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

BBC Radio 4 – 4/12/17 2.15pm (& BBC iplayer thereafter) – Death at the Airport: The Plot Against Kim Jong-nam

Posted: November 29th, 2017 | No Comments »

It’s good to try something different. So it was fun to be asked by BBC Radio 4 to devise a narrative-driven drama on the assassination of Kim Jong-nam at KL Airport last February and to look back at the rivalries and fights within the ruling Kim clan in North Korea that saw Kim Jong-un and not his now deceased, long disgraced half-brother come to rule the country.

Death at the Airport: The Plot Against Kim Jong-nam is not about the murder per se, but rather about the Kim brothers – Jong-nam, Jong-chul and Jung-un – how two heir apparents never made it and one, the youngest, did and now runs the country. It’s a mix of narrative analysis, dramatic scenes (courtesy of Nick Perry, award winning radio dramatist) and some North Korean pop music plus, of course, some Eric Clapton and Brother Louis from Modern Talking – and if you don’t know why they’re in it then you best listen as, frankly, a lot of it is just juicy gossip!!

Monday 4th December at 2.15pm GMT on BBC Radio 4 and on the iplayer internationally after that for download or streaming….

More details here….

Presented and narrated by Paul French
Drama written by Nick Perry

In February 2017, a Korean man walked through Kuala Lumpur airport when he was ambushed by two young women who appeared to smear his face with a chemical compound later identified as the nerve agent VX. He died shortly afterwards, when it was revealed that he was the estranged half-brother of the current supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

The drama-documentary depicts the frightening and often bizarre sequence of events that led to the death at the airport. Mixing fact with juicy, fantastic rumour we trace the story of how the man once tipped to succeed his father as leader of the world’s only communist monarchy, fell from grace (or was he pushed?), and forced to go into exile abroad. Meanwhile, we follow the unexpected rise of his half-brothers, and of how the youngest defied all expectations and outfoxed them all. For at its core, this is a timeless story about power; about three princes, sons of the Kim Jong-il by different mothers, who each had a claim to a very precarious crown.

Paul French presents the drama-documentary. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling book Midnight in Peking; a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist, winner of both an Edgar (US) and Dagger (UK) awards and currently being developed for British television as a drama series.

Nick Perry has written the drama. His first play Arrivederci Millwall won the Samuel Beckett Award. TV credits include Clubland (1991) and Superbomb (2007). For Radio 4, Nick has written many original dramas including The Loop, November Dead List, London Bridge, Referee, as well as adapting The Confidential Agent, The Shootist, He Died With His Eyes Open and Moll Flanders.

Director: Sasha Yevtushenko.

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A China Rhyming Angle on some of Fowler’s “Forgotten Authors”

Posted: November 28th, 2017 | No Comments »

Christopher Fowler’s The Book of Forgotten Authors is a fun read. I thought I’d pull out a few potentially useful anecdotes on China (and perhaps wider Asia)-related authors. Some I knew; some I didn’t…(he does mention several China-linked writers as well those below who I’ve blogged about before including Peter Fleming and Robert Van Gulik…

Pierre Boulle – I knew Boulle (below), a Frenchman, worked as an engineer on Malaya rubber plantation and that he had been involved in the french resistance movement in China, Burma and French Indo-china. He was eventually captured by Vichyites and made to do forced labour on the Mekong – out of this experience came his great book The Bridge Over the River Kwai. I doidn’t know that Boulle later wrote Planet of the Apes! Anybody fancy a Vichy vs Free French in Indo-China analysis of those movies?

Simon Skidelsky – I had read several novels by Caryl Brahms and Simon “Skid” Skidelsky (below) – murders at the ballet novels mostly; fun on a rainy day. I did not know though that “Skid” was born in Manchuria to White Russian parents. I did know though that Robert Skidelsky, the British economic historian, was born in Harbin of similarly White Russian parentage. However, I don’t think they were related.

Leslie Charteris – I did know that Charteris, the creator of the Simon Templar (The Saint) character, was half Chinese and born in Singapore in 1907. I did not know that after the success of the books and their adaptation to movies by Hollywood Charteris went to California but was denied permanent residency in the USA because of the Chinese Exclusion Act as a person of “50% or greater oriental blood”.


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Earnshaw Books Reissue of Isabella Bird’s 1889 Among the Tibetans

Posted: November 27th, 2017 | No Comments »

Somehow I overlooked that Earnshaw Books had issued a new edition of Isabella Bird’s classic Among the Tibetans…We’d better remedy that!

Isabella Bird was the greatest travel writer of the late nineteenth century and she undertook her journey into western Tibet in the early summer of 1889, when she was already in her late fifties. But she was not the slightest bit fazed at the prospect of discomfort and possible death. And nearly die she did, at least once, before the trip was over.

Isabella travelled over several months through some of the remotest places on the planet and her descriptions of the journey, the sights she saw and the people she met, transcend the times and continue to entertain and inform.


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Censoring Lady Chatterley in Shanghai – Now on Kindle

Posted: November 26th, 2017 | No Comments »

My recent essay Censoring Lady Chatterley in Shanghai: The Censorship of Western Culture and Entertainment in the Shanghai International Settlement, 1940-1941 is now available for mere pennies (all of which that come to me will go to doing more old Shanghai research)….

In the Republican period cultural censorship was a serious issue in the Shanghai International Settlement. However, usually it involved differences of opinion between the Nationalist government in Nanking (Nanjing) and the Shanghai Municipal Council in the foreign-controlled Settlement, empowered by the specific rights of extraterritoriality. Invariably the most contentious cases involved attempts by the Nationalist government to censor the Chinese media in the International Settlement. However, in the summer of 1940 and into 1941 the Shanghai Municipal Council’s Translation Office and the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP), in the form of Special Branch Section Five (S5), which dealt with newspapers and translations in the Settlement, launched a crackdown on certain English language book titles sold in the Settlement. This crackdown occurred at a time when the long-standing censorship structures of the International Settlement authorities were being challenged by Japanese and pro-Nazi German interests, notably in the media of cinema. The result was that the Settlement authorities found themselves both imitating and extending censorship of English language books beyond that pertaining in other nations while also seeing their own censorship regime regarding cinema challenged by the Axis powers and effectively rendered impotent in a large portion of the Settlement.



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Asia Literary Review #34 now available

Posted: November 25th, 2017 | No Comments »

Issue #34 of the Asia Literary Review is now available…


To get a taste of what’s in ALR34, start with our selection of free-to-view articles on the ALR34 contents page.  A good place to begin is From the Editors.

Much of this issue puts a spotlight on Myanmar (Burma), and we include an interview with Lucas Stewart, joint editor with Alfred Birnbaum of Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds, from which we include four stories. We also feature two stories from Korean rising star Kim Ae-ran, whose writing is the focus for our forthcoming essay competition in partnership with the Literature Translation Institiute of Korea. Finally, sample some of the issue’s poetry with John Mateer and Ellen Zhangand there’s more in Preview.


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Camphor Press Reissues Han Suyin’s Destination Chungking

Posted: November 24th, 2017 | No Comments »

Destination Chungking

Han Suyin

Camphor Press | November 2017 (February 1942) | 342 pages

click here to buy in paperback or e-format

Destination Chungking is the fictionalized autobiography of best-selling writer Han Suyin. It tells the love story of a young Chinese couple during the turmoil of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Childhood friends Han Suyin, a medical student, and Tang Pao, an officer in the Kuomintang Army, cross paths in England and fall in love. Returning to China to take part in the resistance, they marry in October 1938 in the city of Hankow on the eve of its capture by Japanese forces. Separated and reunited during an epic retreat across China to the wartime capital of Chungking (Chongqing) far up the Yangtze River, the couple will find their love and patriotism tested.

Written and published as the war still raged – and Chungking continued to be heavily bombed – the book is also a story of the idealistic couple’s love for China, a homage to the good humor and persistence of the Chinese people.

Destination Chungking is a stunning debut from a young woman writing in her third language. Han Suyin (1916-2012), born Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou, was a Chinese-Flemish novelist and historian who explored the contact and conflict between East and West in her fiction, a reflection of her own mixed heritage. Her most famous work is A Many-Splendoured Thing, a bestseller when it was released in 1952 (though some critics such as Kirkus Reviews considered it inferior to Destination Chungking), and which was later made into the film Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1956).

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Book launch of “Thailand: Shifting Ground Between the US and a Rising China” – 29/11/17 – Bangkok FCC

Posted: November 23rd, 2017 | No Comments »

Book Launch

Thailand: Shifting Ground Between the US and a Rising China – Ben Zawacki (Zed Books, Asian Arguments series)

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on 29 November 2017 at 7pm.

The book was published last month by Zed Books and the University of Chicago Press (https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/thailand/), and has been endorsed by the New York Times, Harvard University, Time, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Asia Times.

I wrote the book between late 2013 and early 2017, part of which as a Visiting Fellow in the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.  Previously, having lived in Southeast Asia for fifteen years, I held positions or consultancies with The Elders, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, and the UN Refugee Agency.

The book incorporates interviews with more than 90 persons, including four Thai prime ministers and seven foreign ministers, as well as other senior US and Thai policy-makers, politicians, ambassadors, and military officers.  In August 2015 I was granted a rare and extensive interview abroad with deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra.  Various journalists, academics, and long-time “friends of Thailand” rounded out the research, for a book described by the New York Times as a “well-informed analysis of a critical moment”.

Additional details regarding the launch can be found on the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand’s website (https://www.fccthai.com/items/2281.html).  The club is located on the penthouse floor of the Maneeya Building, which is connected to the BTS Skytrain’s Chitlom station.  As this event is open to the public, it is recommended that a seat be booked in advance by calling the club at +66 2 652 0580.


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Last Chance in 2017: The Official Midnight in Peking Walking Tour – 25/11/17

Posted: November 22nd, 2017 | No Comments »

If you’ve waited all year and not yet been on the Official Midnight in Peking Walking Tour – now’s your chance!

The last tour of 2017 takes place this coming Saturday evening.

Eighty years after Pamela Werner’s body was found mutilated at the foot of Beijing’s Fox Tower, Bespoke Beijing and Penguin Books have teamed up to retell the events of that fateful night with the help of historian Lars Ulrik Thom.

Retracing the steps of Pamela’s distraught father, the tour winds through the dark alleys and quiet corners of Beijing’s former Legation quarter and notorious ‘Badlands’ to reveal a side of the city few know existed.

Based on the international bestselling book by Paul French, Midnight in Peking doesn’t just solve the grisly crime decades after it was abandoned by British and Chinese authorities, but paints an evocative portrait of 1930s Peking – a city on edge as it awaited Japanese invasion.

So for fans of crime fiction, history buffs or just the intellectually curious, the Official Midnight in Peking Walking Tour is a must. Whether you buy it as an early Christmas gift for a friend, or just yourself, get your skates on! There are only 25 spots available.

To purchase tickets for this Saturday, November 25th, click here

for more information email – info@bespoke-beijing.com

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