The body of a demonstrator lies on the street in Shanghai after the Mixed Court Riot of 18 December 1905, reportedly left there until nightfall to serve as an example to other would-be rioters. In Shanghai’s International Settlement, criminal cases involving foreigners were heard by a western Assesor whilst those involving Chinese were adjourned by a local Magistrate. Although the foreign Assesor was not to be involved with purely Chinese cases, the years leading upto the riots saw increasing interference from western authorities, including the dispatchement of SMP officers to oversee cases in the Chinese court.
When British Assesor Twyman claimed custody over a Cantonese widow accused with the trafficking of slave girls, the resentment that had been bubbling under the surface for years finally boiled over. Fistacuffs erupted between British and Chinese police, from which the British emerged victious and proceeded to force their way into the yamen and remove the prisoner to a western jail. Activism on the part of sojourning merchants in Shanghai pushed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into lodging official complaints with the diplomatic body in Beijing, who thencefore ordered the Shanghai consular body to release the prisoner.
Despite her subsequent release, however, agitation continued around the issue of Chinese representation on the Shanghai Municipal Council, building upon existing momentum to redress long-held grievances. A day of strikes was called for 18 December, whereupon merchants attempting to open shop were attacked by members of native-place guilds and foreigners attempting to make their way to work were harrased on the street. The SMP, Shanghai Volunteer Corps, sailors and marines were all summoned to quell the ensuing riots, the most violent that the International Settlement had seen in its history. This was accomplished by day’s end, at the cost of fifteen Chinese lives.
The next day Chinese guilds joined in condemnation of the rioters and offered their assistance to municipal authorities. This show of cooperativeness guaranteed their seat in future negotiations, and indeed by early 1906 the SMC had approved plans for a seven-member consulative committee to represent the Chinese community, elected from amongst the city’s most powerful guilds. However, it would be another twenty years until the first Chinese joined the SMC as full councillors.

The body of a demonstrator lies on the street in Shanghai after the Mixed Court Riot of 18 December 1905, reportedly left there until nightfall to serve as an example to other would-be rioters. In Shanghai’s International Settlement, criminal cases involving foreigners were heard by a western Assesor whilst those involving Chinese were adjourned by a local Magistrate. Although the foreign Assesor was not to be involved with purely Chinese cases, the years leading upto the riots saw increasing interference from western authorities, including the dispatchement of SMP officers to oversee cases in the Chinese court.

When British Assesor Twyman claimed custody over a Cantonese widow accused with the trafficking of slave girls, the resentment that had been bubbling under the surface for years finally boiled over. Fistacuffs erupted between British and Chinese police, from which the British emerged victious and proceeded to force their way into the yamen and remove the prisoner to a western jail. Activism on the part of sojourning merchants in Shanghai pushed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into lodging official complaints with the diplomatic body in Beijing, who thencefore ordered the Shanghai consular body to release the prisoner.

Despite her subsequent release, however, agitation continued around the issue of Chinese representation on the Shanghai Municipal Council, building upon existing momentum to redress long-held grievances. A day of strikes was called for 18 December, whereupon merchants attempting to open shop were attacked by members of native-place guilds and foreigners attempting to make their way to work were harrased on the street. The SMP, Shanghai Volunteer Corps, sailors and marines were all summoned to quell the ensuing riots, the most violent that the International Settlement had seen in its history. This was accomplished by day’s end, at the cost of fifteen Chinese lives.

The next day Chinese guilds joined in condemnation of the rioters and offered their assistance to municipal authorities. This show of cooperativeness guaranteed their seat in future negotiations, and indeed by early 1906 the SMC had approved plans for a seven-member consulative committee to represent the Chinese community, elected from amongst the city’s most powerful guilds. However, it would be another twenty years until the first Chinese joined the SMC as full councillors.

雪泥鴻爪 - Wintry antics in British Weihaiwei 威海衛
Formerly the base for the Qing Dynast’s Beiyang Fleet, Weihaiwei was evacuated following Japanese capture during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-5). When Russia leased Port Arthur for a term of 25 years from March 1898, the British obtained a lease on Weihaiwei that was to last for as long as Russia remained at Port Athur. The Japanese capture of Port Athur in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) modified the terms of Britain’s lease to last for as long as the Japanese held Port Arthur.
Although obscured in popular imagination by the treaty ports opened by Great Britain in China, Weihaiwei was unique in being Britain’s only formal colony in mainland China. From 1898 to 1930, it was one of two major stations for the Royal Navy in the Far East (the other being Hong Kong) and served as summer station for the Royal Navy’s China Station. Two notable Commisioners for Weihaiwei were Sir James Stewart Lockhart (later Governor of Hong Kong) and Sir Reginald Johnston (tutor to Puyi). Although officially a colony, however, Weihaiwei lay in the German sphere of influence in Shandong and was a leased territory subject to retrocession at any time, and therefore was not developed in the same way as Hong Kong. Like Hong Kong, however, Weihaiwei became a Special Administrative Region of the Republic of China after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1930. Although the People’s Republic abolished the ROC’s SARs in 1949, the same idea would be recreated in the established of the Hong Kong SAR in 1997. Today, Weihaiwei is known simply as Weihai (威海).

雪泥鴻爪 - Wintry antics in British Weihaiwei 威海衛

Formerly the base for the Qing Dynast’s Beiyang Fleet, Weihaiwei was evacuated following Japanese capture during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-5). When Russia leased Port Arthur for a term of 25 years from March 1898, the British obtained a lease on Weihaiwei that was to last for as long as Russia remained at Port Athur. The Japanese capture of Port Athur in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) modified the terms of Britain’s lease to last for as long as the Japanese held Port Arthur.

Although obscured in popular imagination by the treaty ports opened by Great Britain in China, Weihaiwei was unique in being Britain’s only formal colony in mainland China. From 1898 to 1930, it was one of two major stations for the Royal Navy in the Far East (the other being Hong Kong) and served as summer station for the Royal Navy’s China Station. Two notable Commisioners for Weihaiwei were Sir James Stewart Lockhart (later Governor of Hong Kong) and Sir Reginald Johnston (tutor to Puyi). Although officially a colony, however, Weihaiwei lay in the German sphere of influence in Shandong and was a leased territory subject to retrocession at any time, and therefore was not developed in the same way as Hong Kong.

Like Hong Kong, however, Weihaiwei became a Special Administrative Region of the Republic of China after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1930. Although the People’s Republic abolished the ROC’s SARs in 1949, the same idea would be recreated in the established of the Hong Kong SAR in 1997. Today, Weihaiwei is known simply as Weihai (威海).

“China is vast country. When the east is still dark, the west is lit up; when night falls in the south, the day breaks in the north. Hence, one need not worry about whether there is room enough to move around.”

Mao Zedong
The facade of Beijing’s Beitang (North Cathedral) after the relief of the legations on 14 August 1900. From within the church walls, just over 20 French and Italian troops protected the lives of thousands of Chinese Catholics and Europeans from Boxer onslaught, backed up by the Imperial army’s firepower. Over the 45 days of siege, everyone in the church shared the same rations and lived and prayed in the same quarters. Happpy Easter, everyone - 祝大家復活節快樂!

The facade of Beijing’s Beitang (North Cathedral) after the relief of the legations on 14 August 1900. From within the church walls, just over 20 French and Italian troops protected the lives of thousands of Chinese Catholics and Europeans from Boxer onslaught, backed up by the Imperial army’s firepower. Over the 45 days of siege, everyone in the church shared the same rations and lived and prayed in the same quarters. Happpy Easter, everyone - 祝大家復活節快樂!

崇洋媚外


Just had a short but (I think) rather illuminating exchange with a local student at Starbucks. I was sitting there with a Chinese Indonesian friend of me to do some work; she was revising Chinese vocab for her midterms and I was taking notes from some Chinese history books for my dissertation. A guy and a girl sat beside us and after about half an hour the guy started talking to me in English.

Guy (Pointing to title of 近代史資料): Do you understand the meaning of this?

Me: Yeah, of course. I am actually reading this stuff, you know, I’m not just staring the pages blankly trying to look cool!

Guy: (uncomfortable laugh)… Are you at college? Where do you go to school?

Me: I’m on exchange at Jiaoda right now, how about you?

Guy: Where do I go to school? But you wouldn’t know the schools here… (chuckles)

Me: Try me.

Guy: Shanghai University.

Me: Of course I know Shanghai Daxue, it’s one of the biggest unis in the city!

Guy: … So where are you from? Are you American?

Me: Noooooooo, I’m from Hong Kong.

Guy: Oh.

That’s when he stopped talking to me and him and his girlfriend got up and left without a word a few seconds later. The whole time, I should point out, he completely ignored my friend. For all the people who tell me I’m lucky to look white because then people are nicer to you: anyone who treats people differently because of their race is an asshole, and I’m very happy to forgo the ‘friendliness’ of assholes.

Bordertown: Where Russia and China Meet


A few days before going to Heihe, I had met up with friends from Beijing to visit Harbin’s Ice Festival. My first taste of Dongbei, a region which has captivated me for some time, was exhilarating and somehow managed to meet or exceed all of the outrageous expectations I had set for it. However, from there I would be proceeding to Heilongjiang’s principle border crossing with Russia on my own: no one else was particularly interested in this unheard-of place, and nor where they persuaded by my inexplicable enthusiasm. My train there left on the eve of Yuanxiao, the Chinese Lantern Festival. Chinese railway journeys are often underwhelming in their array of scenery, as one city centre gives way to suburbs, then industrial estates, and maybe a power plant before melting seamlessly into yet another city of millions. The journey between Harbin and Heihe, however, was magical. Although the streets of Harbin were disappointingly bereft of snow, this long stretch of countryside was a picture of perfect white set against a clear, pitch black sky, with a full moon stalking the train from behind a palisade of powdered poplar trees. Occasionally, a different forest would emerge—a forest of  smoking chimneys protruding from wooden houses, and the darkness would be punctuated by an ellipsis of red lanterns strewn across the narrow cart-lanes.

Besides a fondness for Dongbeihua and jiaozitang, I also had personal reasons for wanting to see this place for myself. As a Hong Kong-born Eurasian who has spent most of his life ricocheting to and fro between Hong Kong, Canada and the United Kingdom, I have always considered my own identity a border-identity of sorts; even though Britain, Canada and Hong Kong share no physical borders they do share the mental boundaries of lands intimately linked yet severed by distances as vast in their cultural and historical scope as their actual distance, and I think of myself as having to straddle that distance in defining who I am. As such, I have a fascination with actual, literal borderlands. In the spaces where countries meet, unusual things happen; anomalies occur. The distinctions taken so for granted in the hinterlands are called into question. The lines between one set of people and another can become blurred and more flexible.

This is precisely what I found in Heihe. Although people invariably assumed I was Russian at first and began speaking to me in that language, once I explained that I wasn’t they took it in turn that I must, therefore, be Chinese. After all, one is inevitably one or the other in this city, and I was clearly speaking Chinese, not Russian. After saying that I was wasn’t Russian, they might simply ask, matter-of-factly, ‘you’re Chinese then?’ but continue what they wanted to say without needing an answer. My taxi driver from the railway station explained it like this: ‘I often mistake Kazakhs or Kyrgyz for Chinese and start speaking to them in Chinese, then they have to ask me to speak Russian. It can be very confusing.’ In borderlands, you can’t take anything for granted. Looks can be deceiving. Typically, I didn’t get asked by people in Heihe if I was ‘Eluoside’ (Russian) or not, but rather, ‘ni shi Suliande ma?’—‘Are you a Soviet?’. The question, first posited in the station forecourt soon after my arrival, threw me aback and made me wonder if the overnight service from Harbin hadn’t also transported me backward in time. However, I quickly realised it was because people from the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, whose people also exist in pockets within China’s borders and account for some of the country’s 55 ethnic minorities, all speak Russian, and therefore the linguistic divide is more telling than the ethnic. Several times after saying that I was from Hong Kong, the people I met even guessed that I was mixed—something which, veering as I do in appearance to my European roots, virtually no one picks up on elsewhere. Nowhere in the mainland was I less gawked at than in Heihe, and it was distinctly refreshing not to be regarded as an oddity on the streets.

Having spent much of my childhood in Ottawa, arriving in this snowy, frigid, slow-paced little city felt strangely like a homecoming, and at times I found this feeling unexpectedly reciprocated by the attitudes of the people there. At the railway station, as I was waiting to board the train back to Harbin, the woman sitting behind me struck up a conversation with the girl beside her, who told her that she was studying in Harbin. Afterward she asked the same question to me, and I explained that I was studying in Hong Kong and that I’d like just be catching my flight back there from Harbin. ‘Oh,’ she said, nonplussed, ‘then you were just in Heihe to spend Spring Festival with your family, right?’ Of course, she wasn’t right; but I was unaccountably touched by her erroneous deduction. She had actually assumed that I was a local!

In Hong Kong, my family and I had recently been subsumed in a battle to be recognised as ethnically Chinese by the government there and receive SAR passports—and lost, with grim predictability. On the way to Heihe, I had thought it would be fun to use my infantile grasp of Russian to play along and let the locals think I was one of their Soviets. Unfortunately, I hadn’t expected them to be completely fluent in Russian. I didn’t stand a chance. But nor had I expected, for the first time in my life, to be so immediately and amicably accepted as Chinese. If only the bureaucrats on Gloucester Road were so broad-minded! Denied an opportunity to be someone else, what I got instead was something that my own place of birth had declined me: the chance to be myself.

Tragically, my initial elation was dealt a swift and lethal blow when a coterie of PLA officers surrounded me and asked for my passport, then harangued me with an array of inquiries into why on earth I had come to this godforsaken place, and on my own at that. At the end of the day, this was still the People’s Republic and I was a suspicious foreigner. So much for that. Some time thereafter, however, as I sat back down with a warm cup of Nescafe from the Russian Products Wholesale shop, they assembled around me again—but this time sitting, and eager to talk about their hometowns and girlfriends. At the end of the day, these were still Dongbeiren; and their legendary hospitality was not about to let me down at the last hurdle.

“At a dinner-party given by one of my colleagues, his wife remarked to me: ‘My husband never studies Chinese. He says people who study Chinese invariably go mad!’ Then, hastening to cover up her faux pas, she added: ‘Of course, you are an exception to the general rule!’”

From the memoirs of Customs Commissioner C. A. S. Williams 
Exceptional and very topical (for Remembrance Sunday) photo taken outside the British Legation after the relief of the legations on 14 August 1900

Exceptional and very topical (for Remembrance Sunday) photo taken outside the British Legation after the relief of the legations on 14 August 1900

“Study everything around you. Go out and walk in the street and read the shop signs. Bend over the bookstalls and read titles. Listen to the talk of the people. If you acquire these habits, you will not only learn something new every time you leave your door, but you will always carry with you an antidote for boredom.”

Advice given to Sir Robert Hart by Sir John Bowring upon his arrival in Hong Kong, 1854
Britons burning opium at Nanning in 1920. Somewhat ironic, one might say.

Britons burning opium at Nanning in 1920. Somewhat ironic, one might say.

A wintry street scene in Tianjin, where I’d much prefer being to supposedly-autumnal Hong Kong right now.

A wintry street scene in Tianjin, where I’d much prefer being to supposedly-autumnal Hong Kong right now.

“When one does not have what one loves, one must love what one has.”

J.O.P. Bland, Personal Secretary to Sir Robert Hart and Shanghai correspondant for the Times
“I want to make China strong and I want her to make England her best friend…”

Sir Robert Hart, d. 20 September 1911