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

This Sunday on BBC Radio 3 – Peking Noir: The Hunt for Shura….

Posted: January 9th, 2021 | No Comments »

My true-crime docudrama (written with Sarah Wooley and produced by Sasha Yevtushenko) for BBC Radio, Peking Noir, will be on BBC Radio 3 beginning at 19:30 on Sunday 10th January. As well as on-air there’ll be an extended six-part podcast series version of the programme going live on the Drama of the Week stream on BBC Sounds, Spotify and iTunes shortly after the BBC Radio 3 broadcast.

Peking Noir

Drama on 3

Presented by Paul French
Drama written by Sarah Wooley

Whatever anyone declared categorically about Shura Giraldi, someone else insisted on the exact opposite. Shura was handsome and beautiful; Shura was kind and good, Shura was exploitative and evil. Shura was just another struggling White Russian refugee trying to get by in 1930s China; Shura was the heart and brains of a gang that ran clubs, sex workers, illicit booze and drugs, when not robbing banks and stealing gems to fence in Shanghai. Shura loved ballet and cabaret, creating the Shura Giraldi Dance Troupe that topped the bill at all the best Peking nightclubs.

Shura sometimes presented as male and sometimes as female. When passing as a man Shura bound his breasts tightly and wore a sharp tailored suit; when she was a woman she wore startlingly coloured robes, both Chinese-style cheongsam and Western dresses, letting her raven hair flow loose, said witnesses. Shura had added an incredibly massive layer of confusion and obfuscation to anyone looking by changing gender. Switching for anonymity, for commercial gain or criminal advantage, for love, for a whim.

Paul French is a historian and writer who focuses on China in the first half of the 20th century. He’s been on Shura’s trail for 15 years, digging through the paper records and archives in half a dozen countries in an attempt to get to grips with the enigma that was Shura. This story, a product of that tireless research, is full of truths, but like an old jigsaw brought down from the attic after decades, there are many pieces missing. So we’re using drama, written by Sarah Wooley, to conjure and join the dots of Shura’s story, and go in search of a lost life and a forgotten world.

The search will take us from a Russian far east in violent revolution, to the chaos of the mass emigration of the White Russians, to the crowded hutongs of Peking; from that city’s nightclubs and cabarets, to the casinos of Shanghai; from a China wracked by rampaging warlordism, invaded by Japan, and then fighting its own civil war that culminated in its own revolution.

Shura saw it all; Shura lived through it all; Shura, in part, explains it all.

Shura . . . . . Maggie Bain
Zaichek . . . . . Leo Wan
Roy . . . . . Daniel York Loh
Leopard . . . . . Chris Lew Kum Hoi
Tatiana . . . . . Charlotte East
Anton . . . . . Luke Nunn
Marie . . . . . Cecilia Appiah
Saxsen . . . . . Ian Dunnett Jnr
The MC . . . . . Roger Ringrose
Anna . . . . . Jane Whittenshaw

Editing and sound design by Peter Ringrose.

Directed by Sasha Yevtushenko.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Royal Asiatic Society China in Shanghai – 14 Jan: Sir Edmund Backhouse Revisited (with Derek Sandhaus)

Posted: January 8th, 2021 | No Comments »

Few life stories illustrate the self-perpetuating cycles of misinformation and misunderstanding between East and West like that of Sir Edmund Backhouse. Celebrated in his own time as a foreigner with unique insider information at Qing-Dynasty China’s Manchu imperial court, some of his work was discredited as a fraud by subsequent generations, then re-visited again through recent research. His name evokes wildly versatile associations in the minds of China enthusiasts—a brilliant journalistic career, witness to one of China’s most turbulent eras, his alleged relationship with the Empire’s Empress Dowager.


In this virtual presentation and discussion, award-winning author Derek Sandhaus recounts not only the life story of Sir Edmund Backhouse from his early days at Oxford to internationally bestselling author to reclusive Peking eccentric, but also the meandering adventure of his legacy over time. He recalls how, while serving as managing editor of Earnshaw Books in 2011, he resurrected and annotated Sir Edmund Backhouse’s notorious China memoirs, Décadence Mandchoue. His research brought to light little-known facts about Sir Edmund’s battle with mental instability, social isolation and contemporary prejudice. More importantly, his research reveals that the unconventional life of this thoroughly misunderstood character might actually have granted him insights into the best-kept secrets of Qing-era China’s political elites unknown to his contemporaries, Chinese or Western.

About the Speaker: Derek Sandhaus is the author of several books on Chinese history and culture, including Tales of Old Hong Kong, Tales of Old Peking, Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits and most recently Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture. In 2018 he co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu in partnership with China’s oldest distillery. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Ballardian Dystopias in Wartime Shanghai

Posted: January 8th, 2021 | No Comments »

An article by me for the Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel on JG Ballard’s upbringing in Shanghai, what he saw, thought and how it fed into the later novels and memoirs he gave us…click here to read….

J G Ballard
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Destination Peking – the Trailer….

Posted: January 5th, 2021 | No Comments »

Here’s a short trailer for Destination Peking, out in Hong Kong and China this week (or online by post until covid recedes and books can be sent around the world in bulk again)….

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Out this Month – Destination Peking…Here’s the TOC

Posted: January 4th, 2021 | No Comments »

The second book in my Destination series, Destination Peking is out later this month. Here’s the table of contents to whet your apetitite…

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

RAS Beijing – 13/1/20 – “BLEEDING HEARTS: The Tianjin Massacre of 1870”, with Jeremiah Jenne

Posted: December 29th, 2020 | No Comments »

BLEEDING HEARTS:
The Tianjin Massacre of 1870

by Jeremiah Jenne


WHAT: “BLEEDING HEARTS: The Tianjin Massacre of 1870”, by Jeremiah Jenne (Livestreamed via Zoom as well as in-person)
WHEN: Wednesday Jan. 13, 2021 online from 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM Beijing Standard Time. (In-person attendees may arrive at 7:00 PM)
WHERE: The Courtyard Institute, #28 Zhonglao Hutong, Beijing

MORE ABOUT THE EVENT: In 1870, tales of kidnapping and sorcery swirled around the city of Tianjin. The local magistrate wanted to investigate the charges of witchcraft being made against a group of Catholic nuns. The head of the mission, a French soldier turned priest, vowed to protect the Faith. France’s consul in Tianjin insisted the missionaries were protected from prosecution by treaties signed with the Chinese government. In the middle was a hapless Manchu official unable to keep the peace. On June 21, 1870, the city of Tianjin exploded into a day of rage and violence which shocked the world and revealed the perilous position of foreign missionaries in 19th century China. Writer and historian Jeremiah Jenne uses newly available archival materials from France and China to bring this story of magic and violence to life in a special presentation for the Royal Asiatic Society of Beijing.

MORE ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Jeremiah Jenne is a writer and history teacher based in Beijing since 2002. He has taught Late Imperial and Modern Chinese History for over 14 years and has written on China for publications including The Economist, Radio China, South China Morning Post, the Journal of Asian Studies, and The World of Chinese. He is  frequently asked to speak or lead workshops on Chinese history, culture, and cultural adaptation to schools, organizations, and company groups from around the world, including RASBJ. Jeremiah is the proprietor of Beijing by Foot, which does research on Old Peking, hosts educational programs, and organizes historic walking tours of Beijing’s most famous sites and less-traveled byways.

HOW MUCH: This event is free and exclusively for members of the RASBJ and other RAS branches.  If you know someone who wants to join the RASBJ, please ask them to sign up at least 48 hours before the event via our website at https://rasbj.org/membership/  

HOW TO JOIN THIS EVENT IN PERSON: Email events@rasbj.org . Seating will be limited.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

My RTHK3 Tribute to John Le Carre & The Honourable Schoolboy

Posted: December 26th, 2020 | No Comments »

Annemarie Evans, the presenter of RTHK3’s Hong Kong Heritage show, asked me to talk about the sadly departed John Le Carre and his masterpiece of Asian espionage The Honourable Schoolboy (1977). Naturally delighted to…the people, the places and the history….click here (it’s the Boxing Day edition)…

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Merry Christmas 2020

Posted: December 24th, 2020 | No Comments »

Apologies for not being as prolific this year as i should have been – viruses and all that. I did manage to publish my audiobook Murders of Old China with Audible this time last year; i managed to get my researched novella on WW2, Jewish refugees and Macao, Strangers on the Praia, out (available here and online bookstores – and bookstores if you’re in Hong Kong or China). Briliantly the podcast of Strangers with RTHK3 in Hong Kong was nominated for a New York Radio Festivals Award for best audiobook – Emma Thompson won for something or other but it was nice to be a finalist. Also, a lot went on behind the scenes that will hopefully soon see the light of day.

I can tell you that book #2 in the Destination…. series, Destination Peking, is out early next year in Asia and everywhere by the spring (feel free to preorder) and my 2 hour true crime docudrama Peking Noir (with a full cast!) is on BBC Radio 3 on January 10th at 7.30pm (UK time) and afterwards at some point on the BBC Sounds app. So more old China coming at you from the getgo of 2021….

In the meantime, here’s Peking Union Medical College in the 1930s and in the snow …

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter