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

Singapore’s Tai Thean Kew Circus – Life Beyond the Big Top

Posted: April 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

A lovely collection of photographs of Singapore’s Tai Thean Kew Chinese circus from Adele Wong, whose ancestors founded the circus in the 1920s…should be on your coffee table!

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Life Beyond the Big Top is a photo book that captures the history of the Tai Thean Kew Circus, a once-great Chinese circus established in Singapore in 1929. Adele Wong’s ancestors founded the circus, and through her eyes we get a glimpse of an almost five-decade-long performing career

Life Beyond the Big Top is a photo book that captures the history of the Tai Thean Kew Circus, a once-great Chinese circus established in Singapore in 1929. The collection of old photographs and suriving props and costumes that makes up this visual documentation belongs to Sze Ling Fen and Wong Fu Qi, lead performers of the circus. Sze Ling Fen’s progenitors founded the circus, and through her eyes we get a glimpse of an almost five-decade-long performing career. Authored by their granddaughter, Adele Wong, be invited to visit her grandparents, listening and looking as the story about the humble beginnings of a pioneering, family-run Chinese circus unfolds.

Be transported to a front-row seat, viewing the dazzling circus acts and astounding animals at the peak of the circus success, before running offstage to join the circus folks in their nomadic lives and private adventures as they travel around the region. Discover the evolution of live performance shows after the end of the circus as these performers adapt their skills to changing demands. Finally, reminisce as we return to their present-day retirement and rummage through their collection of old performing items and costumes.

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Shanghai – A Great Old City

Posted: April 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

A bit of a break in posting as I’m off to Bucharest for a few days – the Paris of the East; The Pyongyang of the North?? Who knows these days. Here though, from 1935, a rather sweet reminiscence of old Shanghai from a 1935 Little Orphan Annie comic strip……

 

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Six Peach Trees for Madame Chiang – Luise Rainer, The Good Earth and the China Relief Legion

Posted: April 9th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Luise Rainer got the role in the film adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth that Anna May Wong desperately wanted and was denied – O Lan. Rainer got the Oscar for Best Actress, in yellowface, which must have rankled with poor Anna May. The excuse was that as O Lan had to kiss Wang (played by white actor Paul Muni) the Hays Code, which prescribed miscegenation and inter-racial kissing, would prevent her from being cast. They offered Anna May the part of Lotus, a rather unsympathetic character – Anna May declined it pointing out that giving an unsympathetic character to an ethnically Chinese actress in a film who’s leads were all white actors in yellowface was ridiculous.

The year the film came out, 1937, Rainer sent six peach trees to Madame Chiang. Quite why I’m not sure, but apparently Madame Chiang had said she admired Rainer’s performance in the film. Dusseldorf-born Rainer, who was a staunch anti-fascist, did remain a friend of China – the Japanese invasion occurred in 1937 of course. In February 1938 Rainer hosted a benefit at Clara Bow’s It Cafe in Hollywood for Chinese war orphans and, in 1943, she attended a reception at the Ambassador Hotel for China’s Madame Chiang. It was held in connection with a starry China relief fundraiser staged at the Hollywood Bowl. She was later given an award of recognition from the China Relief Legion for her humanitarian efforts during World War II; the award (below) is signed at the bottom by Madame Chiang.

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Britain’s Share of the China Trade, 1930

Posted: April 8th, 2016 | No Comments »

Owen Hatherley’s recent book The Ministry of Nostalgia made the point that the old Empire Marketing Board’s graphics were equally as good as the more famous images from London Transport and the Festival of Britain – it’s just they’re not so politically correct these days and so don’t make good prints to kwik-frame in London flats…Still the EMB’s art work was excellent and revealing….for instance the poster below… as you can see Britain accounted for approximately 10% (or less) of China’s imports….when you consider how many gunboats, regiments and the rest of the palava we stationed in Shanghai and around China it doesn’t seem overly worth it!

Our Share (in black) of Total Imports Mann 1930

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Pierre Loti’s China Journals, 1896-1902

Posted: April 7th, 2016 | No Comments »

The recently published fourth volume of Pierre Loti’s journals (1896-1902) is a treat for French readers (or those struggling with schoolboy French) as it recalls Loti’s 1900 journey through India, French Indo-China, China itself and on to Japan. During this trip Loti spent some time in Peking, on which he comments, as well as Pei-ho, Ningpo and Ninghai (the surrounding area) and Takou, before heading on to Japan. There are also trips and comments on Saigon, Cambodia, Korea and Angkor.

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A 1933 Ode to the Beauty of Nanking Road by Ellen Dickinson

Posted: April 6th, 2016 | No Comments »

This ode to Shanghai’s Nanking Road appeared in 1933 and is penned by a certain Ellen Dickinson, resident of the city. I know nothing at all about Miss Dickinson I’m afraid…but here’s a small poem anyway….

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Avenue Edward VII – Shanghai’s Newspaper Row

Posted: April 5th, 2016 | No Comments »

I posted yesterday regarding Reuters’ offices on Avenue Edward VII (now Yanan Road) – by 1940 The Avenue Eddy and the cluster of newspaper and wire services offices, known as “Newspaper Row”, were a frontline in Shanghai – both as various sides threatened to bomb and snipe at the offices as well as being the border between the Settlement and Frenchtown – as you can see precautions were taken….

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Reuters Offices, 1937 Shanghai

Posted: April 4th, 2016 | No Comments »

A letterhead for the Reuters news agency from 1937 Shanghai – headquartered on “Newspaper Row” aka Avenue Edward VII (The “Avenue Eddy” and now Yanan Road East). Especially handy as the traffic offices for cablegrams out of and into Shanghai were at 34 Avenue Edward VII too. However, some tensions may have been apparent as Japan’s Domei news agency was in the same building as was the German Trans-Ocean News Service.

Reuters Shanghai headed paper 1937

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