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

A couple of Taiwan posts – 1 – Taipei’s Wenmeng Building Saved

Posted: October 4th, 2014 | No Comments »

Positive news from Taipei where the historic Wenmeng Building is to be preserved and excluded from an urban renewal project, according to Taipei City Government’s Urban Regeneration Office. A private property developer had wanted to raise it, and put up a 20-story building, but that has been stopped for now. The 92sqm structure in Datong dates back to 1925 and was the well site of a former brothel and is home now to the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters, an NGO working with, well, sex workers. It also houses a private sex industry museum and  accommodation for ex-licensed prostitutes. A spokeswoman for the Collective spokeswoman commented, “Although the sex industry was outlawed by Taipei City Government in 1997, it is still wrong to bury the past under development projects,” – and so it is. Hundreds of protestors – sex worker activists and preservationists in a rather unusual alliance had campaigned to defend the building. The former brothel also has some nice examples of period brick houses on either side of it and the area was once a noted red light district.

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North Korea in Wigtown – Saturday, October 4

Posted: October 3rd, 2014 | No Comments »

I’ll be at the Wigtown Book Festival talking about North Korea and State of Paranoia this Saturday, 12 noon….

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Paul French
North Korea: State of Paranoia
McNeillie Tent
Saturday 4th October 2014
12:00

North Korea demands a cult-like adherence to its leader, allows no access to the internet and imprisons thousands of its citizens in prison camps. Paul French takes his audience inside the world’s most secret and strange nuclear power, which he has studied extensively as a China-based journalist and analyst.

Sponsored by T Jeffery

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Midnight in Peking Comes to the Wigtown Book Festival – Friday, October 3

Posted: October 2nd, 2014 | No Comments »

I’ll be up at the Wigtown Book Festival in Scotland this Friday at 6pm talking Midnight in Peking, old China, writing true crime and murders in the Badlands…you can check out the whole weekend’s programme here

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Paul French
Midnight in Peking
County Buildings, Main Hall
Friday 3rd October 2014
18:00

In 1937 Peking, the teenage daughter of a British consul was murdered. As war loomed, British and Chinese authorities closed ranks. Seventy-five years later, Paul French has uncovered a stash of forgotten documents revealing the killer’s identity. He discusses his gripping account of what happened, a New York Times Bestseller and BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.

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Grab a Ming or Qing Brick on Shanghai’s Zizhong Road

Posted: October 1st, 2014 | No Comments »

A very Shanghai story today I feel. in its remorseless drive to destroy anything “old” and “historical” Shanghai has been moving to bulldoze the old residential lanes (we’re getting down to very low numbers of old lanes now left in the city) of the former Settlement and Frenchtown, Huangpu District government has turned the diggers and wreckers on Lane 60 Zizhong Road (formerly rue de Siemen, a once mainly residential road in Frenchtown, now close to the faux Xintiandi complex). However, destruction was delayed (not entirely halted of course) after hundreds of bricks dating to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties were found. How these bricks came to be part of structures that mostly date from the 1920s is of interest historically of course. Some of the bricks were inscribed with the Chinese characters “Fifth Year of Xianfeng” (1855) and “Shanghai City Wall.”

However, problems then ensued when word got out and people arrived at the site to steal the bricks which can, apparently, be resold for about 1,000 yuan (US$162). A little profit from heritage is apparently OK, but leaving them in place not so much. This of course follows on people who were perhaps wanting a nice image of old Shanghai put up on Suzhou Creek for free for their wall, but actually probably just wanted the scrap metal for resale. Zizhong Road has already been effectively gutted with architecture of the banal such as the Lakeville Regency gated community thrown up. Now the bricks are mostly gone who knows where (try Alibaba perhaps?) and the rest of the street to follow.

PS: The current road name is derived from General Zhang Zizhong, commander in chief of the 33rd Army Group of the KMT, who died fighting the Japanese. He was a communist but his forces were incorporated into the larger Chinese army during the war.

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rue de Siemen/Zizhong Road – towards the end of its days

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Old Chinatown, San Francisco – recorded in postcards

Posted: September 30th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Mentioned Lisa See’s new book China Dolls the other day, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown before the war. Then came across this set of postcards the other day – can’t date them and probably sent post-war but the images are, I think, 1930s….The accompanying text is quite fun, dipping into Thomas Burke-like imagery at points, “Oriental lanterns cast a mellow glow over the shifting throngs” etc. But they are rather nice all the same.

BTW 1: these pictures are credited to Stanley Plitz, who’s company issued postcards in California from the 1930s to 1950s and were considered extremely high quality at the time

BTW 2: I’ve posted before on the 1885 map of San Francisco Chinatown, the district’s Chinese theatres, a newish guide to Chinatown’s architecture, and the wonderful Chinese telephone exchange (again pictured below)

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Click to enlarge

SF3Grant Avenue, Chinatown

SF4Chinatown & Street Scene at Night, Chinatown

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“Kong Chow” Temple & Bulletin of Latest News

SF6Chinese Six companies’ Building & Chinese Telephone Exchange

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Business District & Joss House-Tong Buildings, Waverly Place

SF8Street scene & Chinese children

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Interior, Chinese Telephone Exchange & Reading the Bulletin Boards

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Chinese fortune teller & Mandarin Theatre

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Interior, Tin How Temple (Joss House) & Picturesque costumes

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Street Scene

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Old Shanghai’s Bund: Rare Images from the 19th Century

Posted: September 29th, 2014 | No Comments »

Dennis Crow (a relative of the great Carl Crow – see my biography of the great man!) has a new collection out of pictures of the Bund – his collections and finds are never anything less than stunning….

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Presented as a collection for the first time, these rare and early photographs of Shanghai’s most famous waterfront offer a unique glimpse into how a marshy embankment turned into the Bund, the city’s most recognised landmark. These images bring to life a past not usually seen in old Shanghai photographs, back when the city was nothing more than a small treaty port. But even then there existed hints of the modernisation that would transform Shanghai into an international commercial hub, and these first signs captured on film are now gathered together to present an exclusive visual history of this city’s fascinating beginnings.

 

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From the Tsar’s Railway to the Red Army

Posted: September 28th, 2014 | No Comments »

After writing about the Chinese Labour Corps for the Penguin China WW1 series, Mark O’Neill has now told the little known story of the Chinese workers sent to Russia during the Great War….

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It is a little known fact that during the First World War Russia received the majority of Chinese wartime labourers working overseas. Despite assurances that they would not be involved in the war, thousands of Chinese workers dug trenches and carried ammunition for troops on the Eastern Front under brutal conditions. Then, in 1917, life for the Chinese worsened with the Bolshevik Revolution’s arrival. Some of the workers signed up to fight for the Red Army and many were left stranded in Russia, unemployed and destitute. Their plight has been described as the most tragic episode in 400 years of Chinese emigration. The men had crossed the border into Russia with dreams of earning enough money to build a house or business for their family at home. None could have imagined the hell that awaited them.

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Chinaphobia On Screen at the BFI – September 29, BFI, London

Posted: September 27th, 2014 | No Comments »

Chinaphobia On Screen at the BFI

An illustrated talk exploring problematic representations of Chinese people in British and American film

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In this richly-illustrated talk, Christopher Frayling, cultural historian and acclaimed writer on film, draws on his forthcoming book The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia to explore problematic representations of Chinese people in British and American film. Frayling’s talk offers a fascinating counterpart to our landmark season A Century of Chinese Cinema, and key context for serials such as Dr. Sin Fang (1928), recently added to BFI Player. Following his talk, Frayling will join others in a panel discusson to further explore the issues raised.

Tickets £6.50

Click here to book

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