Posted: November 26th, 2013 | No Comments »
David Downing is following his very good, and very successful, “Station” series of Berlin WW2 novels with a new series set just before WW1 featuring British spy and luxury car salesman Jack McColl. It seems it will be a kind of “Lanny Budd” type series following the old Upton Sinclair formula of inserting a character as a witness to real events.
And where should we first encounter McColl in the first book of the series – Jack of Spies? Why, old Shanghai fans you’ll be delighted to know we encounter him on the Bubbling Well Road in 1913. Well, not quite. First McColl appears in Tsingtau (Qingdao) in late 1913 doing a bit of spying on the German fleet and old Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee (later to go straight to the bottom of the South Atlantic in the Battle of the Falklands) and his German East Asian Squadron. Then he’s of to Shanghai and hops all over the Settlement and also enjoys an opium pipe in Frenchtown, as you do. A lot of fun and some nods to real events – Sidney ‘Ace of Spies’ Reilly was really in Port Arthur earlier and it was true that Special Branch were perpetually worried about the Indian community in Shanghai attempting to foster rebellion against the Raj in India from China. W could quibble with a few small things – qipao’s split to the hip in 1913 are a tad unlikely, but still it’s all good page turning fun. After Shanghai, McColl heads of to San Francisco but here’s hoping he one day makes it back to the Bubbling Well Road. He might well do later – in San Francisco our hero bumps into a young Agnes Smedley in a Mexican restaurant back in the days when contraception and Indian independence were her thing before she set of for China.
Posted: November 25th, 2013 | No Comments »
Today an engraving from the The Illustrated London News in June 1887 entitled Preparing for the Jubilee: Buying Flags and Chinese Lanterns. 1887 was Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (50 years on the throne). “Jubilee Mania” broke out as people celebrated and, it would seem, Chinese lanterns were integral to the mania…
The UK seriously celebrated with London decked out in flags, and it appears Chinese lanterns, as over 50 heads of state piled into town for the celebrations, Irish Republicans planned to blow up Westminster Abbey. London was not the only place with Chinese lanterns – Ashburton in Devon opted for them too, according to the Ashburton Guardian, reporting that, “At night, most of the shops were illuminated, and in many parts of the town Chinese lanterns were a noticeable feature.” Similarly so at Pakenham, a village in Suffolk,where “the village street was prettily decorated with Chinese lanterns.” It obviously caught on quick – Treaton, a village in South Yorkshire, also decorated their high street, Front Street, with Chinese lanterns. At Beaumont School in Hertfordshire, “The outlines of the pediments had been traced in gas jets, the windows brilliantly lit up, and the front lodge and grounds decorated with Chinese lanterns.”
Indeed Chinese lanterns formed a major part of many processions too. For instance, in (the wonderfully named) Boggart Hole Clough, a park in Blackley in Manchester, “The North Central Manchester Division of the Boy Scouts marched in procession to the beacon in the park, each carrying a Chinese lantern.” The Manchester Guardian described the sight of all the little scouts with lanterns on their heads as “charming.” And so the list of villages up and down the UK that chose Chinese lanterns for their jubilee celebrations continues….Stansted Abbots in Hertfordshire, Eynsham near Oxford, Ryde on the Isle of Wight, Folkestone in Kent, Rolleston on Dove in Staffordshire, Leamington Spa in Warwickshire all used them on their high streets as did Carnarvon in Wales with the streets lit, “by a number of lighted candles, intermixed with pretty Chinese lanterns of varied colours.” The Market Place at North Walsham in Norfolk apparently outdid themselves with both Chinese and Japanese lanterns. Even Buffalo Bill, in town for the Jubilee with his Wild West Show as part of an American Exhibition, couldn’t resist a lantern – The Times noted, “At nightfall the grounds were illuminated in every part with innumerable coloured lamps and Chinese lanterns.”
The Marketplace, North Walsham, Norfolk on the Jubilee, 1887
And it seems it wasn’t just England that chose Chinese lanterns as a key part of the decor for the celebrations – in Melbourne an “Oriental” celebration of the Jubilee reportedly had Chinese lanterns, according to the Melbourne Argus, as did Slacks Creek, near Logan in Queensland, while elsewhere in the Empire similar scenes occurred – Victoria Market in Kingston, Jamaica featured, “lanterns placed upon Chinese umbrellas, in the manner of a chandelier.” Many other cities in the Empire did the same including Ottawa.
America joined in too – “The General Committee in charge of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria” reported in the Daily Alta California newspaper that, “they had secured Woodward’s Gardens for June 22d, for the entire day” and that, “In the evening the Gardens are to be illuminated by hundreds of colored lanterns, electric lights and Chinese lanterns.”
And Queen Victoria herself, the subject of the celebrations, didn’t miss the lanterns writing in her diaries of the Chinese lanterns she saw people holding as she arrived at Windsor Castle.
Posted: November 25th, 2013 | No Comments »
This week sees the publication in Hong Kong of the new smaller format edition of Midnight in Peking and a new batch of hard copies of my small follow up book The Badlands – just ready for Christmas!!
The Badlands is a collection of shorter stories about some of the real foreigners who lived, worked, stole, dealt, whored, danced and died in the Badlands of Peking in the 1930s. But I kept one story back. Now the South China Morning Post’s magazine has run that one last story from the Badlands – the story of the mysterious Pinfold, a man who came to escape in Peking and became a gun for hire in the Badlands.
Click here to read Broken in the Badlands – Gun for Hire
Posted: November 24th, 2013 | No Comments »
Many China Rhymers will know and love the Cathay Cinema on Avenue Joffre (Huai Hai Middle Road), one of the loveliest of Shanghai’s remaining pre-war movie houses (and still an active cinema). What I did not know was that as well as British and American films the cinema also screened big German movies from the famous UFA studios and with English subtitles (and air-con). Here is the poster for the 1934 screening of Little Sideslip. A small mystery – I am not sure which of the star Renate Mueller’s movies for UFA this actually was as the English title for the film is a little difficult to match to any of her movies and isn’t listed anywhere I know of under this title – any ideas welcome?
Mueller was a massive UFA star in the 1920s, right up there with Dietrich, though, unlike Marlene, she remained in Germany and died (under what some think was highly suspicious circumstances) shortly after leaving in hospital in 1937 for a knee operation (or possibly to try and cure drug addiction).
Posted: November 23rd, 2013 | No Comments »
An interesting new book is now out – At Least We Lived (book’s website here with some old photos of China too) by Emma Oxford….details below
At Least We Lived is the remarkable story of Max and Audrey Oxford, a British couple who met and married in China at the height of the Second World War. Their tales — including Max’s Christmas Day escape from Hong Kong under fire from the Japanese, and the eight-week journey Audrey embarked on alone that would take her thousands of miles from her family — are reminders of a time and place far removed from the technologies and speed of modern life. Written by their daughter Emma, the book expertly weaves together Max and Audrey’s personal stories with the history of China and how World War II shaped the region and those in it.
Posted: November 22nd, 2013 | No Comments »
Not sure there are enough parasols, even if there are too many lanterns these days, on book covers….R. Clifton Spargo’s Beautiful Fools: the Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald has a lovely Chinoiserie parasol on the cover. Of course Chinese parasols were a great delight of the Jazz Age, but Zelda did have an interest in China it seems. Though overshadowed by her husband, Zelda was also a writer and one of her short stories The Girl With Talent (or sometimes The Girl Who Had Some Talent) did feature a flapper dancer in 1920s New York who is offered a career chance of a lifetime but opts instead to elope with her lover to China. The story is a tad tricky to find these days – it appeared in the rather obscure (now at least) College Humor in April 1930. I believe it is in some of the out-of-print collections of Zelda’s shorter fiction.
1929/1930 were of course difficult years for Zelda – in 1930 she was admitted to a sanatorium in Maryland diagnosed bipolar and her marriage was failing. Running away to China must have seemed like a good idea at the time one can imagine.
Posted: November 21st, 2013 | No Comments »
I’ve posted rather a lot on Chinese lanterns and their role as a symbol of the Jazz Age and Chinoiserie in Western literature (here, here, here and here). Nice to see then that contemporary authors seeking to recreate the rather louche environs of history (in this case just post-war privileged America) use Chinese lanterns in their work to evoke the era and mood.
This from the recent best seller, Liza Klaussman’s Tigers in Red Weather (details below)…..
‘As the party drew near, Nick seemed to get lost in the minutiae of Chinese lanterns and silver polish…’
“Nick and her cousin Helena have grown up together, sharing long hot summers at Tiger House. With husbands and children of their own, they keep returning. But against a background of parties, cocktails, moonlight and jazz, how long can perfection last? There is always the summer that changes everything”
Posted: November 18th, 2013 | No Comments »
I know nothing about the Remarkable Chester Ronning so this new book by Brian Evans may shed some light…..
Scholar and diplomat Brian L Evans gives us the first English-language biography of Chester A Ronning (1894-1984): diplomat, politician, educator, and one of Canadas major public figures. This fascinating story depicts Ronning, the man who received many honours, and deepens readers’ knowledge of Canadas post-World War II diplomacy and Canada — China relations. Ronning was a extraordinary Canadian who combined Chinese sensibility with Norwegian calm practicality and American drive. His life journey was entwined with the history of China over many decades. Based on written materials, historical documents, and many hours of interviews with Ronning, his friends, and fellow politicians, The Remarkable Chester Ronning offers both a thorough and entertaining biography and a lens through which to view international politics.