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

The original screenplay of Macao, 1952

Posted: September 6th, 2023 | No Comments »

RKO used to make a little extra by publishing with Frederick Ungar Books of New York) the screenplays of their movies. Star pictures on the front and back, 8 pages of stills from the movie inside and a short introudction – in the case of Josef von Sternberg’s Macao by the film critic Andrew Velez. Useful for people like me who write about old movies…

Macau e a magia dos anos 50: A ficção de Sid Fleischman em Look Behind You, Lady

Posted: September 5th, 2023 | No Comments »

(In Portuguese) my first column for Macao’s Paragrafo, the monthly literary supplement to Ponto Final Macau e a magia dos anos 50: A ficção de Sid Fleischman em Look Behind You, Lady – on Sid Fleischman’s Macao pulp novel Look Behind You, Lady (1952)…. Click here

The Maoist Movie that Wowed the 1971 Venice Film Festival

Posted: September 4th, 2023 | No Comments »

My latest long read for the South China Morning Post (typhoon) weekend magazine – remembering when the movie of the Maoist ballet The Red Detachment of Women took the Venice Film Festival by storm & then toured the world…click here to read….

The Kremlin’s Chinese Advance Guard: Chinese Students in Soviet Russia, 1917-1940

Posted: September 3rd, 2023 | No Comments »

Daria Arincheva and Alexander Pantsov (trans: Steve Levine) The Kremlin’s Chinese Advance Guard: Chinese Students in Soviet Russia, 1917-1940 (Palgrave) is a super useful reference for those researching early Chinese communists…..

This book is a comprehensive historical study of the Bolshevik system of ideological and political indoctrination of a substantial number of Chinese revolutionaries, who studied in Comintern international institutions in Soviet Russia from the October Revolution of 1917 to the Great Terror of the late 1930s.

Including analysis of previously unknown documentary materials from the Bolshevik Party and Comintern archives, as well as memoirs of former Chinese students and prisoners of Stalin’s camps, the book determines how effective the training of Chinese students in the main educational centers in Moscow was, how well it compared to the existing level of Marxist education in the USSR, and how the Stalinist regime defined the lives and fates of the Chinese revolutionaries in Soviet Russia. In raising questions about the transferability of revolutionary ideology, experience, and practice from the revolutionaries of one country to would-be revolutionaries in other countries the authors ask: can revolution be exported?

Shedding light on an under-explored aspect of the early history of the CCP and the Soviet Bolshevik Party this book will be a valuable resource to both students and scholars of Chinese and Russian history and politics.

Alexis Leger’s Diplomatic Passport, 1918

Posted: September 2nd, 2023 | No Comments »

The 1918 passport of French diplomat Alexis Leger (aka the poet Saint-John Perse) who was, from 1916 to 1921, he was secretary to the French embassy in Peking and wrote his epic poem Anabase. Here’s his passport from the time – detailing his moustache, hair and even wearing a straw boater!

Book #34 on The China Project’s Ultimate China Bookshelf – John Blofeld’s City of Lingering Splendour (1961)

Posted: September 1st, 2023 | No Comments »

We arrive at book #34 on The China Project’s Ultimate China Bookshelf – an amazing evocation of 1930s Peking by an aesthete, scholar & writer who devoted his life to the study of Eastern religions – click here

illustration by Derek Zheng

Diplomacy Ends at Midnight: The Long Return of Hong Kong to China

Posted: August 31st, 2023 | No Comments »

Dalena Wright’s Diplomacy Ends at Midnight: The Long Return of Hong Kong to China (Allen Lane) – fascinated to see what there is new to say, be said, or for anyone involved to say on the handover? Cradock’s long gone; Patten must have sprewed everything by now surely.

British Hong Kong ended in the last minutes of 30 June 1997. Diplomacy Ends at Midnight traces the extraordinary twists and turns of Hong Kong’s long drawn out, but unavoidable, reunion with China, when its 99-year leasehold on much of the colony’s territory expired. 25 years ago, Britain did not want to return Hong Kong to its once and future owner, and most Hong Kongers didn’t want them to either, but the choice was not theirs to make.

Through exceptional archival research and interviews with many of the participants, Dalena Wright traces the intricate diplomacy by which the British sought to resist and then ultimately had to accept the inevitable reversion. The book tells the story of governors, prime ministers, presidents and Chinese leaders who believed for a century that ownership of the tiny entrepot was worth diplomatic standoffs. And when there were no more quarrels to be had, it explains how in the final years British diplomats and their political masters managed the reversion they had not wanted. For 99 years, while they waited for midnight, China and Britain – often as adversaries but occasionally as collaborators – watched Hong Kong grow into a glittering, world-class city. In the end it became a trophy that neither wanted the other to own. How Britain won and lost Hong Kong is the subject of this compelling new history.

Leftover Women – the tenth anniversary edition…Now available for Pre-Order

Posted: August 30th, 2023 | No Comments »

This November my Asian Arguments series for Bloomsbury Books will be publishing a full updated tenth anniversary edition of Leta Hong Fincher groundbreaking Leftover Women….Pre-order now on or

“An eye-opening, groundbreaking book that cast light on critical yet overlooked changes in China – and which seems more timely than ever ten years on.” ―Tania Branigan, author of Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution

“The past decade has time and again underlined the prescience of Leta Hong Fincher’s Leftover Women. This groundbreaking book made a powerful case for how state propaganda and cultural norms combined to exclude Chinese women from the wealth creation springing from the country’s rapid economic development. In this new version, Hong Fincher illustrates how women are beginning to fight back, and the obstacles lined up against them. This book is more relevant than ever to anyone who wants to understand China – read it and rage.” ―Lousia Lim, Author of Indelible City, and The People’s Republic of Amnesia