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

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan’s Shadows

Posted: July 16th, 2014 | No Comments »

It’s unfortunately taken me a while to get round to reading Richard Lloyd Parry’s People Who Eat Darkness, but after finishing Mara Hvistendahl’s excellent And the City Swallowed Them I took it down off the shelf. Even if you are not familiar with the terrible Lucie Blackman murder in Tokyo in 2000 and the manhunt and anguished family appeals that followed this book will draw you in. It is a truly amazing piece of writing and research about a victim, a murderer and Tokyo….


Lucie Blackman – tall, blonde, and 21 years-old – stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave.

The seven months in between had seen a massive search for the missing girl, involving Japanese policemen, British private detectives, Australian dowsers and Lucie’s desperate, but bitterly divided, parents. As the case unfolded, it drew the attention of prime ministers and sado-masochists, ambassadors and con-men, and reporters from across the world. Had Lucie been abducted by a religious cult, or snatched by human traffickers? Who was the mysterious man she had gone to meet? And what did her work, as a ‘hostess’ in the notorious Roppongi disrtic of Tokyo, really involve?

Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, has followed the case since Lucie’s disappearance. Over the course of a decade, he has travelled to four continents to interview those caught up in the story, fought off a legal attack in the Japanese courts, and worked undercover as a barman in a Roppongi strip club. He has talked exhaustively to Lucie’s friends and family and won unique access to the Japanese detectives who investigated the case. And he has delved into the mind and background of the man accused of the crime – Joji Obara, described by the judge as ‘unprecedented and extremely evil’.


With the finesse of a novelist, he reveals the astonishing truth about Lucie and her fate. People Who Eat Darkness is, by turns, a non-fiction thriller, a courtroom drama and the biography of both a victim and a killer. It is the story of a young woman who fell prey to unspeakabale evil, and of a loving family torn apart by grief. And it is a fascinating insight into one of the world’s most baffling and mysterious societies, a light shone into dark corners of Japan that the rest of the world has never glimpsed before.

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Betrayal in Paris – A Few Images I wasn’t able to squeeze in

Posted: July 15th, 2014 | No Comments »

My Penguin China e-book short on China at the Treaty of Versailles (part of the ongoing Penguin China World War One series), Betrayal in Paris, contains a number of pictures of the leading members of the Chinese delegation in Paris and some of the top Japanese negotiators…but there were several pictures of various other characters involved in the story that there simply wasn’t space to use. So here they are….


CC Wu (Wu Chaoshu), the son of Wu Ting-fang (a supporter of the Canton government and prominent Chinese diplomat), was brought into the Chinese nogotiating team at a later stage, though he also made little impact in Paris in 1919. 



Stéphen Pichon, who had been French ambassador to China during the Boxer Rebellion, met several times with the Chinese delegation in Paris



Chengting ‘Thomas’ (CT) Wang (Wang Zhengting), in his mid-thirties, found himself the titular Chinese delegation leader for a time after Lou Tseng Tsiang’s hasty retreat.He was an ardent loyalist to the Southern Government.


sutemi chinda2

Viscount Chinda Sutemi, then Tokyo’s ambassador in London, a key member of the Japanese negotiating team in Paris in 1919



US Secretary of State Robert Lansing offered little in the way of actualpromises and voiced his concerns to the Chinese delegation that the European powers would back Japan


balfour_02British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour, who led the so-called ‘committee of experts’ that finally decided China’s fate in Paris


Miss Wellington Koo, Japan, 1921

Print of Madame Vi Kyuin Wellington Koo, nå©e Oei Hui-Lan from the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Peranakanese sugar-cane heiress, Chinese-Indonesian Oei Hui-lan (Huang Huilan), a noted beauty and style-setter, who was courted and eventually married Wellington Koo in Paris in 1919



The fiery Trinidadian-Chinese Eugene Chen (Chen Youren), a well-connected and influential adviser to the southern faction of the delegation in Paris, who was to become China’s foreign minister in the 1920s, proposed a resolution condemning the big three powers, accusing Wilson particularly of betrayal.


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Hong Kong history novelised – City of the Queen

Posted: July 14th, 2014 | No Comments »

For those that like their Hong Kong history novelised, James Clavell, Shih Shu-Qing’s City of the Queen may appeal….

From its beginnings as a pestilent port and colonial backwater, Hong Kong became the “pearl” of a declining British empire, and then ascended to its present status as a gleaming city of commerce. Throughout its history, Hong Kong has been steeped in drama, intrigue, and seismic social shifts. Shih Shu-ching, an acclaimed Taiwanese writer, sets her epic tale of one beautiful and determined woman’s family amid this rich and colorful history, capturing in vivid, panoramic detail the unique tensions and atmosphere that characterize the city. Critically praised and long popular in the Chinese-speaking world, City of the Queen is now available for the first time in English. After being kidnapped from her home in rural China, Huang, the novel’s heroine, is brought to Hong Kong and sold into prostitution. Thanks to her shrewd, sometimes devious business dealings and unexpected twists of fate, she emerges from these cruel beginnings to become a wealthy landowner. City of the Queen follows the fortunes of Huang’s family, including those of her devoutly Christian daughter-in-law, who tries to redeem the sins she believes Huang has committed; her grandson, who becomes the first Chinese judge on the Hong Kong Supreme Court; and her great-granddaughter, a quintessential Hong Kong young woman, who turns her back on family tradition to revel in the pleasures offered by the 1970s and 1980s metropolis. The novel introduces a range of other Chinese and British characters, examining the complicated relationships between colonizer and colonized in a searing and perceptive portrayal of colonialism. There is Adam Smith, the British officer who struggles with the competing seductions of Huang’s beauty and British respectability; Qu Yabing, Smith’s servant, who despises anything Chinese, yet becomes Huang’s lover after she is abandoned by Smith; Colonel White, the sadistic colonial police chief; and Auntie Eleven, a concubine who owns a pawnshop and teaches Huang the secrets of the trade.
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Xinjiang and the Expansion of Chinese Communist Power: Kashgar in the Early Twentieth Century

Posted: July 13th, 2014 | No Comments »

Michael Dillon’s Xinjiang and the Expansion of Chinese Communist Power looks interesting (especially as my Zed Asian Arguments series has a book next year on more recent redevelopment and issues in Kashgar from Sam Chambers coming out that looks at more recent developments in Kashgar)…


Xinjiang, China’s far northwestern province where the majority of the population are Muslim Uyghurs, was for most of its history contested territory. On the Silk Road, a region of overlapping cultures, the province was virtually independent until the late nineteenth century, nominally part of the Qing Empire, with considerable interest taken in it by the British and the Russians as part of their Great Game rivalry in Asia. Ruled by warlords in the early twentieth century, it was occupied in 1949-50 by the People’s Liberation Army, since when attempts have been made to integrate the province more fully into China. This book outlines the history of Xinjiang. It focuses on the key city of Kashgar, the symbolic heart of Uighur society, drawing on a large body of records in which ordinary people provided information on the period around the communist takeover. These records provide an exceptionally rich source, showing how ordinary Uyghurs lived their everyday lives before 1949 and how those lives were affected by the arrival of the Chinese Communist Party and its army. Subjects covered by the book include Eastern Turkestan independence, regional politics, local government, the military, taxation, education and the press.

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Visualising China’s New Blog

Posted: July 12th, 2014 | No Comments »

For those who don’t know this treasure trove, Visualising China is a project to allow users to explore and enhance more than 8,000 digitised images of photographs of China taken between 1850 and 1950. It allows access to many previously unseen albums, envelopes and private collections and also major collections such as Historical Photographs of China, the Sir Robert Hart Collection and Joseph Needham’s Photographs of Wartime China. It’s a lot of fun, a way to spend hours lost in old China on a rainy day and the brainchild of Prof Robert Bickers at Uni of Bristol.

And now they’ve started a blog the idea of which is to find new ways to offering fresh perspectives, thoughts, and digging out new themes etc on the photographs on the site. Simply choose a photo, or couple of photos, and offer some insight. I rashly decided to try this and, probably due to not having much to do or something compared to everyone else (slightly worrying), ended up their debut blogger talking about the old Jessfield Park in Shanghai (Zhongshan Park as now is)…..click here

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 09.46.53

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Tiananmen Revisited – Frontline Club 29/7/14

Posted: July 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

Just to note I’ll be chairing a discussion on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre at the Frontline Club in London on 29th July with Louisa Lim (author of the recently published The People’s Republic of Amnesia) and James Miles, the Economist’s new China Editor and author of The Legacy of Tiananmen)….RSVP here





In the early hours of 4 June 1989, soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on a pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square, killing untold hundreds of people. Twenty five years on, the event has been commemorated around the world, but how does China remembers this defining moment in the country’s history?

We will be joined by a panel including the award-winning journalist Louisa Lim, whose book The People’s Republic of Amnesia charts how events unfolded that night, revealing previously unknown details.

Whilst looking back, we will also trace the effect the crackdown had on society then and the impact it continues to have today. We will explore how the events of twenty five years ago have shaped national identity in China.

Chaired by Paul French, an author and a widely published analyst and commentator on Asia, Asian politics and current affairs. He is author of North Korea: State of Paranoia and the international bestseller Midnight in Peking.

The panel:

Louisa Lim as an award-winning journalist who has reported from China for a decade, most recently for National Public Radio. Previously she was the BBC’s Beijing correspondent. She is author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited.

James Miles is the outgoing Beijing bureau chief of The Economist, a position he took up in 2001. He will begin a new appointment in August as The Economist‘s China Editor, based in London. He is the author of The Legacy of Tiananmen: China in Disarray.

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H.B. Morse, Customs Commissioner and Historian of China

Posted: July 10th, 2014 | No Comments »

A biography of HB Morse – interesting as don’t know of another one and a reissue of John K Fairbank’s bio….


Hosea Ballou Morse (1855-1934) sailed to China in 1874, and for the next thirty-five years he labored loyally in the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service, becoming one of its most able commissioners and acquiring a deep knowledge of China’s economy and foreign relations. After his retirement in 1909, Morse devoted himself to scholarship. He pioneered in the Western study of China’s foreign relations, weaving from the tangled threads of the Ch’ing dynasty’s foreign affairs several seminal interpretive histories, most notably his three-volume magnum opus, The International Relations of the Chinese Empire (1910-18).

At the time of his death, Morse was considered the major historian of modern China in the English-speaking world, and his works played a profound role in shaping the contours of Western scholarship on China.

Begun as a labor of love by his protégé, John King Fairbank, this lively biography based primarily on Morse’s vast collection of personal papers sheds light on many crucial events in modern Chinese history, as well as on the multifaceted Western role in late imperial China, and provides new insights into the beginnings of modern China studies in this country. Half-finished when Fairbank died, the project was completed by his colleagues, Martha Henderson Coolidge and Richard J. Smith.

John King Fairbank (1907-1991) was Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History at Harvard University and founder/director of Harvard’s East Asian Research Center, now the John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research.
Martha Henderson Coolidge is associate in research at the Fairbank Center at Harvard University.
Richard J. Smith is professor of history and director of Asian Studies at Rice University.

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Atención – Medianoche en Pekín es publicado

Posted: July 9th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The Spanish edition of Midnight in PekingMedianoche en Pekin – is now available courtesy of my Spanish publishers Plataforma Editorial – many thanks to Ricard Vela for the translation…

Medianoche en Pekin

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