Searching for Billie: A journalist’s quest to understand his mother’s past leads him to discover a vanished China

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By Ian Gill

Ian Gill’s first visit to Hong Kong in 1975 takes an unexpected turn when he meets his Chinese mother Billie’s friends, colleagues and fellow ex-prisoners of war, lifting the veil on a tumultuous past in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

He moves to Asia and unravels her intriguing journey: from controversial adoption by an English postmaster in Changsha to popular radio broadcaster in wartime Shanghai, from tragedy and a doomed romance in a Japanese internment camp to being decorated by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the United Nations. He discovers a great-grandmother in a determined English farm girl who ends up owning a well-known hotel on the China coast in the 1870s – and he finally meets his father for the first time on a Canadian island in 1985.

The backdrop for this fascinating family story is China’s turbulent century from the Anglo-Chinese wars of the 1840s to the advent of communism.

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Contents and Chapter 1

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Description

Ian Gill’s first visit to Hong Kong in 1975 takes an unexpected turn when he meets his Chinese mother Billie’s friends, colleagues and fellow ex-prisoners of war, lifting the veil on a tumultuous past in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

He moves to Asia and unravels her intriguing journey: from controversial adoption by an English postmaster in Changsha to popular radio broadcaster in wartime Shanghai, from tragedy and a doomed romance in a Japanese internment camp to being decorated by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the United Nations. He discovers a great-grandmother in a determined English farm girl who ends up owning a well-known hotel on the China coast in the 1870s – and he finally meets his father for the first time on a Canadian island in 1985.

The backdrop for this fascinating family story is China’s turbulent century from the Anglo-Chinese wars of the 1840s to the advent of communism.

Additional information

Weight 550 g
Dimensions 140 × 216 mm
Pages

400

Binding

Paperback

Illustrations

50+ photographs

About the author

Because of his mother’s circumstances, Ian Gill was conceived in a Japanese prison camp in Hong Kong in 1945 and born in New Zealand after liberation. With his mother, he spent his early life in England, China and Bangkok. After boarding school, university and joining newspapers in England, he worked as a journalist in New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Hawaii (where he took a master’s degree as a grantee with the East-West Center), Hong Kong and Singapore for 14 years. In 1985, he joined the Asian Development Bank, a multilateral financing institution with headquarters in Manila. Over two decades, he travelled widely around the Asia-Pacific region, writing and producing video documentaries.
Since 2006, Gill has returned to journalism and writing books. During his exposure to a wide range of countries, he has paid particular attention to cultural differences in attitudes towards race, class and gender and how they have evolved over the past two centuries.