Nathan Dunn’s Chinese Collection on tour, 1847-1850

On 18 June 1842, Queen Victoria recorded in her journal an unusual afternoon’s visit:

… we drove with Uncle, the Cousins, &c riding to see a Chinese Collection belonging to a Mr Don [sic], who made the collection, in order to have it exhibited in aid of Charities. The profits made, are to be applied to charitable purposes. The collection is splendid & very complete, down to the smallest details. There were life size figures, dressed in various beautiful costumes, all done in China, indeed one could have almost fancied oneself in China.

It was a retired Philadelphian China trader, Nathan Dunn, amongst whose collection the royal party spent an hour and a half that day. Dunn had spent the best part of 12 years in Canton (Guangzhou), and on his return to the United States had opened a ‘Chinese Museum’ housing his collection in Philadelphia in 1838. Seeking a better financial return, he shipped it to London in November 1841. Dunn’s extensive and varied collection of objects and clay mannequins of Chinese figures has been the subject of a number of passages, including one of my own, in discussions of the engagement of American and British publics with Chinese material culture, and the image and understanding of China.[1] As far as London knew in June 1842 Britain was still at war in China (the Queen, the previous month, had accepted a gift of four captured Chinese flags) and it was not until November that despatches communicating the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing arrived from China.

Frontispiece to William B. Langdon, “Ten thousand Chinese things.” A descriptive catalogue of the Chinese Collection … (London: 1844)

After the Queen’s visit, the exhibition was opened to the public. Housed in a purpose-built building on Knightsbridge Road, facing Hyde Park near Wilton Place, visitors entered through a ‘gorgeous’ (or ‘grotesque’ depending on the account) ‘exact copy’ of a ‘Chinese summer house’ – a pagoda, in fact — brought from the country itself. They then entered a cavernous hall 225 feet long and 50 wide within which was ‘China in miniature’, and which we can get a strong sense of from images published in the Illustrated London News, the exhibition’s Descriptive Catalogue, and other sources.[2] The Pagoda and the hall remained a feature of London life for the best part of five years. Punch magazine published a satirical guide to it in 1844, and there were other spoofs. Newspapers report tours of it by visiting princes and pashas, while roundups of seasonal entertainments rarely fail to make mention of it. From late 1845 reports of its imminent closure and eventual relocation started appearing, but it was not until the last week of January 1847 that the exhibition closed down.[3]

‘The Chinese Collection, Hyde Park Corner’, Illustrated London News, 21 August 1842, p. 204

In 1851 the exhibition reopened in a new building at Albert Gate, close by the original site, and close too, to the Crystal Palace housing the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’. The minor puzzle is, where had it been in the meantime? Helen Saxbee, whose unpublished 1990 PhD dissertation remains the most complete account of the Chinese Collection’s London sojourn, concluded that while it might actually have gone on tour, as was claimed it would do, ‘an undertaking to tour a show as large and valuable as Dunn’s has no precedent or parallel in this period, and must ultimately be regarded as highly unlikely’.[4] Saxbee did note that an installation styling itself ‘The Chinese Exhibition’ had been advertised as opening in August 1847 in Bow, in East London, but followed Richard D. Altick’s earlier conclusion that this was a copycat sham.[5]

I’m not so sure. It was clearly a profitable enterprise, even if we discount as salesman’s hyperbole the assurances of its ability to earn ‘a very large sum’ annually from its display in London that William Langdon detailed in advertisements in May to August 1845 when offering it for sale as Dunn’s executor after the American’s death in 1844.[6] A Briton, who had also worked in Canton and was the Museum’s salaried curator, Langdon was, under the terms of Dunn’s will, made joint trustee of the collection with a Philadelphia trader, Isaac Collins. The men were directed to maintain the collection on display in London for up to five years from its opening date and then sell it for the benefit of Dunn’s estate.[7] Langdon did not sell it, or not entirely: he seems in fact to have bought it himself.

As this collection, mounted in display cases on a dozen and a half large carriages (the number varies), mostly transported by train, journeyed over the next three years from Bow to Birmingham then Liverpool, to Hull and Edinburgh, to Carlisle and then in late 1850 to Newcastle, Langdon’s name is often associated with it. In April 1849 we have sight of the outline business arrangements, for Langdon’s then partnership with a Kensington silversmith, Francis George Herbert, and a Knightsbridge Linendraper Robert Lewis Gawtry was dissolved, with Gawtry leaving the business.[8] The partnership’s interest is duly recorded as ‘in the Chinese Exhibition’. Searching for the ‘Chinese exhibition’ in the ‘British Library Newspapers’ database throws up a steady series of references that have allowed me to track the exhibition as it made its way around the country. This was not least because of the special arrangements that needed to be made to effect that perambulation, for example from Hull to Edinburgh: the large number of outsize ‘caravans’ which were arranged at each site to form ‘a spacious and magnificent saloon, approached through a pagoda’, and which were conveyed by one train, suspended on special iron rods between railway trucks, sometimes on specially laid temporary lines to avoid the sides of low bridges. A second train carried the rest of the exhibition and the horses which were to pull the caravans to the actual exhibition site. [9]

High society continued to patronise the collection when it opened, and notable foreign visitors were also reported attending, but admission prices were half those of London’s, and the ‘working classes’ paid half-price. There were lantern nights, and there was always a band performing as the customers strolled between the display cases. Sometimes this ‘UNRIVALLED FULL SAX-HORN BAND’ performed ‘original Chinese airs, and other musical oddities’ in the evening, as they did one week of February nights in Edinburgh at a ‘Feast of Lanterns’ when the exhibition was augmented with an eighty-foot-long arch (and the ticket price doubled).[10] William Blight’s band, ‘of metropolitan celebrity’ was undoubtedly an additional draw, for he was well known from engagements at the Surrey Zoological Gardens and Royal Gardens, Vauxhall. Visitors got a taste of London, as they got their taste of China.

The final provincial exhibition in Newcastle was closed on 28 January 1851, and the collection was conveyed south to London. The caravans, now surplus to requirement, were sold off (minus their wheels), and instead, installed in its new building, augmented now with a ‘real Chinese lady and her attendants’, the exhibition reopened on 21 April in London.[11] So ended the provincial adventures of Nathan Dunn’s collection of ‘ten thousand things’, which had probably entertained rather than instructed the working and the leisured classes in several cities and towns, leaving little by way of any trace, barring perhaps a repurposed cararvan ‘bought of the Chinese Exhibition’ and advertised for its hauling services by a Newcastle carter, William McCree, in late February 1851. The exhibition faced more competition in London in 1851, than it had nine years earlier – even its caterer was bankrupted — and it closed in October. The collection was then sold off at auction in December that year. The pagoda seems already to have been sold, and re-erected in the new Victoria Park in east London after the closure of the original exhibition. It remained in the park until it was demolished in 1956.[12] Langdon sought a different kind of fortune in late 1852 when he travelled to Melbourne, one of tens of thousands attracted by the gold rush. He eventually settled in Australia for good, where he died in 1868.

There’s more that might be extracted from this story, and I might return to it. For now, I’m happy to leave with the thought of William McCree boasting about his new cart’s exotic associations, for I cannot think of any other reason that he would make detailed reference to its purchase when offering his services to the public. And how long did he go on doing so, as memories of the exhibition faded? Might it still have been worthy of note up until the time he sold off all his equipment and horses in 1861 when he set himself up as a commission agent? I’d like to think so.[13]

NB: I am grateful to Dr Andrew Hillier for inadvertently prompting this post.


[1] Notably: John Rogers Haddad, The Romance of China: Excursions to China in U.S. Culture, 1776-1876 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008); Elizabeth Chang, Britain’s Chinese Eye: Literature, Empire, and Aesthetics in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), pp. 116-17; Jonathan Goldstein, ‘Nathan Dunn (1782–1844) as Anti-Opium China Trader and Sino-Western Cultural Intermediary’, in Paul A. Van Dyke, and Susan E. Schopp (eds), The Private Side of the Canton Trade, 1700-1840: Beyond the Companies (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018), pp. 95-114; see also my The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qinq Empire, 1832-1914 (London: Allen Lane, 2011), pp. 88-89.

[2] Description from Morning Post, 21 June 1842, p. 6 (‘grotesque’ from Illustrated London News, 6 August 1842, p. 204); Elizabeth Phillips, ‘A Pagoda in Knightsbridge’, The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 4:2 (1984), pp. 37-42.

[3] The Era, 17 January 1847, p. 8; Punch’s Guide to the Chinese Collection (London: Punch, 1844). The magazine’s role in creating and perpetuating caricatures of China and the Chinese is the subject of Amy Matthewson’s recent book, Cartooning China: Punch, Power, & Politics in the Victorian Era (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022).

[4] Helen Saxbee, ‘An Orient Exhibited: The exhibition of the Chinese Collection in England in the 1840’ (Royal College of Art, Unpublished PhD thesis, 1990), p. 49; ‘Removal of the Chinese Exhibition’, The People’s Journal, January 1847, p. 4.

[5] Richard D. Altick, The Shows of London (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 292-94

[6] Eg Morning Post, 29 May 1845, p. 1.

[7] Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 20 November 1844, and Nathan Dunn’s will and associated documents, via Ancetry.com

[8] London Gazette, 20 April 1849, p. 1331. The 1851 census records Langdon as a visitor at Herbert’s home (via Ancestry.com).

[9] In this instance the details are from The Caledonian Mercury, 3 December 1849, p. 3; and The Inverness Courier, 15 November 1849.

[10] Caledonian Mercury, 11 February 1850, p. 1.

[11] Newcastle Journal, 5 January 1851, p. 1; 15 February 1851, p. 5;

[12] Morning Post, 23 September 1851, p. 7; Times, 10 December 1851, p. 8; 8 October 1956, p. 5. The last of the daily advertisements for it in the London press appeared on 15 October. I cannot trace an explicit contemporary reference to the re-erection of the pagoda in Victoria Park, but an early print of it shows a very clear similarity. This structure was in place by the winter of 1849: Morning Chronicle, 2 January 1850, p. 3.

[13] Newcastle Courant, 28 February 1851, p. 1, 26 July 1861, p. 4.

The Chairman joked, and Chinese film history got confused

Not that Chairman, but Henry John Howard Tripp, Chairman of the Shanghai Recreation Club in 1897. A long-time resident of Shanghai, where he worked as agent for the Mitsui Bishi Company (having previously lived in Japan), Tripp was a keen (if apparently not brilliant) sportsman, a sometime jiujitsu practitioner, and an energetic chair who had the recreation ground — which sat within the Shanghai Race Club track — cleared of Chinese grave mounds. So Cape Town-born Tripp left his mark on Shanghai’s landscape, but he also left it, quite inadvertently, in the literature on the history of Chinese cinema.

How so? Well, some accounts of the history of the arrival of film in China state that the first scenes filmed in China were screened on 5 August 1897 at the Shanghai Recreation Ground. Tripp was most likely to be the Chairman of the evening’s events. A trio of entrepreneurs, scenting opportunity, were touring the larger foreign communities in China, giving exhibitions of films using the newly Cinematograph and Animatoscope equipment. Film historians have been assiduous in tracking down reports of their movements and shows, combing English-language and Chinese newspapers, noting audience reactions and diligently matching the descriptions given of the films with the known body of work being produced in Europe. The first screening in Shanghai seems to have been at the Astor House Hotel on Saturday 22 May 1897 and we have excited and detailed reports about this and other shows, with lists of film titles and descriptions of the machinery.

What is most striking is the suggestion that these machines were being used to film, as well as to project. And so in the literature you can find accounts of performances which note also that on 5 August 1897 some shorts filmed in Shanghai were shown to the audience at the Recreation Club. The titles were: ‘The Arrival of the First Train from Woosung’, ‘The Meet of the Shanghai Bicyclist Association’, ‘Workmen Leaving the Shanghai Engine Works’, and ‘Diving at the Shanghai Swimming Bath’. So, it seems, cinema history was made in what would in time become China’s movie-making capital, and a city much mythologised on the silver screen. The source is a report of the event in the North China Herald published on 13 August 1897. The evening, we are told, was a great success, and culminated with the assembled company singing songs. Having recounted all this (barring the singing) — a report that other scholars have relied on and repeated — one history asks: ‘But who made those films?’

Lumière Brothers, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat train station (1896)

‘The arrival of the first train from Woosung’ (1897) … ? Hmm

Well, the answer, in a sense, is probably Henry John Howard Tripp. For the report has more than once been been misread. No films shot in Shanghai were shown that hot August night in Shanghai. Instead, we are told that ‘much amusement’ was ’caused by the Chairman wittily giving his own titles to the pictures shown’. And so Shanghai was given ‘a peep into the future’, and ‘Workmen Leaving Portsmouth Dockyard’ became in his words ‘Workmen Leaving the Shanghai Engine Works’, while one of the Lumière Brothers films showing the arrival of a train became ‘The Arrival of the First Train from Woosung’. Very droll, especially the latter, for it was noticed that the conductors and passengers were all European.

Droll but confusing for some, and Tripp’s joke became a statement of fact, and the cheerful night a landmark event in the onward march of film-making in China. So the first film footage shot in China was instead that which we know to have been shown on Saturday 18 September at the Lyceum Theatre in the city. (First, that is, if we are to rely on this the first comment in this vein in China’s English-language press). The audience that night was small, for perhaps the novelty was wearing off: there had been complaints about the way the Animatoscope vibrated, and that while people seemed to be rendered faithfully, something very funny happened to turning wheels. But in amongst the other shorts of the procession in London to mark Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (which had brought an earlier audience to its feet to sing the National Anthem)  ‘the most novel feature was a view of the Bubbling Well Road, in the neighbourhood of the Recreation Ground, which had to be shown twice in response to the demand of the audience’. We are told that ‘the proprietors hope to be able to show some more views of Shanghai in the course of a day or two’.

Lumière Brothers, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat train station (1896)

Lumière Brothers, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat train station (1896)

So I hope that this is now cleared up. Although of course, I do not know for sure that it was Tripp himself who presided on 5 August. It seems a reasonable supposition but might, however, be yet another red herring. Over to you.

And here, just for the record, is a photograph of the first train from Woosung.

Shanghai-Wusong railroad opening ceremony, 1876

Shanghai-Wusong railroad opening ceremony, 1876, Source Virtual Shanghai.

Sources: North China Herald, 13 August 1897, p. 296; 10 September 1897, p. 498; 6 April 1912, p. 16.

Bibliography

Cheng Jihua (ed.), Zhongguo dianying fazhanshi (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe, 1963).

Law Kar and Frank Bren, Hong Kong Cinema: A Cross-cultural View (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2004), pp. 17-18, p. 307.

Matthew D. Johnson, ‘International and wartime origins of the propaganda state : the motion picture in China, 1897-1955’ (University of California San Diego, PhD thesis, 2008), p. 38.

Huang Xuelei, Shanghai Filmmaking: Crossing Borders, Connecting to the Globe, 1922-1938 (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 143-44.

Hong Kong bound

I’m talking this Sunday evening in Hong Kong, 8 November, as part of the wonderful Hong Kong International Literary Festival. To find out more check out the Festival website, starting of course with Past Perspectives: China Bound 太古集團乘風破浪 I’ll be talking about China Bound, and the story of nineteenth and century globalization that I found in the story of John Swire & Sons, and its worlds.

Introducing China Families

Over the last couple of years I have been working with colleagues to transfer some of the scattered sets of biographical information that I have developed during research projects over the last two decades onto a new platform. The site, China Families, is now live, and still growing. Through various projects I had built up substantial sets of biographical information about men who served in the Shanghai Municipal Police (when developing Empire Made Me), the Chinese Maritime Customs Service (Chinese and foreign staff), and the shipping line China Navigation Co (whilst writing China Bound). An interest in the history of cemeteries and memorialisation amongst treaty port communities in China left me with sets of historic cemetery lists. These have now been combined with lists of civilian internees, neutral European nationals in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, and British government probate records, into a single searchable database. There are at least 60,000 records available. In addition I have developed a list of all the digitised copies of residents’ and business directories that I could find online, and provided guides for looking for men and women who lived in Hong Kong, and in Shanghai.

The sources are diverse. Much of the information comes from archival documents in Shanghai, Nanjing, and in London, from my own research in local newspapers and printed records. Some of the materials used have subsequently been withdrawn from public access, especially material from archives in China. I have also recently published an introduction to the history that underpins this, and set out some of the resources available for those researching their treaty port China family histories (and I identified some that you will not find).

The site is free to use, and requires no registration, and is designed to be useful for historians and genealogists alike, and also sits alongside the Historical Photographs of China platform. Do play around with it, and let me know what you think. I would be interested to know what you find there, and what you do with the information.

 

Wuhan

Let’s remember, please: Wuhan is not an unknown place, it is not beyond our knowledge. Wuhan has long been a part, even of British lives — and many others overseas — intimately so, if unobtrusively. Produce from Wuhan fed British days. Tea was shipped out from the port and found its way eventually into British homes and down British throats (and Australian ones, and many others). Powdered and later liquid egg was sent out from processing plants in the city and would fetch up in British bakeries. A British day in the 1920s might this way be sustained by Wuhan produce. So this long relationship could not be more physically intimate. Wuhan’s direct entanglement with the world beyond Hubei province’s borders is nothing new. Caravans took tea overland to Russia. In 1868, SS Agamemnon, a British-owned steamer of the Blue Funnel line, sailed to the port to collect the first crop of new teas, ready to carry them swiftly direct to London. Wuhan was an internationally-connected city, even then, though mostly tea went first downriver to Shanghai for transhipment.

The city of Wuhan is actually formed of what were historically three cities: Wuchang, on the right bank of the Yangzi, opposite the mouth of the Han river that enters it from the north; Hanyang, on the opposite shore, west of the Han river mouth, and Hankou – written in the past as Hankow – to the east of the Han river. These cities have now grown together into the municipality of Wuhan. It has been a centre of revolutions, of a government in flight, and of international trade.

Map of the port of Hankow (Wuhan), 1892

Foreign flags once flew there. After 1861 a slice of Hankou on the Yangzi riverbank was controlled by the British, and in time other neighbouring slices adjoining it by Russia, France, Germany, and Japan. In Hankow’s British Concession a British Municipal Council ran a police force, employed British nurses in its hospital and British teachers in its school, and oversaw a militia, the Hankow British Volunteer Corps. The Council laid down roads, collected property taxes, and documented its activities in a voluminous printed annual report. Hankow’s Britons sailed home to join up in the First World War, and those who died were commemorated on a now long-ago removed war memorial on the riverside bund, which was unveiled on Remembrance Day, 1922. To the northeast of the city a fine race-track was laid out, and foreign residents and Chinese alike flowed along the road on race days to join the festivities, watch the races, and of course to gamble. The track and surrounds ‘might well be in the heart of surrey’ remarked a visitor in 1938. Britons were born in Hankow, were married there or found partners there, and were interred there in the foreign cemetery. The city’s locally-printed English newspapers published notices of these life events. The descendants of Hankow unions live across the world. They might be your neighbours.

British Municipal Council building, Hankow Concession, flying the Union Jack

This was no innocent presence; it was one local manifestation of the wider British enterprise in China that had degraded the country’s sovereignty, and seen parts of other cities surrendered to British – and to Japanese, Russian, German, Italian, French, and other – concessions and settlements. The British had acquired a colony in Hong Kong in 1842, the Japanese took Taiwan in 1895, the Germans Qingdao in 1897. Tsarist Russia had seized great swathes of Siberia from China’s Manchu rules, the Qing. All of this in turn was of course part of the ravaging of the world by the great hegemons, the European empires, the United States, Japan. These gains were defended with violence. Those British Volunteers and British marines fired on and killed demonstrators in the city in 1925. Names familiar today had a presence there: the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (now HSBC), ICI, British American Tobacco. The airline Cathay Pacific flies there twice daily today from Hong Kong. Into the 1930s its owners, John Swire & Sons, operated passenger and cargo services to the port from Shanghai through their China Navigation Company steamers.

Butterfield & Swire headquarters, Hankow, and Customs House under construction, 1923-24. Source: Historical Photographs of China, Sw-06-002 © John Swire & Sons, Ltd 2007.

Wuhan was a city at the centre of China’s great political resurgence in the twentieth century. It has been on the front pages of newspapers overseas more than once before 2020. In October 1911 revolutionary bomb makers accidentally blew themselves up there, prompting their comrades to launch the great military uprising that would lead to the toppling of the Qing dynasty. The republic that was then inaugurated floundered and in 1926 a new revolutionary alliance of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist party (the Guomindang), and the Chinese Communist Party, launched an audacious campaign to re-establish and reinvent the republic. The movement’s left wing head-quartered itself in Wuhan, establishing a revolutionary capital there. Wuhan’s people reoccupied the British concession, reclaiming it for their city: it never returned to British control despite the fury and tub-thumping of British politicians and British China hands downriver, and despite the fact that the left-wing was turned on by Chiang Kai-shek from his capital in Nanjing, and destroyed. Wuhan returned to the front pages in 1938 as the temporary capital of Chiang’s republic, which had withdrawn from Nanjing in the face of the Japanese invasion. ‘Defend Wuhan’ urges the poster below, but Wuhan fell to the Japanese in October 1938.

Wuhan’s history then is a history that was intertwined with wider global developments, international trade, imperialism, the rise of anti-colonial nationalism, the fascist onslaught of the 1930s, and slowly evolving resistance to it, first in Spain and then in China. In March 1938 the British poet W.H. Auden accompanied by the novelist Christopher Isherwood visited the refugee capital. ‘We would rather be in Hankow at this moment than anywhere else on earth’, wrote Isherwood. ‘History, grown weary of Shanghai, bored with Barcelona, has fixed her capricious interest upon Hankow’. Caprice again brings Wuhan to the world’s attention.

Poster: ‘Defend Wuhan!’. made by the ‘Korean Youth Wartime Service Corps’ (朝鲜青年战时服务团), founded in Wuhan in December 1937 by leftist Korean nationalists. Source: Historical Photographs of China, bi-s168.

For more on the city’s history see:

Chris Courtney, The Nature of Disaster in China: The 1931 Yangzi River Flood (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
William Rowe, Hankow: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City, 1796-1889 (Stanford University Press, 1984)
William Rowe, Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City, 1796-1895 (Stanford University Press, 1989)

My books The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the QIng Empire, 1832-1918 (Penguin) and Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Foreign Domination (Penguin) chart the rise, fall and legacies of this historic degradation of China’s sovereignty, and the nature of the foreign-run establishment in Wuhan and other cities.

Trifles, also known as loot

Still they seep out, items ‘from the Emperor’s Summer Palace’, the Yuanmingyuan. This is the long, long-established euphemism for material looted during the sacking of the Summer Palace by British and French soldiery ‘wild for plunder’ in the days before the complex was burned down by British forces on 18 October 1860. The context was the hard-fought North China Campaign, British and French forces slogging across the plain from the mouth of the Beihai river, avenging bloody defeat at the hands of the Qing at the Dagu forts on 25 July 1859, and the seizure and ill-treatment of Allied envoys by the Chinese. Civilisation and its virtues were reasserted by the destruction of the complex of buildings and gardens northeast of Beijing, the beauty of which had left observers stunned for words.

Lot 516 at today’s sale at Chorley’s, ‘Gloucester’s Fine Auctioneers’ is outlined as ‘An Interesting collection of items relating to General Sir John Hart Dunne KCB’. Then a Captain, Dunne served with the 99th Regiment of Foot. He seized one of the five Pekinese dogs found abandoned in the royal quarters, the one in fact that was presented to Queen Victoria, charmingly renamed ‘Looty’. Sarah Cheang has written nicely about this. Material relating to Dunne’s career was on view at an exhibition in sunny Sidmouth in the summer of 2018.

There are photographs in the lot of Looty, a negative of Dunne and a woman dressed in, presumably, clothing seized from the same place, ‘a filigree work bodkin case of cylinder form, the inner sleeve inscribed ‘A Trifle from the Emperor’s Summer Palace Gen John Hart Dunne'” and more.

Loot, and in fact fake loot, began circulating almost immediately after the days of plunder. Taipans rushed north to pick up what they could from antiques markets around Beijing, any savvy vendor of Chinese objets, or clothing, quickly ran up watertight provenance for their wares, all material now tracing its origins back to the Yuanmingyuan. The ‘fate’ of loot has been tracked by James Hevia, and by others.

And so still they circulate, in this instance ‘a trifle’, or two, and a record of others: relics of the entangled and violent history of British-China relations, items that pepper the collections of British museums and galleries, spoils of war all in plain sight. The photographs here come from the auction catalogue, and I have also edited the negative to reveal more clearly the figure of John Hart Dunne, all dressed in loot.

For more on the campaign and its legacies see my The Scramble for China: Foreign devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (Penguin). I am grateful to Dr Stephen Lloyd, Curator of the Derby Collection, at Knowsley Hall, for drawing the sale to my attention.

And for dog-lovers: here’s Looty in colour, painted by Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl, courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust website.

China Bound

china bound CVRMy new book is out: China Bound: John Swire & Sons and its World, 1816-1980 is published by Bloomsbury. The book covers the period from the first recorded operation of the original John Swire in Liverpool, to the cusp of its re-entry into China in the early 1980s and the last visit to Asia of Swire’s great-grandson, J. K. ‘Jock’ Swire.

You’ll find reviews in the South China Morning Post, and the Asian Review of Books.

‘From colonial Hong Kong to pirate battles, tea-trade to Taipans, wartime container shipping to early airlines, there is barely a dull page’, The Wire China

 

You say US, I say Mao

The arrival of the UK Penguin Books paperback of Out of China reminds me of some of the material that had to be set aside. In particular, when discussing the impact of Maoism on counter culture movements overseas in the 1960s, I made reference to the mesmerising Jean Luc-Godard film ‘La Chinoise’, set largely in the claustrophobic Paris apartment of a group of student Maoists (try counting the Little Red Books: it’s awash with them). But there was no place for his 1969 documentary ‘British Sounds’.

That was a shame, but I was spoiled for choice. I think mainly of the sequence filmed at the then new University of Essex in which students are preparing for a demonstration. The screen shot above shows a collaborative piece of song-writing: fitting new words to the Beatles song ‘Hello, Goodbye’. You can find the film online if you look, and there’s a full transcript here. Here, without the music, is the sequence:

If you want to replace… Look, the whole point of the song is that I say «high,» and you say «low» — two opposites. So if you want to replace it, you’ve got to put it with something that is opposite. – What are you trying to change it round to anyway, exactly?– From what it is to… I mean, you can put some very nice things like «Ho Chi Minh» and «Castro» and things at the end of the lines. Somebody got a fag [cigarette]?– It’s got to be opposites all the way through. «You say US. I say Mao. You say… You say war…– No, you can even say, «Say US. I say Mao.» – Let’s think of the right bit with war, then. – You’ve got to say, «Look, I’m a fascist, and you’re a revolutionary. I’m a reactionary, and you’re a revolutionary.» So: «You say US, I say Mao. You say war…»– I think, actually, that if I say «Ho» instead of «no.» – «You say Vietnam, and I say…» something that compels.– But it doesn’t fit in, because «stop» is a very short syllable. You’ve got to have something that fits in with…– Hang on! «You say Nixon, I say Mao.» – «You say Nixon, I say Mao. You say…»– No, that doesn’t go.– «Say US, when I say Mao.» Good!

Good, indeed. Hmm. The rhyme works though, in context: Essex, 1969.