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

John Thomson: Reframing Materials, Images, and Archives 1 Day Conference – SOAS – 7/6/18

Posted: April 22nd, 2018 | No Comments »

John Thomson: Reframing Materials, Images, and Archives

Wellcome Trust Gibbs Building, Euston Road, London

7/6/18 – 9am-5pm

John Thomson’s (1837-1921) large surviving archive has helped to secure his place in the canon of British photography. The archive includes some 600 negatives at the Wellcome collection, as well as an extensive list of published works, surviving glass-plate negatives, cartes de visites, and album prints. With the archive generating interest in Thomson’s photographs as historical and cultural documents, discourse on Thomson’s work remains largely tied to the perceived indexical values of his photographs. This Study Day aims to expand approaches to this unique body of work.

This event is organised in conjunction with the 2018 exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS (April-June 2018), Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872: China, Siam and Angkor.

Academics, curators and practitioners will present research and engage in discussion around four specific key themes: The Interrelation and Interaction of Making, Translating and Transforming Images into Objects, Reading and Reframing of Images – Issues of the Archive, and Constructing and Conceptualising East and Southeast Asia. As such, this Study Day will provide an opportunity to contextualise and stimulate new research questions around the materiality and visuality of photography. These discussions also have wider implications within the scholarship of photography across the fields of Art History, Anthropology, Visual and Material Cultures, History, Architecture and Dress History

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The China Mission: George C. Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-1947

Posted: April 21st, 2018 | No Comments »

Daniel Kurtz-Phelan’s new book The China Mission looks very interesting…


Following the success of General George C. Marshall’s leadership of the American army during the Second World War, he was the obvious candidate for the international mission to broker a coalition government between China’s warring Nationalists and Communists. As a US “special representative” Marshall began enacting miraculous change and under his guiding hand, China’s political factions agreed to a ceasefire and settled on the principles of a democratic government. But then the agreements Marshall brokered fractured and civil war came to China.

This fascinating history portrays the incredible beginnings and ultimate failure of Marshall’s high-stakes mission. In spellbinding detail, The China Mission chronicles an unforgettable miss-step in American diplomacy that changed the course of global politics for ever more.

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Nostalgia in the Chinese City: Antony Dapiran and Paul French – Hong Kong – 21/4/18

Posted: April 20th, 2018 | No Comments »

Nostalgia in the Chinese City

Antony Dapiran & Paul French

Hosted by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and kubrick
Date: Saturday 21 April 2018
Time: 7:30-8:45
Venue: kubrick (Shop H2, Cinema Block, Prosperous Garden, 3 Public square street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon)
In this Cha Reading Series event “Nostalgia in the Chinese City”, Cha contributors Antony Dapiran and Paul French will discuss nostalgia in their work and in the Chinese cities where they have lived and worked for many years. Moderated by Cha co-editor Tammy Ho Lai-Ming.

Nostalgia—from the Greek words nostos (‘homecoming’) and algia (‘pain’ or ‘ache)—a yearning for lost time and place, for a past where one perhaps felt more ‘at home’. We may feel nostalgia for our own past, or for earlier times we could not have personally known. And it seems that nowhere is this more sharply felt than in the rapidly developing metropolises of China. Our cities are sites of collective memory, and collective amnesia. Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing: all suffer forms of the “culture of disappearance”; all have ambiguous—sometimes wistful, sometimes problematic—relationships with the past. Whether in a tourist packed hutong, an old Shanghai-themed café, a G.O.D. store, or gazing at a lone junk sailing on Victoria Harbour—we encounter nostalgia triggers daily. It can be comforting or confusing, positive or negative. It is political and it is personal. Nostalgia is a community, even if those communities are long gone now.

Antony Dapiran is a Hong Kong-based writer, lawyer and photographer, and the author of City of Protest: A Recent History of Dissent in Hong Kong, published by Penguin. He has written extensively on China and Hong Kong business, politics and culture. A contributing editor of ArtAsiaPacific, his writing has also appeared in publications including the Australian Financial Review, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, South China Morning Post, CNN International, Nikkei Asia Review, Hong Kong Free Press, Chart Collective and the LARB China Channel.

Paul French is the author of the New York Times best seller Midnight in Peking (Penguin), currently being developed as a series for TV. He is visiting Hong Kong to launch his new book City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir (Penguin), centred on the dancehalls, casinos and cabarets of wartime Shanghai.

Cha Reading Series {http://bit.ly/2fnE9EE} takes the online journal out into the physical world. It brings together poets, writers, translators and artists who are in some way or other affiliated with Cha. Readings will take place in various impromptu locations across the city, in public and private rooms, lecture halls, on park benches, in front of billboards, next to a window scratched by tree branches. They will read their work informally or seriously. They will discuss issues, argue, debate and exchange. We also hope to form dialogue and explore specific pertinent topics that inspire or beset the contemporary world. Suggestions for future events can be sent to t@asiancha.com.

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Israel and China: From the Tang Dynasty to Silicon Wadi

Posted: April 19th, 2018 | No Comments »

Mark O”Neill’s Israel and China, a history of the Jews in China from Kaifeng, and all that, through Harbin, Shanghai, emigres, refugees, and all that, to the current state of Sino-Israeli relations…

The Jews first arrived in China during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) and settled as businessmen, civil servants and professionals. They assimilated into Chinese society and lost their Jewish character. The next wave came in the mid-19th century with the opening of the treaty ports and settled in Shanghai. They went into trading, especially opium, and diversified into property, manufacturing, finance, public transport and retail. Another Jewish community settled in Harbin after the opening of the China Eastern Railway in 1903. They also prospered in trading and business. Both communities built synagogues, schools, social clubs and welfare institutions. During World War Two, 25,000 Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe took refuge in Shanghai, one of the few cities in the world open to them. Many received visas from Asian diplomats who defied their governments to issue them. The Japanese military refused the Nazi demand to carry out ‘the final solution’ of the Jews in Shanghai. After 1945, inflation, civil war and Communist rule made most Jews leave China for new homes in Israel, North America, Australia and elsewhere. The new state of Israel worked hard to establish diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic; it became an important supplier of weapons in the 1980s. But it took 42 years for the two countries to sign the ties, in 1992. Since then, relations have blossomed and China has become one of Israel’s biggest foreign investors. In the reform and open-door era, Jewish people have returned to China and form important communities in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other cities. Part of this narrative are remarkable individuals who have left a deep imprint on China – Karl Marx, Sir Victor Sassoon, Silas Hardoon, the Kadoorie family, Henry Kissinger and Sigmund Freud.

To tell this extraordinary story, Mark O’Neill conducted many interviews with rabbis, businessmen, entrepreneurs, professors and journalists in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Israel. It is, largely, a joyful page in Jewish history.

“I believe in God and the hand of providence. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we can see God’s guiding hand, and the story of the Jews in China is one of those lucky times. We see God’s guiding hand, we have seen providence”
– Rabbi Asher Oser of Ohel Leah synagogue, Hong Kong

About the Author:

Mark O’Neill was born in London and educated at New College, Oxford University. Mark has worked in Asia since 1978, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, China and Japan, for the BBC, Reuters, the South China Morning Post and other media. He has written eight books: Tzu Chi — Serving with Compassion; Frederick, the Life of My Missionary Grandfather in Manchuria; The Chinese Labour Corps; From the Tsar’s Railway to the Red Army; The Second Tang Dynasty — The 12 Sons of Fragrant Mountain Who Changed China; The Miraculous History of China’s Two Palace Museums, Ireland’s Imperial Mandarin: How Sir Robert Hart Become the Most Influential Foreigner in Qing China and this one. Five have Chinese editions, both traditional and simplified, as well as English. He lived in Beijing and Shanghai for more than 16 years. Now he works as an author, journalist and teacher, based in Hong Kong. He speaks and writes Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), French and Japanese.


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Hong Kong FCC – 19/4/18 – Club Dinner- City of Devils: Warlordism, War, Journalism And The High Life In Old Shanghai

Posted: April 18th, 2018 | No Comments »

Talking City of Devils but with some old foreign press corps tales mixed in at the Hong Kong FCC for dinner on 19th April…

City of Devils:
Warlordism, War, Journalism And
The High Life In Old Shanghai

Paul French
Thursday, April 19, 2018
6:45pm for 7:00pm – Dinner
7:30pm – Address
1st Floor

Paul French will tell the extraordinary tale of 1940s Shanghai and how it was portrayed at the time in literature and journalism – and in contemporary police reports. The author of the bestselling Midnight in Peking, Mr. French has written a new book called City of Devils that delves into old Shanghai and its glories and sordid disasters. The foreign press corps of old China witnessed the death of a dynasty, the birth of a republic, warlordism, natural disaster, war, occupation and revolution. Their journalism explained China to the world and made some of them famous. Yet their private lives, relationships, interaction with the communities they lived among are distinctly less well-known. The foreign press corps of pre-1949 China have always been sources for Paul French’s writing – both as witnesses to events and as characters. However, the lives they lived, their homes and lifestyles are equally sources of foreign life in Shanghai between the wars. From Edgar and Helen Snow’s sumptuous hutong courtyard home to Emily Hahn’s stylish Shanghai apartment, French looks at the lives behind the headlines and what they tell us about a now vanished old China.

Currently based in London, Paul French lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. He is a widely published analyst and commentator on China. His book Midnight in Peking was a New York Times Bestseller, a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, a Mystery Writers’ of America Edgar award winner for Best Fact Crime and a Crime Writers’ Association (UK) Dagger award for non-fiction. Midnight in Peking will be made into an international mini-series by Kudos Film and Television, the UK creators of Spooks, Broadchurch and Life on Mars.

$250 (MEMBERS)     $325 (GUESTS)
This event is only for club members, their guest and the media
More details here
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Talking Midnight in Peking and City of Devils, Literary Non-Fiction & Old China in general on China Plus radio show

Posted: April 17th, 2018 | No Comments »

My interview with China Plus radio show in Beijing on Midnight in Peking & City of Devils – in audio & sort of transcription – click here

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The Third Degree – The Triple Murder of 3 Chinesemen that Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice

Posted: April 16th, 2018 | No Comments »

I must plug Scott Seligman’s great new book….The Third Degree

Three years in the making, The Third Degree: The Triple Murder that Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice is finally being published! It is already available on Amazon.com

Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Law and Order can probably recite a suspect’s “Miranda rights” by heart. But what most people don’t know is that these rights had their roots in the compelling case of a young Chinese man accused of murdering three of his countrymen in Washington, DC in 1919.

The nation’s capital had never seen anything quite like it: three foreign diplomats assassinated in the city’s tony Kalorama neighborhood, and no obvious motive or leads. The Washington police were baffled. But once they zeroed in on a suspect, they held him incommunicado without formal arrest for more than a week until they had browbeaten him into a confession.

Part murder mystery, part courtroom drama and part landmark legal case, The Third Degree tells the forgotten story of a young man’s abuse by the police and his arduous, seven-year journey through the legal system that drew in Warren G. Harding, William Howard Taft, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John W. Davis and even J. Edgar Hoover. It culminated in a landmark Supreme Court ruling penned by Justice Louis Brandeis that set the stage for Miranda v. Arizona many years later.

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Magnus Hirschfeld & Li Tao – Sexology pioneers in Europe and China, at Beida, 1931

Posted: April 15th, 2018 | No Comments »

Dr Magnus Hirschfeld was an eminent German sexologist and one of the first outspoken advocates for gay and transgender rights. In 1931 he visited China on a world tour. In Shanghai he met a young Chinese man in his early twenties called Li Tao (or Li Shiu-tong, or Li Zhaotong), also studying sexology and sexual minorities. Despite a significant age gap and cultural differences they fell in love. Li acompanied Hirschfeld to Peking and Beida university (below – Li is the man on the right, on the steps in a dark jacket). Then Li agreed to accompany Hirschfeld back to Germany and live with him. Perhaps surprisingly for 1931 China, Li’s parents were accepting of his sexuality and wished him and Hirschfeld bon voyage when they departed. Li’s father, who was I think an academic too, expressed the hope that his son would become the “Hirschfeld of China”.

Unsurprisingly Hirschfeld fell foul of the Nazis and had to leave Germany for France and resettled in Nice. Li Tao was one of the two named heirs of Hirschfeld. I think Li Tao died in Europe in 1993. To my knowledge nobody has ever written a biography of him.


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