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

Among the Celestials: China in Early Photographs

Posted: May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

Somehow missed this delightful collection of photographs of old China when it came out – Among the Celestials

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The flourishing of photography as a medium in the mid-19th century coincided with a rise in curiosity about China on the part of the Western world. As the number of foreigners living and travelling in China increased, early photographs of China were taken by and for an international audience. Among the Celestials assembles 250 fascinating images of China in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th, captured by the Western camera lens. The photographs portray the gritty side of the country as well as stunning views of palaces, temples, harbours and gardens. This juxtaposition of the sordid and the serene provides a multidimensional picture of China’s physical and social landscape before Mao Zedong’s ascent to power changed the country forever. The photographs, many published here for the first time, are both beautiful and moving, and together offer a new understanding of a social and cultural history associated with a time of significant historical change.

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Shanghai’s War-time Collaborators – Posies and Pistols in 1941

Posted: May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »

China is to have a two day public holiday this September to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. Of course the Communist Party’s role in WW2 has been massively overblown, the KMT’s downplayed and the interesting question of collaboration and Wang Ching-wei ignored completely. Came across this great picture of the inauguration in early 1941 of Chen Kung-Po (Chen Gongbo – far right in overcoat) as the Mayor of Shanghai in the puppet collaborationist government of Wang Ching-wei (Wang Jingwei). At the time Nationalist hit squads were highly active in Shanghai and had already assassinated a number of leading collaborators. Chen was a major target and so his bodyguard carry flowers in one hand and a pistol at the ready in the other. Events eventually caught up with Chen and he was executed in 1946 in Suzhou. Unrepentant, his final words to the firing squad were “Soon, I will be reunited with Wang Ching-wei in the next world”.

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Attention Chinese Ladies of 1936 – Beware Hair Curling!! It’s “immodest”

Posted: May 13th, 2015 | No Comments »

A little known danger – hair curling – according to a campaign launched in Southern China in 1936. Yes hair curling is “immodest” and hair curlers are a “device of the devil”. Sadly no more details on the Shanghai cabaret dancer who burned to death while having her hair curled.

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Culture and Commerce in Conrad’s Asian Fiction

Posted: May 12th, 2015 | No Comments »

Andrew Francis’s study of interactions and networks concerning the Far East trade in Conrad’s work looks interesting….

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Andrew Francis’ Culture and Commerce in Conrad’s Asian Fiction is the first book-length critical study of commerce in Conrad’s work. It reveals not only the complex connections between culture and commerce in Conrad’s Asian fiction, but also how he employed commerce in characterization, moral contexts, and his depiction of relations at a point of advanced European imperialism. Conrad’s treatment of commerce – Arab, Chinese and Malay, as well as European – is explored within a historically specific context as intricate and resistant to traditional readings of commerce as simple and homogeneous. Through the analysis of both literary and non-literary sources, this book examines capitalism, colonialism and globalization within the commercial, political and social contexts of colonial Southeast Asia.

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When an American VP Could Give a Chinese Diplomat a Gift that Cost Less Than a Dollar

Posted: May 11th, 2015 | No Comments »

John Nance Gardner was the rather overlooked Vice President during FDR’s three terms – with FDR such a commanding personality perhaps that’s no surprise and he argued with FDR a lot and so got rather sidelined though was often referred to as “Mr Common Sense”. In 1935 FDR sent Garner on an extended tour of the Far East with stops in the Philippines, Japan and China where he stayed in Shanghai for a time. Apparently after meeting Chinese senior officials in Shanghai he declared “Now, these are our kind of people.”

Which brings us to the dinner he had attended clearly by a senior Chinese diplomat and his wife. The diplomat’s wife admired Garner’s watch and he magnanimously gave it to her. However, so the Charleston Daily Mail reports, it only cost 98-cents. And so the question – was Garner a tight-wad who refused to pay more than a dollar for a watch or just an abstemious public official. We might also ask whether the current VeeP wears a dollar watch? I doubt it…and also perhaps what the reaction of a senior Chinese official to be presented by Joe Biden with a 98-cent watch in these days of craven grabbing of Rolexes etc would signal ?

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VP Garner

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Asia House Lit Fest 2015 – License to Thrill – Is Asia the perfect setting for the modern day thriller? 11/5/15

Posted: May 10th, 2015 | No Comments »

May already, and it’s the annual Asia House Literary Festival in London from the 7th to the 18th…For ChinaRhymers there’s some good events including Alex Monro on his book The Paper Trail, Amitav Ghosh launching the third and final installment in his Ibis trilogy, Flood of Fire, writers on the Silk Road and my good self talking Chinese thrillers with Adam Brookes and A Yi….full details here and more on my event below….

Is Asia the perfect setting for the modern day thriller? To mark the launch of the second instalment of Adam Brookes’ Asian spy series (out in June 2015), the Washington-based journalist will offer a persuasive argument that it indeed is. Brookes will be joined on stage by acclaimed Chinese writer A Yi, whose thriller A Perfect Crime has recently been translated, and Paul French, author of the bestselling page-turner Midnight in Peking. A highly entertaining and adrenalin filled night, where the lines between fact and fiction will blur. A Yi’s appearance has been supported by a PEN Promotes! Award from English PEN. More details and tix here

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Ethnic Renewal in Philadelphia’s Chinatown

Posted: May 10th, 2015 | No Comments »

Kathryn Wilson’s Ethnic Renewal in Philadelphia’s Chinatown is a welcome addition to the growing literature on Chinatowns and their formation, reformation, morphing and survival or otherwise….

 

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Philadelphia’s Chinatown, like many urban chinatowns, began in the late nineteenth century as a refuge for immigrant laborers and merchants in which to form a community to raise families and conduct business. But this enclave for expression, identity, and community is also the embodiment of historical legacies and personal and collective memories. In “Ethnic Renewal in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. “Kathryn Wilson charts the unique history of this neighborhood. After 1945, a new generation of families began to shape Chinatown’s future. As plans for urban renewal–ranging from a cross-town expressway and commuter rail in the 1960s to a downtown baseball stadium in 2000–were proposed and developed, “Save Chinatown” activists rose up and fought for social justice. Wilson chronicles the community’s efforts to save and renew itself through urban planning, territorial claims, and culturally specific rebuilding. She shows how these efforts led to Chinatown’s growth and its continued ability to serve as a living community for subsequent waves of new immigration.

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Shanghai Post Office Robbed – 1935

Posted: May 9th, 2015 | No Comments »

Frustratingly this small article from September 1935 doesn’t tell us which Post Office they’re exactly referring to. It was the first time the Shanghai Post Office was robbed, but it wouldn’t be the last, post office and bank robberies started to spiral out of control after 1937 with more killings of employees and customers. It appears to have been a violent raid with the “bandits” shooting one employee dead and wounding another two. $25,000 was a mighty good haul for the time.

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