Paul French talks nonfiction noir with Jonathan Chatwin
Where did the research for City of Devils start?
My first port of call is newspapers, specifically the old China coast newspapers, which are mainly – though not exclusively – in English: the North China Daily News; the China Press; the Shanghai Mercury; the Peking Gazette. Some of it is online, but not much has been scanned, so you have to go to the British Library newspaper archive, Hong Kong University library or the Zikawei library in the Xujiahui district of Shanghai, and use originals or microfilms. In going through those, you find stories which give you threads to pull at. And the stories are important in context of the Sinology. City of Devils, for instance, takes its lead from Frederic Wakeman’s Sinological work. He wrote two books, on policing Shanghai in the 1930s and on Shanghai’s Badlands. But both are focused on the Chinese experience, whereas I write about the foreigners.