All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

Warring Visions: Photography and Vietnam

Posted: June 2nd, 2022 | No Comments »

Thy Phu’s Warring Visions from Duke University Press came out this March…

In Warring Visions , Thy Phu explores photography from dispersed communities throughout Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora, both during and after the Vietnam War, to complicate narratives of conflict and memory. While the visual history of the Vietnam War has been dominated by American documentaries and war photography, Phu turns to photographs circulated by the Vietnamese themselves, capturing a range of subjects, occasions, and perspectives. Phu’s concept of warring visions refers to contrasts in the use of war photos in North Vietnam, which highlighted national liberation and aligned themselves with an international audience, and those in South Vietnam, which focused on family and everyday survival. Phu also uses warring visions to enlarge the category of war photography, a genre that usually consists of images illustrating the immediacy of combat and the spectacle of violence, pain, and wounded bodies. She pushes this genre beyond such definitions by analyzing pictures of family life, weddings, and other quotidian scenes of life during the war. Phu thus expands our understanding of how war is waged, experienced, and resolved.


Dollar Line Map of Shanghai, 1934

Posted: June 1st, 2022 | No Comments »

A slight alternative on the usual Carl Crow maps of Shanghai over the year. This one is from Crow’s publication The Shanghailander in December 1934. The map is familiar but this one, as seen lower right bottom, is sponsored by the Dollarsteamship Lines/American Mail Line – a long term great customer of Carl Crow Advertising Inc….


John Saeki’s The Last Tigers of Hong Kong

Posted: May 31st, 2022 | No Comments »

John Saeki’s The Tiger Hunters of Tai-O was a great novel and now Saeki has followed it up with a non-fiction account of tigers in Hong Kong….The Last Tigers of Hong Kong from Blacksmith Books….

Tigers came to Hong Kong. They preyed on pigs, chickens, cattle and deer. They sometimes killed people. They came to Hong Kong most years through to the end of the 1950s, and possibly into the 1960s. As long as there were South China tigers in the wild, Hong Kong saw some of them.

They stopped coming when they were on their way to extinction in their homeland across the border. Not many people know this, and not many people believe it to be true. But it is true, tigers came. And this is the first written history of the Hong Kong tiger.

There’s also a great interview with Saeki on the RTHK3 Hong Kong Heritage podcast – here


South China Coast Pirates of 1922 and the ‘Passenger Ploy’ – SCMP Post Magazine

Posted: May 30th, 2022 | No Comments »

My long read for the South China Morning Post weekend magazine on the development of the so-called ‘Passenger Ploy’ (the word hijacking hadn’t quite come into common parlance in 1922) developed by Chinese pirates along the coast from Hong Kong and Macao, up to Canton and as far as Shanghai…Read the article here


Mysterious Old Shanghai Tales, 1925

Posted: May 28th, 2022 | No Comments »

Came across this the other day…thes tantalising little tales of tragedy in old Shanghai often appear and go into the long list to be further investigated…


May Holdsworth’s Robert Ho Tung: Public Figure, Private Man

Posted: May 27th, 2022 | No Comments »

Sir Robert Ho Tung (1862–1954) is a compelling figure in Hong Kong history – now a new bio available here. He is regularly portrayed as the colony’s greatest philanthropist and wealthiest man of his day, the first Chinese to live on the Peak, and, at the end of his life, the ‘Grand Old Man of Hongkong’. The illegitimate son of a Chinese mother and European father, he was highly sensitive about his mixed heritage though he consistently made the most of his fate. He was a man perfectly in tune with his place and time, his success driven as much by his entrepreneurial talents as by his being Eurasian. This book shows him in all his immense variety—clerk with the Imperial Maritime Customs, chief compradore of Jardine Matheson, financial wizard, husband and lover, patriarch of a large family of five sons and eight daughters, loyal British subject but also, paradoxically, Chinese patriot. China’s president Yuan Shikai awarded him the Order of the Excellent Crop, and King George V knighted him.

May Holdsworth’s thoughtful and deftly written account of the life is the first full-length biography in English. Given unique and unprecedented access to family and personal papers, including letters, diaries, notes, and photographs, she offers a nuanced perspective on a public but also private man. Her book will be a rich resource for historians and general readers interested in the men and women who played a key part in the shaping of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Hong Kong.

May Holdsworth is a writer based in Hong Kong. Her previous books include Foreign Devils: Expatriates in Hong Kong, and The Palace of Established Happiness: Restoring a Garden in the Forbidden City. She is co-editor, with Christopher Munn, of the Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography (HKUP, 2012), and co-author with him of Crime, Justice and Punishment in Colonial Hong Kong: Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Gaol (HKUP, 2020).


Dope Act Violator, 1924

Posted: May 26th, 2022 | No Comments »

Just found this 1924 story – smuggling opium to SanFran – a way to get some cash when arrivng in the US. Normally these stories got a few lines. But the 1939 case of opium smuggler Seto Gin got big coverage – why? My RTHK3 podast The Lady From Hong Kong (all 4 episodes here)…


RAS Beijing Talk – Mao Suits on the King’s Road with Emily Williams – The Cultural Revolution in British Popular Culture – 25/5/22

Posted: May 25th, 2022 | No Comments »

This talk will explore contemporary different perceptions and constructions of Mao’s China and the Cultural Revolution, with a particular emphasis on material and visual culture. It draws on British popular culture sources to consider how China was constructed in the 1960s and 70s, on the one hand, as a ‘problem’ nation and a danger to world peace, and on the other hand, as an inspiration for the British left, which saw the PRC as constructing alternative socialist modernity. Both supporters and critics often drew on the same material culture to demonstrate these opposing positions, and this talk looks particularly at the Mao suit (中山服 zhongshan fu). The Mao suit was an object capable of embodying, for China’s critics, the totalizing nature of the communist state, in which the masses were reduced to identical ‘blue ants’, but also conversely, for China’s supporters, the anti-capitalist and militant nature of the regime so appreciated by these admirers. This talk will consider the role of material and visual culture in shaping perceptions of Chinese Communism at this crucial moment in its history.

You can register for the zoom talk here

Emily Williams joined XJTLU in Suzhou in 2018. She is a cultural historian of modern China, with a particular interest in Maoist material culture and collections of so-called ‘red relics’ in contemporary China. She received her Ph.D. from Birkbeck College, University of London in 2016, and has taught at Birkbeck College, Christie’s Education London, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.