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

Arnold Bennett’s Piccadilly – the book

Posted: June 27th, 2015 | No Comments »

You’ve probably seen the movie with Anna May Wong, but have you read the book…the lovely cover of Arnold Bennett’s Piccadilly….

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AmCham Shanghai 100th Anniversary – A Few Extras #4 – Hey Fellow Americans, you’re all “gangsters and savages”

Posted: June 26th, 2015 | No Comments »

As I’ve noted in previous posts the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai is celebrating its 100th anniversary and has been posting rather a lot of interesting articles on the glorious history of Americans in Shanghai. But they’ve been rather judiciously edited to prevent any talk of disagreements among the Americans in Shanghai. It seems worthwhile telling a few extra tales that somehow slipped off the official record!

In my posts on the real relationship between the AmCham and two notable American journalists in China, J.B. Powell, Carl Crow and Hallett Abend, we’ve seen how the organisation attempting to suppress opinions by Americans in Shanghai that they did not approve of. Indeed the letters pages of the major American-owned and run newspapers in Shanghai between the world wars, notably the China Press, are full of letters from irate AmCham officials complaining about their fellow Americans who refused to follow the “business first” line that has always been the leit motif of the AmCham in Shanghai (BTW: in this they are not exceptional – all Chambers of Commerce everywhere tend to be like this and Shanghai was no exception – the French Chamber of Commerce shamefully rallied to Vichy in 1940 claiming that resistance would damage business, whilst it is harder to imagine a more reactionary organisation than the British Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai throughout its incarnation which spent most of its time lamenting the end of the Qing Dynasty- i.e. a monarchy – and the birth of that awful thing, a republic!).

But AmCham didn’t just confine itself to trying to suppress American journalists and correspondents in Shanghai. Indeed, it went further and complained vocally and vociferously back in America about how the American media itself portrayed America! George Sokolsky (a most interesting character who veered in his lifetime from the extreme left to the extreme right) noted in 1955 how 30 years before the Shanghai AmCham had taken it upon its self-aggrandised self to tell the American media how it should report on its own country. A bizarre thing to do to say the least and calling for the American media to basically become a propaganda vehicle for the country so American business could sell a few more Parker pens, Buicks and insurance policies. I’m happy to report the American media paid no attention whatsoever to the Shanghai AmCham and carried right on reporting on America the way it saw fit….

 

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AmCham Shanghai 100th Anniversary – A Few Extras #3 – AmCham to Carl Crow and Hallett Abend, “Shut Up”

Posted: June 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

The American Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 100th anniversary and has been posting rather a lot of interesting articles on the glorious history of Americans in Shanghai. But they’ve been rather judiciously edited to prevent any talk of disagreements among the Americans in Shanghai. It seems worthwhile telling a few extra tales that somehow slipped off the official record! Journalists were a particular bête noire of the AmCham Big Cheeses (see their attempt to expel JB Powell yesterday).

And so talking of journalists running into trouble with the AmCham, today one of my Shanghai heroes Carl Crow, intrepid American Journalist and pioneering adman in the city – the article is here.

The AmCham are, of course, quite right to describe Crow as “One of our early celebrity members…” – he was indeed, as well as being a pioneering adman in China, hostage negotiator also….a lifelong friend of AmCham Shanghai Black Hats Target No.1 J.B. Powell. After the AmCham, then in the thrall of the corrupt businessman Frank Jay Raven, attempted, in contravention of their own constitution, to expel Powell, Crow, like Powell, had little-to-nothing more to do with the organisation and openly criticised it for being reactionary, anti-Chiang Kai-shek and against the Republic – all of which AmCham decidedly was. Crow, like Powell too, also felt that the Shanghai AmCham was too soft on Japan and failed to recognise the serious threat Tokyo offered to China’s liberty. Of course Powell and Crow were right and the AmCham wrong on that one – very, very right and very, very wrong respectively.

And so at the start of 1937 Crow was working on a book to be called The Chinese Are Like That, another attempt by him to win over American public opinion to the cause of China, the dangers of Japanese militarism and to try and engender additional respect for China in the US among mainstream readers. Though the book was not published until 1943 it does reflect how enthusiastic Crow was regarding China and Shanghai back in 1937 and how he understood clearly the threat Japan posed to China. But, when it came to the Shanghai AmCham, talking about Japan’s overt militarism and clear expansionist aims was still, as late as the summer of 1937, both unfashionable and considered unhelpful to American business interests and they set about trying to silence anyone who raised the issue.

In January Crow was rebuked in a letter from one of the founders of the American Chamber and the then US Commercial Attaché in Shanghai, Julean Arnold, requesting that he soften his public criticisms of Japan. Arnold claimed that Crow was being un-American (a term that would later come to instil fear in many China Watchers hearts when the arguments over ‘Who Lost China?’ appeared along with a certain Senator from Wisconsin) and that his patriotic duty was to soft peddle on Japan in the interests of, of course, American business. Crow refused but did keep the letter (dated 15 January 1937 from Arnold of the AmCham to Crow contained in the Carl Crow Archive, folder 133 – this archive can be accessed either at the University of Missouri’s Western Historical Manuscripts collection or, in replica form, in the Royal Asiatic Society’s Shanghai library). Another journalist (and a great American reporter), Hallett Abend of the New York Times, reported large and threatening Japanese troop build-ups in Korea and Manchuria around the same time and was chastised for his reporting by the American Chamber in Shanghai as being “alarmist”.

In July 1937 Japan launched attacks against Peking and Tientsin and captured those cities. On “Bloody Saturday” August 14th 1937 Japan began its attack against Shanghai and on December 13th began the six week terror of the Rape of Nanking….just months after AmCham asked Crow and Abend to keep quiet!

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Crow – un-American?? We think no; AmCham shamefully thought yes

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Hallett Abend – “alarmist” said AmCham; but more a prescient warning from a great reporter

 

 

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AmCham Shanghai 100th Anniversary – A Few Extras #2 – JB Powell Gets Kicked out of AmCham

Posted: June 24th, 2015 | No Comments »

As I noted yesterday (see my post on the history of Sterling Fessenden AmCham didn’t want you to know) the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai is celebrating its 100th anniversary and has been posting rather a lot of interesting articles on the glorious history of Americans in Shanghai. But they’ve been rather judiciously edited to prevent any talk of disagreements among the Americans in Shanghai. It seems worthwhile telling a few extra tales that somehow slipped off the official record!

Today, the great J.B. Powell, fearless American journalist in Shanghai and a teller of truth to power (including the AmCham) for which he usually got in trouble (particularly with the AmCham!!) – the article is here.

Now while Powell is a great hero in many ways, plenty of them noted in this article, it somehow forgot to mention that the powers-that-be at the AmCham in Shanghai, allied with various corrupt American business interests in the city at the time, ignominiously booted him out of the organisation when he said what they didn’t like to hear…They can claim him as a great American in Shanghai but they should really acknowledge that, at the time when AmCham Shanghai was under the sway of some pretty corrupt individuals, they tried to expel him….

J.B.-Powell

In 1927 J.B. Powell published a famous “New China” special edition of his China Weekly Review. In it he argued that Chiang Kai-shek, then engaged on the Northern Expedition and having just taken Hankow and Nanking from warlords for the Republic, was here to stay. This opinion – however valid and self-evident to most – didn’t suit many in the AmCham (who would presumably have thought of themselves as diehard republicans in their own country). Prompted by a senior member of the AmCham, the corrupt businessman Frank Jay Raven (more of him later), they hastily convened a meeting which, contrary to the organisations own stated by-laws and in the sway of crooked American business interests, attempted to expel Powell. Powell was a strong supporter of Chiang, the republic and a unified China while many in the upper ranks of the AmCham ridiculously considered Chiang a “Bolshevik”.

Fortunately not everyone agreed with the super-dodgy big cheeses at the AmCham – Powell’s “New China” special was the best selling issue of the Review ever and had 100 advertisers, mostly American companies who continued to place advertising with Powell despite being discouraged from doing so by the AmCham, who declared his opinions as now ‘beyond the pale’. It is to the adverisers credit that they resisted the pressure from Frank Jay Raven-controlled AmCham and saw that the future lay with Chiang and the KMT. As Edgar Snow commented (then a young man working for Powell after having recently arrived in China and soon himself to be castigated by the AmCham for his left wing opinions), he “plagues the American money-grabbers in Shanghai”.

It should also be noted that most sensible China watchers rallied to Powell’s defense against the AmCham – for instance Asia: The Journal of the American Asiatic Association called AmCham’s tactics against Powell “highly intimidatory” and argued that his only crime was being “too liberal” for the AmCham’s decidedly reactionary tastes. It was also noted by many that extreme American reactionaries, such as the notorious George Bronson Rea, who had long advocated Japanese occupation of China, were never considered for expulsion from the AmCham – even after the summer of 1937 support for Japan was not enough to get you kicked out of the AmCham in Shanghai.

It is also worth remembering that the AmCham’s support for the suppression of the 1927 strikers in Shanghai (which led to their massacre thanks in large part to the actions of Stelring Fessenden – see yesterday’s post – was opposed by the President (that’s the President of the United States of America!!) and the Secretary of State in D.C. – not only did the AmCham take sanction against someone they disagreed with but they openly defied American policy from the Oval Office down!!

For the record…Powell’s own recollection of the events from his autobiography My 25 Years in China….shortly after Powell’s “New China” edition…

"the board of directors (of AmCham) called a special meeting of the chamber and formally 
requested the resignation of the editor of the China Weekly Review because of the paper's 
editorial policy. Although an active member of the chamber almost from the date of its organization 
in 1917, I was not notified of the special meeting and only through accident learned of it in time 
to reach the meeting place before the vote on the resolution was taken. I had that morning received 
another telegram from the Review's Washington correspondent, Mr. Underwood, confirming further 
the opposition of President Coolidge and Secretary of State Kellogg to any armed interventionist 
program, and had a copy of it in my pocket when I went to the meeting. The meeting was attended 
by only a small percentage of the membership, and as I looked over the gathering I had a feeling 
that it was a "packed" meeting. My surmise was borne out when the members present, one after 
another, got up and condemned the China Weekly Review for its editorial attitude as being 
contrary to the interests of American business in Shanghai and of foreigners generally in China. 

Before a vote was taken I stated that I realized fully the seriousness of the crisis in China,
 but was convinced that armed action by the Powers would only have the effect of strengthening 
the radical elements and their Soviet supporters who were trying to overthrow the moderate KMT 
faction, led by General Chiang Kai-shek. I also explained that the views I had expressed editorially
 in the Review coincided with the traditional views of the United States Government, and 
particularly with the views of the Administration leaders. I then read the telegram I had received
 that morning from Washington, which further confirmed the previous message, that Washington was 
opposed to armed intervention, except for the protection of the lives and property of American
 citizens from mob violence. 

I had scarcely resumed my seat when a local American lawyer, Chauncy P. Holcomb, a Delawarean,
 and a former District Attorney attached to the United States Court for China, got up and made
 a fiery speech in which he denounced the "pusillanimous" policy of the United States Government 
and charged that the China Weekly Review "was largely responsible for the attitude of our home 
authorities In letting the Americans and other foreigners down." Before the vote was taken someone 
raised a parliamentary question by calling attention to the by-laws of the chamber, which provided 
that no member of the chamber could be expelled without due notice in writing being given and a 
certain number of days permitted to elapse so that a formal reply could be made. But the members 
present would not listen to opposition, even on constitutional grounds, and passed the resolution 
by a considerable majority. I immediately declared my determination to continue my editorial policy 
and refused to comply with the chamber's resolution demanding my resignation unless the chamber's 
action was confirmed at a meeting called for the purpose in accordance with the by-laws 
of the organization. 

No such meeting ever was held."

Powell goes on to claim that various American business interests that dominated the AmCham, 
namely the "Raven Group" led by Frank Jay Raven, a crooked American businessman (who to be fair the 
AmCham now - while praising in general - admit was dodgy - here) were out to get him and anyone 
who put principle before business. You can read all Powell's autobiography here.
picture
Frank Jay Raven - a crook who successfully sought to influence the Shanghai AmCham to extreme 
reactionary positions and led the charge to expel Powell

Perhaps that little altercation between Powell and the AmCham might have been worth including?? Don't ya think??

(BTW: for anyone who wishes to read the "New China" edition of the China Weekly Review from 1927 
I did donate a bound copy of it some years ago to the Royal Asiatic Society's library in
Shanghai, where I assume it still resides)
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AmCham Shanghai 100th Anniversary – A Few Extras #1 – Sterling Fessenden’s Murderous Deal and his White Russian Mistress

Posted: June 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »

The American Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 100th anniversary (in fact they just had a bash in Shanghai) and has been posting rather a lot of interesting articles on the glorious history of Americans in Shanghai. But they’ve been rather judiciously edited to prevent any talk of disagreements among the Americans in Shanghai. It seems worthwhile telling a few extra tales that somehow slipped off the official record!

Today, Sterling Fessenden, the American who ran the Municipal Council for many years – the article is here. However, Mr Fessenden was also known for a few other things in Shanghai that somehow didn’t make the AmCham cut; among them his somewhat scandalous love life and primarily his role as one of the butchers of 1927…

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Now Fessenden was an interesting chap and well connected – indeed he had come to Shanghai to practise law with none other than the former US Consul General in Shanghai Thomas Jernigan. Jernigan (who got a road named after him in Shanghai) was an American Civil War veteran (he fought with the Confederates). In general Fessenden was popular but not with everyone – some disapproved of his rather different private life. Fessenden is invariably described as a “lifelong bachelor” but in fact had a long standing White Russian mistress, called Olga, which rather scandalised some of the more conservative among the American elite in the city who saw him dancing with the much taller Olga at various city nightclubs.

But tippy-toeing around Shanghai’s ballrooms with Olga is not why we should pause for a great deal of thought before lavishing quite so much praise on Sterling Fessenden….

Also omitted is Fessenden’s role in the Shanghai Massacre of 1927. Now an American Judge may well have praised Fessenden’s “Discretion, Courage and Integrity” in times of trouble but I doubt anybody on the Shanghai Left would have agreed. Fessenden it was who brokered the infamous deal between Green Gang boss Du Yuesheng (Big Eared Du) and the French authorities in their concession (in the form of the hopelessly corrupt Captain Fiori who was reputedly in the pay of the Chinese gangs, various gambling interests and probably Corsican and Marseilles Mafia interests in France’s Far East empire) to allow Green Gang thugs and sharp shooters to attack the Left and trade unions. Thanks to Fessenden’s insistence the French agreed to supply Du’s thugs with 5,000 rifles, ammunition and free passage for their trucks through the French Concession to attack striking workers. It was a bloody time. A conservative opinion is that over 1,000 Communists were arrested, some 300 were officially executed and more than 5,000 went missing – the Left in Shanghai offered figures far in excess of these. Whatever the number, it was a massacre, and one made possible by Fessenden’s conniving.

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Left Wing blood on the streets – partly courtesy of Sterling Fessenden – American “Lord Mayor of Shanghai”

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RAS Beijing – Great Wall Style: Repurposing Old Buildings & Materials – 24/6/15

Posted: June 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Talk by Jim Spear

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Background:
This talk, organized by the Courtyard Institute, will be based on experiences detailed in Spear’s recently published book, Great Wall Style, an inspiring work that relates Spear’s building restoration projects across four villages near the Mutianyu Great Wall area (Huairou District of Beijing).

The book is based on Spear’s extensive personal experience and insights, chronicling the process of how he initially restored the Schoolhouse into a breathtaking restaurant, later the Brickyard into a boutique hotel, and several additional projects designing dozens of homes for clients in the area around Mutianyu. The Schoolhouse and Brickyard are sustainable tourism destinations that offer visitors a chance to experience Chinese rural life in the peace and comfort of sensitively and thoughtfully restored village buildings.

About the speaker: 
Jim Spear, fluent in Chinese and educated at the University of California, Berkeley, spent nearly 20 years doing business in China prior to moving full-time to his vacation house at Mutianyu Great Wall in 2005. He expanded and upgraded the home, turning it into a year round retreat. Spear’s passion for designing and building country houses became a business and today he has completed over 30 homes for clients from around the world. His projects have been featured in many Chinese and international publications, including Architectural Digest. When the mayor of his village asked him to help the local community, Spear and his wife and business partner Liang Tang founded The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu Great Wall, a for-profit sustainable tourism enterprise which has grown to include three restaurants, an art glass studio, a gallery, a unique resort comprised of rental homes dispersed across two villages, and an eco-retreat created from a re-purposed glazed tile factory, all designed by Spear. The Schoolhouse earned recognition for best responsible tourism practices in China in 2012 from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and was previously selected best tourism enterprise in Beijing’s scenic Huairou District in 2010 and won the HICAP Sustainable Communities Award in 2009.

Doors open at 7 and the talk will be from 7.30 to 8.30pm, after which there will be time for Q&A. Some light snacks and refreshments will also be provided.

Time:
Wednesday, June 24th, 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Venue:
Courtyard Institute (No.28 Zhonglao Hutong, Dongcheng District) MAP
RSVP:
Please RSVP as seating is limited: https://yoopay.cn/event/89723561
Admission:
50 RMB regular ticket
20 RMB with valid student ID

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RAS Shanghai – LILIANE WILLENS on The White Russian Diaspora in Asia – 1900-1949 – 23/6/15

Posted: June 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

RAS LECTURE  

Tuesday 23 June 2015

7:00 PM for 7:15 PM start

Radisson Blu Plaza Xingguo Hotel, Tavern Bar

78 XingGuo Road, Shanghai

DR. LILIANE WILLENS

on

The White Russian Diaspora in Asia – 1900-1949

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In this lecture, Dr. Liliane Willens will discuss “The White Russian Diaspora in Asia, 1900-1949,” focusing on the lives of the Russian Orthodox settlers in Harbin in the early 1900s who worked for the Chinese Eastern Railroad; the flight during the Bolshevik Revolution of Russian refugees to Harbin; later to Shanghai and the difficulties these émigrés encountered prior to, during and after the Japanese occupation; finally their hurried departure to the Philippines in early 1949 before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

Liliane Willens, of Russian parentage, was born and raised in the former French Concession of Shanghai where she attended a French lycée.  She, her parents and siblings – all stateless – experienced World War II under the Japanese occupation, the bombing by American planes and the return of the Chiang Kai-shek government.  Because of difficulties to immigrate to the United States, she remained in Shanghai during the first two years of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

Talk Cost: RMB 70.00 (RAS members) and RMB 100.00 (non-members). Includes glass of wine or soft drink. Those unable to make the donation but wishing to attend may contact us for exemption.

Membership applications and membership renewals will be available at this event.  Those unable to make the donation but wishing to attend may contact us for exemption.

RAS Monographs: Series 1 & 2 will be available for sale at this event. RMB 100 each (cash sale only).To RSVP:  Please “Reply” to this email or write to RAS Bookings at: bookings@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn

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Nina Barsamova – the White Russian “Movie Queen of Shanghai”

Posted: June 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

Nina Barsamova was a bit of a celebrity in the 1930s. Like many White Russians she claimed her family were something special back in the tme of the Romanoffs but had come into exile in China. They lived in Harbin until about 1930 or thereabouts and then, after her father’s death, Nina, her mother and sister moved to Shanghai. Around early 1933 she won a beauty pageant at the Shanghai Canidrome aimed at raising money for a White Russian orphans in the city.

Nina decided to trade up after the pageant and took the liner the President Hoover to America (it might be that the trip was the First Prize – it’s a bit unclear), arriving in San Francisco in July 1933 declaring herself looking to “crash” into the movies in Hollywood. Talking to the press it appears she hinted at Russian noble blood and somehow got called the “Movie Queen of Shanghai”. According to the papers she was not in Hollywood long before she was approached by a film producer and director called Buddy DeSylva, who wanted her to take a screen test. DeSylva claimed Nina had a delectable accent and was “exactly what I want”. It’s not clear if she ever made any films (or why she was called the “Movie Queen of Shanghai” as she doesn’t appear to have made any there either – The China Monthly Review claimed the San Francisco press dubbed her with the sobriquet but it may have been the title bestowed by the pageant – good PR I guess?) but she did get her photo in the September 1933 issue of New Movie magazine.

Fast forward 18 months and we find Nina in Jan 1935 boarding a ship returning to Shanghai. The problem seems to have been that “she had been in Hollywood as long as the law permitted” and had now outstayed her visa. So, so long Hollywood; Hello, once again, Shanghai. That appeared to be the end of Nina’s Hollywood career. But not of her life…

However, it appears in 1936 Nina married a Basque Spanish hai-alai player (they were generally considered extremely good looking chaps usually and thought of as catches!)  called Paulino Ituarte y Elordi. And it also seems she had two children – Natalia and Elena, thought to have moved to California. The records are a bit unclear but I think Paulino Ituarte y Elordi was born in 1901 and died in 1989 in California, known as Paulino Ituarte (Elordi having been his mother’s maiden name?).

And that’s all I’ve got – but she was very beautiful and she had some adventures and if anyone knows anymore please let me know?

 

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The_Fresno_Bee_The_Republican_Sun__Jun_25__1933_Barsamova in July 1933 arriving in America from Shanghai

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Barsamova in Jan 1935 departing America for Shanghai

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