claim to a 5,000-year-old civilization, but “China” as a unified country and people, Bill Hayton argues, was created far more recently by a small group of intellectuals.

In this compelling account, Hayton shows how China’s present-day geopolitical problems-the fates of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea-were born in the struggle to create a modern nation-state. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, reformers and revolutionaries adopted foreign ideas to “invent’ a new vision of China. By asserting a particular, politicized version of the past the government bolstered its claim to a vast territory stretching from the Pacific to Central Asia. Ranging across history, nationhood, language, and territory, Hayton shows how the Republic’s reworking of its past not only helped it to justify its right to rule a century ago-but continues to motivate and direct policy today.

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Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2020 –

Posted: November 9th, 2020 | No Comments »

I’ll be talking old Shanghai with James Carter (author of Champions Day) and Tina Kanagaratnam of Historic Shanghai this Thursday. It’s all online so you can watch from anywhere and there’s a great online bookstore too, courtesy of Bookazine. More details here.

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When Bobby Broadhurst Made Shanghai Swing – RTHK3 – 9/11/20

Posted: November 8th, 2020 | No Comments »

Hong Kong folk – Monday morning 9/11/20 my first story of the day for RTHK3’s Morning Brew this Hong Kong Lit Fest month is the tale of Bobby Broadhurst, 1920s old Shanghai nightclub dancer turned teacher, artist, couturier & fabric designer. She was key to why and how Shanghai swung in the late twenties….11.40am RTHK3. There’ll be a different excerpted chapter from my book Destination Shanghai every day this week on RTHK3 between 11am and noon.

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Women, Crime and the Courts: Hong Kong 1841-1941

Posted: November 6th, 2020 | No Comments »

Another great study of Hong Kong from Patricia O’Sullivan and Blacksmith Books

Kwan Lai-chun was sick of being made to feel second-class by her husband’s concubine; sick of her mother-in-law’s endless carping about the money she spent; sick of the whole family really. Late one sticky, humid night something snapped in her – and she grabbed the meat chopper. Within minutes, three people were dead: the concubine with over 70 gashes, many of them to the bone.Kwan was found guilty and became the second and last woman in Hong Kong to suffer the death penalty. But behind her story, and those of the city’s other female murderers, lie complex webs of relationships and jealousies, poverty and despair. Taking the first 100 years of Hong Kong’s colonial history, this book unravels the lives of women – Chinese and Westerners alike – who found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Hong Kong’s female prison population was a tiny fraction of that in America, but there are still plenty of tales from its women kidnappers, fraudsters, bomb-makers, thieves and cruel mistresses.

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Wherever you are this year you can catch the Hong Kong International Literary Festival online

Posted: November 5th, 2020 | No Comments »

The 20th edition of Hong Kong International Literary Festival has kicked off, and from today until November 15 will presents 76 live and online events featuring over 150 writers and speakers from around the world. 

Big names include Paul French, Kevin Kwan, Shannon Lee, Colum McCann, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sebastian Barry, David Frum, Chan Koonchung, Chan Ho-Kei, Christina Lamb, William Dalrymple, Marilyn Chin and Mary Jean Chan. You can find the full writer and speaker list right here.

A Festival Pass with access to 52 online events is HK$500 (or HK$350 for students) and will include talks, readings, panel discussions and more. With a flexible format, timing and pricing, this year’s festival offers something for everyone, and is a great chance to hear world-famous authors and discover emerging voices. Events will be in English, Cantonese or Mandarin.

Full programme details at festival.org.hk and ticket sales on Ticketflap.

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Underground Asia

Posted: November 4th, 2020 | No Comments »

Tim Harper’s Underground Asia is a great history of Asia’s spies and revolutionaries…

The end of Europe’s empires has so often been seen as a story of high politics and warfare. In Tim Harper’s remarkable new book the narrative is very different: it shows how empires were fundamentally undermined from below. Using the new technology of cheap printing presses, global travel and the widespread use of French and English, young radicals from across Asia were able to communicate in ways simply not available before. These clandestine networks stretched to the heart of the imperial metropolises: to London, to Paris, to the Americas, but also increasingly to Moscow.

They created a secret global network which was for decades engaged in bitter fighting with imperial police forces. They gathered in the great hubs of Asia – Calcutta, Singapore, Batavia, Hanoi, Tokyo, Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong – and plotted with ceaseless ingenuity, both through persuasion and terrorism, the end of the colonial regimes. Many were caught and killed or imprisoned, but others would go on to rule their newly independent countries.

Drawing on an amazing array of new sources, Underground Asia turns upside-down our understanding of twentieth-century empire. The reader enters an extraordinary world of stowaways, false identities, secret codes, cheap firearms, assassinations and conspiracies, as young Asians made their own plans for their future.

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