It was wonderful: Lully Goon, aviatrix

The tweet included an eye-catching image, and a mystery.

I have since found this photograph of Lully Goon in over 50 north American and European newspapers, but there will have been more. She was ‘Un succès féminste en Chine nationaliste’ for Le Petit Journal, her tale growing grander as it echoed further and further: she was ‘a flying instructor to Chinese Nationalist Air Recruits’, for the Auckland Star, ‘she is preparing for an air trip from New York to London’. Her story was carried in as many newspaprs again without the picture, or with a variant of it. Craig Clunas’s print was issued by a German press agency, and had a pencilled Spanish translation of the caption on the reverse: Lully certainly travelled. While there were a few versions of a moderately sized profile, most ran the photograph with a very simple explanatory caption. The news interest lay in the novelty of a young Chinese woman with ambitions to become a pilot and then to train pilots in China. But after her photograph flew around the world in 1928, little more was ever heard of, or could be found out about, Lully Goon.

The first Chinese American woman pilot is generally said to be Guangdong-born Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, who received her private pilot’s licence in March 1932 in Oakland, California, and later flew commercially. Hazel Ying Lee, born in Oregon, gained hers in October 1932, and later flew for the US Air Force. The FAA introduced licencing in 1927, so perhaps this photograph shows that Lully got her wings first. Certainly, it’s assumed that it records a pilot, or at least a pilot in the making.

It doesn’t, but it is an interesting story nonetheless and surely, emperors excepted, there can have been few living teenagers of Chinese descent whose image had ever before been so widely circulated internationally as Lully Veda Goon’s was in the summer of 1928. Recorded at her birth in Boston in 1910 as Lillian Goon, but afterwards always referred to as Lully, this aviatrix was the eldest of the five children of Tacoma, Washington born Henry Lun Goon and Moy Shee. The Goons lived in Pawtucket from late 1916 onwards, where Henry opened the Canton Restaurant at 224 Main Street.

Goon’s business seems to have been successful, and he was a prominent figure in the local Chinese-American community. A 1920 newspaper article records him as president of the local branch of the ‘Chinese Nationalist League’ – the Guomindang.[1] The Pawtucket branch had been raising funds to support China’s economic development through the building of machine tool plants in Guangzhou. This was Sun Yat-sen’s political powerbase, and ‘it seems the Honolulu doctor’ – Sun – ‘suits [Goon’s] taste and that of the league’. Goon would later say that as a student he had heard Sun speak in Boston, and he and his wife had contributed to Sun’s fundraising drives at the time of the 1911 revolution.

Lully first found her photograph in the local press in June 1927, as ‘the first Chinese girl to graduate from Pawtucket High School’[2] She had been a bookish student, according to her high school yearbook profile:

There’s no hint of Lully the pilot here, unless you except the Latin tag: ‘Through Adversity to the Stars’ is the motto of Britain’s Royal Air Force. The profiles make it clear that it was Henry Goon who was the enthusiast. Fourteen years earlier he had flown with one of the Wright brothers at Marblehead; in 1927 he had watched Charles Lindbergh fly at Pawtucket. Earlier in 1928 a British pilot, Leonard Robert Curtis, had established a flight training school in the town, and now there was an opportunity for Henry to learn to fly, at least vicariously. ‘Yes, I’ll fly’, shy Lully was reported as saying.

The story broke in the Pawtucket Times on 14 June 1928: ‘Chinese girl here may teach nationalists how to fly planes’. And that day Curtis took Lully up: ‘Do you want me to do some tricks’, he asked, and then looped the loop, twice. This was the day the photographs were taken, for ‘camera and newspapermen’ were there to see her. ‘’I want to keep flying. I am not afraid. It was wonderful’, she said. ‘She is cool and she has the ambition. I’ll teach her’, said Curtis. It was the pilot’s show, of course. He had invited the newsmen, and fellow aviators presumably with the aim of securing publicity for his new business, gaining much, much, more than he might have hoped for.[3]

While most newspapers simply published this photograph, and a very brief caption, some carried a longer profile. Lully Goon, they said, was diffident but determined. She was quite camera shy, which suggests that her bemused self-possession as she stood on the biplane’s wing conveys something of the thrill of the day’s event. She had never been to China, she admitted, but was determined to help save it. She was her father’s daughter, it was implied. ‘I am a nationalist’, she said.

But rather than pilot training or training pilots, or going to China, or even to study literature at Brown, Lully Goon had already signed up for classes at the Department of Freehand Drawing and Painting at Rhode Island School of Design on graduating from high school, and kept on at her studies there until 1930. A portrait of her by Rhode Island artist Stephen Macomber is recorded as being exhibited at the sixth annual show of the Mystic Society of Arts in 1930, but of this side of her life I have found no other trace.[4] Curtis tried once more to make use of his star pupil (known to local readers, it seems, by her given name): ‘Lully may make parachute jump at coming meet’ ran an article in September 1928, reporting that she had written to the army to request a parachute. ‘I’m not afraid, … it will be a new thrill’.[5] Like the rest of her flying lessons that year (she was, it was reported, ill that summer), Lully’s jump did not take place.

Pawtucket Senior High School Yearbook 1927, p. 29 (via Ancestry.com)

She never flew, I think, and she certainly never got to China. In 1931 Lully married a New York University student, John Chung Sau Lee. Perhaps they had met at a meeting of the Chinese Students Alliance, in which she took part, speaking on behalf of the women delegates at the September 1928 meeting of its eastern chapter: Lully Veda Goon was her own woman. But around this point also she contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. The record goes quiet; the stars receded; adversity set in. In 1935 Lully Lee was a waitress at her father’s restaurant, but I can’t see her husband recorded there. On 2 November 1937 she died, after a long illness. She was still a pilot in the newspaper imagination: ‘Lully Goon Dies at Elm Street Home / Woman who hoped to train aviators for China succumbs’, ran a front-page item in the Pawtucket Times. Ironically, she died as ‘war planes roared over China’, and her husband was said to be serving in the Nationalist army.

Henry Goon ‘Restaurateur’ died in Plainville, Massachusetts, in December 1941, but he was also of course ‘the father of the … Chinese aviator who learned to fly … but died before she realized an ambition to train flyers for China in its conflict with Japan’. But Lully lives on in this image and as this image. The photograph can be found online, and – evidently – in vintage markets too. She is recorded in a history of women pilots in China. If she was not the first Chinese American to learn to fly, she was one of the earliest who started to learn to. What lingers with me is this inspiring and cheerful image of a young nationalist, a modern, enjoying her day in the skies: ‘It was wonderful.’

The Paris Times Sunday Pictorial Section, 26 August 1928, p. 2

I am grateful to Craig Clunas, for donating the photograph he found to the Historical Photographs of China platform — and of course for putting the question in the first place and inspiring this post — and to Douglas Doe, at the Rhode Island School of Design Archives for his assistance with Lully’s student records. The Rhode Island Historical Society’s website hosts the local newspapers that helped me dig out Lully Goon’s story and that of her family. Additional details came from searches in, amongst others, Newspapers.com, Gallica.bnf.fr, BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk, Ancestry.com, and FamilySearch.


[1] Pawtucket Times, 22 September 1920, p. 4.

[2] Pawtucket Times, 30 April 1927, p. 1, 23 June 1927, p. 9.

[3] Pawtucket Times, 14 June 1928, p. 9, 15 June, p. 20.

[4] Hartford Courant, 3 August 1930, p. 7c.

[5] Pawtucket Times, 18 September 1928, p. 3.

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.

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.

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.

Otto, Mitzi, and Ho Chi Minh

‘A Military Messenger Heads for the Enemy’s Camp’: Japanese officers, Edna Lee, Otto, and Mitzi, leave the Kowloon Hotel on 13 December 1941.

When I first came across this Japanese military propaganda photograph of the ‘Peace Mission’ despatched across Hong Kong’s harbour from Kowloon on 13 December 1941, I knew it had to find a place in Out of China. It was not simply the bewildered look on the face of hapless hostage Edna Lee, whose husband was private secretary to the Governor, Sir Mark Young, nor was it the suave smartness of the glove-wearing Japanese officers preparing to cross the harbour with Mrs Lee, one of two British hostages they took with them. It was of course the fact that Edna Lee took her two dogs, and that they were dachshunds.

Smiles, gloves, and Otto (or Mitzi), on Hong Kong island, awaiting the British answer, 13 December 1941

Otto and Mitzi, for such were their names, got a starring role in this photograph that was widely distributed by the Japanese military press network. Mrs Lee was a ‘courageous woman’ ran the official caption. Indeed, as well as agreeing to the uncertain challenge of crossing the harbour under potentially hostile fire, Edna had the presence of mind to say that she would only consider going if a fellow captive on the verge of giving birth was also allowed to accompany them, and stay to receive British medical attention. But Edna also insisted on being accompanied by her dogs. American journalist Gwen Dew managed to talk to Mrs Lee as well as to the Japanese emissaries when they reached the island, and while they waited for answer to their message. The Dachshunds were an obvious conversation piece under the circumstances. ‘Yes, they’re Germans’, she told Dew, ‘but you can’t blame the poor dogs for that’. And as she chomped from a ‘tall pile of sandwiches’ brought from the Hong Kong Club — as you do in the middle of a battle — Edna reported that the Japanese had also filmed her, and had in fact repeatedly made her rehearse the exit from the hotel where she had taken shelter. This war was being staged as it was being fought, and what was being staged here aimed to portray the absurdity of anybody continuing to think of the British as imperial overlords: just look at the photograph again.

I thought of this episode the other day when I noticed that one of the stories published in the South China Morning Post on the very same day, under the heading ‘Merciful Release’, reported that Rosa Loseby, owner of the Kowloon City Dogs Home, had had all the 73 pets there put down before she had fled to Hong Kong Island. Loseby had brought over a few of her favourite puppies, and was not the only person to do so, but most of the dogs and cats in the city’s pioneering dogs’ home had been put down. This small massacre within the greater slaughter of the bloody battle for Hong Kong also echoed the mass euthanasia of some 400,000 dogs and cats in London in the autumn of 1939, which forms the subject of a recently-published book. So, lucky Otto, then; and lucky Mitzi. Lucky too, Gwen Dew, who managed to secure a passage on one of the exchange vessels in summer 1942. Her memoir of the Japanese assault and the first months of the occupation, Prisoner of the Japs (1943), mentions the plucky Dachshunds a few more times, for the Japanese fulfilled a promise to give Edna Lee and her pets special treatment for co-operating. But then they vanish from the record as Edna was eventually moved into Stanley Internment Camp. I am afraid that I do not think their canine luck held much longer.

And Ho Chi Minh? Oh, well: Rosa Loseby’s husband was a British lawyer, Francis Loseby, who had been instrumental in securing Ho Chih Minh’s release after he was arrested in Hong Kong in 1931. It took eighteen months, a great deal of skilful advocacy, and some cloak and dagger subterfuge. During the latter part of the period Ho was a regular dinner guest at the Loseby home, and in in 1960 the couple and their daughter visited Vietnam and were received by now President Ho. You can find plenty of photographs of this visit online on Vietnamese websites.