Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai (2003)
Published in the UK by Penguin books, 2004 ISBN 0141011955, and in north America by Columbia University Press. Now available in Kindle.
The blurb: ‘Shanghai in the wake of the First World War was one of the world’s most dynamic, brutal and exciting cities – a swarming metropolis of nightclubs, opium-dens, gambling, sex and murder. Threatened from within by gangsters, communists and nationalists, and from without by Chinese warlords and the Japanese military, the hold of the British dominated administration seemed increasing fragile.
Robert Bickers’s account of this corrupt and mesmerizing city is illuminated by the rediscovered letters and photo-albums of a forgotten Englishman – a tough, resourceful policeman who stepped into the maelstrom of post-war Shanghai. Told through the moving story of one man’s life and death while working for a governing class he could never belong to, Empire Made Me provides an intriguing glimpse into how the British Empire really worked.’
Some reviews: “Informative… energetically written. Making his way warily between the anti-imperialists and the nostalgists of empire, placing a ‘marginal’ man in his full context, Bickers does lift a corner of the curtain on a nearly lost world, a world as ordinary then as it may seem extraordinary to us.” — John Spurling The Guardian. Full review here.
“fascinating piece of historical detective work…it is probably the best Old Shanghai book I have read…superb — Anton Graham China Economic Review
“Empire Made Me is a fascinating and intimate portrait of Shanghai at its apex’. Asian Review of Books
” A work of dedicated and original scholarship… What emerges is the portrait of a singular and heroic man.” — John Carey Sunday Times, London
“Bickers’ detailed recovery of an obscure and ‘unimportant’ policeman’s life gives a valuable street-level view of a complex scene. — Robin Blake Financial Times, London
“One of the most intriguing true-life books of the year. — David Wilson South China Morning Post
“superb” — Giles Foden Conde Nast Traveler (UK)