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

Another Destination Peking Walking Tour

Posted: November 21st, 2021 | No Comments »

In case you happen to be in Beijing the Destination Peking Walking Tour – Aesthetes, Authors, Scholars & Spies – happened again recently and will do some more if people want to. it’s organised by Bespoke Beijing, led by Jeremiah Jenne and based on my book from Blacksmith Books, Destination Peking

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Royal Asiatic Society China Journal – 2021 Launch, Shanghai – 26/11/21

Posted: November 19th, 2021 | No Comments »

The Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) China is holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Friday 26th November at 7 p.m. RAS China will be ratifying new and incumbent Council Members for the 2021–22 term at the AGM. The AGM will begin in the Teddy Lounge on the third floor of the House of Roosevelt.

They will also be launching the 2021 RAS Journal in the RAS Library next to the lounge with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Non-members are welcome to the event subject to an entrance fee (which is refundable upon joining RAS membership during the evening) and to availability as per our space limitations. We hope you will come along to engage with the RAS Community, meet some new friends and enjoy our lovely Library.

You can RSVP here

As a short teaser i’ll add that my contribution to this year’s Journal is an appreciation of the seriously underappreciated pulp novel China Coaster (1952) by Don Smith….

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Lin Xinwu’s The Wedding Party

Posted: November 18th, 2021 | No Comments »

Lin Xinwu’s The Wedding Party (translated by Jeremy Tiang) is a lovely evocation of early 1980s Beijing hutong life…

On a December morning in 1982, the courtyard of a Beijing siheyuan―a lively quadrangle of homes―begins to stir. Auntie Xue’s son Jiyue is getting married today, and she is determined to make the day a triumph. Despite Jiyue’s woeful ignorance in matters of the heart―and the body. Despite a chef in training tasked with the onerous responsibility of preparing the banquet. With a cross-generational multitude of guests, from anxious family members to a fretful bridal party―not to mention exasperating friends, interfering neighbors, and wedding crashers―what will the day ahead bring?

Set at a pivotal point after the turmoil of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Liu Xinwu’s tale weaves together a rich tapestry of characters, intertwined lives, and stories within stories. The Wedding Party is a touching, hilarious portrait of life in this singular city, all packed into a Beijing courtyard on a single day that manages to be both perfectly normal and utterly extraordinary at the same time.

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Chinese-made Mauser C-96 with Holster, 1930s

Posted: November 17th, 2021 | No Comments »

Now, i’m not a gun expert so i might have got a lot wrong here, but here goes and i’m sure any gun experts out there will add/correct me. As readers of my book City of Devils will know the Mauser C-96 (The “Red Nine” in English in Shanghai and the the “Box Cannon”, presumably due to its look, in Chinese) was the preferred weapon on many late 1930s/1940s Shanghai gangsters. It crops up all the time in newspaper and police reports. The Mauser C96 was a semi-automatic pistol originally produced by the German arms manufacturer, Mauser, between 1896 to 1937. However, crucially many unlicensed copies of the gun were also manufactured in China. In China it often came fitted with a detachable wooden shoulder stock – a “broom-handle grip”.

I knew from my research that they were often warn under the arm in a holster, but had never seen an example of this. I was looking at some pictures the other day and was able to zoom in on this guy – who excellently displays a shoulder holster and a Mauser. This picture is from about 1939. I’m not sure if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, but I wouldn’t get on the wrong side of him to make him draw that thing!…

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Touring China: A History of Travel Culture, 1912–1949

Posted: November 16th, 2021 | No Comments »

Yajun Mo’s Touring China….

In Touring China, Yajun Mo explores how early twentieth century Chinese sightseers described the destinations that they visited, and how their travel accounts gave Chinese readers a means to imagine their vast country.

The roots of China’s tourism market stretch back over a hundred years, when railroad and steamship networks expanded into the coastal regions. Tourism-related businesses and publications flourished in urban centers while scientific exploration, investigative journalism, and wartime travel propelled many Chinese from the eastern seaboard to its peripheries. Mo considers not only accounts of overseas travel and voyages across borderlands, but also trips within China. On the one hand, via travel and travel writing, the unity of China’s coastal regions, inland provinces, and western frontiers was experienced and reinforced. On the other, travel literature revealed a persistent tension between the aspiration for national unity and the anxiety that China might fall apart. Touring China tells a fascinating story about the physical and intellectual routes people took on various journeys, against the backdrop of the transition from Chinese empire to nation-state.

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Harbin: A Cross-Cultural Biography, by Mark Gamsa

Posted: November 15th, 2021 | No Comments »

Mark Gamsa’s Harbin is now out…

This book offers an intimate portrait of early twentieth-century Harbin, a city in Manchuria where Russian colonialists, and later refugees from the Revolution, met with Chinese migrants. The deep social and intellectual fissures between the Russian and Chinese worlds were matched by a multitude of small efforts to cross the divide as the city underwent a wide range of social and political changes.

Using surviving letters, archival photographs, and rare publications, this book also tells the personal story of a forgotten city resident, Baron Roger Budberg, a physician who, being neither Russian nor Chinese, nevertheless stood at the very centre of the cross-cultural divide in Harbin. The biography of an important city, fleshing out its place in the global history of East-West contacts and twentieth-century diasporas, this book is also the history of an individual life and an original experiment in historical writing.

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With GB Shaw at his Writing Hut, 1946

Posted: November 12th, 2021 | No Comments »

Just saw this photo the other day, which is on display at Shijia Hutong Museum in Beijing. It’s George Bernard (GB) Shaw on the step of his somewhat unique writing hut at his home Shaw’s Corner in Hertfordshire, just outside London. With him is the Chinese novelist Gu Yuxiu (left) and Professor and author Chen Xiying (Yuan Chen, husband of Ling Shuhua). They had arrived in England in 1945 and a visit to Shaw was de rigueur for visiting Chinese intellectuals. I’m sure they admired Shaw’s hut, which you can still see as Shaw’s Corner, and the writing hut, are now maintained by the National Trust. What made the hut sort of unique was that it was mounted on a revolving mechanism so that as he worked, Shaw could follow the sun throughout the day. Tucked away behind trees, this is the place where many of his plays were written.

Rotating the hut
Shaw’s Corner
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Want to understand the Chinese economy in 2021? Start with these books (inc some history)….

Posted: November 11th, 2021 | No Comments »


The China-Britain Business Council magazine Focus gathered together some of the author Q&As I’ve written up this year for a useful end of year reading list…..click here


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