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

Choys of Frith Street Menu – Early 1950s

Posted: April 29th, 2024 | No Comments »

I posted some time ago about Choys, one of post-war London’s best known and much loved Chinese restaurants on Frith Street, Soho. You can see that post here. My thanks then to ChinaRhyming reader Jonathan Sanders for sending me a menu from the 1950s that his mother kept after visiting the restaurant as a young woman. Quite extensive and well worth reading through. I would note that no alcoholic drinks are included. Most Chinese restaurants were not licensed (I suppose due to the ever-arcane UK licensing laws), however arrangements were made with pubs in the area – the old Shanghai Restaurant on Greek Street, round the corner, had a deal with the old Pillars of Hercules pub (recently sadly gutted and turned into some non-entity of a bar) next door to deliver in beer and wine.

By the way – for Londoners – 45 Frith Street is now the Zima Russian Restaurant.

Some Images of Stella Benson

Posted: April 27th, 2024 | No Comments »

Stella Benson (1892-1933), feminist, novelist, poet, travel writer and China sojourner who went to China with her husband James (Shaemas) O’Gorman Anderson who worked with the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs. They lived in Nanning, Beihai and Hong Kong. She talks about her China experiences in her books Worlds Within Worlds, and her most famous novel The Far-Away Bride. She was obviously connected back in England despite living in rather remote places for much of her married life – as witnessed by her portrait by Wyndham Lewis below. She died in Tonkin.

Benson with pupils – Hong Kong 1920
Benson in China c.1930 seeking serenity
Stella Benson by Wyndham Lewis, 1932
Benson and her dog Penko – Pakhoi 1933 – shortly before her death

Manchouli, William Empson’s China Poems #1

Posted: April 26th, 2024 | No Comments »

The following short poem by Empson (1906-1984) is from his 1940 collection, The Gathering Storm (London: Faber & Faber). The poems in the collection were written between Empson’s time in Japan around 1933 and then in China, around 1939. Empson had been given a three-year contract to teach at Peking University but, upon arrival discovered that, due to the Japanese invasion of China, he no longer had a post. He joined the exodus of the university’s staff to Kunking and the hastily organised Lianda (Southwest Associated University). At some point Empson passed through Manchouli (Manzhouli) on the Russo-Inner Mongolian border….


I find it normal, passing these great frontiers,

That you scan the crowds in rags eagerly each side

With awe; that the nations seem real; that their ambitions

Having such achieved variety within one type, seem sane;

I find it normal;

So too to extract false comfort from that word.

The Guardian’s Five of the best books to understand modern China….

Posted: April 25th, 2024 | No Comments »

Excellent to see Bloomsbury Asian Arguments Tenth Anniversary edition of Leta Hong Fincher’s Leftover Women on this great list from Amy Hawkins in The Guardian…. (some other wise choices too) – click here to read the list…

Sketching Hong Kong — The Drawings of Eddie Chau

Posted: April 25th, 2024 | No Comments »

Sketching Hong Kong — The Drawings of Eddie Chau (from Hong Kong University Press), edited by Phoebe Wong.

A gifted watercolourist and educator, Eddie Chau’s skill in depicting the lush natural environment was first recorded in the paintings he executed as a young adult in the mid-1960s in Indonesia. Documenting the rural environment in and around Bandung, his work is exemplary in terms of his attention to detail and the colour palette employed to render the village scenes in a warm light. These early years were followed by material scarcity and simpler monochrome drawings executed in China’s Guangdong province, further developing his genius for observing and recording both larger pictorial contexts and minuscule details.

Arguably the best-known and most widely collected of Chau’s works are the panoramic views of Hong Kong’s landscapes which he made in watercolour and pen. Primarily documentary in character, Chau’s depictions incorporate a rich and fantastical palette. Often seen from vantage points on the Peak or from Lion Rock, or drawn as imaginary bird’s-eye views, his paintings are extraordinary testaments to the magnificence that Chau saw in Hong Kong. 

Chau’s contribution to the art scene is encapsulated in his numerous view-paintings that memorialise Hong Kong in what are considered exemplary paintings, as well as crucial historical documents recording a city undergoing continuous waves of urban development. This comprehensive monograph bears witness to the artist’s nearly sixty-year-long career and will serve as a significant contribution to the study of the history of local Hong Kong art for years to come.

Eddie Chau (1945–2020) was a Chinese painter born in Bandung, Indonesia. When the anti-Chinese riots broke out in 1965, many overseas Chinese returned home. Eventually settling in Hong Kong in 1992, Eddie became known for his panoramic watercolour landscapes of Hong Kong.

Jack Braga’s Ex-Libris

Posted: April 24th, 2024 | No Comments »

 The ex-libris of historian, bibliophile & philanthropist José Maria “Jack” Braga, whose family settled in Macao in 1712 and moved to Hong Kong in 1842. After a stint working for HSBC in Hong Kong, Braga moved to Macao in 1922 to teach at Seminario de São Jose & Liceu de Macau. In the 1920s he was a founder of Diario de Macau and Reuters man in Macao throughout the Second World War…

BBC Radio 4’s The Invention of China, Ep1 – The First Emperor

Posted: April 23rd, 2024 | No Comments »

Who was the first emperor of China? Why was he the ‘first’? What was ‘China’ under the Qin? Ep1 The Invention of China in BBC Radio 4 with Misha Glenny with Linda Jaivin, Frances Wood, Steve Tsang, Tania Branigan, me & others – now on

Japanese Modernist Painters in Seattle, 1910-1970 – 25/4/24 – Daiwa Foundation, London

Posted: April 23rd, 2024 | No Comments »

Japanese Modernist Painters in Seattle, 1910-1970

Thursday 25 April 2024 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Daiwa Foundation Japan House – 13/14 Cornwall Terrace (Outer Circle) – London NW1 4QP
Paul Horiuchi, George Tsutakawa, Zoe Dusanne, John Matsudaira, and Kenjiro Nomura at the Zoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle, 1952.  Photo: Elmer Ogawa

In this talk, David F. Martin will discuss the art of Japanese-American painters active in Seattle, Washington in the early to mid- 20th century. Beginning with the first generation Issei to the next generation of Nisei, several of these artists achieved national and international reputations during their lives. However, their careers and personal lives suffered from being interned in incarceration camps on the American west coast during WWII. Martin will feature a wide range of styles practised by these artists from impressionism to modernism and abstraction. He will present rare images of paintings completed by some of the artists during their incarceration.

David F. Martin is American curator and writer specializing in the art history of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest associated with Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds, Washington, USA. For over thirty years, his career has focused on women, Japanese and Chinese Americans, gay & lesbian and other American minorities who had established national and international reputations during the period 1890-1960.

More details and booking here