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

Nothing New Under the Sun – Qingming, 1921

Posted: April 13th, 2019 | No Comments »

A bit late with this as it was last weekend, but anyway…

Every year at Qingqimg, tomb/grave sweeping day, a newspaper somewhere likes to comment on how the new blingy Chinese, obsessed with material things, burn replica paper money, jewellery, pharmaceuticals and cars – presumably so their dead relatives can drive around wherever they are…

However, this is, of course, nothing new and has been going on for, well for as long as there have been cars to admire, want, replicate in paper and burn…here from 1921…

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An Update on Chaonei 81 – Beijing’s Ghost Mansion

Posted: April 12th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

I’ve blogged before over the years about the dilapidation and then apparent restoration of Chaonei 81 (use the search box to see those previous posts), a once lovely house that has managed to avoid destruction and is considered by many in Beijing to be haunted.

Philippe Fourneraut who has been researching the life of Georges Bouillard, the head of Kin-Han railway between Peking and Hankow. M. Fourneraut tells me that, according to Beijing historian Wang Leshun, Bouillard designed and had the house constructed in 1922. He died in Peking in 1930. Apparently M. Bouillard’s wife, Zhu Derong, rented part of it to nuns, and sold it to an Irish priest in 1946.

Recently Georges sent me more details of Bouillard’s life in the house and that he had a meteorological station in this home. An example of his recordings is below, as are pictures of the house from last week. As I walked past the gates opened and a large black Mercedes swept in. Exactly what is going on inside now remains (to me at least) a mystery…

From a newspaper dated 7 August 1927 and containing Bouillard’s data for the months of June and July 1927.
Chaonei 81 from across the street…

A quick glimpse inside Chaonei 81…
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Pollarding Yu Yuan Road…

Posted: April 11th, 2019 | No Comments »

A job almost as old as the Shanghai International Settlement – pollarding (or pruning) the London plane trees of Shanghai. Two out of every three trees in the old Settlement and Frenchtown are London planes – ideal as they require only shallow roots, planted between 18 and 20 feet apart along many road they provide both shade from the sun and protection from winds. They are pollarded to allow for new growth and to prevent excessive overhang, usually around March and April. It’s been done every year for a century and a half now…Here’s 2019 pollarding on Yu Yuen Road (Yuyuan Lu now)….

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Restoration, or at least some workmen, at Plum Well Villas

Posted: April 9th, 2019 | 2 Comments »

Plum Well Villas is a charming lane that was formerly off Amherst Avenue (Xinhua Lu), External Western Roads District. I lived close by it for many years and it was always one of Western Shanghai’s sleepier lanes. This is due largely to the fact that it is a dead-end and so no use as a “rat-run” for traffic. The villas are roomy and large reflecting the fact that it was really the edge of the city in the 1930s and beyond was largely semi-rural Hungjiao (Hongqiao). Many famous Chinese scholars, and some foreigners, lived in the villas.

And it seems there is some restoration going on – though the villas were in quite good condition and had not been overly sub-divided. The lane is invariably missed by those exploring the better known Columbia Circle, back east up Xinhua Lu. To get to Plum Well Villas you have to cross Dingxi Lu heading west and it’s just to the left/south.

the entrance to Plum Well Villas from Amherst Avenue (Xinhua Lu)

One villa at the northern end of the lane that has undergone some renovation


the same villa which now appears to be being landscaped too…


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Royal Asiatic Society Journal 2019 – Call for Submissions

Posted: April 8th, 2019 | No Comments »

The Royal Asiatic Society China (RAS) has been publishing its journal in Shanghai since 1858, providing fascinating insights into the lives, interests and activities of the expatriate community since the beginning of modern foreign involvement in China. We are proud to continue this important endeavour for the benefit of our members and the wider community of China watchers. The RAS Journal is now receiving submissions for the 2019 edition. This year, we are delighted to announce that we will now be paying honoraria to contributing authors. Contributing authors will receive 1,000 RMB for articles (between 3,000 and 8,000 words), and 350 RMB for book reviews.The deadline for submissions is 1 July 2019. The 2019 RAS Journal will be published in November. The journal generally comprises scholarly articles describing original research and observations, book reviews and reports of activities. Translations from Chinese into English are also welcome. The scope of the journal is broad: we hope the journal will help to inform readers about life in China and Asia – past, present and future. Although authors may write about any subject of interest to China scholars, please note that material that may contravene the guidelines established by the Chinese government for speech and publications will not be accepted. In addition, the journal will feature a Young Scholar’s Essay. Students under the age of 20 may submit a research essay in English (maximum 5000 words) on any subject related to China. The editing team will select the most outstanding essay for inclusion into the RAS Journal. Teachers may contact the RAS Journal Editor for more information. You can view past examples of the RAS Journal at the Royal Asiatic Society Library, located in The House of Roosevelt, Number 27 on The Bund, Shanghai. The library holds an almost complete set of journals going back to 1858, which document the earliest years of the expatriate community in Shanghai, and the Royal Asiatic Society’s history in China. Digital copies of recent journals can also be viewed on our website. Please consult the guidelines for author submissions or contact the Journal Editor, Tracey Willard, at editor@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn for more information.

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Come Celebrate Lantau’s Indie Bookshop Vibe this Sunday…

Posted: April 6th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

I’ll be speaking briefly at Lantau Island’s Vibe bookshop in Mui Wo (down by the ferry pier) this Sunday at 2pm. It’s a chance to gather together some old China enthusiasts in Lantau’s best indie bookstore that does books, music and movies. There will be conversation, wine and books….a great chance to support Vibe, and indie publishing in Hong Kong as I’ll be talking about and selling my collection Destination Shanghai, which is published by Hong Kong indie Blacksmith Books…

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The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad

Posted: April 2nd, 2019 | No Comments »

What looks like a good collection from Gordon Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin…(makes me miss Hell on Wheels!!)

The completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869 is usually told as a story of national triumph and a key moment for American Manifest Destiny. The railroad made it possible to cross the country in a matter of days instead of months, paved the way for new settlers to come out West, and helped speed America’s entry onto the world stage as a modern nation that spanned a full continent. It also created vast wealth for its four owners, including the fortune with which Leland Stanford would found Stanford University some two decades later. But while the transcontinental has often been celebrated in national memory, little attention has been paid to the Chinese workers who made up 90% of the workforce on the Western portion of the line. The railroad could not have been built without Chinese labor, but the lives of Chinese railroad workers themselves have been little understood and largely invisible.

This landmark volume shines new light on the Chinese railroad workers and their place in cultural memory. The Chinese and the Iron Road illuminates more fully than ever before the interconnected economies of China and the US, how immigration across the Pacific changed both nations, the dynamics of the racism the workers encountered, the conditions under which they labored, and their role in shaping both the history of the railroad and the development of the American West.

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New Book – The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: When Total Empire Met Total War

Posted: March 20th, 2019 | No Comments »

Jeremy Yellen’s The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: When Total Empire Met Total War (Columbia Uni Press) looks like a good addition to the writing on the period…

In The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Jeremy Yellen exposes the history, politics, and intrigue that characterized the era when Japan’s “total empire” met the total war of World War II. He illuminates the ways in which the imperial center and its individual colonies understood the concept of the Sphere, offering two sometimes competing, sometimes complementary, and always intertwined visions—one from Japan, the other from Burma and the Philippines.

Yellen argues that, from 1940 to 1945, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere epitomized two concurrent wars for Asia’s future: the first was for a new type of empire in Asia, and the second was a political war, waged by nationalist elites in the colonial capitals of Rangoon and Manila. Exploring Japanese visions for international order in the face of an ever-changing geopolitical situation, The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere explores wartime Japan’s desire to shape and control its imperial future while its colonies attempted to do the same. At Japan’s zenith as an imperial power, the Sphere represented a plan for regional domination; by the end of the war, it had been recast as the epitome of cooperative internationalism. In the end, the Sphere could not survive wartime defeat, and Yellen’s lucidly written account reveals much about the desires of Japan as an imperial and colonial power, as well as the ways in which the subdued colonies in Burma and the Philippines jockeyed for agency and a say in the future of the region.

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