• Destination Peking

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    New York Times bestselling author Paul French (Midnight in Peking, City of Devils) returns to the Chinese capital to tell 18 true stories of fascinating people who visited the city in the first half of the 20th century.

    From the ultra-wealthy Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton and her husband the Prince Mdivani, to the poor “American girl” Mona Monteith who worked in the city as a prostitute; from socialite Wallis Simpson and novelist JP Marquand, who held court on the rooftop of the Grand Hôtel de Pékin, to Hollywood screenwriter Harry Hervey, who sought inspiration walking atop the Tartar Wall; from Edgar and Helen Foster Snow – Peking's ‘It' couple of 1935 – to Martha Sawyers, who did so much to aid China against Japan in World War II; Destination Peking brings a lost pre-communist era back to life.

    Paul French resurrects a Peking that was filled with glitter as well as evil, but was never known for being dull.” The Economist

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    Contents & Introduction

    The Rooftop of the Grand Hôtel de Pékin: Wallis Spencer’s Peking World & Those Who Went Up on the Roof (1924)

  • Destination Shanghai

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    18 true stories of those who went...

    For the privileged a cosmopolitan pleasure ground; for the desperate a port of last resort.

    A pot of gold at the end of an Oriental rainbow; a thick slice of hell denounced from the pulpit.

    The start of a journey for many; the end of the road for some.

    A place to find fame, or to seek anonymity; rogues, chancers, showgirls, criminals…

    For so many people from so many lands, there was one phrase that sent a tingle of hope or a shiver of anticipation down every spine:

    “DESTINATION SHANGHAI”

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    Contents and Introduction 

    Shanghai’s Most Charming Gangster: Elly ‘The Swiss’ Widler (1940)

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    Hong Kong Volunteers in Battle: December 1941

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    On the same day as the assault on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese army attacked the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. Among the colony’s garrison were regiments from Britain, Canada and India as well as men from the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, better known as ‘The Volunteers’.

    When the battle began on 8 December 1941, the HKVDC deployed a total fighting strength of 1,900 officers and men. These were mustered into seven infantry companies, five artillery batteries and a single armoured car platoon with a full range of support units.

    Over the next 17 days, until the surrender on Christmas Day 1941, the men of ‘The Volunteers’ saw action all over Hong Kong. This is the story of their battle.

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    It Won’t Be Long Now: The Diary of a Hong Kong Prisoner of War

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    Japan marched into Hong Kong at the outbreak of the Pacific War on December 8, 1941. On the same day, Graham Heywood was captured by the invading Japanese near the border while carrying out duties for the Royal Observatory. He was held at various places in the New Territories before being transported to the military Prisoner-of-War camp in Sham Shui Po, Kowloon. The Japanese refused to allow Heywood and his colleague Leonard Starbuck to join the civilians at the Stanley internment camp.

    Heywood’s illustrated diary records his three-and-a-half years of internment, telling a story of hardship, adversity, and survival of malnutrition and disease; as well as repeated hopes of liberation and disappointment. As he awaits the end of the war, his reflections upon freedom and imprisonment bring realisations about life and how to live it.

    Accounts of life in the internment camp differed widely. One friend, an enthusiastic biologist, was full of his doings; he had grown champion vegetables, had seen all sort of rare birds (including vultures, after the corpses) and had run a successful yeast brewery. Altogether, he said, it had been a great experience ... a bit too long, perhaps, but not bad fun at all. Another ended up her account by saying ‘Oh, Mr. Heywood, it was hell on earth’. It all depended on their point of view.”

    Heywood’s highly positive attitude to life is food for thought for all of us today, in the midst of increasing consumerism but decreasing spiritual satisfaction. We have enjoyed freedom and an abundance of material wealth in the 70 years since the end of the Pacific War, but we may not always recognise our true good fortune.

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    Click on the following links to view sample pages from It Won't Be Long Now. You will need a pdf reader to view these excerpts.   Foreword   Chapter 1 - Capture

  • King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong

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    with a foreword by Sir David Tang

    From the start of the Korean war to the end of the Vietnam war, Hong Kong was a major R&R centre for soldiers and sailors. And there were thousands of local people who made their money making sure these visitors had a good time and got the suits and the girls they wanted. In fact they didn’t just wait for their customers to arrive – they sailed out in a flotilla of small boats to greet the ships as they entered the harbour. And then, when the ships had anchored, they shimmied up the anchor chain to be the first to get the orders for shirts and trousers. These were the tailor shop order men. Peter Hui was one of them.

    But who was Peter? What was his story?

    Well, before he took to being a tailor he had been a famous kung fu fighter; a rich playboy, a frequenter of the pleasure houses of Macau; a gambler (he had run three gambling joints in Canton when the Communists walked in); the brains behind a gang of armed robbers (he alone escaped arrest when their third robbery went wrong); an associate of triads – and, before all that, he had been the owner of the biggest string of Mongolian ponies at the Hong Kong Jockey Club – that was during the war years when he was a leading collaborator of the Japanese. He had once, for a very short time, owned all the opium in Hong Kong!

    Later, after his tailoring days had gone flat, he was paid by a CIA officer to report on events in China. This was during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution, when Red Guard factions fought amongst each other.

    Some periods in history are best illuminated by the stories of men and women who lived through them. This is one of those stories. As we follow Peter’s life – his ups, his downs – we see in sharp focus what it was like to be a Chinese man in the British colony of Hong Kong through most of the years of the 20th century. This is the true, bizarre story of a man who knew everybody and saw everything. He wasn’t a wicked man. He was just trying to get by, like everyone else. This is his truly fascinating story.

    And yet this book is not just one man’s story. It is the story of a time and place – colonial Hong Kong, Portuguese Macau and the south China hinterland between Hong Kong and Canton – seen from the unique point of view of a man who was at home at all levels of society. There are, for example, no other published accounts of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong as seen from the non-combatant Chinese perspective.

    The World of Suzie Wong was a best-selling novel in the 1960s – and this story is its background. If Suzie had been a real girl, Peter would have known her.

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    Introduction

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

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    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

  • Strangers on the Praia: A Tale of Refugees and Resistance in Wartime Macao

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    Based on true stories and new research, Paul French weaves together the stories of those Jewish refugees who moved on from wartime Shanghai to seek a possible route to freedom via the Portuguese colony of Macao – “the Casablanca of the Orient”.

    The delicately balanced neutral enclave became their wartime home, amid Nazi and Japanese spies, escaped Allied prisoners from Hong Kong, and displaced Chinese.

    Strangers on the Praia relates the story of one young woman’s struggle for freedom that would ultimately prove an act of brave resistance.

     

  • The Good War of Consul Reeves

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    Months before the start of the Pacific War in 1941, John Reeves – his career and marriage failing – is posted as British consul to the tiny Portuguese colony of Macao in southern China.

    The Japanese soon declare war on the West with their attacks on Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong. But because Portugal is neutral, Macao is left alone and becomes a tiny island of neutrality, an Asian Casablanca surrounded by Japanese-occupied China.

    Reeves, a lonely and awkward man, finds himself the only senior representative of the Allies within a radius of thousands of miles. He runs spy rings, collects intelligence, smuggles people to freedom, takes care of refugees and is threatened with assassination – and The Good War of Consul Reeves tells his story.

  • The Slightest Chance

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    In war, you can pretend to be someone you’re not. Yet, in war, people find out who you really are.

    Hong Kong, 1941. Anglo-Australian civil servant Dominic Sotherly’s colonial sojourn in Hong Kong becomes complicated by his double life in both war and love. Enigmatic Englishwoman Gwen Harmison possesses secrets of her own – plus an unrelenting desire for liberty. Inscrutable Eurasian Chester Drake is but one of Gwen’s secrets.

    From gaiety at the Peninsula Hotel to persecution both inside and outside of internment, the story journeys from war-ravaged Hong Kong to war-weary China.

    From real history, meet the one-legged Chinese admiral who led Hong Kong’s daring ‘Great Escape’ and the Japanese Christian soldier who risked his life for the enemy. And, uniquely during the occupation of Hong Kong, discover how one Englishwoman made history in her defiance of Imperial Japan.

  • Tin Hats and Rice: A Diary of Life as a Hong Kong Prisoner of War, 1941-1945

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    “I can’t visualise us getting out of this, but I want to TRY to believe in a future,” wrote 23-year-old Barbara Anslow (then Redwood) in her diary on 8th December 1941, a few hours after Japan first attacked Hong Kong.

    Barbara's 1941-1945 diaries (with post-war explanations where necessary) are an invaluable source of information on the civilian experience in British Hong Kong during the second world war. The diaries record her thoughts and experiences through the fighting, the surrender, three-and-a-half years of internment, then liberation and adjustment to normal life.

    The diaries have been quoted by leading historians on the subject. Now they are available in print for the first time, making them available to a wider audience.

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    Foreword and introduction