All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

The Times They Are a Changing on Blood Alley…

Posted: January 31st, 2023 | No Comments »

They built a police station on Shanghai’s Blood Alley where Jack Riley once ran the Manhattan bar – (officially named Rue Chu Pao San; now Xikou Lu)…

Back in the Day….


Jing Tsu’s Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern

Posted: January 30th, 2023 | No Comments »

I hadn’t posted Jing Tsu’s book, Kingdom of Characters, earlier as I didn’t know it had quite so much really fascinating history in it….so let’s remedy that – a totall engrossing read by the way…

What does it take to reinvent the world’s oldest living language?

China today is one of the world’s most powerful nations, yet just a century ago it was a crumbling empire with literacy reserved for the elite few, left behind in the wake of Western technology. In Kingdom of Characters, Jing Tsu shows that China’s most daunting challenge was a linguistic one: to make the formidable Chinese language – a 2,200-year-old writing system that was daunting to natives and foreigners alike – accessible to a globalized, digital world.

Kingdom of Characters follows the bold innovators who adapted the Chinese script – and the value-system it represents – to the technological advances that would shape the twentieth century and beyond, from the telegram to the typewriter to the smartphone. From the exiled reformer who risked death to advocate for Mandarin as a national language to the imprisoned computer engineer who devised input codes for Chinese characters on the lid of a teacup, generations of scholars, missionaries, librarians, politicians, inventors, nationalists and revolutionaries alike understood the urgency of their task and its world-shaping consequences.

With larger-than-life characters and a thrilling narrative, Kingdom of Characters offers an astonishingly original perspective on one of the twentieth century’s most dramatic transformations.

Hong Kong Young Readers Festival 2023

Posted: January 27th, 2023 | No Comments »

I’ll be at the Hong Kong Young Readers Festival in March this year, part of the larger Hong Kong International Literary Festival. So if you’re a school….I’m in town!

see the brochure of available speakers for schools and possible topics here

Hung Chong, Shanghai Silversmith (1830-1925)

Posted: January 26th, 2023 | No Comments »

I’ve blogged previously about a number of silversmiths who operated in Shanghai from around the mid-1800s to 1949 largely targeting the Shanghailander and tourist market. Many of these firms were run by Cantonese silversmiths who had moved their businesses north to the potentially more profitable location of Shanghai.

Some silversmiths i’ve noted include Wang Hing, Wo Shing, Luen Wo, and Zeewo, Tuck Chang. Here’s another, Hung Chong, another Shanghai-based silversmith and retailer, based in Shanghai and operating between 1830 and 1925. Not sure why Hung Chong went out of business (or was acquired/merged) in 1925 as is reported on the internet?


Heads Up: Pictorialist Photography: Soichi Sunami and his Issei Contemporaries – Daiwa Centre, London, 26/4/23…

Posted: January 25th, 2023 | No Comments »

This is Japan rather than the Chinese world, but interesting I think to many who browse ChinaRhyming….

Pictorialist Photography: Soichi Sunami and his Issei Contemporaries at the Daiwa Centre in London April 26th…

David F. Martin will discuss the work and international achievements of Issei photographers active in Seattle, Washington, in the early 20th century.

He will focus primarily on Soichi Sunami (1885-1971) whose artistic career began in Seattle and continued after he relocated to New York where he became the chief photographer for the Museum of Modern Art. Sunami’s main interest was dance photography and his subjects included Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and other iconic dancers of the period.

Martha Graham in Lamentation, 1930, Gelatin silver print; Soichi Sunami (1885-1971); Courtesy of the Sunami Family

The Seattle Camera Club was founded in 1924 and held their first exhibition the following year. They became internationally recognized for their artistic or “Pictorialist” work as a group as well as individually. The key members of SCC were Hiromu Kira (1898–1991), Dr. Kyo Koike (1878–1947), Frank Asakichi Kunishige (1878–1960), and Yukio Morinaga (1888–1968). They exhibited in most of the prestigious international salons of the period, winning awards and having their work reproduced in important photographic publications and catalogues. The SCC became so well known that individual members ranked among the most exhibited photographers in North America.

With the exception of Sunami who was living on the east coast during WWII, the Seattle Issei photographers were interned at the Minidoka relocation centre (concentration camp) which collectively ended their artistic careers.

Click here for more details

#Book 2 on The China Project Ultimate China Bookshelf – Joe Studwell’s The China Dream

Posted: January 24th, 2023 | No Comments »

Book #2 on my Ultimate China Bookshelf pairs with book #1 (despite a 65 year gap), Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers (1937) – Joe Studwell’s The China Dream (2002)…

If the broader message of our first entrant on the Ultimate China Bookshelf, Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers, was the importance of retaining a foreign collective memory of China’s past, then Joe Studwell’s The China Dream, is in many ways an echo of Crow’s appeal for business people to be realistic when they approached the China market. The “China Dream” (predating Xi Jinping’s own version by a decade) was good – inspiring, challenging, hopeful. But ultimately today’s unrealistic dreams led to tomorrow’s nightmares.

A Slice of more contemporary history – Ning Ken’s Zhong Guan Village: Tales from the Heart of China’s Silicon ValleyA Slice of more contemporary history

Posted: January 23rd, 2023 | No Comments »

My monthly column for the China-Britain Business Council magazine Focus touched on more recent Beijing history this month (click here to read in full)…Ning Ken’s Zhong Guan Village (2022)…

Ning Ken is a Beijing-based writer and journalist who has long been fascinated by Zhongguancun. His recent book, Zhong Guan Village: Tales from the Heart of China’s Silicon Valley (ACA Publishing, 2022 and translated by James Trapp) looks at the origins of the area from the viewpoint of a fascinated novelist, the story of some of the big names that have established themselves there, and some musings on what the ‘village’ means to the future of China’s technology sector. Paul French caught up with Ning Ken to talk tech, Zhongguan village and how one goes about telling its stories.

“Kaleidoscope: the Uchiyama Bookstore and Its Sino-Japanese Visionaries” RAS China, 4/2/23

Posted: January 22nd, 2023 | No Comments »

On Feb. 4, 2023 join RAS Shanghai and RASBJ for a joint online book discussion of “Kaleidoscope: The Uchiyama Bookstore and its Sino-Japanese Visionaries” featuring author Naoko Kato and moderator John Van Fleet. This event is free for RAS Members and was organized by RAS Shanghai in cooperation with RASBJ.

MORE ABOUT THE BOOK: In the 1920s, a Japanese businessman set up a bookshop in the city of Shanghai which changed the course of history by providing a forum for Chinese and Japanese intellectuals to meet and discuss the great issues of the day. Now, Naoko Kato’s book “Kaleidoscope” looks at the story of Uchiyama Kanzo and his bookstore from a fresh perspective, breaking it down into a series of reflections that shift as the years turn.

Uchiyama’s bookstore was a fulcrum of Sino-Japanese contacts, and many of the members of Uchiyama’s salon were intellectuals behind the Chinese Communist Party and Japanese anti-war organizations which were illegal in Shanghai at the time. The ability of Uchiyama and his bookstore to transcend intellectual divisions and borders makes his story of unique inter-cultural interest. The context of Uchiyama’s efforts to bring peace between his home country of Japan and his chosen home of China, is one of the most intellectually uplifting stories of the 20th century.

Kaleidoscope was written by Naoko Kato and is based on her 2013 doctoral dissertation, “Through the Kaleidoscope: Uchiyama Bookstore and Sino-Japanese Visionaries in War and Peace”. The book was edited by long-time RAS member Marcia Johnson, who discovered the dissertation and brought it to Earnshaw Books. Together, they transformed the academic piece into this book for general readers.

DATE: Feb. 4, 2023

TIME: 12:00 PM noon China Time

TO JOIN: Click the link below, then click “Register”, and follow instructions: