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

Serge Temoff – From Harbin to Hollywood

Posted: November 21st, 2016 | No Comments »

I’m making a bit of a specialty in collecting foreigners of one sort of another born in China who went on to become (or at least try to become) Hollywood stars (if any publisher thinks there’s a book in that feel free to call!!). Here’s the latest addition – Serge Temoff…

Temoff was a Russian but had been born in the heavily Russified Chinese city of Harbin in 1901. His father was a fur trader who moved the family between Moscow and Harbin. Temoff was a trained ballet dancer and worked with the Moscow Opera in 1916 and had become a soloist with the Maryinsky. During the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution he served with General Kolchak’s White army (his two brothers died in the conflict), eventually having to flee across Siberia to China and from there to America where he joined Anna Pavlova’s touring company. The Devil Dancer was his first straight acting role in 1927 where he appeared along with Gilda Grey, Clive Brook and Anna May Wong. He had joined the Goldwyn Studios as a dance instructor but Sam Goldwyn himself was said to have spotted him and ordered he be cast in films in acting roles. Goldwyn liked Temoff’s large eyes and believed he saw twenty years of suffering in his face.


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George Yeh’s Wartime London Activities – Donating Books from Marylebone

Posted: November 20th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

The other day I had cause to look out a copy of China: After Five Years of War which was published in 1942 by the Ministry of Information of the Republic of China (the Chinese government in Chungking at the time). It’s an interesting tome, stressing how China was responding to the attack from Japan, its role as an allied power in the overall struggle of World War Two and how the home front was being maintained and surviving. There’s a lot of interesting photographs too (I’ve been adding some of them to my instagram feed at oldshanghaipaul). There is also a later edition of the book, about 1946 I think, published in the UK by Victor Gollancz that has additional pictures.

george_k-_c-_yehThis copy is from the London Library and is especially interesting as it was donated to the library in St. James’s by George K.C. Yeh who was, at the time, the London Director of the Chinese Ministry of Information. As you can see they had offices at No.9 Bentinck Street in Marylebone (see below for that house today). George Kung-chao Yeh was born in Canton into a family with a tradition of scholarly activity, he came to the United States in 1919 and attended Amherst College. After graduation in 1924, he earned a masters’ degree two years later at Cambridge University in Indo-European linguistics. He then returned to China as a professor of English at universities in Peking and in Shanghai. During World War Two, he joined the Government and worked as the Information Ministry’s representative in Singapore and in London before transferring to the Foreign Ministry in 1946. He later went to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek as Foreign Minister from 1949 to 1958 – the longest tenure of any Nationalist Foreign Minister – Yeh signed the 1952 peace treaty with Japan and the 1954 defense pact with the United States. He died in 1981.




No.9 Bentinck Street today

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Christopher Murphy Jr and his Asian Illustrations

Posted: November 19th, 2016 | No Comments »

I’ve blogged about Harry Hervey, the Asian travelogue writer, novelist of French Indo-China, adapter of Somerset Maugham’s Rain and the treatment writer of Shanghai Express. Hervey was good friends with the artist Christopher Murphy (Jr.), though I’m not quite sure about whether they travelled to China and Asia together or not. Certainly they were friends and contemporaries (Hervey born 1900; Murphy 1902) and spent time in Savannah, Georgia (Hervey lived in the old De Soto Hotel in Savannah while his mother was the housekeeper).

Murphy provided the illustrations that accompany Hervey’s 1925 travelogue of the Far East Where Strange Gods Call: Pages Out of the East. Although I’m not sure Murphy made the trip. They’re good illustrations anyway…


Hong Kong






Hong Kong



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Talking of the Chinese Labour Corps…

Posted: November 18th, 2016 | No Comments »

Yesterday I posted about the developments one hundred years ago this week when a new commander was appointed to the fledgling Chinese Labour Corps, then (November 1916) being recruited in Shandong (see this post on that process). From the start the British government it seems was keen to get out a message about the labourers being recruited (I guess these days it’d be called a “narrative”) and so versions of this story began to appear in newspapers in America and elsewhere explaining the CLC…click to make it larger…

It’s a puff piece obviously arguing that the Chinese are having the time of their lives. The notion of branding with acid is not overly pleasant, if it’s true. There’s a bit of product placement for Lux and Lysol…





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CLC Centenary – November – Labour Corps Commander appointed

Posted: November 17th, 2016 | No Comments »

I blogged on November 1 about the commencement of recruitment of men in Weihaiwei for service in the British Chinese Labour Corps in 1916. The next step was taken  tbis week a hundred years ago, on November 15th 1916, with the official announcement that Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Clarke “B.C.” Fairfax of the Liverpool Regiment had been appointed to the command of the CLC. Though they were to change over the duration of the War and the CLC’s existance a Major Purdon was appointed as Fairfax’s second in command.

Fairfax had experience  of the trenches. He had fought at the Somme commanding the 17st “Comrades” Batallion King’s and gone over the top in the second wave in conjunction with the French charged with the capture of the French town of Montauban (or “Montybong” to the Brits). He had been recalled to the army in 1914 when war broke out, initially to the Royal Flying Corps and then the Liverpool Batallion. On the 29th July 1916 he was gassed near Trones Wood and invalided home.

Fairfax also had experience of China. Born in 1873 he had already served in China during the Boxer Uprising as well as in South Africa during the Boer War. Now he was tasked with getting the Chinese from Weihaiwei to Europe and then establishing a main camp for them at Noyelles sur Mer, in the Somme (Picardie).

I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of Fairfax, but there appears to be one of him on this monument in France (click here)



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When Minister Lo Feng-luh Went to Birmingham, 1900

Posted: November 16th, 2016 | No Comments »

Lo Feng-luh was China’s Minister to London in 1900 – I mentioned him in yesterday’s post on Sun Yat-sen. He spoke impeccable English and had previously been Li Hung-chang’s English secretary. some British and American journalists who interviewed Li were friendly with Lo and several recall him as the first Chinese official ever to shake hands rather than bow.

Anyway, when Minister to London Lo took a trip to Birmingham to visit the Mint there – they kindly struck a commemorative coin of his visit in January 1900.


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Dr Sun Yat-sen Sesquicentennial 2016 – Sun Yat-sen & the Irish Easter Rising of 1916

Posted: November 15th, 2016 | No Comments »

It’s Dr Sun Yat-sen’s sesquicentennial this week and sometimes it seems just about everything that could be said about Sun Yat-sen has been. However, maybe a more forgotten story – which links to the fact that as well as being Sun’s 150th birthday this year it was also the centenary of the 1916 East Rising in Ireland. Here’s how those two events link….



In 1911 China proclaimed itself a Republic, ending 267-years of the Qing Dynasty. The movement to create the republic was led by Sun Yat-sen. In 1916 a group of Irish Republicans launched an armed insurrection against British rule, what became the Easter Rising, and to declare an Irish Republic. This commenced on 24 April 1916 with the declaration of independence. The British army quickly suppressed the Rising, and its leaders agreed to an unconditional surrender on Saturday 29 April. Most of those leaders were subsequently executed following courts-martial, but the Rising succeeded in bringing physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics. Support for republicanism continued to rise in Ireland.


What Sun Yat-sen, then in Canton heading the provisional government, thought of the Irish Easter Uprising is not clearly known. Ireland features little in his letters and writings. Yet, there were links. One of those links was Roland (Rowland) J. Mulkern, an Irish Nationalist. In 1896, while in exile in London, Sun had been effectively kidnapped, by the Chinese Imperial Secret Service. He was detained at the Chinese Embassy on Portland Place where it was believed the agents of the Qing Dynasty planned to kill him. Thanks to efforts from his friend Dr James Cantile (below – Sun’s former teacher at the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese), the Times newspaper and the British Foreign Office, Sun was eventually released after twelve days in captivity. The press reports surrounding his detainment made him a celebrity in Britain.


Around this time Sun became friends with Mulkern, who expressed his sympathy for Sun’s plight and support for the cause of Chinese republicanism. A former professional soldier and member of Sun’s Restoration Party, Mulkern acted as Sun’s bodyguard occasionally for a time as Sun continued to live in London.

Mulkern was descended from Anglo-Irish aristocracy though was to become a strong advocate for Sun and the Restoration Party and to be described as Sun’s “Agent” in London. He served as Secretary of the Friends of China Society in London. Sun had been kidnapped in London in part because he had been thrown out of Hong Kong, a British Crown Colony, where the governor (and the Foreign Office in London) feared that the colony could become a base for revolutionary activities. Yet, after Sun’s kidnapping, the Foreign Office had sought to intervene to secure his release – should Sun not have received the same support in Hong Kong? Writing to the London Standard Newspaper Mulkern asked, after Sun’s release, “If Sun had rights as a political refugee in England, does he lose those rights in an English Crown Colony?”

Mulkern’s letter led to questions in Parliament. Born in County Mayo during the Famine, Michael Davitt (below) was an Irish republican and founder of the Irish National Land League, a labour leader and a Home Rule politicians and MP for County Meath. Davitt had been a close ally of Parnell until the scandal around Parnell’s divorce led them to become bitter enemies. In Parliament Davitt asked for the specific reasons Sun had been banished from Hong Kong. The Colonial Office found it had no good cause and appeared confused by the events surrounding Sun’s removal from Hong Kong. They referred back to the Governor and then admitted that the evidence was flimsy for deportation, that he had not been convicted of any offense in the Colony and that the Colonial Office itself did not know whether or not the banishment order was still in force. Red faces all round.


The Chinese Embassy in London followed the events and the newly arrived minister, Lo Feng-lu (BTW: Kenneth Lo, who many in Britain will know for his cookery programmes was Minster Lo’s grandson), asked the government not to revoke the order. Davitt kept up the pressure but the Colonial Office appeared to be unable to get any more information from Hong Kong. In the end Chamberlain fudged the whole thing and Sun remained banished.


Still Mulkern and Davitt established a committee in London which would highlight the Chinese reform agenda and work to prevent any “unjust intervention” by Britain in the event of a republican uprising in China. Davitt and Mulkern communicated in a code calling Sun “John” and referring to Hong Kong as “Monaco” etc to avoid detection. Sun certainly regarded Davitt as an ally to the Chinese cause and Davitt indicated to Sun, in 1899, that he was considering a trip to both China and Japan (though never did eventually).

Mulkern remained close to Sun and was to surface in China later and be present at the Huizhou Uprising in October 1900. This uprising in Guangdong was a failure despite support from the local triads. Mulkern made it back to England, living at Clarendon Road in Holland Park, after the failed uprising. In 1904 he wrote to various newspapers, including The Straits Times in Singapore to protest Sun’s problems with entering San Francisco and the Chinese Exclusions Acts. He was described as an “honorary member” of Sun’s “Reform Party”. It seems Mulkern did live long enough to see the Chinese Republic formed; he died in 1918 in London.




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Chop Suey on the Strand – Whatever Happened to one of London’s top Chinese Restaurants in the 1930s?

Posted: November 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

I recently wrote a round up of the London Chinese restaurant scene in the 1930s and wartime for The Cleaver Quarterly. I concentrated on the establishments in Soho, though with nods to those nearby on Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly, Charing Cross Road and Denmark Street (not forgetting the few “refreshment rooms” left down in the old, and by then almost over, Chinatown of Limehouse). Space meant omitting a few places for various reasons – one of which was Chop Suey, down on the Strand at the corner with Buckingham Street (that runs down towards the Thames). Technically it was at no.28 Buckingham Street and was listed in the directories as the “Strand Chinese Restaurant”, though advertised itself as the Chop Suey.


Chop Suey cropped up the other day when I was reading the rather amazing 1937 crime book The Face on the Cutting Room Floor by Cameron McCabe (in reality Ernest Borneman). In the book the characters debate where to have dinner and consider the Chop Suey in Buckingham Street. However, one character hates Chinese food and so they head to “the Turkish place in Greek Street” (though could have gone to one of a couple of Chinese restaurants on that street too!). Given that the term Chop Suey is really usually associated in the UK with America many readers may consider that McCabe/Borneman simply invented the name – but he didn’t and obviously knew his London Chinese restaurants. The Chop Suey (sometimes known as the New Chop Suey) had opened around 1930…Here’s a review from a 1932 edition of the Australian Queenslander newspaper (21/7/32 to be precise)…


‘…the Chop Suey, at the corner of Buckingham Street, which is presided over by Mr. Y. Fugii. This Chop Suey is different from all the others, and is probably the only one of its kind in the world. It is unique, in that it is half Chinese and half Japanese. The ground floor is the Japanese department, and here is set a small gas ring upon every table, so that he who runs, or rather sits, may, if he wishes, be his own cook. I should perhaps at once explain that either the proprietor or one of the waitresses will not only show you how to do it, but will actually cook a meal under your very nose and upon the table at which you sit if you are entirely ignorant as to the proper procedure. The fact that all the food is brought to the table in the raw state precludes any possibility of its being other than fresh and good, while a visit to Mr. Fugii’s restaurant affords the novice a very good and free lesson in Chinese and Japanese cooking. Chop-sticks are provided, either of wood (enclosed with a small tooth pick and hygienically wrapped in paper), or of ivory, and the correct way of eating is to put some rice in your bowl and help yourself with the chop sticks from the pan, carrying the food from pan to bowl and there dipping it in the rice and sauce, or whatever you have. It is not correct to fill your bowl from the main dish, and the bowl, as hereafter explained, should be taken near the mouth and the food thrown in by means of the chop sticks. Chop Suey.’

Whether the place was any good or not is questionable – a supposed Chinese visitor writing in 1932 after dining at the Chop Suey commented, “The Chop Suey in Buckingham Street, off the Strand, owned by a Japanese, provides the Japanese dish called Skerki, as colourless a thing as the human palate has ever invented.” However, that diner wasn’t actually Chinese but, in reality, the author of the popular Kai Lung books Ernest Bramah (and used the pseudonym Peh Der Chen), who wrote a 1932 book entitled Honourable and Peculiar Ways that gave a quick round up of London’s Chinese eateries. If anyone has any idea what “skerki” was do let me know?


No.28 Buckingham Street was, I believe, totally destroyed by a German high explosive bomb during the Blitz sometime between October 1940 and June 1941. That area, close to the prime target of Charing Cross railway station, was then left vacant and not redeveloped until later. It is now a modern pub and large block (containing a branch of NatWest Bank at ground level) fronting on to The Strand – here is site of No.28 and the Chop Suey looking up Buckingham Street towards the Strand at the junction with York Place….it is not overly attractive I’m afraid…After that the bomb damage maps for the Strand that show the havoc the Nazi Luftwaffe dropped on London – while the junction of Buckingham Street and Strand shows no damage close by on either side are purple squares indicating “damaged beyond repair”. And finally the Post Office Directory for 1943 (as above) yet now with No.28 gone completely never to return!







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