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

Stalin’s superspy in China and Japan: champagne Communist Richard Sorge seen in a new light in An Impeccable Spy

Posted: June 17th, 2019 | No Comments »

My review of Owen Matthews’s recent biography of Richard Sorge in the South China Morning Post….

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/books/article/3014213/stalins-superspy-china-and-japan-champagne-communist

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The Silent Traveller: Chiang Yee in Britain 1933-55 – Blue Plaque Unveiling and Symposium in Oxford (29/6/19)

Posted: June 15th, 2019 | No Comments »

International Symposium:

‘The Silent Traveller: Chiang Yee in Britain 1933-55’

Join Da Zheng, Chiang Yee’s biographer, historian Paul French (author of Midnight in Peking),and other China experts to learn about Chiang’s eventful life. The unveiling of an Oxford Blue Plaque at Chiang Yee’s former residence will follow the symposium.

Speakers: Paul Bevan (Ashmolean Museum), Sarah Cheang (Royal College of Art), Paul French (author), Tessa Thorniley (University of Westminster), Anne Witchard (University of Westminster), Frances Wood (Formerly of the British Library), Da Zheng (Suffolk University, Boston).

More details – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-silent-traveller-chiang-yee-in-britain-1933-55-tickets-58563545140

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P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Posted: June 12th, 2019 | No Comments »

A long overdue biography of PC Chang…from Hans Ingvar Roth….

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the world’s best-known and most translated documents. When it was presented to the United Nations General Assembly in December in 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the writing group, called it a new “Magna Carta for all mankind.” The passage of time has shown Roosevelt to have been largely correct in her prediction as to the declaration’s importance. No other document in the world today can claim a comparable standing in the international community.

Roosevelt and French legal expert René Cassin have often been represented as the principal authors of the declaration. But in fact, it resulted from a collaborative effort involving a number of individuals in different capacities. One of the declaration’s most important authors was the vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Peng Chun Chang (1892-1957), a Chinese diplomat and philosopher whose contribution has been the focus of growing attention in recent years. Indeed, it is Chang who deserves the credit for the universality and religious ecumenism that are now regarded as the declaration’s defining features. Despite this, Chang’s extraordinary contribution has been overlooked by historians.

Peng Chun Chang was a modern-day Renaissance man—teacher, scholar, university chancellor, playwright, diplomat, and politician. A true cosmopolitan, he was deeply involved in the cultural exchange between East and West, and the dramatic events of his life left a profound mark on his intellectual and political work. P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first biography of this extraordinary actor on the world stage, who belonged to the same generation as Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. Drawing on previously unknown sources, it casts new light on Chang’s multifaceted life and involvement with one of modern history’s most important documents.

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Shanghai’s Broadway Theatre and Roy’s Roof Garden

Posted: June 11th, 2019 | No Comments »

An April stroll through what remains of Tilanqiao and the old Jewish Ghetto. A favourite building is the old Boadway Theatre. The Broadway Theatre was on Wayside (Huoshan Lu) and the Wayside Theatre was on Broadway (Daming Lu). What interested me was that there was a plaque to Roy’s Roof Garden – which I’ve written about before – see below. I may be wrong, but I’m sure there only used to be a plaque to the theatre. Some years ago I slipped up the impressive main stairs, through the pool hall and onto the roof where Roy’s was – but it was all just old boxes of junk and a Jewish ghost or three….My description of it in the old days below….

“Now cross the Soochow Creek, head east and consider those stateless European Jewish refugees who flocked from Berlin or Vienna to Hongkew. They liked nothing better than to go drinking and dancing on Roy’s Roof Garden above the Broadway Theatre on Wayside Road, in the heart of their newfound Oriental ghetto and hoped-for safety from persecution. Ascend through a down-at-heel pool hall to the roof (if the fire door is left open) and see that nothing remains but the rooftop itself – the rattan chairs and plain deal tables, the makeshift bar, the ice buckets, the red and green light bulbs strung around the wood planking that once made a small stage.

The band and the dancing are all gone. Of course in the 1940s, when leaving the ‘Heim’ was problematic, Roy’s offered both music and dancing; a chance to socialise, fall in love, have a little Yiddish conversation, swap ghetto gossip, or enjoy a Friday evening shabbat shalom in the Far East. To climb the broad stairway to the roof of Roy’s was to escape the everyday food queues, fights for onward visas, and the petty squabbles and inevitable kvetching of Wayside Road. It was in itself, perhaps, a kind of freedom for those whose future was so uncertain.”

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Shanghai Vs Hong Kong, 1937 – was it ever thus? A Soviet Spy’s View…

Posted: June 10th, 2019 | No Comments »

A small anecdote from Owen Matthews’s biography of Richard Sorge, An Impeccable Spy

1937 – Shanghai is under fire from the Japanese and a Soviet secret agent, Anna Clausen, is told she cannot go there as it may be too dangerous. The secret meeting will be changed to Hong Kong. But despite the danger Anna insists of Shanghai….

‘I don’t like Hong Kong because I have no friends and there is nothing to buy there…’

Hong Kong: safe, but boring…(just one spy’s view!)
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Art Deco – The France-China Connection, City University of Hong Kong till June 30…

Posted: June 7th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Sounds interesting…

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How Richard Sorge Met Agnes Smedley…

Posted: June 5th, 2019 | No Comments »

As I mentioned yesterday I was looking through German WW2 diplomat Hans-Otto Meissner’s biography of the Soviet spy Richard Sorge – The Man With Three Faces (1955). Meissner is not completely reliable on every detail and gets some basic things wrong but this is his account of how Richard Sorge, newly arrived in Shanghai to establish secret radio links between north and south China met Agnes Smedley…except it was a pre-arranged meeting…Sorge took the name Johnson…

‘The evening he arrived Johnson (Sorge) drove by taxi to a small restaurant on the Nanking Road. He ordered champagne and started reading the New York Times. A few minutes later a woman left the bar and went over to his table.

Sorge/Johnson

“You must be American,” she said. It was a statement rather than a question. “Mind if I join you?” Johnson smiled. “Of course not. Sit down. You were right first time. I am an American. Got in this afternoon and came right up here. A friend of mine in the States warned me about food in China and told me this little place would educate my stomach in easy stages. Have some champagne?”

The woman laughed. “No, thanks. I’ll have a gin sling, if I may. And if you want to keep expenses down you had better drink the same while you are here. Champagne is expensive stuff, you know. Incidentally, my name is Smedley.”

Smedley…

It was a code drawn up in Moscow – Sorge would visit that Nanking Road restaurant and order champagne which he would offer a woman who encountered him – the contact sign. The woman would decline and ask for a gin sling – the counter sign. Sorge and Smedley had met and recognised each other as fellow spies.

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The Man With Three Faces – Richard Sorge…

Posted: June 4th, 2019 | No Comments »

I came across this colourful edition of Hans-Otto Meissener’s The Man With Three Faces, his 1955 biography of the Russian super spy who operated in Shanghai and Tokyo, Richard Sorge. It’s not the most detailed biography of Sorge (and there’s a new one out just recently) but Meissner was secretary to General Eugen Ott, the Nazi Ambassador in Tokyo who came under Sorge’s sway and met him a number of times. Indeed Sorge attended Meissner’s wedding in the gardens of the German Embassy in Tokyo…

a pretty good likeness from his photo too…
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