Thursday, May 28, 2009

We have moved: Please visit!

We are pleased to announce we are moving this site to its own domain: Please go there from now on. New posts will no longer appear on this Blogspot blog (which is currently blocked in China).

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See you at the new site.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Deviation Posting: Time for a Good Left-Wing Read

The other day I had a meeting here in Shanghai with a visiting private equity type from America. He was extremely young in a sort of faux-donnish style and extremely right wing which made the non-essential chit-chat rather gruesome. As we parted he gave me a gift – a copy of Ann Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. He assured me that this was helping him through the current hard economic times when he felt his basic values might be challenged by such outrageous hard line socialists as Obama. I was naturally graceful in acceptance though having read it many years ago knew how distasteful I personally found the book and its message. Ho, hum.

Anyway, that got me wondering what classics we should be digging out and then by complete accident (serendipity I guess you’d call it) I came across The Independent’s feature - Black and white and red all over: Left-wing reads.

I’ll assume their first choice – Mao’s Little Red Book – was a joke

Then we get:

2) Robert Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists from 1910 which I agree is a timeless classic – it’s been 20 years since I read it so that might be a good one to re-read

3) Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth from 1961 – ashamed to say have never read

4) Emma Goldman’s Living my Life from 1931 – a great read and reminds us there’s historically been more choice in American politics than the risible differences between Bush and Obama

5) Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex from 1949 – which I personally remember as a bit of a slog

6) Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath from 1939 – which I’m sure reads today as well as the first time I read it as a teenager

7) Gramsci‘s Prison Notebooks from 1929-35 – which I confess to occasionally still dipping into to keep on track

8) Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole from 1932 - which remains a classic British novel though rarely read I fear these days

9) Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done? From 1862 – which I did read ages ago but none has remained in my mind sadly

10) Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness from1928 – never read, sorry

11) Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front from 1928 – which dad made us all read as kids to learn to hate war – it worked!

12) Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle from 1906 – which, talking of my dad, is his favourite book and which made a huge impression on me as a kid

13) Zola’s Germinal from 1885 – but then anything from Zola including especially I think La Bete Humaine would do

14) Marx’s Capital from 1867 – still original and best

15) Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England from 1845 – which I re-read recently over a long weekend in Manchester and is still great (there’s also an apparently an excellent new biography of Engels out too)

16) Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women from 1792 – of course

17) Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s A New Civilisation from 1935 – questionable this one – important at the time certainly; the social engineering and USSR admiration comes over a little trite now though

18) Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia from 1938 – which is of course (as is everything) great and Orwell a God but if it was my list…as a socialist classic Road to Wigan Pier or Down and Out in London and Paris would win out

19) CLR James’ The Black Jacobins from 1938 – a classic from a great man – a socialist who loved cricket – now that’s who should run the world!

20) Rosa Luxemburg’s The Junius Pamphlet from 1916 – fascinating but I’m over by teenage crush on Rosa these days

A very interesting list and only a few I’d add:

Jon Don Passos’ USA – which make a mark on me as a lad
Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying
Rudolf Rocker’s Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism
Anything by Tony Negri
And probably a few others that’ll come back to me as soon as I’ve posted this!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shanghai Race Club - 75th Anniversary

The one thing most people know about old Shanghai is that there was a race club and it was massively popular. A friend and another long-term Shanghailander Byron Constable has started to really get moving on his long awaited Shanghai Race Club board game. It’s a game where you can bet on the races at the old Shanghai club. I played a very early prototype version of the game and had fun as did the 7 year old with us – so ‘fun for all the family’ as they say though I’m sure there are purists who will argue with me – “you let a 7 year old gamble!!”

Anyway, Byron’s also organising Shanghai Race Club Champagne Brunch on Sunday the 17th May (like many modern day Shanghailanders the concept of the Champagne Brunch seems to have an especial appeal – can there by anywhere else where people obsess and get excited about such a thing as Shanghai – I fear not). A bit of promotion for the board game but also to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Shanghai Race Club (building and grandstand as seen left). It should be interesting as Peter Hibbard, author of The Bund and éminence grise of Shanghai’s Royal Asiatic Society will give a short talk on the history of the old race club and I’m told a few words will be said by Danny Du, great-grandson of Shanghai gangster Du Yue Sheng.

Anyway – details of the brunch here – which is being held at Kathleen’s 5 which is on the roof of the old Race Club building (now the Shanghai Art Museum though those with longer memories will remember it as the library and only those with really old memories will now remember it as the Race Club!). Kathleen’s 5 is a rooftop place so you get a view over what was the Race Course, now the morass of People’s Square.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nazis on the Huang Pu

That’s Shanghai magazine put together a series of features on Nazis in Shanghai (back in the 1930s and 1940s that is rather than any knocking about now). Of course given Shanghai’s cosmopolitanism there were plenty of Nazis and they were pretty well organised and had, obviously, a Jewish community to hate too.

Of course the series of articles are far from definitive on the subject and, to be fair, you wouldn’t expect that. A full book on the subject remains to be written. There’s also a piece on Dai (Tai) Li and the fascistic Blue Shirts in Shanghai, the major Nazi Party leaders in Shanghai, a tie in with the opening of the new Sino-German movie about John Rabe (who was a Nazi Party member) and (beware plug coming!) an excerpt from my imminently forthcoming book on foreign journalists in China about the Nazi and anti-Nazi press in Shanghai during the period.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Old Cemeteries, Graveyards and Remains

For some reason I’ve been thinking about old cemeteries in China recently (and did post about the Cimetière Française de Kilung). Not sure how this started, probably a conversation with a friend about the fact that Beijing and Shanghai appear to be among some of the few major cities internationally that have no cemeteries in their inner cities left. Shanghai certainly has no equivalent of Highgate Cemetery in London or the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris. Other cities of course also have their traditional cemeteries – get the bus from Hong Kong’s Central to Aberdeen and you pass the vast cemeteries somewhere up behind Happy Valley while I stayed recently in KL at a city centre hotel whose swimming pool overlooked a Chinese graveyard behind the property while in Malacca you can wander among the graves of the city’s former Dutch and English traders.

Of course I’ve visited the vast cemeteries now on Shanghai’s fringes but the downtown cemeteries are all built on. Interestingly no one much, in what can be a very superstitious city, seems bothered by this and I have no idea whether the old graveyards were just churned up or remains taken away. Some of the city’s most notorious buildings sit above former graveyards – the Pearl Oriental Tower must, at least in part, be built over the old Pootung Point graveyard while the fascistic architectural horror that is the JW Marriot at the ridiculously named Tomorrow Square sits on land (according to my old map of Shanghai) that was also a graveyard. Much the same appears to be true of Beijing – I recently went looking for a graveyard noted in an old record but it was firmly gone under the concrete of the Second Ring Road. As far as I could ascertain there was no formal removal of remains to anywhere else.

A few other cemetery related observations noted recently:

I just read Philip Pan’s excellent Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China which has a fascinating chapter on a surviving graveyard full of people who died in the Cultural Revolution- that it survived was remarkable; that people were intrigued and cataloguing the dead there a fascinating example of how not everyone accepts that all in China should just forget the CR in the rush to the glory and wonder of total KFCification.

I also recently bumped into Dvir Bar-Gal (at an incredibly bad talk by someone on the history of Baghdadi Jews in Shanghai by the way, where the speaker would neither discuss opium, slum landlordism or anything that might have reflected badly on the likes of Sassoon, Hardoon etc – really a very bad example of history as celebrity PR) who has done so much to preserve the Jewish headstones of Shanghai when he can find them. His latest efforts are noted in an article on the JTA website. Dvir notes that, ‘The four cemeteries that once served this city’s (Shanghai’s) small but prosperous Jewish community disappeared in the late 1960s during China’s Cultural Revolution. The sites were paved over to build a factory, park, hotel and Muslim cemetery, their history forgotten.’

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Gurkhas, Justice and a National Embarrassment

It’s hard to be anything but disgusted with the British government’s attitude to the Gurkha’s and the pension row. The history of the Gurkas as fighting men in the pay of Britain goes back a long - Gurkhas served as troops under contract to the East India Company. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Gurkhas fought on the British side, and became part of the British Indian Army on its formation. The 2nd Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) made a particularly notable contribution during the conflict, and indeed twenty-five Indian Order of Merit awards were made to men from that regiment during the Siege of Delhi. Their exploits and courage are of course legendary - the Gurkha momument in London pictured left.

From the end of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 until the start of the First World War the Gurkha Regiments saw active service in Burma, Afghanistan, the North-East and the North-West Frontiers of India, Malta (the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78), Cyprus and Malaya. Naturally, as I hope most people know, the Gurkha’s were of course on the front line in WW1 (200,000 served with 20,000 casualties), WW2 and the Falklands among other recent conflicts. A Gurkha light infantry group pictured left about 1890.

For the purposes of this blog it’s worth remembering that the Gurka’s also saw active service in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 (Gurkhas in China are pictured left) and Tibet during Younghusband's bloody Expedition of 1905. I’m not going to argue whether or not any of the wars above were politically acceptable – the Gurkha’s were a key part of the military arm of the British Empire obviously. Still, the current (and long running – all my life as far as I can remember) row about why Gurkhas receive smaller pensions than their British equivalents sticks in the throat as fundamentally unfair, racist and a prime example of petty government penny saving.

There is a campaign currently running to support Gurkhas and pressure the UK government into giving more help and equal treatment to Gurkhas, called Gurkha Justice that has caught the public’s imagination and widespread support. A motion was voted on in the House of Commons on the 29th April 2009 by the Liberal Democrats that all Gurkhas be offered an equal right of residence in the UK. This resulted in a defeat for the Government by 267 votes to 246, the first, first day motion defeat for a government since 1978. The Commons vote is not binding, but it represents an embarrassment for the government. Yet Phil Woolas, the immigration minister (and, as I well remember a nasty little self-centred careerist when he was head of the National Union Students in my college days - a real horrible little greasy pole climber who obviously hasn't changed one jot) continues to prevaricate and pettifog.

If you want to support the campaign for full Gurkha Justice – on their site you can sign the petition calling calling on the UK Government to act immediately to change the law to allow all retired Gurkhas the right to stay in the UK, without reservation. (By the way if you sign the online petition you subsequently get a thank you email from none other than Joanna Lumley, which for all Englishmen of a certain age is rather thrilling!)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Nanjing Massacre Films

Two films are doing the rounds at the moment concerned with the Nanjing Masscare of 1937 - Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death, from the point of view of the city's military defense, civilian refugees, and Japanese invaders, and John Rabe, a Sino-German production, looking at the Massacre through the experiences of the title character, a German businessman with Siemens and Nazi Party member in China who helped set up a refugee zone in the city.

I haven't had a chance to see either film - and may well never see either as I don't watch TV much and never go to the cinema. Still they're hard to ignore and should be interesting one way or another for the reaction to them in China. Danwei has a post on both films and some initial reactions which I'll just link to for now.