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

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,,,,, 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.


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.

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.


What Daisy Knew

In May 1949 Life‘s Shanghai Bureau photographer, Jack Birns, accompanied by its reporter Roy Rowan did the rounds of those bars and cabarets in the city that catered in the main for foreign sailors. You can find most of the photographs, which were not used at the time, in the Google Images Life Archive (search for ‘China, Last Days Of Shanghai‘, then browse). With a little patience you’ll find sets of photographs of bars and their owners, and the Chinese and Russian hostesses who entertained the patrons. You will not find many of the latter, for the Communist armies were moving on the city, so the bars are eerily empty. For that reason, I used one of these in Out of China as well as another taken in a Macao casino: two Chinas (of many). One staged set of the Shanghai photographs follows two seamen on shore leave from the gates of the wharf as they negotiate with cycle rickshaws, and traverse the Diamond and Lear Bars. They are the only customers.

Daisy Gao Kia Kin and Frank Yenalevicz, New Ritz Bar, Shanghai, May 1949 by Jack Birns © Time Inc.

Daisy Gao Kia Kin and Frank Yenalevicz, New Ritz Bar, Shanghai, May 1949 by Jack Birns © Time Inc.

The New Ritz Bar, whose owners, Daisy and Frank Yenalevicz, posed for the portrait above in May 1949, looked a higher class of establishment than some they visited, even though it was part of the ‘Blood Alley’ strip on Rue Chu Pao San in the former French Concession close by the river-front Bund and across Avenue Edward VII from the former International Settlement. It is the only one which had Chinese customers as well, here shown playing dice.

New Ritz Bar, May 1949, by Jack Birns, © Time Inc.

New Ritz Bar, May 1949, by Jack Birns, © Time Inc.

Robert 'Bo' Brown, Diamond Bar, Shanghai, by Jack Birns, 1949 © Time Inc.

Robert ‘Bo’ Brown, Diamond Bar, Shanghai, by Jack Birns, 1949 © Time Inc.

The details which accompany these photographs might give the name of the owner, Yenalevicz, or Jim Lear (Lear Bar) or Bobby ‘Bo’ Brown, owner of the Diamond Bar. The interest of Life‘s editors might have stretched to the Americans who ran or patronised these forlorn establishments, so Rowan and Birns provided some notes on them, and Birns took their portraits. Brown, we are told, for example, was a Chicago-born former Merchant Seaman, who had bought his business in 1946. You can find the odd reference to these men in the press: Lear being fined in 1948 for accepting US dollars as payment (which was illegal); Yanelevicz’s bar being declared ‘Out of Bounds’ by the US Navy that same year, and Shanghai Evening Post & Mercury editor Randall Gould ripping the sign down, declaring that extraterritoriality was over, and the US Navy had no right to fix a sign to anybody’s business in Shanghai.

It was Daisy who piqued my interest, however, or rather the woman I now know to be Daisy, or to be accurate, know to be 高桂金, Gao Guijin (or Gao Kwia Kin in the transliteration used in various documents). This was because she looks very much Yenalevicz’s equal. And well she might, for she owned, she said, half the business. She could, and did, prove it.

Frank Yenalevicz, native of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, died in September 1949 in Shanghai’s Country Hospital of heart failure. He was fifty years old. Four months later Daisy requested assistance from the US Consulate General to help her wind up his affairs. This letter was clearly written by a native-speaker of English, but there is no clue as to who was helping her at this point. Daisy had met Frank, she wrote, in 1923, then followed him on his US Navy postings around the Pacific until he left the service in 1933 after which they settled in Shanghai. There they ran their business, Daisy attending to the restaurant, and Frank to the bar. The New Ritz was taken over sometime after summer 1939. She ran it on her own during the Pacific War (when, after internment at Haiphong Road Camp in November 1942, Frank secured passage to the US on an exchange ship in September 1943), and accumulated substantial savings that they held in US dollars. Blood Alley’s business did not lag during the Japanese occupation. To avoid currency controls introduced by the Chinese government in 1948, Frank deposited their capital in a New York bank account in his name. By January 1950 the business itself was essentially worthless. Even the properties they leased — including ‘a comfortable apartment in a modern building’ where they had ‘lived respectably as man and wife’ (though they had never married) — were now valueless. She still ran the business, she said, but ‘Conditions here are now so unfavorable’ — after eight months of Communist control of the city — that she was by then in great need of the money held overseas.

Daisy’s vulnerability was also made evident when she offered a payment from the estate, without prejudice, to each of Yenalevicz’s siblings. She had never had any contact with the family, she wrote, but US consular officials with experience of Shanghai would be able to vouch for her story, for Frank would have been known to them (which was probably true, not least because of the May 1948 contretemps). Nothing seems to have happened, however, as events — the closure of the US consulate general, the onset of the Korean War and the US-led trade embargo against China — conspired to obstruct Daisy’s attempts at restitution. Meanwhile the business stumbled on, although perhaps dice no longer rolled across the tablecloths. A September 1952 report in John W. Powell’s China Monthly Review recorded that the bar was still serving ‘American style lunches and dinners’, including his ‘next T-Bone steak’ (Powell’s pro-PRC magazine aimed to rebut US claims about food shortages). Still, beef or no beef, Daisy was anxious to regain her money. In May 1953 she tried again through a set of New York lawyers but there is no record in the file of any success.

For now, Daisy’s tale remains suspended here, and the woman herself is frozen in the record, snapped behind the bar at the New Ritz by Jack Birns, and lodged in this US State Department file, precariously, but comfortably, living in her eighth-floor rooms in the Yates Apartments on Bubbling Well Road. But the dossier on Frank’s estate provides a glimpse nonetheless of some of the more mundane realities behind the much-mythologised ‘Blood Alley’. From time to time the Birns photographs are rediscovered and re-circulated online as showing foreign decadence in the shadow in the Communist victory. Well, this was, all in all, the brief given to Birns and  Rowan when they were sent to Shanghai.

But in catching Daisy, Birns also caught another way of viewing the world that was about to be taken over, one that I explore in greater depth in Out of China: the messy lived experience of treaty port China. Here were middle-aged Frank and Gao Guijin, who had dodged the war and the inflationary crisis of the late 1940s through fair means and rather more pragmatic ones, keeping their businesses open and their customers satisfied. Under one regime their properties will best have been registered in Frank’s name, and will have been protected that way by his American extraterritorial rights, which lasted formally until 1943. But during the Japanese occupation and then in the post-war years, it was plainly easier to run them as Daisy’s. To mangle a famous saying of Deng Xiaoping’s: it did not matter to them if the New Ritz cat was American or Chinese, as long as it attracted the mice.

So Daisy and Frank were, it seems, a comfortable team, adroitly working their niche in the politically mis-shaped world of treaty port China. They lived well, and earned well, although the living was sometimes not without danger. The New Ritz’s previous owner, Albert Fletcher Wilson, had been killed in July 1939 just outside the bar, shot by pro-Japanese terrorists during a series of attacks on government newspapers. But the greatest challenge Daisy faced as its owner, however, proved to be her husband’s death and the entangled legal consequences of their never having married, as well as their strategies for survival through the Pacific war and China’s post-war crisis. The wrenching reconfiguration of the Cold War finally threw up challenges that even the most adept found difficult to manage. Daisy’s attempts to regain their savings may also have been prompted by the tightening policies of the new city authorities in the early 1950s, and the scrutiny of the business and its assets that this would have entailed. Things might have got much more difficult for her in Shanghai thereafter as a small business owner with long-term American connections.

This Sino-American partnership was trapped by history. And while the ‘Blood Alley’ approach to night-time Shanghai’s foreign-flavoured history has its truths, even these are better understood if we look more closely behind the lurid headlines to the real world of Gao Guijin, who opened up the restaurant every morning, and posed calmly next to Frank Yenalevicz for Jack Birns.

Sources: US National Archives Record Group 59; Box 1205, Case No. 293.111 Yenalevicz; China Monthly Review, 1 September 1952, pp. 296-300; South China Morning Post, 17 May 1948, p. 10.


Handover songs

I’m currently in Hong Kong, which is buzzing with excitement about a new song and video, commissioned by the government to commemorate the twentieth anniversary this summer of the handover of the former colony to China. Perhaps I exaggerate, but ‘Hong Kong Our Home’ the ‘Hong Kong SAR 20th Anniversary Theme Song’ has not had a warm reception.

Something about it seemed familiar to me. Then I realised that we might place it not simply in the history of lamentable Hong Kong handover songs, and there is such a history, for it is not the original musical commentary on this momentous political change. The first accompanied the handover itself at a special concert, and then another was released for the tenth anniversary. Suffice to say that a parody of that song has apparently received rather more viewers on Youtube.

But handover songs commence rather in 1943, with the transfer of the International Settlement at Shanghai to the control of the collaborationist government of Wang Jingwei on 1 August that year. Here are the words of the ‘Greater Shanghai March Song’ penned, at least nominally, by quisling mayor Chen Gongbo, and performed for the first time at a ‘special patriotic concert’.

“Greater Shanghai! Greater Shanghai!

Overlooking the Middle Pacific

Guarding the mouth of the Yangtsze River

Your bold face shines on Asia

Your name is known throughout the world!

Greater Shanghai! Greater Shanghai!

Our wealth is every growing;

Our civilization is ever progressing.

Let us rejuvenate China,

Safeguard East Asia

And perfect our freedom and independence.”

Of course, this is most unfair, for the lyrics and sentiments are very different to those of ‘Hong Kong Our Home’:

“That’s why I treasure Hong Kong

That’s why I admire Hong Kong

We love her  with an eternal glowing flame

that grows as time goes by

revealing her true strength

Our beautiful Hong Kong shining ever brighter

Our beautiful Hong Kong up on the world stage

Step by step, we will carry on

astounding the world as we always have

Step by step, we will carry

on astounding the world as we always have

This is our home”

Ah. Well, the politics are of course, quite, quite, different, but I rather think, on reflection, that in many, many, ways, the song, at least, remains the same.

Hey, hey, it’s LBJ

I was briefly in Beijing last week, joining in a surreal but wonderful graduation celebration that the University of Bristol now holds regularly there: 370 Chinese students, 600 of their guests, 27 university staff, and 2.6 million hits on the event’s livestream channel. Earlier I had walked past the nearby entrance to the British embassy. That took me back to another China, the one that imploded during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and that produced some differently surreal moments in amongst the horror and the violence.

The entire British compound is surrounded now with high security fencing installed by those hosting the diplomats, and a plainclothes – and plain-speaking – Chinese security officer has now joined the soldier always on duty outside the gate.

But it is still recognisably the building portrayed in a set of photographs I just received that were taken in the mid-1960s, although security was rather laxer then, and it was an unhealthy-looking pink in colour. These images below come from the politically heated summer of 1967. An insurgency against the British authorities in Hong Kong was by then well underway. In solidarity, and to protest against arrests of leftist journalists in the colony, the embassy walls and gates in Beijing were then decorated by protestors with anti-British posters and slogans: down with British imperialists; ditto the embassy (then, officially, the Office of the Chargé d’Affaires, as ambassadorial relations were not established until 1972); and ditto the then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and worse.

This one below, printed in my new book, shows some rather different characters on duty outside in late June 1967 to those you can find today: US President Lyndon Johnson is slumped on the left, yoked to ‘running dog’ Moshe Dayan, Israeli army chief, who is yoked in turn to Harold Wilson. The white placards read ‘American Imperialist’ and ‘British Imperialist’ and are struck through in red: a sentence of death.

These rather fine effigies appeared on 10 June in protest at alleged British and US support for Israel in the Six Day War. Behind them some more, made of straw, dangle from cables. These lingered for several weeks more until the night of 5 August 1967, when, tiring of this, and somewhat at a loose end –for all normal diplomatic business had ground to a halt because of the cultural revolution turmoil and the Hong Kong crisis — the British Head of Mission, Donald Hopson, authorised ‘Operation Effigy’. Hopson, a former commando, drew up a detailed plan for a ‘brief sortie into Chinese territory’ by two ‘assault groups’ to cut them down and bring the remnants into the mission. They had ‘finally become an irritation to myself and my staff’, he reported, deadpan, in a formal post-operation report to the British Foreign Minister. Under cover of a barbecue, and while the guests were ‘happily shaking and jerking on the dance-floor’, and when Chinese Red Guards were distracted by events celebrating the first anniversary of Mao Zedong’s land mark ‘Big Character Poster’ (or were busy trying to burn down the Indonesian Embassy), the two teams snuck out of the compound’s two gates, one atop a bus, and the other on foot. Ropes were cut and the loot was hauled back in, although one guard managed to salvage some of the remnants.

Over in seconds, and reaching barely a few few feet into Chinese territory, it must surely nonetheless have been the last formal British offensive undertaken on Chinese soil. ‘I think it has done us all good to have a bit of a go’, reflected Hopson, after ‘sitting in the trenches for three months’. And if there had been any formal complaint from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, then he was ready to fling back at his hosts the phrase that had been hurled at them for months by then, that ‘the action of the British masses was entirely justified’. In the event, there was no complaint. And at this point in China’s history, there was not really much by way of a Foreign Ministry either. But two and a half weeks later, as tensions rose and rose, Red Guards stormed the compound and set fire to the building.

More about that soon.

Out of China: now in paperback, and shortlisted for the 2018 Wolfson History Prize

Shortlisted for the 2018 Wolfson History Prize, my most recent book, book Out of China, now published in a Penguin Books paperback in the UK, and in hardback in the US by Harvard University Press, narrates the struggle of China’s peoples across the twentieth century to roll back foreign power, and explores the explosive legacy today of the era of foreign domination. Starting in 1918 it charts the decline, fall and afterlife of the foreign enclaves that had been established in many of China’s great cities (as well as in some quite out-of-the-way backwaters). It shows how the battle to restore China’s dignity and sovereignty took place on battlefields, and in conference chambers, but also in museums and galleries, in Hollywood, in print, and on stage. Out of China is concerned with struggles over ideas, and political power, but I also draw out the human dimension, and the stories of those caught up by design or chance in this now largely vanished world. The battle for China was not over even when the last foreign colony, Macao, was handed back in 1999, and tensions over the record of foreign powers in China, and over the wider legacy and impact of the West remain live today.



Media links: Out of China reviews

‘Barbarians Out’, review by Rana Mitter in New York Review of Books, 7 December 2017 (paywall).

Open Letters Monthly, review by Steve Donoghue, 11 September 2017.

Review by Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books, 8 May 2017.

Interview in South China Morning Post, 3 May 2017.

Nationalism by another name’, review by Julian Gewirtz, in The Financial Times, 25/26 March 2017.

‘Power games’, review by Michael Sheridan in The Sunday Times, 26 March 2017 (paywall).

‘Boxed in Rebellion’, review by Gavin Jacobson, Times Literary Supplement, 19 April 2017.

Review in Prospect Magazine, by Julia Lovell, 11 April 2017