Murder in Peking

Graeme Sheppard reopens an old investigation


The Times of London published this short but sensational news item on Saturday, January 9, 1937, under the title ‘British girl’s death in Peking; Murder Suspected’:

“The British authorities and the Chinese police are investigating the mysterious death last night of Pamela Werner, a 17-year-old British girl, the daughter of Mr. Chalmers Werner, the author and former British Consul at Foochow. She disappeared yesterday evening after skating at the French club rink. The body was found this morning inside the city wall and 250 yards from the girl’s home, at one of the loneliest spots in the city. It had been so badly mauled by stray dogs as to be unrecognisable and to make it difficult, except after a careful medical examination, to hazard a guess how she met her death, but in view of the lack of evidence that an accident had happened murder must be suspected.”

The Times was impressively quick off the mark with its report from its own correspondent in Peking, but the article contained two errors. Pamela Werner was nearly twenty, not seventeen, and her father’s name was Edward Theodore Chalmers Werner. 


Déjà Vu in Hong Kong and Shanghai

A tale of two cities – Jeffrey Wasserstrom

There is a long tradition of treating Shanghai and Hong Kong as comparable cities, albeit ones with distinctive features. This was especially true during the period that followed the Opium War (1839-1842), which ended with a treaty that turned the former into a city divided between a Chinese-run and foreign-run part and the latter into a British colony. Throughout the next century, the two cities vied with each other for the distinction of being considered China’s most cosmopolitan port community and most important gateway to the West. To place them side by side, as I have done in these two vignettes – that while written in the third person, as many readers will have guessed, refer to my own experiences – may seem a much tamer sort of juxtaposition than those found in earlier parts of this book. And yet, the two cities went very different ways after 1949, when Hong Kong remained part of the British Empire and Shanghai became part of the newly created PRC. By the time I first encountered the two cities in the mid-1980s, Shanghai and Hong Kong seemed very different indeed, separated by much more than the hundreds of miles that stood between them. In addition, back then, their campuses and students had little in common.


The Morning After

A Beijinger remembers the Tiananmen crackdown – Anna Wang

The morning after, Radio Beijing reported the Tiananmen Massacre.

Years later, a friend of mine told me that as he listened to the broadcast, he pulled his curtains tight and hid in the pitch black of his room. Rumor had it soldiers would open fire on any sign of life. Even a flick of a light switch could get you killed. He kept his radio as low as possible.

This is Radio Beijing. Never forget June 3, 1989: the most tragic event in the history of the nation’s capital.

Radio Beijing was a shortwave station. Its signal was easily scrambled by electronic interferences. Machines in neighboring factories, streetcars, combustion engines, and even desk lamps could distort the signal. But that morning, the city lay in darkness, and nearly all modern conveniences stopped functioning. The sound of Radio Beijing was crystal clear.

Tears rolled down my friend’s face.


Nailing the Jell-O

Chinese Democracy and the Great Firewall – James Griffiths


Li Hongkuan was a spammer extraordinaire. Beginning in 1997, he built up a database of hundreds of thousands of email addresses, collecting those available online or trading them with others in the same business. Particularly useful were university servers, which often had little to no security, allowing Li or one of his assistants to grab the email addresses of all the staff and students who ever signed up for an account.

That year, he launched his newsletter, Da Cankao, known in English as VIP Reference. Compiled by Li and a team of volunteers, Da Cankao collected articles that had been censored in China and translated sensitive stories from the foreign press before dumping them into the inboxes of thousands of unsuspecting users. By spamming people with the newsletter, it not only spread far and wide, but also gave recipients plausible deniability if they were found in possession of a copy.


Damming the Upper Mekong

How new dams in southwest China are displacing upland peoples – Brian Eyler

An excerpt from Last Days of the Mighty Mekong


Just south of where the stream draining the Yubeng Valley flows into the Mekong, the river cuts sharply through a series of steep S-shaped canyons. A few years ago, the dirt path along the river’s eastern side was paved into a new highway. The road is most traveled by Tibetans on motorcycles or oversized dump trucks hauling minerals and sand from local mines and quarries. Small Tibetan villages of 30 or 40 homes made of stone, wood and sod cling to the hospitable parts of the canyon’s few terraces. Multi-colored prayer flags connect each red-roofed home to the local temple or Buddhist shrine. Sometimes the ends of these lines disappear high into the mountainside. Halfway up the canyon, the occasional white stupa keeps watch over these villages. Simple suspension bridges, sturdy enough only for pedestrian or motorcycle traffic, span the river. Not all villages on the opposite side of the canyon have bridge access, and their residents must travel a few kilometers downstream to the next village to reach the paved road.