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

Peking Picnic Reissued

Posted: May 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

Owners of lovely bookshops Daunt Books are now purveyors of their own lovely books too; a seller becoming a publisher . They specialise in publishing “brilliant, yet neglected books” (you can check out their catalogue here). Their latest is a reissue of Ann Bridge’s Peking Picnic, from 1932. It was her first novel and one of only two she wrote about China (The Ginger Griffin being the other). You can read a good summation of the novel here – a classic that I’d rank alongside Acton’s Peonies and Ponies as a description of the life of privileged foreigners in Peking between the wars). If you’ve read it before then it’s worth a re-read and if you’ve never read it, then shame on you!

 

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The Shanghai Bride Price 1929?

Posted: May 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

As the Nationalists secured control of the country in 1929 they started enacting laws on various outdated customs. One problem was to deal with the rapid escalation in bride prices over the last decade that had left many families either destitute or unable to marry off their daughters while other families couldn’t afford to pay for their sons weddings. Regulation required. So, hence the new guidelines – $150 max to future son-in-laws with a discount to $100 bucks if the bride had been married before. Of course, whether this new regulation ever worked or not is another matter, as is whether or not anyone in China’s government today would think to step in and regulate bride prices?

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Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army

Posted: May 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

Phyllis Bimbaun’s Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy looks like a good read…..

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Aisin Gioro Xianyu (1907-1948) was the fourteenth daughter of a Manchu prince and a legendary figure in China’s bloody struggle with Japan. After the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1912, Xianyu’s father gave his daughter to a Japanese friend who was sympathetic to his efforts to reclaim power. This man raised Xianyu, now known as Kawashima Yoshiko, to restore the Manchus to their former glory. Her fearsome dedication to this cause ultimately got her killed. Yoshiko had a fiery personality and loved the limelight. She shocked Japanese society by dressing in men’s clothes and rose to prominence as Commander Jin, touted in Japan’s media as a new Joan of Arc. Boasting a short, handsome haircut and a genuine military uniform, Commander Jin was credited with various daring exploits, among them riding horseback as leader of her own army during the Japanese occupation of China. While trying to promote the Manchus, Yoshiko supported the puppet Manchu state established by the Japanese in 1932, which became one of the reasons she was executed for treason after Japan’s 1945 defeat. The truth of Yoshiko’s life is still a source of contention between China and Japan–some believe she was exploited by powerful men, others claim she relished her role as political provocateur. China holds her responsible for unspeakable crimes, while Japan has forgiven her transgressions. This biography presents the most accurate and colorful portrait to date of the controversial princess spy, recognizing her truly novel role in conflicts that transformed East Asia.

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The 1930s Book Pirates of Shanghai

Posted: May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

You don’t hear as much about book pirates and the vast number of pirated books available in China as you used to, though I assume street carts selling pirated books are still to be found. DVDs, software, video games are all recent inventions but books have been around a long time and have always been pirated in China…

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This report, from 1939, found that pirated American books were selling for about a quarter to one seventh of the US price in Peking’s markets and that the collapse in the Chinese dollar compared to the American was spurring the trade. Apparently, unlike today, China’s book pirates faced little sanction as the government had not signed any international agreements on copyright. So confident were they that they advertised annual subscriptions to a range of pirated materials for the voracious reader. And, just as with Harry Potter etc today, pirated copies of new books were available just weeks after their US publication.

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Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Megacity

Posted: May 17th, 2015 | No Comments »

The intro to Qin Shao’s book may slightly overstate Shanghai’s importance in terms of an international financial centre, but that doesn’t detract from the awful destruction wrought upon the city by communist politicians, property developers and architectural vandals….

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Shanghai has been demolished and rebuilt into a gleaming megacity in recent decades, now ranking with New York and London as a hub of global finance. But that transformation has come at a grave human cost. This compelling book is the first to apply the concept of domicide-the eradication of a home against the will of its dwellers-to the sweeping destruction of neighborhoods, families, and life patterns to make way for the new Shanghai. Here we find the holdouts and protesters, men and women who have stubbornly resisted domicide and demanded justice. Qin Shao follows, among others, a reticent kindergarten teacher turned diehard petitioner; a descendant of gangsters and squatters who has become an amateur lawyer for evictees; and a Chinese Muslim who has struggled to recover his ancestral home in Xintiandi, an infamous site of gentrification dominated by a well-connected Hong Kong real estate tycoon. Highlighting the wrenching changes spawned by China’s reform era, Shao vividly portrays the relentless pursuit of growth and profit by the combined forces of corrupt power and money, the personal wreckage it has left behind, and the enduring human spirit it has unleashed.

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The Shanghai Mansion Nobody Wanted

Posted: May 16th, 2015 | No Comments »

1937 Shanghai and gangsters running wild in the chaos of the Japanese attack on the city – kidnapping, extorting, selling drugs, robbing banks and post offices, raiding rich homes – but here’s a novel one I’ve never heard of before – planting a bomb in a house, asking for $30,000 and if you don’t pay up exploding it. It was probably a ruse – a chancer’s chance but seems nobody wanted to take the risk that it just might be for real and so the mansion (address sadly omitted – though, Shanghai being Shanghai, probably long bulldozed to make way for a crap apartment building or shit shopping mall) stayed empty, unlet, unsold and unlived in….

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Among the Celestials: China in Early Photographs

Posted: May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

Somehow missed this delightful collection of photographs of old China when it came out – Among the Celestials

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The flourishing of photography as a medium in the mid-19th century coincided with a rise in curiosity about China on the part of the Western world. As the number of foreigners living and travelling in China increased, early photographs of China were taken by and for an international audience. Among the Celestials assembles 250 fascinating images of China in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th, captured by the Western camera lens. The photographs portray the gritty side of the country as well as stunning views of palaces, temples, harbours and gardens. This juxtaposition of the sordid and the serene provides a multidimensional picture of China’s physical and social landscape before Mao Zedong’s ascent to power changed the country forever. The photographs, many published here for the first time, are both beautiful and moving, and together offer a new understanding of a social and cultural history associated with a time of significant historical change.

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Shanghai’s War-time Collaborators – Posies and Pistols in 1941

Posted: May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »

China is to have a two day public holiday this September to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. Of course the Communist Party’s role in WW2 has been massively overblown, the KMT’s downplayed and the interesting question of collaboration and Wang Ching-wei ignored completely. Came across this great picture of the inauguration in early 1941 of Chen Kung-Po (Chen Gongbo – far right in overcoat) as the Mayor of Shanghai in the puppet collaborationist government of Wang Ching-wei (Wang Jingwei). At the time Nationalist hit squads were highly active in Shanghai and had already assassinated a number of leading collaborators. Chen was a major target and so his bodyguard carry flowers in one hand and a pistol at the ready in the other. Events eventually caught up with Chen and he was executed in 1946 in Suzhou. Unrepentant, his final words to the firing squad were “Soon, I will be reunited with Wang Ching-wei in the next world”.

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