• Wanderings in China: Hong Kong and Canton, Christmas and New Year, 1878/1879

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    By Constance Gordon-Cumming, introduced and annotated by Paul French
    No. 2 in the China Revisited series
    Inveterate Victorian traveller and prolific artist Constance Gordon-Cumming, born in Glasgow in 1837, roamed far and wide from the Scottish Highlands to the American West; the islands of Hawaii to southern China. Even among her many adventures, her 1878/1879 trip to Hong Kong was momentous. Gordon-Cumming arrived just before Christmas 1878 to inadvertently witness the terrible “Great Fire” of Hong Kong that swept devastatingly through the Central and Mid-Levels districts.
    She then moved on to explorations of the streets, temples and Chinese New Year festivities in Canton (Guangzhou). Her detailed descriptions of the teeming streets of the city’s commercial districts and New Year temple fairs contrast with her temporary residence in the relative calm of the foreign enclave on Shamian Island. Venturing out of the city on expeditions, Gordon-Cumming gives us perhaps one of the most complete descriptions of the now long-gone market gardens of Fa-tee with the famed nurseries that cultivated a bewildering variety of flowers and ornamental trees.

    Finally Gordon-Cumming returns to Hong Kong to observe the annual "Derby Day" races at Happy Valley in February 1879, a major event on Hong Kong’s Victorian-era social calendar. Gordon-Cumming is at one and the same time that rare travel writer who, while plunging into the throngs and crowds, manages to observe the minutiae of life around her.

    “The flames rapidly gained the mastery, suddenly bursting from fresh houses here and there, where least suspected, and spreading from street to street. That night we stood watching this appallingly magnificent scene – the flames rising and falling, leaping and dancing, now bursting from some fresh house, shooting up in tongues of fire, now rolling in dense volumes of black smoke.”


  • LING-NAM: Hong Kong, Canton and Hainan Island in the 1880s

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    By Benjamin Couch 'BC' Henry, introduced and annotated by Paul French
    No. 3 in the China Revisited series
    Benjamin Couch “BC” Henry was a missionary in Hong Kong and southern China in the second half of the 19th century. He arrived in 1873 and remained until 1894. Yet he was much more too – a keen observer, a skilled naturalist and an intrepid explorer. His fascination with the flora and fauna of Hong Kong and southern China are obvious throughout the pages of LING-NAM.
    The bulk of his career in China was spent in what was then commonly known as “Ling-nam”, the Pearl River Delta and environs of Guangzhou. These excerpts of Henry’s travelogue LING-NAM, published in 1886, contain one of the most detailed walking tours of Guangzhou that has survived. Similarly so his travels through the silk, tea and market garden regions adjoining the metropolis. Abd finally, we have Henry’s ground-breaking account of his expeditions around Hainan Island in 1882, then the most extensive undertaken to date by a foreigner. He was also a keen anthropologist interested in the island’s various ethnic groups, such as the Lois, as well as the various languages and dialects of Hainan. Henry’s portrait of southern China was built up over 20 years work and exploration in the region and provides one of the most in-depth looks at southern Chinese life from the growth of Hong Kong, to the bustling streets of Guangzhou, to Hainan’s “Island of Palms”.

    “Drifting slowly by a large collection of flower-boats, gay with lamps and mirrors, and richly furnished with black-wood sofas and embroidered curtains… Dire confusion is often created among the slipper-boats, whose anchorage adjoins, by the surging of the steamer against their outer lines, causing them to jump, and sputter, and dart about like a swarm of ants, shell-like craft, whilst they vociferously hurl maledictions at the great steamer.”


  • Women, Crime and the Courts: Hong Kong 1841-1941

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    Kwan Lai-chun was sick of being made to feel second-class by her husband’s concubine; sick of her mother-in-law’s endless carping about the money she spent; sick of the whole family. Late one sticky, humid night, something snapped in her – and she grabbed the meat chopper. Within minutes, three people were dead: the concubine with over 70 gashes, many of them to the bone.

    Kwan was found guilty and became the second and last woman in Hong Kong to suffer the death penalty. But behind her story, and those of the city’s other female murderers, lie complex webs of relationships and jealousies, poverty and despair.

    Taking the first 100 years of Hong Kong’s colonial history, this book unravels the lives of women – Chinese and Westerners alike – who found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Hong Kong’s female prison population was a tiny fraction of that in Britain or America, but there are still plenty of tales from its women kidnappers, smugglers, bomb-makers, thieves and cruel mistresses.

    Click the following link to read excerpts from the book.


  • The Peak: An Illustrated History of Hong Kong’s Top District

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    Part of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Studies Series

    The Peak is Hong Kong’s top residential district, where property prices are as high as the altitude. How did it become an exclusive enclave in the bustling business centre of 19th-century Asia?

    The British wanted relief from summer heat and the Peak was the obvious place to escape it. When the Governor adopted Mountain Lodge as a summer getaway, development accelerated and the opening of the Peak Tram in 1888 made access easier. Gradually a community developed and a church, a club and a school were established.

    This fully illustrated book describes how the now-popular tourist area developed over time and adapted as needs changed.

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    Trading Places: A photographic journey through China’s former Treaty Ports

    Original price was: HK$580.00.Current price is: HK$480.00.
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    With a foreword by Professor Robert Bickers

    China’s treaty port era extended from the 1840s to 1943, during which time foreigners had a significant presence. This book contains more than 700 photographs of many buildings from this period, most of them commissioned by foreign interests. Many argue that they should never have been built, let alone still be standing. But this book is not concerned with the rights and wrongs of how these buildings came to be. It simply celebrates their existence. A significant number are innately beautiful and all of them embody a history that has clear and present links to our own time and thus remain relevant.

    This book was driven by the author’s interest in the history of China’s treaty port era, in which several generations of his family played a part. It is a tribute to the buildings that remain as a reminder of the past, and a guide to where to find them.

  • Lost Hong Kong: A history in pictures

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    The story of Hong Kong is one of almost constant change. From a sleepy fishing community, Hong Kong – now a Special Administrative Region following its return from Britain to China in July 1997 – has grown into one of the most significant financial and trading centres of the world.

    Hong Kong Island itself has witnessed massive rebuilding over the years, with the result that much of the colonial-era architecture has been swept away and replaced by skyscrapers. Moreover the first high-rise buildings constructed from the late 1950s onwards are now themselves under threat as the constant requirement for more accommodation – both for people and for businesses – continues.

    The Kowloon peninsula and the New Territories have also experienced development, whilst the construction of the new airport saw the destruction of an entire island to create the foundations of the new facility. The pressure for land has seen reclamation schemes extend the coastline of Hong Kong Island far to the north.

    Over the years photographers have recorded the changing face of Hong Kong: its street scenes, buildings and people. This new book – drawing upon images from a wide range of sources, many of which are previously unpublished – is a pictorial tribute to this lost Hong Kong. Once familiar but now long-gone scenes are recorded, offering a tantalising glimpse back at an era which in chronological terms may be relatively recent, but given the rapidity of change, seems like a distant age.

  • The Mercenary Mandarin: How a British adventurer became a general in Qing-dynasty China

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    Jersey-born William Mesny ran off to sea as a boy and jumped ship at Shanghai in 1860 when he was just 18. Amid the chaos of foreign intrigue and civil war in 19th-century China, he became a smuggler, a prisoner of the Taiping rebels, a gun-runner and finally enlisted in the Chinese military.

    After five years of fierce campaigning against the Miao in remote Guizhou province, Mesny rose to the rank of general and used this privileged position to travel around China – to the borders with Burma, Tibet and Vietnam – writing opinionated newspaper articles, collecting plants and advising government officials on the development of railways, telegraphs and other modern reforms.

    Mesny eventually settled in Shanghai with a 16-year-old concubine and published Mesny's Chinese Miscellany, a weekly magazine about his experiences. But his story was not to end well. After his implication in an illicit arms deal, his fortunes never recovered, and when he died in 1919 he was working as a desk clerk.

    David Leffman has spent over 15 years footstepping Mesny’s travels across China, interviewing locals and piecing together his life story from contemporary journals, private letters and newspaper articles.

    Look inside this book

    Click on the following links to view sample pages from The Mercenary Mandarin. You will need a pdf reader to view these excerpts.   Foreword