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

As it would be Wellington Koo’s 129th Birthday this week….

Posted: February 9th, 2017 | No Comments »

Here’s a cartoon of him by the great Shanghai-based White Russian artist Sapajou from the front page of the North-China Daily News on the 13th November 1926…

For those not intimately concerned with Sino-Belgian affairs (tut, tut), China had attempted to revise the Sino-Belgian Treaty of 1885 to an agreement with greater fairness and reciprocity. Brussels wasn’t having any of it (and didn’t even have the courtesy to reply to Peking) so Wellington Koo tore up the treaty….

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A Tense Week in 1939 in Soochow – ‘NO TRESPASSING ON US PROPERTY’

Posted: February 8th, 2017 | No Comments »

This week in 1939 there was trouble in Soochow (Suzhou)….American church schools in the city were being seriously pressured by the Japanese. The US Consulate (presumably in Shanghai) issued seals declaring the schools US property and stating ‘No Trespassing’. New Stars and Stripes were provided to be flown over the schools so as no mistake could be made. Against Japanese wishes the missionaries who ran the schools refused to teach with Japanese supplied textbooks….

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Get a new concubine – A Year of the Rooster Tradition Not Much Talked About These Days

Posted: February 7th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Welcome to the Year of the Rooster – or the cock as they used to say till the sniggering got too loud. Many things associated with roosters so the superstitious tell me – leadership qualities, independence of thought etc etc blah blah. But one tradition from the Year of the Rooster seems not to be mentioned much these days, but it’s quite exciting – you may take a new concubine!

1921 was the year of the rooster and Elisabetta Cerruti (below), the new wife of the Italian Ambassador to China, Vittorio Cerruti (who, i think, was a generally OK bloke and later got on the wrong side of Mussolini for being soft on the French, not pro-Mussolini cult enough and decided to retire in 1938 rather than continue), was settling in at the rather sumptuous Italian Legation in Peking. Here’s her version of the tradition:

‘The cock is a malevolent force; yet, in spite of that, on the day he rules, the head of the family may take a new concubine, while the first wife on this day, which must be so disagreeable to her, is advised to weave silk, take medicine, and drink generously of new wine.’

Well…indeed…not sure how much new concubine taking, weaving of silk or supping repeatedly at a decent Merlot has been going on these last couple of weeks in China?

 

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The Great Shanghai Bake Off, 1937

Posted: February 6th, 2017 | No Comments »

Here is a class of (not so) happy Chinese girls taking part in an “Occidental” baking class for “Orientals” (so the captions ran back then) run by missionaries at the Moore Memorial Church (now the Mu’en Church on Hankou Road) in Shanghai in 1937…the rolling pins, the bowls, the aprons – it’s as if Mary Berry had come to town!!

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The Beachcomber (1954)

Posted: February 5th, 2017 | No Comments »

The other day I mentioned the various film versions of Somerset Maugham’s 1931 short story Vessel of Wrath. One of those is the 1954 movie The Beachcomber starring Donald Sinden, Glynis Johns and Robert Newton. It isn’t, in my opinion, as good as the earlier version from 1938 with Charles Laughton, not least because the later version moves the action from the Dutch East Indies to the Indian Ocean.

Anyway, it’s a rarely shown film nowadays but, if you happen to be in the UK, it’s on Talking Pictures TV today at 4pm….

 

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Langston Hughes in Shanghai, 1933

Posted: February 4th, 2017 | No Comments »

The poet, playwright, memoirist and activist Langston Hughes was born this week in 1902. In 1933 he spent three weeks in Shanghai – wandered the city, met some poets, took in the Canidrome Ballroom and recalled his arrival in the city in his memoir I Wonder as I Wander

I reached the international city of Shanghai in July, with the sun beating down on the Bund, the harbor full of Chinese junks, foreign liners and
warships from all over the world. It was hot as blazes. I didn’t know a soul in the city. But hardly had I climbed into a rickshaw than I saw riding in another along the Bund a Negro who looked exactly like a Harlemite. I stood up in my rickshaw and yelled, “Hey, man!” He stood up in his rickshaw and yelled, “What ya sayin’?” We passed each other in the crowded street and I never saw him again.
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Taboo – All Roads Lead to China

Posted: February 3rd, 2017 | No Comments »

Naturally there’s been some moaning and quibbles but generally the reviewers seem to like the new Stephen Knight drama starring Tom Hardy on BBC1, Taboo….I have to confess that I LOVE it personally….here’s the synopsis….

Adventurer James Keziah Delaney, long believed to be dead, returns home to London from Africa in 1814 in order to inherit his late father’s shipping empire. All is not what it seems, however, as Delaney encounters numerous enemies intent on making his life back in the United Kingdom very difficult. Focused on building a shipping empire to rival the imperious East India Company, Delaney’s other wish to seek vengeance for his father’s death means conspiracy, betrayal and bloodshed are also in the cards. As he works to accomplish that, Delaney must also navigate increasingly complex territories in order to avoid his own death sentence.

I make note of the programme here because China Rhymers may like to know that ultimately Delaney’s ambitions, his fights with the perfidious East India Company, the British Government, those pesky American rebels, and all manner of other strange types, are all in the service of securing a monopoly on the tea trade between Canton and the new United States of America….

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Somerset Maugham’s The Beachcomber Gets a Pulping

Posted: February 2nd, 2017 | No Comments »

Talking of publishing pulp version of more serious books yesterday, here’s W. Somerset Maugham’s The Beachcomber. Never heard of it? Not surprising – it’s actually Maugham’s short story Vessel of Wrath (1931), which is to be found in his 1933 collection of short stories Ah King. It is quite a racy story (Maugham did do plenty of racy) about a missionary couple on some remote islands of the Dutch East Indies. they have to suffer a man called Ginger Ted who is a drunk, scourge of the Dutch authorities and a womaniser (cavorting with local women no less!). One of the missionaries, Miss Jones, who obviously hates Ginger Ted, finds herself stuck with him on a broken down boat. She is sure that he will rape her, though in the morning her virtue is intact. Ginger Ted is outraged by the idea that he would have raped her; he never thought about it; it was all in the prim and proper Miss Jones’s mind. Eventually Ted does give up the drink and also comes to God. it’s a good story to contrast with Maugham’s short story Rain (1921) where missionaries and libertines clash with a very different outcome. Two films were made of the book – one in 1938 and another in 1954 and both called The Beachcomber.

Anyway, clearly the idea of a man and woman stuck together for a night in the middle of nowhere appealed to the pulp people who also opted for The Beachcomber rather than The Vessel of Wrath which is a rather obscure Bible reference.

The book was a success to the point that it seems the pulp publishers decided to pulp the entire Ah King collections of short stories as all rather ribald and saucy (which, read in a certain light, several of them indeed are)…

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