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

Murders of Old China comes to the Bespoke Speaker Series this Tuesday…

Posted: May 2nd, 2020 | No Comments »

I’ll be talking about my Audible Original Murders of Old China this Tuesday as part of the Bespoke Beijing Speaker Series – There will be 12 murders, 12 reinvestigations and plenty of skulduggery in early twentieth century China. All welcome – details here, or as below…

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This Weekend – Limmud China 2020 – Online – & Jewish Refugees in Macao during WW2

Posted: April 30th, 2020 | No Comments »

This year’s festival of Jewish cilutre, hisytory and society in China – Limmud China – is online. The full programme is here – my own session on Sunday is about my forthcoming novella Strangers on the Praia which deals with the Jewish refugee community in Macao during WW2…do zoom in if you can…Details of my session here

Strangers on the Praia – a novella coming out in May, dealing with the niche story of the few, mostly younger Jews women, who moved on from Shanghai to Macao – neutral in WW2 as a Portuguese colony – in the hope that it might be a way back to sanctuary in the UK or US via Lisbon. Macao was essentially the ‘Casablanca of the Far East’. Ultimately there were no boats from Macao to Lisbon – though several Jewish refugees did get to Free China via the French treaty port of Kwangchowan near the border with Indo-China and from there to Kunming and then to British India.

Bio: Paul French is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Midnight in Peking and City of Devils. Both now being adapted for TV. Now, in his new novella published in May, Strangers on the Praia, French weaves together the true stories of those Jewish refugees who moved on from Shanghai to seek a possible route to freedom via the neutral Portuguese colony of Macao, “the Casablanca of the Orient”. The delicately balanced neutral enclave became their wartime refuge. Strangers on the Praia relates the story of one young Jewish woman’s struggle for freedom that would prove ultimately an act of brave resistance.

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The Royal Asiatic Society China Journal 2019 (a little late)…

Posted: April 29th, 2020 | No Comments »

Slightly late, but good all the same, to see that the latest (2019) issue of the Royal Asiatic Society China’s journal is now Available to read online with the lead article by our very own Anne Witchard on  Huang Zunxian, China’s pioneer modernist. Also featuring great articles on old Shanghai and Chinese cultural history by Paul French, Katya Knyazeva, Dong Wang, Inez Low and Duncan Hewitt…. click here to read….

My own two contributions concern the Peking and Tientsin poetry of Margaret Mackprang Mackay and the mystery of who was the author “Bok”?

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THE SWIRE STORY, by Prof. Robert Bickers: “Ships, Planes, Cities and People (And Sugar)”, an RASBJ online discussion

Posted: April 28th, 2020 | No Comments »

THE SWIRE STORY, by Prof. Robert Bickers: “Ships, Planes, Cities and People (And Sugar)

an RASBJ online discussion

WHAT: RASBJ zoom talk by Prof. Robert Bickers on “The Swire Story: Ships, Planes, Cities and People (and Sugar), from the 1810’s to the 1980’s”, followed by QA
WHEN: May 4, 2020, Monday 19:00-20:00 Beijing Standard Time
WHERE: Online via Zoom
HOW MUCH: Free and accessible exclusively to RASBJ members and RAS affiliates worldwide. If you know someone who wants to become an RASBJ member, please ask them to WeChat John Olbrich at johnobeijing  See www.rasbj.org for details.
HOW TO BECOME AN RASBJ MEMBER: If you’d like to become an RASBJ member (or, for PRC passport-holders, to become an Associate) please befriend Membership Secretary John Olbrich on Wechat at johnobeijing and send him your name, nationality, mobile number and email address plus the annual subscription amount (or, for Associates, the suggested donation) of RMB 300 for those resident in China, RMB 200 for those resident overseas and RMB 100 for students. If you join RASBJ by May 2 you’ll receive login details for this event. 

MORE ABOUT THE EVENT: 
In his latest book, China Bound, Robert Bickers charts the history of John Swire & Sons from 1816-1980. From its origins as a small shipping agency and import/export company in early nineteenth century Liverpool, to its prominent position in Hong Kong’s economy and East Asian trade in the 1980s, most prominently as the owner of Cathay Pacific Airways, the firm threaded its way tenaciously through the heart of modern China’s history. This talk explores the human side of this story of an unusual corporate survivor: the men and women who worked for the firm, and who found themselves at the heart of strikes, boycotts, invasion and revolutions and the technological and political developments which shaped modern Asia and the modern world.



MORE ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Robert Bickers is a writer and historian, and a Professor of History at the University of Bristol. His books include Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai, The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, and Out of China: How the Chinese ended the Era of Foreign Domination. His latest book, China Bound: John Swire & Sons and Its World, 1816-1980, is an authorised history of the company, whose archives he first looked at over 30 years ago.

Dear Friends: We hope you’re staying well in these uncertain times. RASBJ launched a popular series of online events March 9, and since then we’ve held nine wonderful talks, from award-winning author Paul French describing “Murders of Old China” to a dynamic discussion of Jung Chang’s book on the Soong sisters, led by Jeremiah Jenne. Here are RASBJ’s upcoming Zoom talks (all beginning at 19:00 Beijing Standard Time):

5/8 Matthew Hu Xinyu on “Rediscovering Beijing”
5/13 Peter Frankopan on “The Silk Roads”
5/20 Guiseppe Cuccia on “Turandot and Western Opera in China”
5/27 Michael Humphries on “Contagion: History and How COVID Will End”
6/3 Isaac Duffy on “The Pagoda Project”
6/10 Prof. Ezra Vogel on China-Japan Relations


If you want to join these events, please join the RASBJ! Follow the instructions (above) to become a member and you’ll enjoy free access to the ongoing Zoom talks – plus their youTube recordings – as well as the RAS China Journal and discounted entry to in-person events and excursions when they resume. Thanks for your support!

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Jeremiah Jenne on The Life of Empress Dowager Cixi: China’s most remarkable and misunderstood defacto ruler…via Zoom on 28/4/20…

Posted: April 27th, 2020 | No Comments »

Like a phoenix, she rose from the ashes of a palace demolished by foreign troops to become one of the most powerful women in the world. China’s Empress Dowager Cixi (pronounced “suh-shee”) ruled from 1861 to 1908 and is one of the most notorious figures in Modern Chinese history. For nearly half a century, she used her cunning and connections to rule China from behind the throne, but she’s also been accused of being heartless, presiding over the country’s downfall, and for amassing a huge fortune which she proceeded to spend on fripperies such as marble boats.

As always, though, the real story is much more complicated. Are the scathing depictions of her fair? Or is she just another victim of History not Herstory? Join Bespoke favourite Jeremiah Jenne as he unpacks the life of China’s most influential female. In the absence of a chance to tour Cixi’s beloved Summer Palace with him, we promise this is the next best thing.

More details click here

Speaker: Jeremiah Jenne

Jeremiah Jenne is a writer and academic based in Beijing since 2002. He taught Late Imperial and Modern Chinese History for over 13 years and has written extensively on China for The Economist, South China Morning Post, Los Angeles Review of Books and others. Jeremiah is frequently asked to speak or lead workshops on Chinese history, culture, and cultural adaptation for students, embassies, organizations, and company groups from around the world.

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Building the Buddhist Revival: Reconstructing Monasteries in Modern China

Posted: April 26th, 2020 | No Comments »

Sadly it’s silly money and hopefully your library can afford it (noting that academic publishing doesn’t have to be like this and library budgets won’t support this sort of thing much longer!) Gregory Adam Scott’s Building the Buddhist Revival: Reconstructing Monasteries in Modern China looks interesting….

Between 1850 and 1966, tens of thousands of Buddhist sacred sites in China were destroyed, victims of targeted destruction, accidental damage, or simply neglect. During the same period, however, many of these sites were reconstructed, a process that involved both rebuilding material structures and reviving religious communities. The conventionally accepted narrative of Chinese Buddhism during the modern era is that it underwent a revival initiated by innovative monastics and laypersons, leaders who reinvented Buddhist traditions to meet the challenges of modernity. Gregory Adam Scott shows, however, that over time it became increasingly difficult for reconstruction leaders to resist the interests of state actors, who sought to refashion monastery sites as cultural monuments rather than as living religious communities. These sites were then intended to serve as symbols of Chinese history and cultural heritage, while their function as a frame for religious life was increasingly pushed aside. As a result, the power to determine whether and how a monastery would be reconstructed, and the types of activities that would be reinstated or newly introduced, began to shift from religious leaders and communities to state agencies that had a radically different set of motivations and values.

Building the Buddhist Revival explores the history of Chinese Buddhist monastery reconstruction from the end of the Imperial period through the first seventeen years of the People’s Republic. Over this century of history, the nature and significance of reconstructing Buddhist monasteries changes drastically, mirroring broader changes in Chinese society. Yet this book argues that change has always been in the nature of religious communities such as Buddhist monasteries, and that reconstruction, rather than a return to the past, represents innovative and adaptive change. In this way, it helps us understand the broader significance of the Buddhist “revival” in China during this era, as a creative reconstruction of religion upon longstanding foundations.

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Tea War: A History of Capitalism in China and India

Posted: April 23rd, 2020 | No Comments »

A new book from Andrew Liu that looks interesting

A history of capitalism in nineteenth- and twentieth-century China and India exploring the competition between their tea industries Tea remains the world’s most popular commercial drink today, and at the turn of the twentieth century, it represented the largest export industry of both China and colonial India. In analyzing the global competition between Chinese and Indian tea, Andrew B. Liu challenges past economic histories premised on the technical “divergence” between the West and the Rest, arguing instead that seemingly traditional technologies and practices were central to modern capital accumulation across Asia. He shows how competitive pressures compelled Chinese merchants to adopt abstract, industrial conceptions of time, while colonial planters in India pushed for labor indenture laws to support factory-style tea plantations. Further, characterizations of China and India as premodern backwaters, he explains, were themselves the historical result of new notions of political economy adopted by Chinese and Indian nationalists, who discovered that these abstract ideas corresponded to concrete social changes in their local surroundings. Together, these stories point toward a more flexible and globally oriented conceptualization of the history of capitalism in China and India.

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Upcoming Royal Asiatic Society Beijing Zoom Events

Posted: April 22nd, 2020 | No Comments »

Despite uncertainties and disruptions, RASBJ has seized the opportunity to launch a popular series of online events on Zoom. Since March 9, we’ve had eight wonderful talks – from award-winning author Paul French on “Murders of Old China” to an evocative discussion of Jung Chang’s book about the Soong sisters. Please join the RASBJ! If you follow instructions (below) to become a member you’ll get free access to the ongoing Zoom talks – plus their youTube recordings – as well as the RAS China journal and discounted entry to in-person events and excursions when they resume. Upcoming Zoom talks include:
4/25: Tario Perez Vila on UK and China ties post-1997;
4/29 Joerg Wuttke on EU-China relations and the pandemic (below);
5/4 Prof. Robert Bickers on the Swire story;
5/8 Matthew Hu Xinyu on “Rediscovering Beijing”;
5/20 Guiseppe Cuccia on “Turandot and Western opera in China”;
5/27: Michael Humphries “Contagion: History and How Covid will End

HOW MUCH: free and accessible to RAS members and affiliates worldwide. If you’re not an RASBJ member but become one by April 27, you’ll be sent the login details for this event.
HOW TO BECOME AN RASBJ MEMBER: If you’d like to become an RASBJ member (or, for PRS passport-holders, to become an Associate) please befriend Membership Secretary John Olbrich on Wechat at johnobeijing and send him your name, nationality, mobile number and email address plus the annual subscription amount (or, for Associates, the suggested donation) of RMB 300 for those resident in China, RMB 200 for those resident overseas and RMB 100 for students. See www.rasbj.org for details.

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