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

Remembering Peking’s 1936 Skyscraper Ban – & How Beijing’s just making things worse in Tongzhou

Posted: October 7th, 2016 | No Comments »

An interesting article in The Beijinger by Jeremiah Jenne which looks back at the disaster of urban planning and built heritage preservation that is Beijing 2016. It also rightly points out that it didn’t have to be this way. Advanced planners had better ideas about the city – Liang Sicheng and Chen Zhanxiang to be precise. But Mao, in thrall to the Soviet Union’s planners at the time, was not having any of it.

Now Beijing is making a bad thing worse by moving the city government to the suburban satellite town of Tongzhou in the hope of integrating the city with nearby Tianjin and the surrounding area currently part of Hebei province into a massive metropolitan center known as Jing-Jin-Ji. Tongzhou itself had its historic and architrecturally interesting frature most of which one can safely assume are now going wholesale. Indeed, perhaps the worse option of old, the famous China ‘New-Old’ style will appear – recent visitors to Tongzhou confirm this is happening as do the masterplanners schematics. Below you can see the ‘New-Old’ crowded to the edge.


But, of course, it could have all been different. In January 1936 Peking’s municipal government banned buildings higher than two storeys. This had been a long running argument in the city, wary of its skyline becoming a version of Tientsin or, God forbid for traditionalists, Shanghai. Foreign preservationists, like ETC Werner, had successfully won arguments about new buildings having to feature traditional roofs and eaves. The Kincheng Bank (founded 1917 in Tientsin and with branches all over China and Hong Kong) had to demolish their eight storey building. However, I don’t have a photograph of that building (does anyone?). I’m also not sure if it ever was ‘altered’ from eight to two storeys? Of course the war intervened and no major construction happened in Peking from July 1937 through to 1949 really so after his takeover of the city Mao had a low level


Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Soldiers of China – No Smoking in Public

Posted: October 6th, 2016 | No Comments »

I wonder how long this ban lasted!! General Sung Cheh-yuan (Song Zheyuan) certainly thought that ‘educated men and foreign guests – he rightly assumed the two were not necessarily interchangeable terms – shouldn’t see soldiers smoking. Actually his desire to have the army respected was probably a good one seeing as this was January 1937. Sung himself was not quite a warlord dictator but he did fight some great battle against the encroaching Japanese (not that any Communist Party history will have much good to say about him, if anything at all) – he led the 29th Army in the Defense of the Great Wall in 1933. He died in 1940. Whether or not any soldiers were caught smoking on Peking’s streets and court martialled I’m afraid I don’t know.




General Sung Cheh-yuan

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Where the Jews Aren’t (on the Borders of China for one)

Posted: October 5th, 2016 | No Comments »

Masha Gessen’s new book Where the Jews Aren’t is about Birobidzhan, the USSR’s “homeland” for Jews. It was of course – thanks to climate, the better alternative of Palestine, Stalin’s purges and other factors, not exactly a roaring success and is nowadays mostly forgotten. And perhaps nothing to do with this blog you are thinking? Well, remember that Birodidzhan is close to the Chinese border (and on the Trans-Siberian Railway) and the Jews who went there cohabited the land with ethnic Koreans and both groups were plagued by marauding Chinese gangs known as the honghutzu, Red Beards – and everyone was cultivating opium as the local currency!!


The previously untold story of the Jews in twentieth-century Russia that reveals the complex, strange, and heart-wrenching truth behind the familiar narrative that begins with pogroms and ends with emigration.

In 1929, the Soviet Union declared the area of Birobidzhan a homeland for Jews. It was championed by a group of intellectuals who envisioned a place of post-oppression Jewish culture, and by the early 1930s, tens of thousands of Jews had moved there from the shtetls. The state-building ended quickly, in the late 1930s, with arrests and purges of the Communist Party and cultural elite, but after the Second World War, the newly named “Jewish Autonomous Region” received an influx of Jews dispossessed from what had once been the Pale, most of whom had lost families in the Holocaust. In the late 1940s, another wave of arrests swept through Birobidzhan, traumatizing the Jews into silence, and effectively making them invisible. Now Masha Gessen gives us a haunting account of the dream of Birobidzhan and how it became the cracked and crooked mirror in which we can see the true story of the Jews in twentieth-century Russia.



Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

When in Need of a Kerchief in Old Shanghai….

Posted: October 4th, 2016 | No Comments »

Now I’m a man who believes in a handkerchief rather than some scrappy old serviette or tissue. I also think a kerchief/head scarf a handy item for the ladies in case of typhoon winds or sudden plum rains – Grace Kelly probably did them with most style (below). So the Shanghai Kerchief Store, in the Central Arcade, just off the Nanking Road by the Cathay (Pace, if you must) Hotel was a useful place to pop into.




Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai Book Club – Mr Ma and Son by Lao She – 17/10/16

Posted: October 3rd, 2016 | No Comments »
Monday, 17th October 2016
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Mr. Ma and Son

Author: Lao She

Author: Lao She, 1929. English translation, William Dolby, 2013


Lao She (b.1899 – d.1966) was the pen name of Shu Qingchun, a noted Chinese novelist and dramatist of Manchu ethnicity. He was one of the most significant figures of 20th century Chinese literature and best known for his novel Rickshaw Boy and the play Teahouse.

From 1924 to 1929 he served as lecturer in the Chinese section of the (then) School of Oriental Studies (now the School of Oriental and African Studies) at the University of London teaching the Chinese Republic’s New National Language (Mandarin) to classes comprised of green horn missionaries, uninterested housewives, and all too often rowdy young men from London’s banks and business offices (including a young and China-obsessed Graham Greene.)

During this time Fiction Monthly (Xiaoshuo Yuebao) one of China’s most prestigious modern magazines serialized two of his novels: Old Chang’s Philosophy (1926) and Sir Chao Said (1927) that established him as a promising author in the new vernacular style or baihua. Writing the detailed evocations of his native Peking also served to an extent to assuage his homesickness.

Then while still in London he wrote something quite different, Mr. Ma and Son: Two Chinese in London (1929, serialized in Fiction Monthly). Mr. Ma and his son, Ma Wei, run an antiques shop nestled in a quiet street by St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Far from their native Peking, they struggle to navigate the bustling pavements and myriad social conventions of 1920s English society.

In the novel Lao She shows what life is like for Chinese people in the capital city of the nation which, for many decades, has been an anathema to China. It is both an indictment of British imperialist ideology and a Chinese wake-up call. (Lao She in London, by Anne Witchard, RAS China in Shanghai Monograph Series/Hong Kong University Press, 2012.)


RSVP: bookevents@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn

ENTRANCE: Members: RMB Non Members: RMB

Complimentary for Members, RMB 50 Non-Members

VENUE: Garden Books; 325 Changle Lu near Shan’anxi South Road 上海市黄浦区绍兴路25弄2号 Shanghai
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Jewish New Year – Shanghai, World War Two

Posted: October 3rd, 2016 | No Comments »

It’s Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year and a few things to consider – last week another building, supposedly protected, was bulldozed in the former Jewish ghetto of Shanghai where the built heritage is reduced bit by bit annually; the crackdown on those wishing to practise Judaism in Kaifeng remains firmly in place. So not much good news from China in this area I’m afraid…

But, here’s a picture of a Jewish refugee family in Shanghai during World War Two…I like tho think around New Year…..


Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

This week in London – Rob Schmitz and Alec Ash with their new books – Asia House 5/10/16

Posted: October 2nd, 2016 | No Comments »

A treat for Londoners this Wednesday at Asia House in central London….

Chasing dreams: The common man in China today

Since Xi Jinping’s ascension to power in 2012, the leader of China’s Communist Party has often spoken about the Chinese dream, in both speeches as well as books. At the core of Xi’s dream for China is a vision to solve the nation’s problems and thereby return the country to its former global dominance.

“Realising the great renewal of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream in modern history,” he writes in The Governance of China.

That is Xi’s dream, but what exactly are the dreams of the rest of the nation?

Asia House is pleased to welcome Alec Ash and Rob Schmitz, two writers with books recently published on China, who will discuss the topic. Through the people they have interviewed for their books, both authors offer fresh and detailed perspectives on China from the bottom up.

In Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road, Rob Schmitz follows a series of people who live on the same street as he does in Shanghai. They’re a mixed bag and through their tales, as well as through Schmitz’s own insights as a long-time journalist in China, a picture emerges of 21st century China.

The New York Times and The Economist both described the book as “poignant”, while The Guardian said that the “great virtue of these books is that they offer Chinese people a voice, something that is often lacking in news coverage.”

Moving north to Beijing, the characters we meet in Alec Ash’s book Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China are equally varied, urging readers once again to resist generalisations, but they do all have two things in common: they’re all born between 1985 and 1990 and they have all been to university. Ash talks to them about their dreams and their realities. Like the characters in Schmitz’s book, their stories are at times sad, at times happy and at times funny. The reader is once again left armed with a lot more knowledge about China today.

Wish Lanterns was described by Prospect as “compelling and beautifully written”. Writing in the FT, Jonathan Fenby said it was “one of the best I have read about the individuals who make up a country that is all too often regarded as a monolith, but which abounds with diversity on multiple levels.”

This event will be chaired by Jemimah Steinfeld, Literature Programme Manager at Asia House and author of the book Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China. A Q&A will follow and copies of both books will be available to buy at the event.

Rob Schmitz is American National Public Radio’s Shanghai Bureau Chief. Before this recent appointment, he was the China correspondent for American Public Media’s Marketplace. He first went to China in 1996 and has reported on a range of topics from trade and labour to politics and education.

Alec Ash is a writer and journalist in Beijing. His articles have appeared in The Economist, BBC, Prospect, Foreign Policy and elsewhere. He is a contributor to the book Chinese Characters and co-editor of the anthology While We’re Here. Now in his early 30s, he spent the bulk of his 20s living in China.

times, tickets and other details here

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Le Petit Parisien’s China Coverage – A Few Examples

Posted: October 1st, 2016 | No Comments »

I blogged an 1898 issue of Le Petit Parisien the other week on the early warning calls of the Boxers in China. Petit Parisien quite often featured China or Chinese on its front covers…so here’s a selection….(not all that covered China by any means)….







Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter