Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Voyage East VI - Resupply at Aden

Aden was really the last stop in the Middle East after the trip through Suez. After Aden everything was Asia – the next stop was invariably Bombay. Aden was a natural harbour and a key communications centre for the British. The passenger ships arrived at Tawahi, also known as "Steamer Point" in colonial days.

The British had controlled Aden since 1838 and, in early 1839, the British East India Company landed Royal Marines at Aden to occupy the territory and stop attacks by pirates against British shipping to India. Aden was, for the ships, an important replenishment spot before crossing to India. In the mid-nineteenth century, it became a replenishment spot for water, coal and boiler water.

Until 1937, Aden was ruled as part of British India and was known as the Aden Settlement. Eventually, in 1937, the Settlement was detached from India and became the Colony of Aden, a British Crown colony. Shipping was, to the Brits, what Aden was all about – the Colony’s stamps invariably featured ships (see left).

Aden's location also made it a useful entrepôt for mail passing between places around the Indian Ocean and Europe. Thus, a ship passing from Suez to Bombay could leave mail for Mombasa at Aden for collection. Aden was a crucial staging post for the British empire as the postcard of the British Cable Stations shows (below).

The Voyage East I - Gallions Reach: Where the Journey Began

The Voyage East II - Port Said

The Voyage East III - Alexandria
The Voyage East IV - Through the Canal
The Voyage East V - Suakim, Port Sudan
The Voyage East VII - Gibraltar
The Voyage East VIII - Suez- You Rather Hoped Not

A Final Alternative Chinese New Year Posting - Manchester

After trying to find Chinese New Year in Limehouse and failing totally, I strolled into the Chinese New Year celebrations in Manchester's Chinatown. I have to admit to not knowing Manchester well, which is embarrassing as it is England's second city and I really should have visited it more often. Anyway, remedied that somewhat by strolling around the last few days. Manchester is perhaps one of the best spots to see classic Victorian architecture. Glasgow, Liverpool, Belfast, Newcastle and Leeds all have plenty of Victoriana but Manchester I reckon has more.

Anyway, Manchester's Chinatown is close to Albert Square and the city's glorious Town Hall. This year the Town Hall is decked in Chinese lanterns and planning a big celebration this Sunday on February 1st. Just round the back Chinatown is also decorated and celebrating and looks very nice.

Incidentally, not sure whether or not anyone will draw on the experiences of Prime Minister William Gladstone who's statue stands in Albert Square right in front of the Town Hall and will be surrounded by celebrants welcoming the Ox this Sunday. Gladstone was not a fan of the opium trade - declaring opium the ‘pernicious article’ in 1840.

Gladstone perhaps had good reason to hate opium as his sister was an addict. However, beyond that, as Anne Isba says in her book Gladstone and Women, '...opium was a milestone in his (Gladstone's) political growth: a defining moment in the making of him as a liberal.'

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Slightly Alternative Venue for Chinese New Year - Limehouse

As I’m out of Shanghai and in London for Chinese New Year I thought I still ought to celebrate somehow and go somewhere. As I posted the other day, London has a pretty major Chinese New Year celebration but that’s all up in Gerrard Street. So I decided to pay my respects and head down to Limehouse and Pennyfields, the original old Chinatown of London in the East End.

Regular readers will know I have posted on Limehouse before (see post on Brilliant Chang). I used to visit the area regularly as a little kid in the mid-70s with my Dad who worked all over the East End. Back then there were still some old Chinese people living down there and a couple of restaurants left. I clearly remember going in a school/community centre in Limehouse where old Chinese people were playing Mah-jongg. This must have been about 1976-77.

But all that’s gone now and to be honest pretty much everything was already gone long before. The London County Council (LCC) has slated the old Chinatown for development anyway and then the Luftwaffe finished off the job in the Second World War as most of the remaining Chinese in Limehouse moved West.

So I popped down to Pennyfields for a nostalgic look around.

Pennyfields, the old heart of Chinatown is all council housing now (left is the old street, now all Tower Hamlets council housing)) – none of the original houses are left sadly so you cannot easily get a sense of the old world now gone. Though of course this is the back of the West India Dock and not far from the East India Dock so the road names would have felt familiar to the Chinese at least reflecting where the trade routes were flowing - I've added Canton, Nankin and Pekin Streets below - there's also a Ming and a Mandarin Street too nearby.

If you want to see some images from the BBC of the old Limehouse Chinatown and some Chinese-Cockneys talking about what the old Limehouse was like click here.

So thanks to those bastards in the Luftwaffe who really, really hated Cockneys be they English, Jewish, Chinese or anything else, only the names and the memories remain. Still, it was nice to spend Chinese New Year wandering among ghosts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Anniversary of the Re-opening of the Burma Road

As I think I've mentioned before I'm currently assembling and editing the diaries of an American journalist who travelled from Rangoon to Kunming along the Burma in the spring of 1939. It's a fascinating diary as few others recorded their experiences on the Road that was a vital supply to China for material and arms until the Japanese invasion of Burma. The journalist then travelled on to Chongqing, China's wartime capital, and spent several weeks there interviewing the major figures in the Nationalists and Communists and enduring Japanese air raids - Chongqing was the most heavily bombed city on earth in 1939. While we've read a lot about the London Blitz etc much less is known of everyday life in Chongqing during their 'Blitz' - I hope this book (which should be out in September) will partially remedy that.

Anyway, the Burma Road was forced to close in late July 1940 as the Japanese invaded Burma and the British retreated effectively cutting of China. The Road didn't open again to Allied supply convoys (pictured left and above) until today in 1945. So the anniversary gave me a chance to plug the forthcoming work!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Footage of Shanghai's Longchang Complex

The Guardian's Dan Chung did a nice piece of video footage of the Longchang Apartment complex in Shanghai which is one of the city's more architecturally interesting pre-war housing developments. Originally built by the British it was occupied by the Japanese military after the fall of Shanghai. Years ago I knew a girl who grew up there and thought the flats 'ok' but not much more and the whole place like living in a goldfish bowl.

She'd have disagreed with Chung's title 'Neighbours Take Care of Each Other' - her family moved out because they kept getting robbed and anything left outside got nicked and they got fed up of it. Her family also vehmently denied that the Japanese had occupied the complex too - but that's true of anywhere in Shanghai where the Japanese military lived. I talked to some residents of the once notorious Bridge House jail where many people, foreign and Chinese, were tortured and killed by the Kempetai and everyone (despite being old enough to have been in Shanghai during the war) insisted nothing had happened in their building! They were very superstitious about the whole thing - or perhaps just worried about dampening property prices.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Shanghai Week in London

I’m sojourning in the French family homeland of London for a couple of weeks, a city which apparently now has the second largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of China. Not sure if that is actually true but certainly the nouveau Chinatown around Gerrard Street, Lisle Street etc (historical purists like me still cling to a fondness for Pennyfields and Limehouse) is nicely decorated (left).

This week is also being billed as "Shanghai Week in London" with what appear to be hastily run off ads (such as that below - honestly, where did they get that typeface!) on the Tube. Actually it’s not much of anything – there were planned exhibitions at the V&A linked to past EXPOs, World Fairs etc already and the exhibiting of ancient bronzes from the Shanghai Museum at the British Museum. I posted about these before – click here.

Despite the piss poor poster’s claim to be celebrating Shanghai’s heritage there isn’t much to see – the bronzes come from a Shanghai collection but are from all over China and the V&A exhibition is really about past EXPOs and World Fairs so not much there either excepting some publicity shots of Shanghai FedExed over. What Londoners are making of the official Shanghai 2010 mascot "Haibao" (dubbed Shanghai’s big blue condom) is still unclear to me. All in all a rather shoddy looking and cheap attempt to cash in on two exhibitions without adding anything much else of value. Shame.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Gellhorn Moaning About China

Martha Gellhorn’s 1941 trip to China is a good story, that’s why I’ve included it quite extensively in my forthcoming book on the history of journalists in China – out in June (sorry, a not too subtle plug). The trip had everything – Gellhorn travelled with her grumbling, moaning husband Ernest Hemingway; he was spying for the US State Department anyway. She also eventually decided she wasn’t enjoying herself – she got to hate the dirt and lack of hygiene in wartime China and Chongqing.

Despite her fearless reporter reputation, it seems Gellhorn rather crumbled in China where she didn’t like the toilets. And then she started moaning, and moaning and moaning. I was reminded of this the other day flipping through The Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn, edited by Caroline Moorhead. All the letters are interesting of course as Gellhorn did have a fascinating life and career but the several letter included from her China trip (which included going to Hong Kong and along the Burma Road) reminded me what a moaner she could be when it came to China.

Historical Hong Kong Hikes

Books of walks around Chinese cities are proliferating at the moment. However, many are good –I’ve listed a few recent ones below. David Pickerell’s Historical Hong Kong Hikes looks like a good addition with 15 outlined hikes that emphasise the history of Hong Kong - the Matilda Hospital to the Trappist Monastery on Lantau; landmark sites such as the hillside where a thousand soldiers died in one day during the Battle of Hong Kong, or the place where a British naval force first landed to claim Hong Kong. All are usefully annotated by photographs either by the author himself or from The Hong Kong Museum of History. Outside of Hong Kong bookshops though I’m not sure how you get a copy of the book though. If you're in Hong Kong there's a launch for the book on February 3 at M on the Fringe - see below.

Some other walks books recently that proved interesting

Peter Hibbard -The Bund Shanghai: China Faces West

Eric Abrahamson – Beijing By Foot

Jason Wordie - Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island

Jason Wordie - The Voices of Macao Stones

Anne Warr - Shanghai Architecture Guide

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Road Signs Old and New – Hong Kong

Shanghai recently got its new road signage as noted before a few months ago.

Hong Kong did new road signs ages back but (obviously) I prefer the old ones. So wandering around Hong Kong the other week I noticed that they nicely left a few old signs up by the refurbished Western Market building. Anyway decide for your self between old and new.

A Useful New Guide to Shanghai's Old Clubs

Interesting to see that Shanghai-based Earnshaw Books, who I've regularly plugged, are moving on from just reprinting great old classics on China to publishing new books that look like being very useful to people digging around in the troughs of China history.

Their first original book is Nenad Djordevic's directory of Old Shanghai Clubs and Associations. There's information on more than 2,000 of old Shanghai clubs and associations, both foreign and Chinese and also includes somewhat more informal groups such as those who got together at Gracie Gale's famous bordello or the group of American journalists who became known as the Missouri News Colony. The book covers the period from the 1840s to 1950s in alphabetical order. Nenad (who when he's not researching Shanghai history is the Serbian Consul General in the city) has done a great job and anyone looking for prominent individuals or charting the development/extent of Shanghailander society will find this a useful tool - it comes with a CD-ROM for those youngsters who do their research on electrical thingys.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Taiwan Distribution

A few people have complained to me that they can't get a lot of China books in English and (of course most important to me) my Carl Crow biography in Taiwan. Well, now you can.

Hong Kong University Press is now selling its catalogue through the San Min Book Company (三民書局) in Taiwan. San Min now has more than 250 of HKUP titles (mostly published in recent years) available in their main retail outlet in Taipei and on their on-line bookstore

Good new for book buyers in Taiwan I say obviously!

A Tad More on Anna May

After posting a little last time on Anna May Wong Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei pointed me to a nice video piece by Sexy Beijing on Anna May and the author Graham Hodges.

A nice piece that includes details of Anna May's trip to China in the 1930s that was covered extensively in the newsreels but revealed the split in opinions about Anna May. Madam Chiang for instance disliked her. The piece includes some nice clips and, what many may not realise, that Anna, though looking great, did not have a great voice sadly.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Anna May - From Piccadilly to Dietrich

I note that Danwei today posted a clip from the 1929 Anna May Wong movie Piccadilly. Certainly this movie was made at a fascinating time in Wong’s life – her sojourn in Europe in the late 1920s. She spent time in Berlin and Paris before moving to London to make Piccadilly. She was a sensation in England, renting a Mayfair flat and being received almost as royalty when she headed down to the small Chinatown in Limehouse.

According to Graham Russell Gao Hodges biography of Anna May – Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend – she was “mobbed everywhere she went” in London and girls even tinted their skin to get the “Wong complexion”. As for the movie itself…well, it’s a different era now…but it was apparently the “most talked about film” of 1929 and she was praised for her performance at the time. It was a success – though the advertising for it across Europe might have helped! (left) certainly such posters weren’t going to go up back in the USA!

After making Piccadilly Wong returned to Weimar Berlin (1929 – perhaps one of the most fascinating times to have been in Germany) where she met Marlene Dietrich. Then things got interesting and we got two things that continue to fascinate many: 1) she made the contacts that meant she starred with Dietrich in von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express where both looked sensational (and Dietrich’s stroll down the train and final turn to camera can still make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as she looks so amazing) and 2) we got the enduring rumour that Anna May and Marlene had a brief lesbian affair – Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich together wearing beautiful dresses, drinking and smoking – how Weimar is that!! More proof that some of us were born at the wrong time!!

Incidentally - standing next to Anna May and Marlene is Leni Riefenstahl - while Anna spent the war raising money for China and Marlene fighting the Nazis in her own unique way by entertaining the troops, Riefenstahl went on, of course, to become Hitler's camerwoman.

A Sapajou and an Aspirin

A friend is currently putting together what looks like it will be a fantastic collection of Sapajou cartoons from various newspapers, books and adverts. This prompted me to remember I had a piece of commercial work Sapajou did in 1937 for Aspirin that seemed worth posting (left).

Sapajou was legend in inter-war Shanghai – born Georgii Avksentievich Sapojnikoff, a graduate of the Aleksandrovskoe Military School in Moscow, a Lieutenant of the Russian Imperial Army, an aide-de-camp to a Tsarist General as well as being a veteran of World War One where he was wounded on the battlefield. Invalided out of the army he enrolled in evening classes at the Moscow Academy of Arts to study drawing. The tall, thin and bespectacled Sapajou always limped and walked with a cane as the result of his war injuries though had maintained a pretty good social standing by marrying the daughter of a Tsarist General while in exile in Beijing.

With the victory of Lenin’s Bolsheviks and the ensuing civil war Sapajou came to China. He fell instantly in love with life in Shanghai where he continued doodling and drawing local scenes while he worked out how to rebuild his life. Despite job offers from major newspapers around the world in 1925 he joined the staff of the A friend is currently putting together what looks like it will be a fantastic collection of Sapajou cartoons from various newspapers, books and adverts. This prompted me to remember I had a piece of commercial work Sapajou did in 1937 for Aspirin that seemed worth posting (his own self-portrait left).

Sapajou a legend in inter-war Shanghai – born Georgii Avksentievich Sapojnikoff, a graduate of the Aleksandrovskoe Military School in Moscow, a Lieutenant of the Russian Imperial Army, an aide-de-camp to a Tsarist General as well as being a veteran of World War One where he was wounded on the battlefield. Invalided out of the army he enrolled in evening classes at the Moscow Academy of Arts to study drawing. The tall, thin and bespectacled Sapajou always limped and walked with a cane as the result of his war injuries though had maintained a pretty good social standing by marrying the daughter of a Tsarist General while in exile in Beijing.

With the victory of Lenin’s Bolsheviks and the ensuing civil war Sapajou came to China. He fell instantly in love with life in Shanghai where he continued doodling and drawing local scenes while he worked out how to rebuild his life. Despite job offers from major newspapers around the world in 1925 he joined the staff of the North-China Daily News and continued to produce cartoons for them until 1940 despite only being paid a relatively meagre salary. In his memoir of Shanghai the Englishman Ralph Shaw who worked as a reporter for the North-China Daily News, described Sapajou as ‘the star of the office’.

I’m looking forward to this book as it’s the first real varied collection of Sapajou’s work to appear – although an excellent reproduction of Sapajou’s 1937 Shanghai Schemozzle came out recently and is well worth getting.

No Escape From Chinese History - 3:10 To Yuma

I noted the other day that my relaxation still sees me getting hit by China history related stuff – my attempt to escape it all watching the Western Appaloosa the other day failed.

So I tried again and picked another Western, 3.10 to Yuma with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (yes, I know, the kid out of Empire of the Sun). Of course I should have realised – the old West in the 1870s, a train and a railway are obviously going to figure given the title and yet I was still surprised when Russell Crowe rides into a railway navvies camp and is suddenly surrounded by Chinese railroad workers. I should have seen it coming!!

Still a good movie - a small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who's awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher. Didn’t have any insights into Chinese railroad construction crew lives – but it was interesting to watch all the same.

My quest now is to try and find a film without a China reference!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lin Yu-tang and his Chinese Typewriter

I am editing a manuscript from 1939 at the moment that will hopefully be published later this year – it is the diary of someone that spent most of 1939 in Chongqing, then China’s wartime capital and the most heavily bombed city on earth courtesy of the Japanese. One section recalls a dinner party where Lin Yu-tang was discussed. Lin was an interesting character that not much liked by many in Chongqing for his writings from American on China. They thought him wrong; others thought them jealous of his success as a bestseller. But that’s another argument.

What I had forgotten till I transcribed this passage was that Lin was also an inventor who designed a Chinese typewriter – something I’ve always wanted to find in a flea market but never have…so far (Japanese ones pop up every now and again but rarely Chinese).

Lin worked hard on Gwoyeu Romatzyh, a new method of romanizing the Chinese language, and he created an indexing system for Chinese characters. Since obviously Chinese is a character-based rather than an alphabet-based language it had always been difficult to employ modern printing technologies. For many years it was doubted that a Chinese typewriter could be invented. Lin, however, eventually came up with a workable typewriter which he launched in the middle of the war with Japan. He even trademarked it - Patent No. 2613795 in the USA.

As the picture shows the typewriter was the size of a normal one but the typefaces fit on a drum. A so-called “magic eye” was mounted in the centre of the keyboard and when the user pressed several keys, according to a system Lin devised for his dictionary of the Chinese language, a Chinese character appeared. To select a particular character, the typist then pressed a "master" key, similar to today's computer function key –if you use pinyin software on a computer you’ll recognise the basic process.

Sadly the typewriter was never produced commercially. According Lin's daughter, Lin Tai-Yi, the day Lin was to demonstrate the machine to executives of the Remington Typewriter Company, he couldn’t make it work. Lin ended up deeply in debt.

Others did make it into production - the first typewriter with Chinese characters was produced about 1911-14. The Japanese Nippon Typewriter Co. began producing typewriters with Chinese and Japanese characters in 1917 with a flat bed of 3,000 Japanese characters (which would effectively mean typing only shorthand).The picture left is a Japanese typewriter.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Slight Deviation - Alan Furst and Atmosphere

I know this blog is supposed to be about China and history but I feel compelled to plug Alan Furst. I know he’s been around for a while but I just discovered him browsing last year in a Sydney bookshop where I came across his latest book The Spies of Warsaw. I promptly devoured it on the flight home and immediately sought out everything else Furst has written.

The inter-war period is my period so Furst fits perfectly as his milieu is the eve and early years of the Second World War – spies, refugees, lost souls in occupied Paris, across mittel and Eastern Europe and quite often on passenger ships. White Russian émigré journalists, foreign correspondents living double lives and a host of amazingly seductive women characters - Furst has them all.

But what is most wonderful about Furst for the historian, who isn't hopelessly academic but rather likes the romance of the period, is that he is all about atmosphere – he captures all the style and small details of late thirties (Furst’s is certainly Auden’s 1930s – ‘the low dishonest decade’) and early 40s. Well worth reading all his books – not one is a dud.

I also think Furst has great covers with pictures often as atmospheric as the writing. The cover of The Spies of Warsaw (above, top) is especially captivating summing up all the romance, style and, for some reason, desperation of 1939 Europe. That you can't ever see the face of the women in the embrace is infuriating.Ultimately we, unlike Furst’s characters, know that their world is about to explode into flames and it is that pre-knowledge that makes his books so melancholy, or rather leave the reader with a sense of melancholy.

A Russian Song About Manchuria Recalled

Posting about Manchuria yesterday left me thinking about that part of the world. Manchuria, or Heilongjiang as is now basically, is quite special and does at times feel different from the rest of the China – indeed some Chinese seriously considered the notion of Manchurian independence after the Second World War which you don't hear talked about much now!

I was also thinking about the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 which was fought largely on Chinese Manchurian soil and had so much to do with later Japanese desires over the region. I’d always known there was a song the Russian soldiers sang (left - Cossacks fighting in 1905) called The Hills of Manchuria – bizarrely I once heard a Red Army choir sing it in a draughty, freezing cold Hall of the People in Vladimir in the “Golden Ring” outside Moscow one winter around 1988-89. I’d gone to see a vast outdoor museum where wooden churches had been brought to Suzdal from across the Soviet Union (apparently on the orders of Lenin after the Bolshevik Revolution) and there was also an amazing collection of Andrei Rublev icons locally.

However, Suzdal and nearby Vladimir town centres were still very Soviet - nothing in the shops, the main road badly repaired and so we accepted the invitation to see the show in the hope it would be warmer in the theatre than in our chilled hotel rooms – it wasn’t. But the show was good - a Red Army choir is right up there with a bunch of Volga Boatmen or some Welsh Miners. The programme was a series of revolutionary songs, then songs from the Second World War (“The Great Patriotic War” in Suzdal of course) and finally a few oddities thrown in for good measure and one was The Hills of Manchuria which struck a chord with me obviously being interested in China and also as it was the only pre-revolutionary song they sang that night – but I guess a Russian soldier is a Russian soldier and fighting for the Tsar or the General Secretary doesn’t make much difference in the end.

I also like to think that The Hills of Manchuria appeals to the Russian soul as it was a 1988, a depressing time of shortages and everyone knew the end of the USSR was coming (it was ‘when’ not ‘if’ by this point) and a grand failure, as the 1905 war was, for Russia probably appealed to some. Anyway I decided to dig out the words – remember this was a soldier’s song, sung by them as they retreated in defeat (left) and left Manchuria for the long walk back to Russia (the reference to ‘kaoliang’ by the way is to the tall grass found everywhere in Manchuria and that makes the local sorghum booze)

The Hills of Manchuria (1905)

Music by I.A. Shatrov, lyrics by S. Petrov

Around us, it is calm. Hills are covered by darkness.

Suddenly, the moon shines through the clouds,

Graves hold their calm.

The white glow of the crosses — heroes are asleep.

The shadows of the past circle around,

Recall again and again the victims of battles.

Around us, it’s calm; the wind blew the fog away,

Warriors are asleep on the hills of Manchuria

And Russian weeping cannot be heard.

Dear mother is shedding tears,

The young wife is weeping

All like one are crying,

Cursing fate, cursing destiny!

Let kaoliang’s rustling lull you to sleep,

Rest in peace, heroes of the Russian land,

Dear Fatherland’s sons.

You fell for Russia, perished for Fatherland,

Believe us, we shall avenge you

And celebrate a bloody wake

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Japanese Occupation of Manchuria - Some Background Might be Useful For Some

The Shanghaiist web site (which admittedly nobody would ever accuse of being an intellectual salon) decided to post some old footage of Manchuria in 1938 recently. It’s interesting but they rather glibly noted the province as being ‘under the Japanese’. A little more historical background might have been useful here as this is a startling piece of bold pro-Japanese occupation propaganda and needs a little context I feel.

The Japanese of course invaded Manchuria after the 1931 Mukden (Shenyang) Incident. This was a provocation staged by the Japanese and blamed on the Chinese as an excuse to annex Manchuria (see Japanese troops entering Mukden left and above). It was, in effect, round one in the Sino-Japanese War that was to escalate in 1937 – remember when you watch the video – that the bombing of Shanghai and the Rape of Nanking has already taken place so few could be in any doubt how horrific (and genocidal) life under Japanese occupation could be.

There was of course Chinese resistance to the occupation, most notably the divisions led by General Ma Zhanshan, who became a national hero for a while. Manchuria remained under Japanese occupation until 1945 (see Japanese Renault manufactured tank in Manchuria left). As well as the repression of Nationalist Chinese during the period, the rape and pillaging, enslaved 'comfort women', the Japanese asset stripping of Chinese industry and hoarding of their food, they also sought to infliltrate large amounts of opium into China to weaken the resistance of the army for what the Japnese high command in Manchuria knew was the coming war to take control of all of China. Koreans and Chinese became forced labourers and can be seen in the video working. It was a time of great evil.

Outside China the Japanese occupation of Manchuria is rarely talked about much these days though it was bloody (Japanese troops in Manchuria left). So people are able to glibly stick up unbackgrounded videos like this. I doubt a video of ‘Paris 1943’ would be put up without some more background on the occupation of the city by the Nazis, the acxtions of the French Resistance, the deporation of the Jewish community to the death camps etc.

Chen Guangming in the Asia Literary Review

Coal mining in China has been prominent in the news in the last few years mostly due to the continued tragedies in the industry. However, miners in China, as I’d argue miners everywhere, are one group of workers who best symbolize that most unfashionable but stirring phrase ‘the dignity of labour’. This is true in China I think whether they work in the newer modern mines as mining professionals or the illegal pits where they take terrible chances to feed their families.

The Winter issue of the Asia Literary Review has a series of remarkable and poignant portrait paintings of Chinese miners by Chen Guangming. They are extremely striking and, while I’m not sure I’d want one hanging on the wall reminding me of how tough life is for some compared to me, they do make you stop and think about work, struggle, life and the dignity of the working class. Again of course none of this is fashionable in the era of asset stripping hedge fund managers and Bernie Madoff but I’m old school about such things.

The artist, Chen Guangming, hails from Inner Mongolia and studied at the Central Institute of Fine Art in China. He is now based in Peking. He apparently follows the ‘one exact brushstroke school’ with no reworking which makes the detail of the portraits even more remarkable.

In the Asia Literary Review he has also written a commentary to accompany his portraits of the miners which focuses on their working conditions, low incomes and sadly their meagre status in society where they are too often looked down on as unskilled while believe it or not people who work for McKinsey are considered highly skilled geniuses!! As they used to say about taxi drivers in Shanghai in the 1930s who looked down on rickshaw pullers – I met a lot of rickshaw pullers who could drive a taxi but rarely a taxi driver would last long pulling a rickshaw! In other words when the office lights go out because the power station’s got no coal who you going to call? – McKinsey!!

To see more of Chen’s portraits see the Asia Literary Review or the Wellington Gallery’s web site from Hong Kong.