Saturday, 30 March 2013

"Hott Hedz" - Part 8

"Then Miguel handed me my suture kit and I began readying myself as he rolled the trolley away through the door out of the exhibition space. I was good to go when I felt his hand on my shoulder and I heard him whisper, ‘Ssshh!’

I slowly craned my head upwards. There, above us, suspended in space, was the security guard on his nightly rounds. He paused on the plexiglass floor and sent his flashlight beam into the surrounding shadows of the foyer. I could see past his trouser cuffs to the mis-matched, non-regulation socks he was wearing..."

Friday, 29 March 2013

Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes

BRADBURY, Ray, Something Wicked This Way Comes (2008), Gollancz / Orion Publishing Group / A Hachette Livre (UK) Co., London
Octavo; illustrated wrappers; 265pp. Mild wear to the covers; else, near fine.

Ah! The Classics!

I hadn’t read this for a long time; in fact it’s been ages since I picked up any Bradbury at all. I have developed a kind of hesitation about re-visiting books that I enjoyed in my youth: I tend to think that, when I first read something, I’m in a heightened state and I suck the material in like a greedy sponge; I’m so eager to consume that I miss the subtleties or overlook things that seem irrelevant at the time. Of course, if I’ve come away from the experience thinking “Man! That was the best book ever!”, I sometimes find that a second perusal years later is a bit disappointing. With this in mind, I was deliberating whether or not to pick this volume up at all.

I’ve never been a big fan of so-called “hard sci-fi”: you can keep your Asimovs and Clarkes; they’re not for me. I find them cold, and overly-technical, especially since they dwell on things that don’t – and often won’t - exist. I remember reading, at the insistence of my gaming referee of the time who told me that it would provide “insights for my character”, a book by Greg Bear: the frustration of wading through over 300 pages of highly theoretical, fictional, quantum physics, made my teeth buckle outwards. At the other extreme there’s Clifford Simak whose scientific strangeness is over-burdened by big-bosomed women striding around naked through warp fields and teleportals, because “that’s how we’ll be living in the future”. I don’t think.

Bradbury, to my mind, is the precursor to the Cyberpunk genre of Scifi. Rather than simply dissect a technological phenomenon, he shows the impact of such developments upon society and, more particularly, the human psyche. Writers such as Phillip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard do likewise. They were ‘dystopian’ before that was a cool word to use in a sentence. The human condition is a constant throughout their writings and we see possibilities and terrors through its meetings with strange and unknown forces: in this sense, their writings are more believable to us because we recognise and empathise with the reactions of the characters that they write. When Mr Simak and his ilk toss a semi-clad, ray-gun-wielding, space vixen at me wearing a glass-bubble helmet - without a trace of irony - I just roll my eyes and move on.

Bradbury’s work crosses boundaries because of this focus upon the characters and their responses; the ‘strangenesses’ he presents range a wide spectrum from totalitarian governance (Fahrenheit 451; “The Pedestrian”), to technology-run-wild (“A Sound of Thunder”) to mystical horror (The October Country). It’s because he stresses the humanity of his creations and their visceral responses, that he is able to write so convincingly about the unknown and unknowable. Something Wicked This Way Comes is a case in point.

This story revolves around the lives of two boys, coming of age in a small Midwestern town in early Autumn. Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are best friends and neighbours, each born one minute either side of Hallowe’en in the same year. Will is bright and outgoing, while Jim is sardonic and reserved: they are, in fact, polar opposites in terms of personality but nevertheless, sworn blood brothers. Their troubles begin when a carnival enters the town unexpectedly: Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

The carnival is an embodiment of evil, offering visitors all desires and tempting them with dangerous deals and terrifying visions. Will and Jim see several townsfolk adversely affected by the machinations of the Shadow Show and they become targets for the insidious, tattooed, Mr Dark and his agents. Things get bad for the boys – not least because the negatively-geared Jim is seriously tempted by what the carnival has to offer – and they become increasingly isolated: no-one will believe them and the town is predisposed to welcome the carnies, who are, after all, adults. In desperation, they turn to Will’s dad, a man they have relegated to the status of old, ineffectual and emasculated of purpose.

Mr Halloway is a janitor at the local library, and often spends time there after hours, reading through the gathered wisdom of its pages. Having married late in life and feeling distanced from Will by the gulf of years between them, he compares unfavourably to Jim’s absent dad who disappeared years earlier, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves: this level of dynamism and arrogance, though cruel, is too much for the sedate Mr Halloway to compete with in the boys’ minds. Ultimately, Will’s dad takes the boys under his wing and hides them in the library, where he has researched all things pertinent to dangerous carnivals, in an attempt to outfox the wily Mr Dark:

[He arranged the books] in a great literary clock on a table, like someone learning to tell a new time. So he paced round and round the huge clock squinting at the yellowed pages as if they were mothwings pinned dead to the wood.

Here lay a portrait of the Prince of Darkness. Next a series of fantastic sketches of the Temptations of St. Anthony. Next some etchings from the Bizarie by Giovanbatista Bracelli, depicting a set of curious toys, humanlike robots engaged in various alchemical rites. At five minutes to twelve stood a copy of Dr Faustus, at two lay an Occult Iconography; at six under Mr Halloway’s trailed fingers now, a history of circuses, carnivals, shadow shows, puppet menageries inhabited by mountebanks, minstrels, stilt-walking sorcerers and their fantoccini. More: A Manual of the Air Kingdoms (Things That Fly Down History). At nine sharp: By Demons Possessed, lying atop Egyptian Philtres, lying atop the Torments of the Damned, which in turn crushed flat The Spell of Mirrors. Very late up the literary clock one named Locomotives and Trains, The Mystery of Sleep, Between Midnight and Dawn, The Witches’ Sabbath, and Pacts With Demons, It was all laid out. He could see the face.”

But in order to defeat the labyrinthine plotting of Messrs. Cooger and Dark, the two boys and Will’s father need to not only do their research, they must also discover their own limits and weaknesses and re-learn the trust that they each have placed in one another. (I’m not interested in posting spoilers, so I won’t tell you how it all turns out, even though I’m sure most of you know the ending already.)

What struck me this time around – particularly given my peccadilloes – was the literary references, as indicated by the above quote. I remembered from years earlier that Jim asks for a book on pterodactyls when they visit the library at the start of the book, but the rest had passed unnoticed by me at the time. It shows, I think, that Bradbury writes on several levels that can entertain young and old readers alike, without distancing either party. A truly masterful skill.

It makes me wonder what all the fuss is about the young-adult fiction blockbuster writers of today. I’ve read Rowling and Meyers and Stiefvater and none of them is a patch on Bradbury (although Rowling, albeit overblown, is better by far than the other two). Coming back to this book makes me wonder why they bothered. I guess that sometimes in our modern-day search for “the Next” and “the New”, we forget that it’s been done already.

As a kid one of my favourite books was a collection of Bradbury’s short fiction entitled Golden Apples of the Sun and many of those tales still resonate with me today, especially “The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl”, which sucked me in completely and startled the hell out of me. Another favourite was The October Country, with its mind-blowing head-liner Homecoming (I always wanted an Uncle Einar in my family!). I think I’m going to have to track all these down and disappear on a Bradbury-bender for awhile...

In the meantime, this has (of course) five tentacled horrors.


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Welcome to Shanghai!

Babylon on the Whangpoo – 1842 to 1911

In the 10th century, Shanghai was already established. At that stage it was a mere fishing village named ‘Hu Tu’, after the hu, or bamboo stakes, which held the fishermen’s nets in place. By the seventeenth century, the city had grown into a major port in the trading junk routes, being situated approximately halfway along the coastline of China and only 14 miles from the mouth of the Yangtsze River. To repel attacks from Japanese and other pirates, the city was enclosed by a wall, three and a half miles around. Like all Chinese cities, it had gates at all four compass points and a grid of parallel north-south and east-west streets; there was a main temple and yamen to the north and an alarm drum tower in the centre. At night, the gates would have been closed by a curfew and not re-opened until the dawn. With the establishment of the treaty ports and the coming of the foreigners, this was all about to change.

‘Chinatown’: the Old Chinese City (aka. ‘Nantao’)

The foreign legations established themselves around the old Chinese city, turning it into an island. The original walls had long outlived their usefulness but now the Chinese residents found themselves forced to cram back inside these limits. Driven from the outlying territory, the Shanghainese were suddenly competing for a very limited living area. Many merchants moved their shops north to Foochow Road or Nanking Road, opting to live over their premises and thus beat the squeeze. Roads within the old city became narrower and the buildings taller. Overnight, the regular pattern of the original town plan was turned into a cramped and twisting maze of narrow lanes and backstreets.

The old city at once became a high density microcosm of Chinese culture. The streets were packed with people moving to and from their work: coolies, barrow-men, jinricksha operators. Stalls lined the already narrow lanes making traffic issues a deadly hazard; purveyors of food and drink, medical practitioners, calligraphers and spice sellers all cried their wares and services to the passing parade of potential customers. To the Westerners, this locale was fraught with danger. The crowds and the smell were simply overwhelming to foreign sensibilities and they consciously avoided going there.

The Chinese didn’t mind. Within the walls, a relaxed atmosphere prevailed, free from the artificiality imposed by Western attitudes. In the hot weather, shop owners sat before their stores stripped to the waist and fanning their bellies to stay cool; in the legation quarters, the same businessmen wore long blue robes and regarded pulling up their sleeves – even in the hottest weather – as ‘unprofessional’. Opium dens and the houses of concubines flourished in the Chinese City, along with gambling establishments, from which the clatter of mah-jong tiles could be heard at all hours.

The daily round of activity within the Chinese City included regular festivals; in fact, Westerners often boggled at the sheer number of festivals the Chinese celebrated in the course of a year. Winding parades of monks or dancers, accompanied by the shrill clashing of cymbals and the popping of fireworks added to the already overwhelming atmosphere within the walls and made the place an even more alien realm to the foreigners.

Within the old city, Chinese law ruled. All Chinese citizens fell under the jurisdiction of the yamen here, although, if caught in flagrante outside this locale, they were prey to the foreign courts which prevailed there. Generally speaking, the Chinese had no say over extradition matters in attempts to reclaim their people from other districts; however, they certainly never surrendered their people to Foreign Justice once they were safely within their own walls.

The Chinese organised their own police force and fire patrols within the Old City; they also enacted their own system of regulatory statutes to maintain peace and order. Outside, the rest of Shanghai (theoretically, all of Shanghai) was run by the Shanghai Municipal Council and the Concession Council but these bodies were generally happy to let the Chinese alone. The Chinese had no representative rights at all on either of these boards but were allowed to witness public meetings and even voice opinions in open sessions (whether they were listened to or not was another matter entirely).

Population pressures forced the Chinese residents to breach their walls and move further south, along the banks of the Whangpoo River and Sillawei Creek. Those living here initially fell outside of Chinese law and if caught felt the full weight of either French or Settlement justice. This expansion was the first stage of what would come to be called the Municipality of Greater Shanghai – i.e., everything outside of the settlement areas. At the southern end of the Bund (away from the French waterfront area) and along the shores of the creek mouth, a flotilla of junks became almost permanently tethered, a floating population of Chinese residents in every sense of the word.

Numbered Locations in the Old Chinese City:

1 Temple of the City God – This temple was restored and elaborated upon during the Ming Dynasty by Pan Yunduan, who was also the builder of the Yu Yuan Garden. It contains a noteworthy image of the Buddha, plated in gold.

2 Chinese Bazaar – This open area is daily flooded with vendors from outlying regions selling the goods they have on offer: fruits and vegetables, exotic spices, animals of all kinds. Almost anything can be found here for those diligent enough to search and haggle.

3 Yu Yuan Garden (‘Garden of Contentment’) – This ancient enclave was begun in 1559 by Pan Yunduan, a Ming Dynasty official, as a gift to his father. Its main feature is a small lake traversed by a nine zig-zag bridge (designed to confuse demons) in the middle of which is a sumptuous pavilion. This feature is said to have inspired the design on the famous Willow Pattern tea service made in Sheffield, England. Other buildings in the Garden contain libraries and collections of calligraphic works. The entire area is maintained by the monks of the City God Temple and permission to enter the pavilions and peruse the collections within must be obtained from them.

4 Temple of Confucius – the Confucian Temple in the Old City is an elegant, pleasantly proportioned complex including a small but exquisite garden. The shops surrounding the complex specialise mainly in selling books and many merchants sell books, scrolls and ancient prints from barrows in the surrounding streets.

5 Dajing Taoist Temple – This is an ancient and well-respected centre of Taoism in the City.

6 Saltwater Sisters – Purveyors of sex in Shanghai are not all based on the land, nor do they all operate out of ‘smoke and flower houses’ or the palatial apartments of concubines. Some of them ply their trade on the water, working out of junks moored off the French Bund (where the police can be bribed to look the other way), or sometimes offshore near ‘Bamboo Town’. These women are colloquially known as the ‘Saltwater Sisters’ but – besides having a novel means of avoiding any legal hazards – their lot is no better than other prostitutes in Shanghai at this time.

‘Frenchtown’: the French Concession

When the Foreigners were first let in to Shanghai, there was some initial discussion of how the port would be divided up: the British and American legations soon decided it would be better to join forces; however the French chose not to dilute their cultural unity. They chose to remain a separate entity, with their own ruling bodies and legal system.

From the beginning the atmosphere of ‘Frenchtown’, as it became known, was noticeably lax. The governance of the area devolved upon the French Consulate who relayed matters of importance to the authorities in French Indochina to the south. This roundabout way of dealing with daily situations of government, at several removes, meant that most matters were left in the hands of the gendarmes. The French Municipal Council did not have a local presence until early in the 1860s.

The police force in the French Concession, unlike the International Settlement, was run mainly by Chinese officers and their men. Over time, this force became corrupted by members of the local tongs – especially the notorious Red Gang - and the French Concession became the centre for vice and drug-smuggling in the city. The French residents in the area were happy to turn a blind eye so long as they benefitted heavily from the activity.

Despite the seedy nature of business in the area, Frenchtown grew as an elegant and refined part of the town. Famous architects were contracted to design grand facades and whole districts were turned over to genteel, plane tree-shaded avenues of tea and coffee houses. In the lead up to the Bolshevik Revolution, the area became very popular with Jewish refugees and the Concession became noteworthy for its bookstores, goldsmiths and fabric retailers, not to mention its Russian cafes.

However, the French Concession was not a place in which to wander idly after dark. Members of the Green Gang and the Red Gang warred violently on the streets and prostitutes and pickpockets roamed, on the look-out for ‘marks’. The opium dens and sing-song houses glowed redly throughout the night and in the taverns and restaurants, brawls and gun fights were not unheard-of.

Numbered Locations in the French Concession:

1 Cercle Sportif Français (‘French Club’) – The hub of social and political life in the French Concession. Like its counterparts in the British and American areas, membership to this fraternity was an entree into the upper echelons of society. The word ‘sportif’ was a misnomer: while the venue did offer a swimming pool and several tennis courts, the raison d’etre of the Club was socialising, not physical fitness. The Cercle Sportif Français at 290 Route Cardinal Mercier was the most cosmopolitan in membership of any club in Shanghai: women members were limited to forty in total and there were always many more on the waiting list. There was a roof garden for dancing in the summer and, in the winter, there were usually Sunday afternoon tea dances in the ballroom on the first floor. Male visitors in Shanghai could obtain Club privileges by the customary procedure of being nominated and seconded by existing members; army and navy officers of all European countries and America automatically became members simply by ‘signing in the book’; ladies who were relatives of members of the ‘French Club’ could also become temporary members.

2 Canidrome – To the initial bewilderment of the Chinese, the French built this dog-racing track on the corner of Avenue du Roi Albert and Rue Lafayette for their own edification and delight. The track hosted competitions for both greyhounds and whippets and the gambling (along with the inevitable crime rate) was intense. The ‘Champs de Courses Français’ was a favourite diversion for Shanghailanders, the greyhounds racing on advertised dates in the French Concession. Dog racing was banned in the International Settlement and greyhound importation had been prohibited by the Chinese Government; but the sport flourished at the Canidrome - where the greyhounds were bred - and offered ample opportunity to those who chose to risk a wager.

3 French Municipal Council – Finished in 1863, the French Municipal Council officers undertook to take charge of governing the Concession after it was decided that oversight from the diplomatic offices in Indochina (Viet Nam) was clumsy and inefficient. Nevertheless, not much changed in Shanghai: the police force still took money from gangsters, was still largely owned and operated by gangsters and was largely staffed by Chinese gangsters. The French Municipal Council’s main task was to set a tacit list of ground rules to ensure that corruption stayed discreetly out of the public view and to ensure the steady flow of graft monies into French coffers...

4 ‘Blood Alley’ – Also known as ‘Bloody Alley’, this was quite simply the most dangerous part of Shanghai. The Rue Chu Pao San, a tiny lane and only the second to be named in honour of a Chinese Shanghai resident, was lined with opium dens, ‘smoke and flower houses’, gambling establishments and, more than any of these, the rankest, filthiest, bars on offer. The street would fill up quickly at night, with sailors on shore leave looking for a good time, along with those folks out to see that they got it. Fights broke out regularly; hookers would team up to get their ‘marks’ drunk on bad hooch, then roll them for their valuables; pimps stalked the length of the street, rapidly selling the services of their girls waiting in nearby alleys and doorways. Most bars opened directly onto the street and those sitting in the window seats and sidewalk tables knew to duck quickly when gunshots rang out, as they did regularly from passing rickshaws and gangs of ne’er-do-wells. If Shanghai was famous as a wild town, Blood Alley was Shanghai’s wild heart.

The International Settlement

When they first moved in, the British claimed all the land north of the Avenue Foch and Yangjing Creek to the banks of Soochow Creek which, at the time served as a defensive barrier. The Americans took the two areas east of Soochow Creek, lying either side of Hongkew Creek: the suburbs of Hongkew and Yangtsze-Poo. Within a fairly short time however, they chose to merge with the British, forming one large international community. Western solidarity could have been the altruistic reason for this decision but more likely was the perception that the low-lying, boggy terrain of Hongkew was ‘inconvenient’ for a decent life in the city. Hongkew was fated to forever after be tagged in this manner and its consequences will be discussed shortly.

The Bund, or ‘waterfront road’, was the focus of the International Settlement. Shortly after their arrival from Canton, the taipans built a row of bungalow-style residences that served as their bases of operation. Soon thereafter, along the mouth of Soochow Creek and the northern bank of the Whangpoo, warehouses (or ‘go-downs’ in Pidgin) sprang up and business began in earnest. No longer confined to a ‘foreign ghetto’ as they had been in the southern Kwangtung capital, these entrepreneurs began to build - and they built big. As an easy mnemonic, roads paralleling the Bund were named for regions and provinces of China; the roads radiating outwards from the Bund were named for various Chinese capital cities. Within this grid, buildings appeared to accommodate the mechanism of foreign trade: banks, hotels and even cathedrals.

Initially, the buildings were not very high: the unsteady Whangpoo shoreline kept things at four storeys or less. What they lacked in height however, they certainly made up for in style. The road of choice on which to live was Bubbling Well Road which began at the terminus of Nanking Road and headed out west to the Settlement limits. Legend had it that there was a magical spring once on this trail that had miraculous healing powers and this is the origin of the road’s name. In no time at all, mansions were springing up along the road, each surrounded by high enclave walls and protected by sturdy gates. Since the ground around the Whangpoo was not very stable – one engineer said it was “like building on dish water” – enormous concrete and wooden piles had to be driven into the ground first before building could commence: the Settlement rang to the constant “ah-ho, ah-ho, ah-ho” singing of the coolies, as they rammed these piles into the mud with massive hand-operated pile drivers.

Between Thibet Road and the Bund, the heart of Shanghai speedily grew. Shopkeepers from the Old Chinese City, seeking refuge from the crowded conditions there, set up shops with upstairs residences along Nanking and Foochow Roads to escape the squeeze: these two streets soon became a shopper’s paradise and an essential place to visit in the city. These roads became quickly hung with the red-and-gold shingles of the store owners, brightly proclaiming their services and the traffic levels swelled to reflect the success of their enterprise. Jinrickshas, sedan chairs and wagons clogged the streets, along with the phaetons and carriages of the Western princelings: on a busy day it could be almost impossible to move along these thoroughfares.

Numbered Locations in the International Settlement – The Bund

1 British Embassy – The land for this edifice was purchased by Sir Rutherford Alcock in 1848 and the building was swiftly erected as a symbol of international domination. This first building was destroyed by fire in 1870 and rebuilt in 1873. Over the years other buildings were added to form a complex of structures including The British Court of Justice, The British Naval Office, the Office of Works and the Consul’s Residence. The British Embassy was the first building to be erected on the Bund by the International Settlement; however, the first foreign flag to fly over Shanghai was the American flag which was hoisted over the American Settlement in Hongkew prior to integration. Abashed by the oversight of not having erected a flagpole before the ‘yankees’, the British Ambassador ordered a hastily-constructed flagpole to correct the omission. At this time the ‘pole is still a rough-and-ready affair, ‘though serviceable.

2 Jardine Building – The ‘Old Muckle House’: this is the headquarters of Jardine, Matheson’s & Co., the brainchild of Scot, William Jardine and his associate James Matheson. These two almost single-handedly devised and enacted the foreign invasion of China and the opening of the treaty ports. Of all the businesses in Shanghai this is the one that inspired dreams of fantastic wealth and many young men applied to them for positions from which to grow their fortunes. At this stage, Jardine’s is a cluster of small buildings in an unprepossessing compound; a more imposing structure came later.

3 Palace Hotel – Built in 1907, the Palace was the first hotel in Shanghai and a luxurious place to stay for newcomers to the city. Single rooms (on the American plan, with meals included) cost $12; double rooms cost $24; and suites could be arranged with the management on a per night basis. The Palace was known for its sumptuous roof garden which was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1914 and again in a fire in 1920. Later on in 1937, the building was severely damaged by Chinese Nationalist bombs meant for the Japanese flagship moored in the Harbour. The site was later incorporated into the restored Cathay Hotel and renamed the ‘Peace Hotel’. Originally standing in front of the hotel was a statue of Sir Harry Parkes: in 1941, the occupying Japanese forces melted it down for its war efforts.

4 The Concordia – The German Club. Sumptuously towered and turreted, this Edwardian bastion dressed like a Tyrolean fantasy was a testament to the importance of the German presence in Shanghai. It was torn down in 1934 to make way for the Bank of China Building. Erected across the street from the Concordia was a statue of Sir Robert Hart; it too was melted down by the Japanese in 1941.

5 Shanghai Club

“Lay your cheek along the bar and you will see the curvature of the earth”

-Noël Coward

An elite gentlemen’s club built along the lines of the famous clubs of London. The Shanghai Club was renowned as having the longest bar in the world (at 30 metres, or 110 feet) and this formed the basis of the social activity within its walls: visitors and the newest members (usually termed ‘griffins’) sat closest to the entrance and the windows looking out onto the Bund; longer term members arranged themselves along the middle section of the bar in order of seniority, while the oldest members had tables and seats reserved for them furthest from the hurly-burly in the darkest recesses of the building. A ‘black ball’ system was very much in evidence in this fraternity and to be ‘cut out’ of the Club’s society meant being excluded from the International social scene entirely.

The interior was decorated in lavish style with Greek statues, an Italianate marble staircase and an Elizabethan-style billiard room. A visit to the famous bar was considered a ‘must see’ for tourists, however women, Chinese and non-whites were ruthlessly excluded from membership. During World War Two, the Japanese ousted the British and used the site for their own parties and get-togethers ... and sawed the legs off the billiard tables.

6 American Consulate – The original site of the American powers; it later relocated to a position on the Whangpoo in southern Hongkew, in the early 1930s.

7 Holy Trinity Cathedral – Built in 1866, the Cathedral was designed by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott; however, the plans were considered too grand for the parish and were extensively modified by architect William Kidman. The slate roof of the red brick building was finally completed in 1869 and a bell tower completed the project in 1893. The steeple was later removed and has not been replaced. A Boy’s School was added to the complex in 1929; of its many alumni, the best known is J. G. Ballard. The Cathedral languished uncared-for for many years, serving time as government offices: it is currently in the process of being restored by the Chinese Protestant Church.

8 Municipal Offices – Established in 1854, the Municipal Offices occupied the entire block bounded by Honan, Kiangsi, Foochow and Hankow Roads. In the next century, this parcel of land was turned over to extensive re-building but at this stage it stood as a cluster of mixed buildings. The offices included the Town Hall, Police Force Headquarters, the Shanghai Volunteer Corps Headquarters, the Public Works and Education Department, the Public Library, Headquarters for the Orchestra and Band and a Centre for Chinese Studies

9 American Club – Not far from the American Consulate, the stately edifice of the American Club welcomed American taipans and consulate workers every day for lunch. This is the home of the US community in Shanghai at this time.

10 British American Tobacco Co. – The British American Tobacco Co. (BAT) set up business headquarters in 1902, with other offices scattered around town. This initial building was replaced in 1924 by larger accommodations that consolidated the business’ administrative holdings. Production and manufacture was conducted by factories in the Pootung district. By 1920, over one-third of this company’s profits were garnered from its Chinese enterprise.

11 Garden Bridge – Built in 1856 by a resourceful Englishman named Willis, Garden Bridge was the first to span Soochow Creek. Mr Willis became a very wealthy man by the imposition of a toll on traffic across his bridge. The toll was discontinued after his death whereupon the bridge became the property of the Municipal Council. In 1908, the original wooden construction was dismantled and replaced by a steel gambrel design built to accommodate the new trolley buses being introduced into the city scene. This was the first steel bridge built in Shanghai and the first of twelve bridges that would ultimately cross Soochow Creek.

12 Whangpoo Park – Begun in 1868, the gardens of Whangpoo Park were a haven reserved for the foreign community. The ‘Park surrounded a genteel bandstand and was maintained by a Scottish gardener; Sikh police guards kept a vigilant eye on the reserve and ensured that its governing regulations were strictly adhered to. These regulations were posted at the entrance and were a source of controversy and unrest in the city, specifically Regulation 4 which stated: “Dogs, Chinese and Bicycles are not admitted”. The word ‘Chinese’ was removed from this regulation in 1917 due to protest (although Chinese people were still forbidden to enter the ‘Park unless in the company or service of foreigners) and, in 1928 the regulation was overturned completely by a law passed by a Chinese majority in the Municipal Council which made all Settlement and Concession parks accessible to Celestials and Foreigners alike. Also of interest here at this time, is the monument to Raymond Margary who was murdered by Chinese bandits whilst on assignment for the British government in Yunnan and whose death, along with the Tienstin Massacre, forced a ratification of all outstanding foreign treaties with China at the Chefoo Convention.

13 Shanghai Land & Investment Co.The Shanghai Land & Investment Company came into its own during the land boom in the city during and after the Small Swords invasion and signalled its dominance of the construction financing market by building its new offices in 1908.

14 Gibb, Livingston & Co. – Probably in response to The Shanghai Land & Investment Company’s lavish construction on the opposite corner, this well-heeled shipping company rebuilt its own headquarters with no intention of limiting expense. Topped by a striking black ‘witches hat’ the building is a mass of curlicues and other decorative features. The ‘hat’ was dismantled during the Communist takeover but the rest of the confection remains.

15 The Russo-Asiatic Bank – Along with many other businesses on the Bund at the end of the Nineteenth Century, The Russo-Asiatic Bank took advantage of the technologies gained from years of building on the Whangpoo mud to tear down its old headquarters and build something that was more fitting of such a refined institution. The resulting Neo-Classical structure, finished in 1902, was a lavish but sedate edifice, notable for being the first building in Shanghai to use ceramic tiling on its outside facade.

16 Customs House – In 1843, the British Imperial Maritime Customs Service (IMCS) established themselves on this site in a scattered compound of warehouses and temporary office buildings. In 1851, this arrangement was destroyed in fighting with Small Swords rebels during their occupation of the city. After this invasion was overthrown, the International community successfully argued that the Customs and Excise business would be more efficiently run by foreign nationals, thereby eliminating losses due to ‘squeeze’ and began consolidating in earnest. In 1857, a new building was completed, in the Chinese style with turned up eaves and tiled roofs. This was later replaced in 1893 with a Tudor construction, composed of two bold wings and a clock tower 34 metres (110 feet) high. The IMCS was the raison d’etre of many well-known Shanghai residents, including Sir Harry Parkes and Sir Robert Hart.

17 & 18 Russell & Co. BuildingsRussell & Co. were for the Americans what Jardine’s was for the British: bold opium businessmen of a ‘never say die’ character. The only differences between the two companies were a less-than-razor-sharp business acumen and an inability to get out of the market in time. The firm was originally based in Boston but moved to Shanghai in 1846 to be closer to the game. Their original headquarters on the corner of the Bund and Canton Road resembled a three storey Southern Mansion constructed of stone. In 1877 with the opium business facing uncertainty, they were forced to sell their business premises (to the China Merchants’ Steam Navigation Company, the first China-owned company to set foot on the Bund) and relocate to the other end of the block on the corner of Foochow Road (17). This new building was more sombre and was supposed to be the symbol of a turnaround in their economic fortunes; however, in 1891 the firm failed and was forced to sell to the Imperial Bank of China.

19 China Mutual Life InsuranceThe China Mutual Life Insurance Company was a British-owned business and the first life insurance company in China. Like many other successful businesses it took advantage of the technologies of the new century by rebuilding its offices in 1910. This building too, is a lavish affair, with stained glass windows executed by the boys of a local Catholic orphanage, sumptuous marble friezes and banded stone walls. Unlike many buildings whose decorative features were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, this building remains intact, probably by virtue of it being recommissioned as a watch factory in 1955.

20 Signal Platform – This tower was first built as an Anglo-Dutch collaboration in 1884 and was rebuilt in 1907. It comprises a small blockhouse with accommodation for a harbourmaster and a tall tower, designed to be reminiscent of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The tower displays signal flags and houses various meteorological instruments, including a weather vane. Most importantly however, it contained a time-ball mechanism to allow ships in the harbour to calibrate their watches to Greenwich Mean Time: at the same time each day, an iron ball would be raised to the top of the mechanism’s central mast and dropped, to be cushioned by the action of a piston at the base of the shaft. The instant of drop allowed the sea captains to check their chronometers.

Numbered Locations in the International Settlement – Hongkew

1 General Hospital – The first of many hospitals to be built in Shanghai, this was the also the first non-denominational medical institution to be constructed in the city for a long period.

2 Astor House Hotel – The Astor originally commenced business on Astor Road in 1844 before moving to its current location in 1858. Over time it changed hands many times and was strategically re-developed to cater for the needs of the foreign community and its visitors. The Astor became a refined social institution where young ladies made their debuts and attended tea dances. In 1917 under the management of the Kadoorie clan, the ballroom was expanded and lavishly decorated, including an ornate Peacock Throne over the orchestra pit, a nod to the new owners’ Persian roots. The Hotel was taken over by the Japanese in 1937 and again by the Communists in 1949, when it became low-budget accommodation for workers. In the 1990s, the ballroom saw service as the Chinese Stock Exchange for a time.

Known for its elegant dining room, the Astor House Hotel was host to such famous guests as Ulysses S. Grant, Bertrand Russell and Charlie Chaplin. Single rooms (on the American plan with meals included) cost $12; double rooms cost $20; and a suite for two costs $30 per night. Now a government-run concern, the Astor House is still operating today.

3 ‘Bamboo Town’ – After the Americans abandoned this low-lying area for less muddy positions with the rest of the foreign community, this region was left to degenerate and become low in every sense of the word. A sprawling mass of ‘go-downs’ and wharves between Ward Road and the waterfront, this is a maze of crooked streets and a nest of ne’er-do-wells. While busy and active during the day with the business of loading and unloading ships, at night the area becomes a den of thieves, thugs and other unsavoury types. Gambling, opium and prostitutes are the nightly concerns of ‘Bamboo Town’ but all the games are rigged, the alcohol is watered down and the whores operate out of ‘nail sheds’ for ten cents a time, rather than play the convoluted games of their high-class sisters. Visitors are warned away from ‘Bamboo Town’ – unless they are no strangers to depravity and are well-armed.

4 Shanghai Waterworks – The Municipal Council envisioned a waterworks from early days of foreign occupancy of the city but it wasn’t until 1880 that the vision started to become a reality. The Shanghai Waterworks was established as an incorporated company in that year; construction began in 1881 and the first water was pumped in 1883.

Prior to this innovation water was hauled from the Whangpoo River or Soochow Creek in buckets and stored in large clay jars called ‘kongs’. The water was then settled with alum salts over several days before being boiled prior to use. Despite all these efforts, cholera and typhoid fever were still common occurrences in the city. The arrival of the waterworks was universally celebrated.

The plant was engineered to produce a daily output of 13.6 megalitres (3,000,000 gallons) but a rising demand saw this output increase dramatically to 15 times this quantity by the 1930s at which time the plant – with its quaint exterior, reminiscent of a baronial castle - was expanded and modernised. From the outset, engineers and maintenance staff achieved a bacterial reduction of 99.99% with careful reports being sent to London for evaluation. Originally the plant was only supposed to produce potable water for the International Settlement; however, an ‘off peak’ supply was routed to the French Concession shortly after opening. Today the re-named ‘Yangshupu Waterworks’ supplies 80% of Shanghai’s drinkable water from one of the filthiest rivers in the world.

5 Ward Road Prison – This infamous jailhouse was built in four sections from 1903 to 1928; it is indicative of the Americans’ disdain of the areas originally allotted to them that such an institution was erected here at all. The four-storey jail has a non-radial arrangement of cells with sizes ranging from 3.4 to 3.6 metres squared. By the 1930s there were 11 cell blocks in total with 920 cells: along with administration buildings, workshops, a hospital and cafeteria, it was the biggest prison in Shanghai and one of the largest in Asia. Taken over by the Japanese during their occupation, Ward Road Prison became synonymous with torture and death and it was from here that the invaders policed the Jewish Ghetto which they established to the north.

Numbered Locations in the International Settlement – The Wider Settlement

1 Hall & Holtz

“One shopped at Hall & Holtz; Lane, Crawford & Company; Laidlaw & Company; and Kelly & Walsh. One read the North China Daily News, Shanghai Times, Shanghai Mercury, L’Echo de Chine, Der Ostasiatische Lloyd and The Shanghai Nippo. One danced in the chic ballroom of the Cercle Sportif Français and partied at cabarets like the Casanova, Del Monte and Ciro’s.”

-Lynn Pan, In Search of Old Shanghai

Hall & Holtz was a reputable British firm established in 1885 and specialising in general merchandise from across the globe. These, their Shanghai offices, opened in 1906 and claimed to be the first department store in the city. The fanciful five-storey building had residential apartments on the top three floors – complete with Juliet balconies – while the store operated out of the ground and first floors. Their wide range of millinery, clothing, haberdashery and other Western merchandise made them an instant hit with expatriate women and wealthy Chinese.

2 ‘The World of Flowers’

From the earliest days of Western occupation, the region lying between Nanking and Foochow Roads was notorious as a neighbourhood dedicated to retailing sensual pleasures. With its proximity to the dock areas and the Bund, this area became a ‘red light district’ attracting the attentions - and money - of myriad waterfront workers. After the Small Swords invasion and the overcrowding of the Old Chinese City, Chinese merchants relocated here to set up shops and continue their businesses: The neighbourhood became a tangle of alleyways between ramshackle, gaudily painted structures, wherein legitimate businesses rubbed elbows with less honourable pursuits.

This was the home of the majority of Shanghai’s courtesans, as well as the headquarters of many bustling brothels; opium dens proliferated here along with gambling halls, tea houses and taverns. During the day, shops did a roaring trade to the shouting of vendors, the groaning of coolies and the hum of speeding jinrickshas; by night, the alleys were perfumed by incense and the steam from noodle carts, while wandering actors and musicians staged kerbside performances, lit by the red glow of the ‘flower and smoke’ houses and the occasional flash of fireworks. In typical Chinese fashion, this playground of the senses became known as ‘the world of flowers’; to the foreign missionaries, this was the beating heart of the ‘Whore of Asia’.

3 The Door of Hope

“I can still see a little crowd of furiously hurrying people that broke across my path one evening. In front of them was the flying figure of a girl, her little silken coat torn and hanging from one shoulder. She was ten paces ahead of her pursuers as she passed me, her little face drawn and blanched with terror and exhaustion. Fortunately, her pursuers were not agile. A stout madam hobbled along on little feet; two burly men in blue peasant clothes lumbered along beside her, apparently the major-domos of her establishment. And all too apparently, the scudding miss ahead was a very recent inmate of that establishment, launched on a gallant and desperate break for freedom.

The crowd parted like sheep. A few heads turned around out of curiosity, but none out of sympathy. The pursuers swept by. Suddenly the girl turned under a bright street light and began to pound with both fists against a kind of matchboard doorway. A tall Sikh policeman started across the street from his traffic post on the opposite corner. Then the crowd closed in and it was all a blur.

When I got to the fragile doorway under the light the girl was gone and the Sikh policeman was dispersing the crowd. They scattered quickly, all but the stout woman and her two strong men. The woman scolded vehemently and viciously shook her fist at the sign above the doorway through which the victim had escaped. Then the policeman moved her on in true Occidental fashion and the incident seemed to be closed.”

-Gardner Harding, 1916

The Door of Hope is a strange instance of the kind of help that the Foreign Legations felt that they were honour-bound to offer the Chinese, as well as being a clear case where something actually beneficial to the Celestials in Shanghai was ultimately ruined by Missionary involvement.

Miss Cornelia Bonnel, a missionary and English teacher based in Shanghai from 1900, witnessed a bond servant being mistreated by her mistress in the street; dismayed that none of the other Chinese present offered assistance she determined to convert the house in which she was living at the time into a refuge for such maltreated women. Her home in Seward Road was converted to this purpose and soon other foreign missionary women and wives of the foreign legatees offered their help. Eventually, a ‘receiving house’ was established in the heart of the red-light district (or ‘world of flowers’ as the Chinese referred to it) on Foochow Road. This office was given special legal status by the Municipal Council, conferring immunity to any person who fled there, seeking escape from harsh (usually sexual) slavery. Once ‘received’, the claimant was removed to the house on Seward Road and re-educated with skills that would garner them employment elsewhere.

In 1908, the operation moved from Seward Road to leased premises on Chekiang Road which were larger and more useful. After an initial year with the organisation, the girls were sent to outlying businesses established by the Door of Hope, where they were set to work making clothing, embroidered handkerchiefs, socks, fan boxes, custom bridal trousseaux and wooden dolls. Attempts were also made to place the girls in positions at hospitals or as clerks where they could establish a career on their own merits.

Missionary societies and churches eagerly began to collect funds for the Door of Hope and the organisation received between 50% and 65% of its funding from this source. Along with these monies came injunctions from the missions that prayers and bible instruction would form a daily part of the women’s routines, something that was not always joyously received by the inmates.

Male Shanghai residents soon cottoned on to the idea that there was a body of women rescued from the streets who were available for marriage. As these men were, as often as not, kidnap victims themselves with little prospects of obtaining a wife, they approached the Door of Hope with legitimate and hopeful offers of marriage. Initially, the organisation was happy to see their recruits returned to society in these promising circumstances; however, several missionary societies objected, insisting that the rehabilitated women must only marry Christian applicants. By insisting upon this rider, the charity lost a significant part of its funding from the Chinese Council for the Municipality of Greater Shanghai which felt that the limitation was needless and unhelpful.

With this means of moving back into society effectively stopped, the inmates of the Door of Hope became jaded and disillusioned. Many of them simply escaped and returned to life as prostitutes; others became trouble-makers within the institution and there are records of fights, stealing and even attempts to escape by means of digging tunnels. After the Revolution with the establishment of the Chinese Anti-Kidnapping Society, the charity gained a stronger footing and a greater degree of social respectability. Regardless of the niceties of social feeling, the charity was still around up until the Japanese Occupation in 1937 and the dolls that the women made in that time are today regarded as highly collectable commodities.

4 Shanghai Racecourse and Recreation Grounds

This 12-acre spread of lush green grass is almost synonymous with foreign occupation of Shanghai. This reserve was used exclusively by expatriate citizens to indulge their desire to see horseflesh pounding along the turf at great speed. It quickly became the hub of social activity in the International Settlement and generated much interest among the Occidental and Oriental communities alike. The popularity of horseracing was such that the Shanghai Racecourse was the third wealthiest foreign corporation in the city.

While horses raced around the edge of the green zone, other types of sports were undertaken within its compass: in 1863, the Shanghai Cricket Club purchased land within the area to build a cricket pitch. Polo and tennis were other favourites, along with rugby, soccer and hockey. There was also a bridle path paralleling the racetrack, where taipans and ‘griffins’ could exercise their horses.

Owning a horse, or an interest in a horse, became an obsession for many Shanghailanders. Initially, horses were imported from Arabia or Australia, but attention was soon focussed on shaggy Mongolian ponies which, while less elegant in appearance, were tougher and of greater endurance, thereby providing a better spectacle on the track.

The Shanghai Racecourse held two ten-day festivals every year in Spring and Autumn. These were gala events in which huge amounts of money passed hands and which were accompanied by lunches, fêtes and soirées. Banks and businesses closed every day at 11.00am during the festivals, allowing their employees to attend. Until the end of World War One, Chinese were forbidden within the Shanghai Racecourse but they were still able to bet on the outcomes of the races through bookmaking venues and other operators throughout the city.

5 Shanghai YMCA

“The Foreign YMCA should be your downtown headquarters. They are ideally equipped to help you use your spare time to its best advantage. Read their daily list of activities giving the hours for tours, dancing lessons, lectures and all sorts of special events.”

-Flying Tigers’ guidebook, 1945

The YMCA (Young Man’s Christian Association) was begun in America in 1851; after being introduced into China in 1885, the Shanghai branch was established in 1900. Unlike most other missionary societies, the YMCA’s focus was more upon education and physical fitness than conversion and was held in higher regard by the laity as a result. Membership of the ‘Y’ gave one the possibility of accommodation, food and companionship across the planet and members of military, Christian and other organizations were encouraged to join. At this time in Shanghai, the ‘Y’ is a compound of rather cluttered but well-tended buildings; after 1933 and seven years of building, an imposing multi-storey presence took over on this spot, ensuring room for all comers.

The sister association of the YMCA, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) was begun in Britain in 1855, came to China in 1890 and set up a base in Shanghai in 1908. Like the YMCA their focus was on education and they taught English and Chinese literacy, child welfare, disease prevention, cooking, sewing and classes in Bible study. After the Communist takeover and except for the duration of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the YWCA was the only foreign agency allowed to operate within China.

6 Chang’an Temple - ‘The Temple of Tranquility’

Bubbling Well Road was so named because of a mystical spring it led to, rumoured to have healing powers. The spring has long since vanished but the temple that was established near it and looked after its pilgrims, still stands and is the oldest religious building in Shanghai.

Located about a mile west from the Shanghai Racecourse, the Chang’an Temple was first constructed in 247 AD. Like many Chinese temples it was rebuilt and renovated many times during its existence, including being relocated from its original site near Soochow Creek during the Song Dynasty in 1216 AD. Major repairs were carried out in 1851 under the Manchu rule; it was converted into a plastics factory under the Communists in 1953; restored as a temple in 1983 and again renovated in 1998. Between 2004 and 2007, two large extensions were built on either side of the main gate, this work being funded by an international bequest from Buddhist communities around the world.

The building has four halls: the Hall of Heavenly Kings, the Hall of the Three Saints, the Hall of Virtuous Works and the Abbot’s Chambers. In each stage of its construction, this basic format has been preserved. Among the Temple’s treasures are a copper bell dating from the Ming Dynasty, an ancient statue of Kwan-yin carved from camphor wood and the world’s largest seated figure of the Buddha carved entirely from jade.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Social Status in Shanghai

The International Legations

"The British residents in Shanghai are the spoilt children of the Empire. They pay no taxes to China, except that landowners pay a very small land tax and no taxes to England. Judges and consuls are provided for them; they are protected by the British fleet, and for several years they have had, in addition, a British army to defend them; and for all this expenditure the British taxpayer pays."
-L. A. Lyall

It hardly needs to be pointed out but the foreigners in China at this time felt themselves to be vastly superior to the Chinese. While it would be simple to assume that this attitude came from the relative positions that the various parties adopt where one is the victor and the other the loser, there were finer distinctions within this arrangement which informed matters. Firstly, the foreigners’ religious representatives deemed the Chinese way of life as ‘heathen’ and ‘uncivilised’; as the victors, the foreign occupants were happy to accept this as a given, despite the fact that many of them chose to freely sample the Chinese way of life and – privately – adopt many of their practises. Secondly, the technology available to the Chinese, while notable, had not been used in defense of the country and many foreigners chose to interpret this as a mark of technological inferiority.

The Chinese were indeed too slow to make retaliatory moves (although one could argue that the Taiping Rebellion was one of the first attempts by the Celestials to make a stand for their own nationhood). The Ch’ing Dynasty had deliberately kept the populace blinkered and under-technologised, fearing just the kind of trouble that the Taipings represented. Many Chinese thought that China was the entire world and had never heard of ‘other countries’ or ‘other peoples’: there were only themselves and some outer darkness, populated by ‘barbarians’. Indeed all government correpondence naively referred to British and other foreign delegates as ‘barbarians’, a habit that took an act of government to eradicate. Consequently, when the victors of the First Opium War swaggered into the country, the Chinese were at a loss as to what to do.

For the British and French especially, the foreigners were strolling along well-trod paths: they were the conquerors and the Chinese, the conquered. As had happened in Africa, America, Australia and India, the indigenous peoples were relegated immediately to a subordinate position. 1842 was hailed as the year a new addition was made to the jewels in the crown of the British Empire and the British were quick to mint medals celebrating the event. China was a great big pie ready for carving and the rest of the West was eager to follow in British footsteps. However, all of this flag waving was a lie designed to veil the truth.

Britain had discovered a taste for tea and for drinking it out of fine Chinese porcelain. The only place they could get these commodities from was China and China wanted nothing that the British had to offer. As a result, British wealth flowed into China and an economic crisis followed after it. William Jardine and James Matheson decided that the Chinese would take the opium that they were growing in fields in India and that they would like it: in defiance of strict Imperial bans, they ran the drug into the country and forced the populace to buy it. Soon, 1 in 10 Chinese was ready to defy Imperial edicts to get another fix and the rest is history. A side-effect of all this was that the West received an indelible image of the Chinese as drug fiends.

But there were arguments against this. Marco Polo and his father travelled to China in the 11th Century and spent many years there under the aegis of Kublai Khan. Marco wrote a book extolling the wonders of China, the palaces, the luxury, the technological advances: the picture he painted was of a civilisation far in advance of Europe at the time. Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, extolled his friends to visit China and to see the Great Wall as a mark of accomplishment in their lives. These contrasting images caused an interest in Europe and was the impetus to energise the field of Sinology; most Europeans however, had no knowledge of Marco Polo (other than that he introduced pasta to Italy, a ‘fact’ which may well be erroneous) and chose to view China as a nation of uncivilised reprobates.

The Unequal Treaties gave the Westerners a wide range of freedoms in the wake of their victory: they were free from local laws and allowed to live as they liked with no repercussions to their reputations or dignity back in their home countries. In fact they were enjoying the hermetically-sealed life of diplomats all over the world – diplomatic immunity and a detachment from local issues. As the above quote reveals, they were largely not even answerable to their own countries.

All of this led foreigners in Shanghai (and the other treaty ports) to firmly believe that they were superior beings whose one purpose was to treat China as a cash cow that they could milk without hindrance or let. It’s hardly surprising to learn that the Chinese privately referred to the invaders as ‘barbarians’ regardless of government policy.

The Celestials

Image depicting the Chinese notion of the Fan Kuei (“Foreign Devils”)

The bottom line is: the Chinese did not know how to respond to the West.

For most Chinese, the abiding nemesis was the Manchu Dynasty that had taken hold of the Dragon Throne. These ‘foreigners’ from the north had slipped in at the opportune time and had laid their yoke across the world: families who had previously enjoyed high rank and wide esteem were outcast and sent to the far southern provinces (the lucky ones, that is) and were now struggling to make ends meet; every man in the world had been forced to shave his head and wear the queue; marriage was forbidden between those of Manchu descent and everyone else. There had even been questions in high places about the validity of foot-binding.

Suddenly, in the mix, there were these ‘barbarians’ whom many Chinese sincerely regarded as animals taught to walk on their hind legs: the English, with their extravagant whiskers and their irritating voices were thought of as goats, walking on their hind feet and burdened with a lack of tact, manners and political fine feeling. For the majority of Chinese, while their enmity was focussed on the occupants of the Dragon Throne, the foreigners caught them broadside and they never saw it coming.

One thing that the Chinese found very peculiar about the foreigners was their veneration of pigs (this did nothing to reduce their feeling that the fan kuei were actually animals). The first missionaries, with very little sense of the Chinese dialects, attempted to translate the words ‘Jesus Christ’ into Chinese; the result was a phrase which was understood to mean ‘the Squeal of the Pig’ to the ears of many potential converts. The staunch resistance that many missionaries encountered in their dealings with the Chinese had less to do with refusing to accept the Word of God and more to do with an unwillingness to kow-tow to a screaming pig, nailed to a piece of wood.

A mandarin presides over the execution of a crucified pig (identified in the marginal text as Christ) while goat-headed foreigners are decapitated.

Linguistic misunderstandings aside, the very notion of Christianity and its notion of an afterlife flew in the face of thousands of years of ancestor-veneration and Confucian ideals. Most Chinese accepted the fact that, upon death, they would be re-united with their forebears and then would be able to monitor the actions of the succeeding generations. Christian thought taught that all of a Chinese person’s ancestors were heathens and therefore in Hell; further, any action on the part of the convert to aspire to the Christian Heaven, meant that they would be forever cut off from their families in the next life, something that did not appeal to most Celestials.

The country quickly divided along curious lines. First, there were those who despised the Ch’ing Dynasty, the original foreigners from Manchuria who had taken control of the Dragon Throne: most of these people rallied to the catch-cry, “Defeat the Ch’ing, restore the Ming” (despite the fact that the cruelties and excesses of the Ming Dynasty made the worst efforts of the Ch’ing look sophomoric). Ranged against these extremists were those who, whilst acknowledging the ‘foreign-ness’ of the Manchus, felt that much had been gained by their governance that had brought benefits to the country. The Queue Law for example had imposed uniformity across the country and had exposed troublesome elements which had been swiftly dealt with; the Manchus had revived and codified the bureaucratic examination system and had restored the Hanlin Library; many had benefited from the steady rule of the Manchu Emperors. This is the pragmatic Chinese worldview at its finest: the ability to take a bucketful of lemons and make lemonade.

With the arrival of the Westerners this division split into even more interesting patterns – the anti-foreign elements lumped the ‘gweilos’ in with the Manchus as just another group of barbarians to be fought off; the moderates (if we can coin such a term for them) chose to sit back and see what the newcomers had to offer.

What they had to offer was technology. The Manchus had deliberately avoided investing in new technologies in order to keep the populace subordinated; with the coming of the West, the technology was in open view and it made many people think of its possibilities. The reactionaries, groups like the Boxers, rejected the use of any foreign weaponry, with the obvious results; more farsighted individuals – such as Li Hung-chang and Yuan Shi-kai – saw this technology as a means of garnering China a place on the world stage of international politics.

The big problem was ‘face’. The lack of technological nous was a hindrance for the Chinese: they wanted to know about new technologies but they couldn’t go begging, cap in hand, to ask to be shown, otherwise they would look small in the eyes of their opponents. They had to let the information filter through, by allowing contact without control. This is a passive-aggressive pattern that informed China’s dealings with the West all though the Victorian era and right up to the present day. The Chinese people were poised to become the most frustrating people the West ever had to deal with...

The Missionaries

Most travellers to China had very little good to say about the missionaries. George Morrison, Alicia Little and Peter Fleming all acknowledged their assistance during their own respective journeys but had little to say about the work that they were doing, or the lasting effects that it would have upon China. All of them recognised differing factions within the Christian missionary crowd and a general consensus of opinion can be outlined.

Firstly, there were a huge number of missionary societies. The largest was arguably the Inland Mission Society but other organisations were present from England, Scandinavia, southern Europe, Russia and the US. It looked as though any Christian community with the cash and the wherewithal to spread the Good Word sent people to China in droves. Unfortunately, these societies were often run by old men and women with little or no idea how the world worked or how to outfit their representatives to live and work in a foreign – and inhospitable – country. Funds and incomes were withheld or miscalculated, often with a view to ‘curbing temptation’ in young missionaries, and church elders wilfully assumed that the ways of doing business in Shanghai were the same as everywhere else. The Shanghai missionary – sometimes the only representative of their organisation in the area – became an ill-fed, anxious and poorly-dressed haunt of banks, insurance companies, and custom houses, awaiting Letters of Credit or financial handouts that rarely, and only grudgingly, appeared.

The Chinese were largely touted by the missionaries as ‘God’s lost children’; they were difficult to convert, recidivism was high and the business of explaining the business of Christianity to them was fraught with linguistic, cultural and contextual potholes. Explaining to a potential Chinese convert, that their ancestors were in Hell and that, in Heaven, the convert would be forever separated from them, was flying in the face of thousands of years of Confucian thinking. Nevertheless, many missionaries set their shoulders to this most onerous of wheels with a will.

Although not the first Christians to make it into China (the Nestorians were invited in temporarily by Kublai Khan) the Jesuits were the first Christians to gain a toehold and consolidate their presence. As early as the 16th Century, they entered China by way of Canton and began to study the Celestials with a view to bringing them over to Christ. Of all the Christian sects and organisations which followed, the Jesuits were the most concerned about keeping a low profile and not making waves.

The Jesuits dedicated themselves to study and wrote copious volumes of their observations. They also dedicated themselves to tending for the health of their congregations, the bettering of crop yields and the creation of urban infrastructure. More than any other Christian faction they took a ‘hands on’ approach to spreading the Word and were well received by the peasants. Unfortunately, they also became heavily involved in the politics of the country and occasionally faced purges by various Emperors when they thought that the Jesuits had nurtured vested interests.

On balance, the Catholics were relatively inoffensive; it was the Protestant faiths, especially the Baptists, that really caused a problem. Undeniably, Westerners were prey to a sense of superiority whenever they dealt with China; the Protestant Christians had this trait also, along with a Bible to back them up in their belief. Many Baptist societies in America sent missionaries who felt that it was ‘beneath them’ to leave the cities to preach in the country – they trained Chinese converts to do this ‘dirty work’ for them. In the next century with Charles Soong, this attitude would prove to be a very bad move indeed.

The missionaries vented a huge amount of vitriol declaiming that the Chinese were morally bankrupt; they were suspicious of all Westerners who professed to enjoy the Chinese way of life and energetically turned over stones in the foreign enclaves trying to weed out those who had ‘gone native’. In this way they made themselves as annoying to the foreign representatives as they did to the Chinese. Worse still, missionaries from one organisation were suspicious of the methods and outcomes of other groups: their converts were ‘simply recidivists, rice Christians who were seeking handouts’ and their Christian motives were ‘corrupted by worldly, ulterior aims’. They took relish in undermining other groups’ efforts and, in this way, shot themselves in the foot.

The Yellow Peril (1895) by Knackfuss, presented to the Tsar

Most commentators talk fondly about missionaries encountered far away from the cities and lost in remote wilderness areas. These missionaries tried to work closely with their potential converts, tending the sick and working the land with them. These worthies were ready to provide a hot meal and an overview of the region’s politics, along with a carefully nurtured bottle of wine laid by for a special occasion. Oftentimes, they had been so long away from other white people that they had forgotten their own language. These missionaries tended to dress in Chinese fashion, grow the queue and to eat Chinese food, something that most other foreigners found incomprehensible. To many travel writers of the day, these Christians were the ones doing the most to earn the respect and trust of the Chinese.

“We were told that when the missionaries went down to do flood relief work a year or so ago, they were so busy that they didn’t have time to preach, and they did so much good that when they were through they had to put up the bars to keep the Chinese from joining the churches en masse. We haven’t heard, however, that they took the hint as to the best way of doing business...”
-John Dewey, Letters from China and Japan, 1920

On the other hand, they disparaged the hard-nosed Baptists who stomped around the country with complete, shocked disdain of the local culture and insisted on being treated like dignitaries wherever they went. These zealots withheld food from all and sundry, indulged in ‘squeeze’ scams while deprecating those who practised it against them and promoted scabrous gossip amongst their white parishioners. These Church workers were found most often in the diplomatic communities exchanging gossip, rather than in the villages toiling for the souls of the Chinese.

All in all the writers of the day seemed to indicate that a humanist approach to solving China’s social evils would have been preferable to bludgeoning the heathens with the Crucifix. The Chinese were told by unscrupulous rabble-rousers that all missionaries killed babies and used pieces of their intestines and their eyes to work black magic: such obvious ‘gutter press’ added to the acrimony with which the Chinese regarded the Christian workers but was hardly necessary to ignite the riots that later created thousands of Christian martyrs...