Chinese Pirates and Shanghai Stories

Written by uln on July 1st, 2009

Last night I went to the evening organized by Earnshaw to launch their two latest books: “I sailed with Chinese Pirates” and “Shanghai Story Walks”. I have been a fan of Earnshaw Books since they published the first of their series of reprints, Carl Crow’s “Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom“, my favourite China read of ‘08. Since then they have continued to publish new originals and reprints faster than I could read them, so I jumped on this opportunity to try to catch up.

The event was announced - and recommended - on the Shanghaiist calendar, so I thought I’d get there a bit earlier to catch a seat before the masses arrived. Actually, apart from the collection of smiling ladies with cups of tea that populate all these literary events, the attendance was pretty moderate. It came as a shock to me, but I suppose not everyone is interested in fascinating expat stories that happened 100 years ago.

Too bad for them. The evening went really smooth, with a bit of blues by the big man Earnshaw, great atmosphere and free drinks just for showing up. But what I enjoyed most were the two presentation speeches. If you have been to literary festivals you know how boring these things can get: people who can write are not necessarily good speakers, more often than not they are timid individuals who find themselves forced to deliver hour-long speeches, and they take ample revenge by boring the public to the marrow.

This time it was different. The presentations were brief, well prepared and yet spontaneous, and with their repertoire of pirates and big-eared gangsters they managed to catch our ear. Suffice to say that I ended up buying both, in spite of my firm resolution to not bring any more new books to my home on the verge of collapse. But let’s have a look at the babies:

The author of this book, Yvette Ho Madany, is originally from Shanghai, and she draws from her family connections and from her own research to guide us in a series of story-walks around the city. She told us the tragic life of Mrs. Dong and the spicy beginnings of the JinJiang hotel. A must-read and must-walk.

Expat intelligentsia hero Paul French spoke for the original author Mr.Lilius, who was unable to attend, presumably due to his demise in 1977. Mr. French gave us a well-rounded speech with some good pirate jokes and enough teasers to make me run to the stalls and get the product. Then, like usual, he scolded us for being XX century citizens and paying attention to the GDP instead of to Pirate Queens, and if you ask me he was damn right on that one, arr!

The reading List

Now, I know what you are thinking and you are right: I am brazenly posting a Book Review post when I haven’t read a page of the books in question. I sold my soul for a free glass of Chinese red wine and some good vibes, I admit it. But frankly speaking, the efforts of Earnshaw to bring us of those old gems, first on his website and then on fine quality paper editions, deserve already all my praise. And let’s not forget that I owe them the discovery of the inimitable Carl Crow.

As for these 2 new books, I will read them and I will walk them, and I promise I will get back to this post and update it with my frightful reviews.

On a side note: These last 3 months I have dedicated an absurd proportion of my free time to reading in Chinese. I have just finished my third novel, and I am very proud of that, but in the meantime normal reading has been on hold, and the List has got completely out of control. I am afraid I will not catch up with myself before the Summer holidays. More about my experiments on Chinese reading in coming chapters.




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