Excerpts

Formosa Fraud

George Psalmanazar’s 18th century fabulations of Taiwan – Graham Earnshaw

EXCERPTED FROM FORMOSA FRAUD

Taiwan is the topic on everyone’s lips. What’s going on there? Who does the island rightfully belong to? How important is the influence of the West? What is the real culture of the island’s residents? The debate rages.

Is this the early twenty-first century? No. It’s London more than three hundred years ago, at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

In 1704, a man appeared in England with the most extraordinary stories about Taiwan, or Formosa as it was then called. How eighteen-thousand boys are killed every year as part of Formosan religious ceremonies; the island is a major producer of gold and silver; and Catholic priests are causing trouble there.

He said his name was George Psalmanazar, and his information about Formosa – it’s culture, history, society and economy – captivated the English reading public. He published a book on the topic which went into a second edition, he gave speeches, he was fêted by the Bishop of London, he went to Oxford to teach Formosan. There was just one problem with the situation: his whole story was fake.

Excerpts

Beijing’s Last Steel Factory

Jonathan Chatwin visits the abandoned Shougang steelworks

EXCERPTED FROM LONG PEACE STREET

On a sultry August morning, a taxi brought me through Beijing’s western suburbs to the literal end of the road. At a makeshift barrier, a young police officer waved us to a standstill. “You can’t go any further,” he told the taxi driver, glancing pointedly at the foreigner in the back- seat, “It’s a building site beyond here: residents only.” Behind him and the barrier he tended, an almost empty stretch of gloss-black tarmac ran west.

I told the driver I would get out. “Here?” he asked, raising an eyebrow in the rear-view mirror. Here was the very western limit of Beijing, where the frayed edge of the city rubbed against the rough dun stone of the Western Hills. Besides the checkpoint, there was nothing here but a few brick buildings, the forbidden road ahead and the construction site which bordered it, fenced off with blue corrugated iron panels. “Here,” I repeated, proffering my money.

Excerpts

The Dirty DA of Shanghai

US judge Leonard Husar’s sordid judiciary in 1920s Shanghai – Douglas Clark

Milton Purdy, upon arrival as the US Judge in Shanghai at the hearing to welcome him, commented on “how fortunate had been the U.S. Government in getting men of such excellent quality and ability as the officials of this court.” At the very end of 1926, he learnt how wrong he had been. The US Court for China saw the trial of two of its officials for engaging in serious criminal misconduct.

First, Purdy had the sad duty to pass sentence on the former Clerk of the US Court, William Chapman, who had pleaded guilty to embezzling $15,000 from the court. He had originally fled to Seattle, but was caught on arrival in the US and was brought back to Shanghai for trial. Purdy sentenced Chapman to three years and five months imprisonment. Having arrived in Shanghai to be sentenced, Chapman was then put back on the same boat, the President Roosevelt, heading back to Seattle. Long-term US prisoners were now imprisoned at the federal penitentiary on McNeil Island in Puget Sound just near Seattle.

Excerpts

Murder in Peking

Graeme Sheppard reopens an old investigation

EXCERPTED FROM A DEATH IN PEKING BY GRAEME SHEPPARD

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. 

Excerpts

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.