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

Radiograms in Old Shanghai

Posted: June 23rd, 2016 | No Comments »

Radiograms were a very useful means of communication in old Shanghai. A radiogram was basically a written message transmitted by radio. They became extremely useful after the telephone service got a bit rickety after the Japanese invasion. Using the Chinese post office network you could also move messages around the country (and world) quite quickly – they tended to be brief, to the point and with no wasted words (sort of like texts I suppose) – there’s an example of one below. The service was operated by the Chinese Government Radio Administration (and they lasted a long time – I knew people in the early 1990s who were still trained by the Shanghai post office to send these messages).

the Chinese Government Radio Administration was HQed at Sassoon House (it started up services in 1931), adjacent to the Cathay Hotel. The branch on Avenue Edward VII would have been particularly useful for the cluster of journalists and newspapers along that part of the street (obviously heavy users of radiograms). It seems they also had a motorcycle messenger to pick up the message!

Radiogram

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Ian Fleming, David Chipp and Who Did and Who Didn’t Work for Reuters in Peking

Posted: June 22nd, 2016 | No Comments »

51AO3vr+zjL._AC_US160_Peter Fleming (he of News from Tartary and One’s Company as well as a history of the Boxer Rebellion) has been a regular guest on this blog (use the search engine if interested). His, nowadays better known, brother Ian, less so. Still there are a few interesting references in the very readable (in fact to use an overused phrase) “unputdownable” The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters (edited by Fergus Fleming). Ian Fleming was about to be offered the post of Shanghai correspondent for Reuters in 1939 after he resigned from the Berlin post. He didn’t take the job. He is famously supposed to have given his reason for refusing the job: “the salary wouldn’t have even covered my opium bill.” In 1957 Fleming received a letter from David Chipp, then the Reuters Representative in Peking (the first after 1949 and serving from 1956-1958), asking why Fleming appeared to have killed off Bond in From Russian With Love? Fleming fudged on the issue, wanting Chipp (and a couple of million other people) to buy the next Bond outing Dr No – Bond aficionados will know whether I’ve got the books right – I haven’t read them since I was supposed to be revising for O Levels!. He did however recall his own Reuters days noting:

‘…I only resigned when I was offered an appointment as Chief Representative in the Far East on a salary, with expenses, of £800 a year – barely enough to cover my opium consumption.’

Chipp (who had been Reuters correspondent in Rangoon in the late 1940s) remained in Peking for a while longer and wrote a wry memoir, The Day I Stepped on Mao’s Toes (which he apparently once did). It was printed in a private edition and is quite tricky to get nowadays (though a good place to start tracking it down is here).

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David Chipp with Zhou En-lai

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Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai – Imagining “America” in Communist China of the 1950s and 60s – 23/6/16

Posted: June 21st, 2016 | No Comments »
Thursday, 23rd June 2016
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Tavern at the Radisson Xingguo Hotel

Imagining “America” in Communist China of the 1950s and 60s

Speaker: Andrew Kuech

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Throughout the 1950s and 60s depictions, denunciations and declarations against the United States filled the Chinese Communist presses and were made visible in the proliferation of mass art and political performances that decorated Chinese public spaces. In rhythm with Mao’s frequent condemnations of “American imperialists,” books, magazines, songs and plays created caricatures of how these “imperialists” looked and sensationalized the depravities of a strange American society.

Amidst the backdrop of these ubiquitous representations of the United States, however, the role of an imagined American enemy mobilized Chinese political society in a large number of ways. From the “Resist America, Aid Korea” war drive to the development of sanitation campaigns, from worker productivity competitions to rallyings for the liberation of Taiwan, from the economic mania of the Great Leap Forward to the creation of a Chinese-led Third World solidarity movement, the United States functioned as a consistent, if malleable, enemy for China to stay ever-vigilant against. Based upon ongoing doctoral research, this talk examines the visual and discursive ways in which the US was depicted and discussed throughout these various political and propaganda movements and argues that the imagined American enemy played a significant and prominent role in the development of both Chinese political and social life throughout the 1950s and 60s.

About the Speaker

Andrew Kuech is a PhD Candidate in Politics and Historical Studies at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He received a Master’s Degree in History from Northeastern University in 2011 and a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He has been living and doing dissertation research in China for the past year as a Fulbright Student Scholar. His dissertation examines the role of imagery and imaginings of the United States in the rival development campaigns of Communist and Nationalist China during the early decades of the Cold War, 1949-1965.

RSVP: bookings@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn

ENTRANCE: Members: 70 RMB Non-members: 100 RMB

Includes a glass of wine or soft drink

VENUE: Tavern; Radisson Plaza Xingguo Hotel, 78 Xing Guo Road
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China National Aviation Corporation Adverts from 1936

Posted: June 20th, 2016 | No Comments »

China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) adverts from 1936 – quite a nice route list. What to mention?

  • Their offices were on Canton Road, now Guangdong Road
  • the flight from Canton (Guangzhou) to Hanoi was four hours – it’s two hours and five minutes now
  • And, as anyone who’s stood around in Pudong waiting knows, it can still take you best part of a day to get to Chengdu!

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Modern Home on the Bubbling Well Road

Posted: June 18th, 2016 | No Comments »

Ever wondered how some of those old Shanghai interiors got to be so lovely? Modern Home furnishings and decoration might be one answer. You can keep your IKEA…

Sadly I have no photos of the Exhibition of Modern Living on the second floor, though can only imagine it was wonderful. They held various rotating exhibitions – another was called Exhibition of Artistic Furniture in Shanghai.

Modern Home moved premises a few times – they were at 874 Bubbling Well Road (Nanjing West Road) for a time as well as 694 (this ad from 1936). I know very little about Modern Home, though its proprietors were British I believe. The store covered two large floors. Their big rivals were the Caravan Studio

Modern Home

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Treaty Ports in Modern China: Law, Land and Power

Posted: June 17th, 2016 | No Comments »

A collection of essays on various aspects of China’s treaty ports (some fairly obscure) that all adds to the mix….

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This book presents a wide range of new research on the Chinese treaty ports – the key strategic places on China’s coast where in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries various foreign powers controlled, through “unequal treaties”, whole cities or parts of cities, outside the jurisdiction of the Chinese authorities. Topics covered include land and how it was acquired, the flow of people, good and information, specific individuals and families who typify life in the treaty ports, and technical advances, exploration, and innovation in government.

Introduction Robert Bickers and Isabella Jackson 1. Extraterritoriality in China: What we know and what we don’t know Pär Cassel 2. Who ran the treaty ports? A study of the Shanghai Municipal Council Isabella Jackson 3. The Land System of the Shanghai International Settlement: The Rise and Fall of the Hardoon Family, 1874-1956 Chiara Betta 4. Problems of Circulation in the Treaty Port System Stacie Kent 5. Treaty Ports as Shipping Infrastructure Anne Reinhardt 6. River Conservancy and State-building in Treaty Port China Shirley Ye 7. Interport Printing Enterprise: Macanese Printing Networks in Chinese Treaty Ports Hoito Wong 8. The global entanglements of a marginal man in treaty-port Xiamen Douglas Fix 9. ‘Throwing Light on Natural Laws’: Meteorology on the China coast, 1869-1912 Robert Bickers 10. From Terra incognita to Garden of Eden: Unveiling the prehistoric life of China and Central Asia, 1900-1930 Chris Manias 11. The French Concession in Hankou: The Life and Death of a Solitary Enclave in an occupied city Dorothée Rihal 12. The Communists and the Kailuan Mines: Eliminating the legacies of the treaty ports Jonathan J. Howlett

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Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai Weekender – William Mesny: The Mercenary Mandarin – 18/6/16

Posted: June 16th, 2016 | No Comments »
Saturday, 18th June 2016
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Tavern at the Radisson Xingguo Hotel

William Mesny: The Mercenary Mandarin

Speaker: David Leffman

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William Mesny (1842–1919) was born in Jersey, ran off to sea as a deck hand aged 12, and finally wound up at Shanghai in 1860. China was being dismembered by foreign powers and civil war, and amid the chaos Mesny became variously a prisoner of the Taiping rebels, a smuggler, a customs official and an arms dealer. He eventually enlisted as an instructor in the Chinese military where, after five years of fierce campaigning in remote Guizhou province, he rose to the rank of general.

Mesny witnessed many of the period’s brutal conflicts first-hand, from the Taiping, Miao and Muslim rebellions – civil spats responsible for the deaths of over twenty million people – to territorial wars with France, Russia and Japan which saw China lose valuable tributary states. He spoke fluent Chinese, was twice married to Chinese women, and spent twenty-five years orbiting the country between Beijing and Burma, writing opinionated newspapers articles on everything from mining opportunities to local cuisine, ethnic customs, the appalling state of the roads and inns, and the rigours of dealing with petty officialdom.

Having served as an advisor to several prominent officials – including the enthusiastic industrialiser, Zhang Zhidong – Mesny eventually settled down at Shanghai with his second wife and published a magazine about his experiences, Mesny’s Chinese Miscellany, whose four collected volumes comprise a fascinating mosaic of late nineteenth-century China. In later years he lost his patronage and was caught up in a series of financially ruinous court cases, and when he died at Hankou, aged 77, he was working as a desk clerk.

David Leffman spent over fifteen years footstepping Mesny’s travels across China, interviewing locals and piecing together his life from contemporary journals, private letters and newspaper articles. His biography of Mesny, ‘The Mercenary Mandarin’, was published by Blacksmith Books in 2016. Leffman also set up a Mercenary Mandarin Facebook page, featuring hundreds of photographs, research notes and extracts from the book that didn’t make it to the final version.

About the Speaker

David Leffman was born and raised in the UK, took a degree in Photography at the London College of Printing, spent twenty years in Australia and then relocated back to Britain in 2009.

Since 1992 he has authored and regularly updated travel guides to Australia, China, Indonesia, Iceland and Hong Kong, helped compile a Chinese cookbook, and written articles on subjects ranging from crime to horse racing and history. ‘The Mercenary Mandarin’, his biography of William Mesny – a nineteenth-century British adventurer who became a decorated general in the Chinese military – was published in March 2016. He also works as an editor.

RSVP: bookings@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn

ENTRANCE: Members: 70 RMB Non Members: 100 RMB

Includes a glass of wine or soft drink

VENUE: Tavern; Radisson Plaza Xingguo Hotel, 78 Xing Guo Road (兴国宾馆, 兴国路78号)
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Blood on the Sun – ‘Did Six Years in Shanghai Myself….’

Posted: June 15th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Re-watched the old James Cagney movie Blood on the Sun (1945) the other night. It’s an interesting relic for a number of reasons (including Cagney’s judo expertise):

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  • Lester Cole, the main scriptwriter on the movie was a victim of McCarthy’s anti-communist witchhunts – Cole had been a member of the CPUSA;
  • The Tokyo Imperial Hotel bar seen at the start of the movie (and screengrabbed below) is apparently an exact replica of the actual bar situated in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. As the movie was filmed in 1944 obviously it was all shot in California;
  • Several of the foreign hacks in the movie make reference to having been in Shanghai (the movie is set just before the Pacific War) and Cagney’s character says he did six years in Shanghai himself. The move between Shanghai and Tokyo was a pretty common one for journalists at the time. I don’t think Cagney’s character, Nick Condon, is based on any one particular hack, but rather an amalgam of a bunch of them from the time;
  • Cagney works on the English language Tokyo Chronicle, which is a version of the actual Japan Advertiser, founded by Benjamin “B. W.” Fleisher, a Missourian, in Yokohama in 1909. A bunch of great American journalists worked on that paper including Fleisher, Carl Crow, George Sokolosky, Edward Hunter and Victor Keen.

 

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