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

Wigtown Book Festival 2014 – Now Booking

Posted: September 7th, 2014 | No Comments »

I’ll be up at the Wigtown Book Festival in Scotland in October talking Midnight in Peking…booking is now open and it loos like being a fantastic festival….


Paul French
Midnight in Peking
County Buildings, Main Hall
Friday 3rd October 2014

In 1937 Peking, the teenage daughter of a British consul was murdered. As war loomed, British and Chinese authorities closed ranks. Seventy-five years later, Paul French has uncovered a stash of forgotten documents revealing the killer’s identity. He discusses his gripping account of what happened, a New York Times Bestseller and BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.

Tickets here

Wigtown’s main festival site here – the festival starts on the 25th September

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1937 Haunted Beijing: what remains?

Posted: September 6th, 2014 | No Comments »

Today I’m pointing you towards a series of great photographs inspired by my book Midnight in Peking and follow up e-book The Badlands, taken by photographer Susetta Bozzi of the areas and buildings that form the backdrop and locations for the story of Pamela Werner’s 1937 murder. As Susetta says…

A walk through the major scenes that feature in the book ‘Midnight in Peking’ by Paul French: the true story of the murder of Pamela Werner, a young Englishwoman, in the cold January of 1937. Trying to recapture some of the essence of the city during those dark days as the Japanese army prepared to occupy it. Those were the last days of old Peking: a city of opium dens, refugees and warlords steeped in terror of the impending invasion. From the Ming Dynasty-era alley where Pamela lived, to the scene of the crime, the Fox Tower, through the former Legation Quarter, the old Tartar City and the area once known as the Badlands.

Click here to view

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The Warlord of Reunion – not quite, sadly

Posted: September 5th, 2014 | No Comments »

A fascinating little snippet from Frances Wood’s newly published Penguin Special in their China and World War One series, Picnics Prohibited, about the warlord Zhang Xun. Zhang, a Qing loyalist had been a military escort to Cixi, fought for the Qing in 1911 and afterwards remained loyal to Yuan Shih-kai. He never cut off his queue. In 1917 Zhang and his warlord army invaded Peking with the intention of restoring Puyi to the throne. His attempt to restore the monarchy was thwarted and he sought refuge, eventually finding sanctuary in the Dutch (neutral in WW1) legation. However, there was almost a deal to put Zhang under theb protection of the French. China was entering the war on the side of the Allies and it was believed that Germany supported Zhang’s aims. The French suggested he accept an offer from them of asylum on the island of Reunion. Sadly it never happened, Zhang stayed in the Dutch Legation until his death in 1923.

However, a warlord’s arrival in Reunion, in the Indian Ocean, would have been quite something. About 3% (or about 25,000) of Reunion’s population (still a colony of France) are of Chinese ancestry – all descended from indentured labourers. Presumably Zhjang would have joined the island’s Chinois (also known as Sinwa or Sinoi). However, the estimated 25,000 Chinese (the French census does not allow for questions on ethnicity) now in Reunion are a significant growth from before WW2 due to the male:female ration balancing better and so more kids and about 2,000 PRC migrants in recent years too. If Zhang Xun had ended up in Reunion he would also have found about 4,000 Chinese there in 1917.

But it never happened. Reunion has hosted political exiles over the decades though…several rebellious Vietnamese princes of the Nguyen Dynasty were sent to Reunion during WW1, in 1916 – Thanh Thai and his son (one of 46 kids!!) Duy Tan. Thai was eventually allowed to return home to Saigon in 1945. Prince Bảo Vang of Vietnam (also known as Yves Claude Vinh San) the son of Emperor Duy Tân,still resides in Reunion – but that’s another fascinating story….

200px-ZhangxunZhang Xun

rue_de_paris_saint_denis_reunion_France_History_private_guided_tours-2Rue de Paris – Reunion’s capital Saint-Denis, circa 1900

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RAS Shanghai Autumn Book Sale – This Saturday (6/9) – classics to be had at bargain prices!

Posted: September 5th, 2014 | No Comments »

Need to update your bookshelves? Come to the RAS Library’s (at Sino British College on Fuxing Road) autumn book sale, this Saturday (6th September) from 2pm to 5pm.

We have spent the summer reorganising the Library and have identified many duplicate copies that we want to sell, so that we can free up space for new acquisitions. The books include hardbacks, paperbacks and coffee table books, both fiction and non fiction. We even have a few children’s books and books in languages other than English or Chinese!
We also have duplicate copies of old magazines and periodicals from Shanghai going back many years and several miscellaneous household items for sale.

All proceeds will go into the RAS fund to boost our collection and make the Library an even better place to read, meet and relax with a good book.

The Library is located on the second floor of the SBC Learning and Resource Centre Building (with the white balcony). As you enter the main gate to the compound it is the first building on your right.


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The HMS Salamis Serpent Figurehead, 1863

Posted: September 4th, 2014 | No Comments »

One more interesting ChinaRhyming like object from the Tate’s British Folk Art exhibition – the Salamis Serpent Figurehead from 1863. The Salamis Serpent was the figurehewad for the wood paddle 2-gun despatch vessel HMS Salamis, launched at Chatham (Kent0 in 1863 and broken up at Sheerness in 1883. The figurehead was saved and restored.

The Salamis figurehead was suitable as the sship was designed for eastern waters and almost immediately despatched for China coast duty under Commander Francis Grant Suttie in 1866. Suttie sailed largely in China waters and eventually moved on to sail Navy ships mostly in the Pacific and down to Australia. There is actually a dedication to Suttie in the stained glass at St. Andrews Blackadder Church, St. Andrews Street, North Berwick (see here).




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James Williams’ 1852 Patchwork and a Chinese Pagoda

Posted: September 3rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Managed to catch the last day of the British Folk Art exhibition at the Tate Galley (sorry – but the exhibition is going travelling apparently) and, naturally, a few things ChinaRhyming popped up worth a mention. Today, a patchwork bedcover made, with 4,525 pieces of cloth, by James Williams of Wrexham between 1842 and 1852. The work – made from well over 4,000 separate pieces of cloth – is a combination of Biblical scenes and North Wales landmarks, including the Menai Suspension Bridge and the then-new Cefn viaduct. Additionally the patchwork (and in the nineteenth century patchworks were often the work of men rather than women) reflects the arrival of new goods and ideas in Britain – hence the palm trees and the Chinese pagoda in the upper right corner.


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China 1921: The Travel Guide – Carl Crow’s Back for the Kindle Age!!

Posted: September 2nd, 2014 | No Comments »

I’m delighted to have contributed a foreword to a new e-book edition of Carl Crow’s Travelers’ Handbook for China – (here on Camphor Press’s site, at amazon.co.uk and here on amazon.com) first published in 1913, but here in its 1921 edition courtesy of the excellent little publishing house of Camphor Press in Taiwan.  It’s been a decade since I published my biography of Crow but I’ve never stopped finding out new snippets about his life and times in China and new audiences interested in his experiences and thoughts on China during his sojourn in Shanghai between 1911 and 1937. Original copies of the Travelers’ Handbook, any edition, are hard to find these days and often expensive when you do find them so this new edition solves a lot of problems. If you live, work, have visited, are visiting or have any interest in China then this is a fantastic read. Throw out the Rough Guide, loose the Luxe, forget the Lonely Planet….China 1921 is all you need!!


Set the time machine for China, the year 1921. Experience first-hand the Middle Kingdom’s Golden Age of Travel, a time when steamships and railways had opened up new possibilities for the adventurous sojourner, yet the country had “lost none of its unique charm” and remained “as interesting and strange as it was to Europeans who more than five hundred years ago read Marco Polo’s amazing account of the land of the Great Khan.”

This Camphor Press book is a specially abridged version of the original The Travelers’ Handbook for China by Shanghai-based American newsman Carl Crow. It comes with maps, illustrations, and has a new introduction from Paul French (Carl Crow biographer and author of the true crime bestseller Midnight in Peking).

China 1921 describes a country in flux, modernising yet still Medieval in places, before its rich culture was devastated by war, Communism, and rapid economic development. Readers will find a land of thriving religious centers, exquisite arts and crafts, striking regional diversity, and a countryside teeming with fauna (“Wild game abounds in all parts of China,” Crow tells the would-be sportsman).

There are comprehensive sections on “the great semi-foreign port of Shanghai, the mysterious capital, Peking, the southern metropolis, Canton, the tomb of Confucius,” mountain retreats and beach resorts where one could escape the summer heat, and also details on less accessible destinations. “The more venturesome who are willing to leave the railways, steamship lines and hotels, travel on wheelbarrows, donkeys, or in sedan chairs and junks, and live in native inns, can visit any part of the country at small cost, and enjoy rare experiences.”

This was the best guide of its time, an upbeat but honest look at a now-vanished China. Crow’s exuberance is perfectly captured in his assurance about travel safety: “Robbers and pirates exist, of course, and there is usually a revolution or rebellion going on in some part of the country but these things add zest rather than danger to the journey.”

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Labor Day Holiday Reads – My Penguin Shorts/Specials

Posted: September 1st, 2014 | No Comments »

Blatant self-promotion on this Bank Holiday Monday. A day off, a time to read, but probably not much time, so perhaps a Penguin Short is the ideal solution to a book in a day….I can provide!!


The Badlands, a warren of narrow hutongs in the eastern district of pre-communist Peking, had its heyday in the 1930s. Home to the city’s drifters, misfits and the odd bohemian, it was a place of opium dens, divebars, brothels, flophouses and cabarets, and was infamous for its ability to satisfy every human desire from the exotically entertaining to the criminally depraved. These vignettes of eight non-Chinese residents of the precinct White Russians, Americans and Europeans bring the Badlands vividly back to life, providing a short but potent account of a place and a way of life until now largely forgotten, but here rendered unforgettable.


Betrayal in Paris - At the conclusion of ‘the war to end war’, the victorious powers set about redesigning the world map at the Paris Peace Conference. For China, Versailles presented an opportunity to regain territory lost to Japan at the start of the war. Yet, despite early encouragement from the world’s superpowers, the country was to be severely disappointed, an outcome whose consequences can still be felt today.



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