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

Manchester University Press Armchair Events – Jonathan Chatwin author talk – Long Peace Street: a walk in modern China – May 12

Posted: May 10th, 2020 | No Comments »

Through the centre of China’s historic capital, Long Peace Street cuts a long, arrow-straight line. It divides the Forbidden City, home to generations of Chinese emperors, from Tiananmen Square, the vast granite square constructed to glorify a New China under Communist rule. To walk the street is to travel through the story of China’s recent past, wandering among its physical relics and hearing echoes of its dramas. Long Peace Street recounts a journey in modern China, a walk of twenty miles across Beijing offering a very personal encounter with the life of the capital’s streets. At the same time it takes the reader on a journey through the city’s recent history, telling the story of how the present and future of the world’s rising superpower has been shaped by its tumultuous past, from the demise of the last imperial dynasty in 1912 through to the present day.

To register click here

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Investigating Dashalar – Harriet Evans’s Beijing From Below…

Posted: May 9th, 2020 | No Comments »

University of Westminster sinologist Harriet Evans has released her long running investiogation into the Beijing hutong district of Dashalar…click here to buy.

Between the early 1950s and the accelerated demolition and construction of Beijing’s “old city” in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, the residents of Dashalar-one of the capital city’s poorest neighborhoods and only a stone’s throw from Tian’anmen Square-lived in dilapidated conditions without sanitation. Few had stable employment. Today, most of Dashalar’s original inhabitants have been relocated, displaced by gentrification. In Beijing from Below Harriet Evans captures the last gasps of subaltern life in Dashalar. Drawing on oral histories that reveal memories and experiences of several neighborhood families, she reflects on the relationships between individual, family, neighborhood, and the state; poverty and precarity; gender politics and ethical living; and resistance to and accommodation of party-state authority. Evans contends that residents’ assertion of belonging to their neighborhood signifies not a nostalgic clinging to the past, but a rejection of their marginalization and a desire for recognition. Foregrounding the experiences of the last of Dashalar’s older denizens as key to understanding Beijing’s recent history, Evans complicates official narratives of China’s economic success while raising crucial questions about the place of the subaltern in history.

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Lockdown listens on old Shanghai – Movie Stars, showgirls and novelists visiting…

Posted: May 8th, 2020 | No Comments »

RTHK3 now has 4 podcasts recorded by me some time back on old Shanghai – Douglas Fairbanks & Mary Pickford hit the ‘hai in 1929 to sell some movie equipment and it nearly went badly wrong; then Warner Oland/Charlie Chan was mobbed on the Bund in 1936 when he visited; a Cathay Hotel showgirl’s 1937 war that led her from Shanghai to Manila to Hong Kong and back to the Bund; & finally Penelope Fitzgerald has a package holiday in 1970s Shanghai….click here to listen….

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Royal Asiatic Society Beijing – REDISCOVERING BEIJING: THE WESTERN HILLS OF THE OLD DAYS (via Zoom with Matthew Hu) – 8/5/20

Posted: May 7th, 2020 | No Comments »

REDISCOVERING BEIJING: THE WESTERN HILLS OF THE OLD DAYS

AN RASBJ ONLINE TALK BY MATTHEW HU XINYU

WHAT: Temples, gardens and tombs of the Western Hills, evoking a bygone era, are introduced by cultural heritage preservation expert Matthew Hu Xinyu, followed by QA.
WHEN: May 8, Friday,19:00-20:00 Beijing Standard Time
WHERE:Online via Zoom
HOW MUCH: Free and accessible exclusively to RASBJ members and RAS affiliates worldwide. If you know someone who wishes to join the RASBJ please ask them to Wechat JohnOlbrich at johnobeijing. See www.rasbj.org for details.
HOW TO BECOME AN RASBJ MEMBER:If you’d like to become an RASBJ member (or, for PRC passport-holders, to become an Associate) please befriend Treasurer John Olbrich on Wechat at johnobeijing and send him your name, nationality, mobile number and email address plus the annual subscription amount (or, for Associates, the suggested donation) of RMB 300 for those resident in China, RMB 200 for those resident overseas and RMB 100 for students. If you join RASBJ by May 6, you’ll receive login details for this event.

MORE ABOUT THE EVENT: For two months, Beijing’s hutongs and museums were closed due to the pandemic, yet a number of imperial parks in the Western Hills remained open. During successive dynasties, many imperial palaces, gardens, private residences, temples and tombs were built among the Western Hills, and that tradition continued during the first three decades of the Republican era. Matthew Hu Xinyu made use of the opportunity created by Covid-19 to re-visit this often overlooked area. From Tan Zhe Si, the oldest temple in Beijing, to the garden of French doctor Jean Jerome August Bussiere to the family tomb of the Republic of China’s first foreign minister, these rediscovered sites inspired Hu to delve into their history, dating back to the Jin Dynasty, and to bring to life the relics which we can still see today.
MORE ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Matthew Hu, or Hu Xinyu 胡新宇, was born and raised in Beijing; he is the China Representative of the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts and co-founder of The Courtyard Institute. He has a keen interest in the history and mystery of China, and in the world as a context and contrast. Previously he worked as a travel professional with Wild China, and was deeply involved with the Shijia Hutong Museum in Beijing. He’s been active in the field of Chinese cultural heritage preservation since 2006 and says he’ll continue to pursue that calling “perhaps for my lifetime.”

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“Scintillating Tales of Shanghai’s Sojourners: Paul French’s Destination: Shanghai” by Ronald Torrance

Posted: May 6th, 2020 | No Comments »

A generally kind and interesting review of my book Destination Shanghai in Cha Journal…and to answer the reviewer’s question – book 2 – Destination Peking is coming out around Christmas this year….

Click here to read…

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Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai History Club – Lu Xun and a Wildly Improbable Bookstore – May 7 (via Zoom)

Posted: May 4th, 2020 | No Comments »

It’s hard to imagine a less promising founding for even a humble bookstore, let alone a literary/cultural institution, than the beginnings of the Uchiyama Bookstore (内山书店), launched in Shanghai in 1917. Uchiyama Kanzō was a young troublemaker and elementary school dropout. And a Japanese language bookstore in Shanghai, in the era of 1919, didn’t exactly seem promising. Yet by 1927, when Lu Xun first visited, the Uchiyama Bookstore had already become an institution in east Asian literary modernism. From that time until Lu Xun’s death in 1936, he spent virtually every day at the bookstore, where he had a designated chair and presided over literary discussions with some of the region’s literary giants. Uchiyama Kanzō saved Lu Xun from the murderous clutches of the Guomindang on more than one occasion.


Join RAS members and friends for a look at this wildly improbable bookstore, based on the essay “A Wildly Improbable Bookstore” in the 2019 Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China. We’ll have plenty of images of the store and the era.

Time: 7 May 19:00 (China time)

About the speaker:Aside from his role at the Antai College of Economics & Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, John Van Fleet spends his hobby hours investigating interesting, often less explored and considered aspects of the history of China and Japan, their current relationship between and potential for the two Asian powers, leveraging his ten years of residency in Japan (1991 – 2000) and in China from then until now. His first book, Tales of Old Tokyo, was published in 2015, while he’s developing his second ‘project’ Quarreling Cousins: China and Japan from Antiquity to 2020, in stages – this talk and the essay in the 2019 Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China are one of those stages.

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The Great Chronicler of South China Pirates in the 1920s & 30s – But Who Was Bok?

Posted: May 3rd, 2020 | No Comments »

If you want to know you’ll need to read the current journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China – now online here

In the early 1930s London and New York bookshops actively advertised the latest adventure stories written by the  pseudonymous author “Bok”. No details of Bok’s background, author photos or obvious clues were given to the writer’s real identity. Bok’s novels were all set in China, most featured piracy, smuggling and organised crime along the southern Chinese coast, Hong Kong and Macao. The advertising and book blurbs often played directly into the tropes of the “Yellow Peril” genre established in the preceding few decades by writers such as Sax Rohmer, M.P. Shiel, Herbert Ashbury and others. Yet, Bok’s books were seemingly well researched and appeared to be a form of narrative non-fiction with details that indicated the author had indeed spent significant time on the China Coast. Who was Bok?

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Murders of Old China comes to the Bespoke Speaker Series this Tuesday…

Posted: May 2nd, 2020 | No Comments »

I’ll be talking about my Audible Original Murders of Old China this Tuesday as part of the Bespoke Beijing Speaker Series – There will be 12 murders, 12 reinvestigations and plenty of skulduggery in early twentieth century China. All welcome – details here, or as below…

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