Event Detail


Last days of Old Peking

Paul French
Thursday, 22 Sep 2011
Auditorium 1/F, Duke of Windsor Social Services Building, 15 Hennessy Road, Wanchai
Shanghai based British author and business consultant Paul French talks on Peking in the 1930's.

RGS HK members HK$100 non members HK$150.

Soft drinks and book signing from 6.30 pm lecture starts 7.30 pm

Chinese historian, journalist and author Paul French to speaks on "The Last Days of Old Peking ", focusing on the Peking of the 1930s, with its pompous Foreign Legations, unstable Chinese government and large criminal underclass.

In 1937, Japanese troops had already moved into Manchuria and were poised to move on Peking. The people of the city nervously waited, enjoying the last days of their indulgent Peking lifestyles. Ever on edge and with tension peaking, the upright residents of the Foreign Legations were brought into collision with the other side of Peking's foreign community, residing in the city's infamous 'Badlands'. Through years of research for his latest book, Midnight in Peking, Paul French discovered that those two worlds of Peking were not as separate or as different as people might have liked to think.

Paul French tells of a city full of intrigue, a city where the authorities were more interested in saving face than solving crimes, a city on the brink of invasion, and in doing so he vividly portrays the last days of old Peking. He also examines the relationships between Chinese and foreigners, the risque nightlife and illegal activities during the 1930s and the early years of the Japanese occupation of Peking.

Peking at that time had a population of some one and a half million, of which only three thousand were foreigners. They were a disparate group, ranging from consuls to destitute White Russians. In between were journalists, a few businessmen, some old China hands, with no shortage of foreign criminals, dope fiends and prostitutes. For the most part, Peking's foreigners clustered in and around the small enclave known as the Legation Quarter, where the great powers of Europe, America and Japan had their embassies, guarded by imposing gates and armed sentries in a haven of Western architecture, commerce and entertainment.

While calm appeared to prevail on the surface though, both the Chinese and foreign inhabitants of Peking had been living with chaos and uncertainty for a long time. Ever since the downfall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, China had been ruled by the Kuomintang, under the leadership of Chiang Kaishek, but the government competed for power with the warlords and their private armies, who controlled swathes of territory. Thus, city was at the mercy of marauding warlords, providing a chaotic backdrop for Paul French's fascinating portrait of the last days of old Peking.

Paul French read history, economics and Mandarin at the University of London and has an M. Phil in economics from the University of Glasgow. He has been based in Shanghai for several years as a business advisor, writer and analyst. He is the author of several wellknown works of Chinese and Asian History including The Old Shanghai, Oil on Water: Tankers, Pirates and the Rise of China, China's Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao, Adventures of an American in Shanghai, North Korea: Paranoid Peninsula, One Billion Shoppers and his recently published Midnight in Peking.

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