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

Formosa Road, W9 – London Streets with China names (cont’d)

Posted: November 23rd, 2022 | No Comments »

A long time ago I blogged about the China-related street names that survive around the West India Dock Road in E14, the East End, stemming of course from the trade destinations – Nankin, Pekin, Canton and there’s an Amoy Place. The other day I happened to be walking around the far more salubrious postcode, W9 (Warwick Avenue/Maida Vale) and noticed a Formsa Road that I’d never noticed before – not so sure of how this one came to be named?

Mao’s Army Goes to Sea

Posted: November 23rd, 2022 | No Comments »

Toshi Yoshihara’s Mao’s Army Goes to Sea….

From 1949 to 1950, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) made crucial decisions to establish a navy and secure China’s periphery. The civil war had been fought with a peasant army, yet in order to capture key offshore islands from the Nationalist rival, Mao Zedong needed to develop maritime capabilities. Mao’s Army Goes to Sea is a ground-breaking history of the founding of the Chinese navy and Communist China’s earliest island-seizing campaigns.

In this definitive account of a little-known yet critical moment in China’s naval history, Toshi Yoshihara shows that Chinese leaders refashioned the stratagems and tactics honed over decades of revolutionary struggle on land for nautical purposes. Despite significant challenges, the PLA ultimately scored important victories over its Nationalist foes as it captured offshore islands to secure its position.

Drawing extensively from newly available Chinese-language sources, this book reveals how the navy-building process, sea battles, and contested offshore landings had a lasting influence on the PLA. Even today, the institution’s identity, strategy, doctrine, and structure are conditioned by these early experiences and myths. Mao’s Army Goes to Sea will help US policymakers and scholars place China’s recent maritime achievements in proper historical context—and provide insight into how its navy may act in the future.

Toshi Yoshihara is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and an adjunct professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He was previously the John A.van Beuren Chair of Asia-Pacific Studies at the US Naval War College and coauthored Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to US Maritime Strategy.

Bomb at the Banquet – SCMP Post Weekend Magazine

Posted: November 22nd, 2022 | No Comments »

My long read on the 1924 assassination attempt by Vietnamese indepndence activists on the then Governor of Indochina visiting Guangzhou’s Shamian Island was in the South China Morning Post weekend magazine (click here to read) – it also got the cover courtesy of some great design by Mario Rivera…

Agents of Subversion: The Fate of John T. Downey and the CIA’s Covert War in China

Posted: November 22nd, 2022 | No Comments »

John Delury’s Agents of Subversion….

In the winter of 1952, at the height of the Korean War, the CIA flew a covert mission into China to pick up an agent. Trained on a remote Pacific island, the agent belonged to an obscure anti-communist group known as the Third Force based out of Hong Kong. The exfiltration would fail disastrously, and one of the Americans on the mission, a recent Yale graduate named John T. Downey, ended up a prisoner of Mao Zedong’s government for the next twenty years.  

Unraveling the truth behind decades of Cold War intrigue, John Delury documents the damage that this hidden foreign policy did to American political life. The US government kept the public in the dark about decades of covert activity directed against China, while Downey languished in a Beijing prison and his mother lobbied desperately for his release.  
Mining little-known Chinese sources, Delury sheds new light on Mao’s campaigns to eliminate counterrevolutionaries and how the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party used captive spies in diplomacy with the West. Agents of Subversion is an innovative work of transnational history, and it demonstrates both how the Chinese Communist regime used the fear of special agents to tighten its grip on society and why intellectuals in Cold War America presciently worried that subversion abroad could lead to repression at home. 

Outrage in Shamian – How Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh was inspired by a Guangzhou hotel bomber’s anti-colonial spirit

Posted: November 20th, 2022 | No Comments »

My latest long read for the South China Morning Post weekend magazine. In 1924, an attempt was made on the life of the French governor of Indochina in Guangzhou. The plot failed, but the bomber’s influence was far-reaching…click here to read….

A 1930s silver pin dish with central enamel plaque for Shanghai Race Club

Posted: November 19th, 2022 | No Comments »

A rather curious little item of Shanghai Race Club nostalgia – A 1930s silver pin dish with central enamel plaque for Shanghai Race Club, dated 1938-39:

Living and Working in Wartime China

Posted: November 18th, 2022 | No Comments »

Living asnd Working in Wartime China covers the years of Japanese invasion during World War II from 1937 to 1945, this essay collection recounts Chinese experiences of living and working under conditions of war. Each of the regimes that ruled a divided China―occupation governments, Chinese Nationalists, and Chinese Communists―demanded and glorified the full commitment of the people and their resources in the prosecution of war. Through stories of both everyday people and mid-level technocrats charged with carrying out the war, this book brings to light the enormous gap between the leadership’s demands and the reality of everyday life. Eight long years of war exposed the unrealistic nature of elite demands for unreserved commitment. As the political leaders faced numerous obstacles in material mobilization and retreated to rhetoric of spiritual resistance, the Chinese populace resorted to localized strategies ranging from stoic adaptation to cynical profiteering, articulated variously with touches of humor and tragedy.

These localized strategies are examined through stories of people at varying classes and levels of involvement in living, working, and trying to work through the war under the different regimes. In less than a decade, millions of Chinese were subjects of disciplinary regimes that dictated the celebration of holidays, the films available for viewing, the stories told in tea houses, and the restrictions governing the daily operations and participants of businesses―thus impacting the people of China for years to come. This volume looks at the narratives of those affected by the war and regimes to understand perspectives of both sides of the war and its total outcomes. Living and Working in Wartime China depicts the brutal micromanaging of ordinary lives, devoid of compelling national purposes, that both undercut the regimes’ relationships with their people and helped establish the managerial infrastructure of authoritarian regimes in subsequent postwar years.

  • Brett Sheehan, EditorBrett Sheehan is professor of history and East Asian languages and cultures at the University of Southern California.
  • Wen-hsin Yeh, EditorWen-hsin Yeh is Richard H. and Laurie C. Morrison Chair Professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley.


  • Susan Glosser
  • Matthew Johnson
  • Man Bun Kwan
  • Maruta Takashi
  • Micah Muscolino
  • Parks Coble
  • Brett Sheehan
  • Sophia Lee
  • Chaoguang Wang
  • Di Wang

A half length portrait of Wu Bingjian (Howqua/Houqua), Canton, circa 1840/50

Posted: November 18th, 2022 | No Comments »

A third portrait atttributed to Tingqua (or his studio) – see Macao’s Porto Exterior here and the Canton Factories here. This one is a half length portrait of Wu Bingjian (Howqua/Houqua), Canton, circa 1840/50 seated holding beads in his left hand, wearing a plush purple, fur lined robe with civil rank badge of a Crane, his lower blue garment with a gold dragon, within a hand painted European style border, the quality of which would lead one to assign an attribution it to the Tingqua studio, watercolour, 22cm x 18.5cm.