‘Shanghai’ by William Leonard Marshall Friday, Aug 30 2013 

Memoirs and narratives about Shanghai (prior to 1949), have provided varied perspectives of the international city. The focus has largely remained the western inhabitants, the refugees, stately buildings and the seedier side usually dominated  by the native Chinese or Europeans. The intrigue, the danger and the various Chinese & western brothels have proved to be nourishing fodder for writers, historians and film-makers, documenting a city with multiple facades. The Sikh policeman , too, has featured in such works, to give the authentic aura and flavor of a very multicultural place.  Be it fiction or non-fiction, the Shanghai Sikh policeman makes a guest appearance. Either as a stolid yet  imposing cop or a bumbling one. His giant frame, bushy beard and fiery nature have certainly merited a cursory sentence or two.  In Shanghai’s British history, the Sikh will remain synonymous with imperialism and its unfairness and is, thus generally, poorly caricatured.

william marshall bookNot many books delve deeper into the life of Sikhs in Shanghai. So, when I came across William Leonard Marshall’s crime fiction book, ‘Shanghai’, I wasn’t expecting to be pleasantly surprised. Published in 1979, this book is well-researched and encapsulates the maneuvers and machinations of Shanghai  Municipal Police (S.M.P.) and of course the western Shanghai.

The book begins in 1923 when the protagonist Jack Edge, an Anglo-American and Chinese by self-definition,  a sergeant in S.M.P.  is put to test. Tested because of his marriage to a Chinese woman which has cast doubts on his loyalties. His superior, Inspector Moffat, a supercilious Scot, asks him to shoot 2 young Chinese men who have crossed the International Settlement boundaries. Edge,  wavers and fails. Promotions are withheld and his Chinese wife leaves him. The setting shifts to Sino-Japanese conflict (just weeks before Pearl Harbor) and much of the action is around the death of 2 Japanese men and the cat and mouse game played by the Westerners & Japanese military officers investigating the incident. Moffat, now a Deputy Assistant commissioner recruits Edge for the job, clearly as the task is better entrusted to a lowly sergeant. Unfortunately, Edge is still in Moffat’s poor graces , hence, has not progressed at work and is being used as a stooge.

Vivid setting, rich with very believable characters and taut pace make this book a page-turner. Constable Singh, Edge’s colleague and crony actually gets a speaking part. Marshall, also very cleverly utilized a real life incident involving the failed hanging of a Shanghai Sikh to weave it in the very crisp narrative.  Clearly, the news clippings on the incident came in handy. But, Marshall, also provides a little more insight (read the book to find out) and maybe relied on unofficial sources as well to get more meat on the story.

The backdrop of the Sino-Japanese conflict is essential in defining and delineating the main characters as ‘Old China Hands’ or China lovers and others. The latter are more clear in their intent in leaving the sinking ship because of the inevitability of Japanese domination.  Constable Singh, falls into the latter category and we are given to believe that he fakes his own drowning to escape to India , to be with his family.

Marshall, has done justice to Singh, depicting him as a smart foil to Edge’s loyal Old China hand character.  Betrayal, triumph, love , hate, all the masala ingredients make ‘Shanghai’ a must read. Apparently this was Marshall’s most ambitious work (the author’s brief bio states it so). Marshall, born an Aussie worked as a journalist, photographer  and took on some very interesting jobs (morgue attendant, for one)  and lived for several years in the Far East.

The cons : in order to make the characters plausible, sometimes they come off as stiff and contrived.  Moffat’s departing speech is one such example, making him a look a little too inept for an S.M.P.  Secondly, despite intensive research, Marshall slips a little by calling the Former French Concession as the French part of the International Settlement. But, I’ve put that aside (superciliously!) merely because he made the effort to detail a Shanghai Sikh constable and got most of it right.

One gets the uncanny feeling that Marshall has based some of the main characters in the book on real Shanghai folks. One Valdmir Mischensko, a Russian,  became a naturalized Australian in 1924 and served the Australian military forces. By 1930 Vladmir, who’d changed his name to William Marshall, moved to China and was employed in Shanghai Municipal Police. He met and married Vera, a Russian in Shanghai. After the Sino-Japanese war, they repatriated to Australia. Vladmir claimed that he’d applied to rejoin the Australian army but the British felt his services were essential in Shanghai. By 1950s, Vladmir and Vera were living in Sydney and their son was attending a high school there.  Could be mere coincidence…or maybe not. Maybe, Vladmir was a source for the book, ‘Shanghai?’ Author William Marshall was born in 1944 in Australia. Could there be any connection?  The above information on Vladmir is documented in a book titled ‘ Australia’s Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese in World War II’  by Christina Twomey.

Marshall’s book on Hong Kong (A Yellowthread Street Mystery) is next on my to-read list.

Hello ‘Dolly’! Wednesday, May 29 2013 

trains-worldexpresses comSince last week,I have been examining the old sea routes from India to China that must been have been undertaken by sailing vessels and steamers since 1880s onward.The Shanghai Sikh policemen would have to take the train journey from their native village or city in Punjab to Calcutta or Bombay ,as these were the two important ports where shipping companies offered Indo-China voyages.

Interestingly,  P&O,British Shipping company was one such establishment whose passenger & cargo steamers sometimes sailed from Bombay/Calcutta to Hong Kong and then to Shanghai via Singapore,servicing the Indo-China route.The maritime company’s employee,one D’Oliver Leonard and captain of S.S. Kutsang often navigated the Indo-China waters and in his spare time wrote books under the pseudonym ‘Dolly.’

‘China Coasters’  on archive.org, though has been credited to one Mrs. Vernon F. Creighton. But, a search on the topic quickly unveils ‘Dolly’ as D’Oliver Leonard.  China Coasters,published by Kelly & Walsh, 1903, was not his first book.’Tales of Hong Kong’,a scarce edition also bore his penmanship.

China Coasters, we learn is a term used for many things:the steamers that ran up and down the China coast, the sailors on these steamers:the officers, engineers and the Captain and the fanciful and humorous yarns told by them, which forms the basis for this book.

It would be truly ground breaking if any of these ‘China’ based commentaries actually deigned to depict other communities like the Parsees or Sikhs. Not holding my breath on it though.

Other books authored by ‘Dolly’ include:

Tales of Hong Kong in Verse and Story, 1891. In 1902, published as Hong Kong in Verse and Story. Hong Kong: Kelly & Walsh, 1902.  

Paul the Pretender: A Romance of Hong Kong. Shanghai: Shanghai Times, 1912. A novel. 

The Vampire Nemesis and Other Weird Stories of the China Coast was published but in Bristol by J. W. Arrowsmith in 1905.  

P R Kaikini – poems on Shanghai (1939) Friday, May 24 2013 

Recently, I came across a mention of 1930s poetry book , titled ‘Shanghai.’ The author was one Prabhakar Ramrao Kaikini. Unsurprisingly, this book is scarce. It was listed on Abebooks and I placed an order , only to have it canceled later by the seller, as it was out of print.

P.R.Kaikini ‘s known (poetry) works include  Snake in the Moon (1942), Poems of the Passionate East (1947), Some of my years (1972), This Civilization, (2006)  and others. Described as an Indo-Anglian  prose poet , Kaikini  it seems in his earlier works was  very much influenced by Rabindranath Tagore’s writing style.  Here’s a sample of his poetry.

But, after 1937, his poems were increasingly about blood and war and even the style changed to free verse. This transition was impacted strongly by nationalism, events in the East. Goverdhan Panchal (well-known exponent of Sanskrit theater) in his introduction of Shanghai (as mentioned in Abebooks website) provides a clue.  Panchal states ” These poems will help the reader, especially the foreign reader, to understand something of the contemporary movement in this country in relation to the Indian national movement for political and economic freedom.”

How did the battle of Shanghai, the Japanese invasion impact Kaikini? Was he a witness to the bloody events? Or was he a supporter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, who had visited Shanghai around this time?  The political awakening and national identity question had swept a nation  and the unfolding war that reached India as well was perhaps expressed by this poet, looking for his country’s freedom from all kinds of imperialism. Or was the book title more of a creative metaphor?

I am hoping I come across a physical copy in a US library. Till then we are left with the thought that, at least, there is this added, still unexplored, reflective element in the Shanghai Indian saga.

The curious case of Captain E.I.M.Barrett Sunday, May 19 2013 

E.I.M. Barrett

E.I.M. Barrett seated 3rd from left

In my earlier post on Captain E.I.M.Barrett, I had mentioned a 1934 book (published by Lovat Dickson)  that was written by him under an alias, Charlie Trevor.  The book titled ‘Drums of Asia’,  it appeared had been a source for much angst for India Office in Britain, which was in “correspondence with publishers on suggested changes prior to publication” (IOR/L/PJ/12/469, File 657/33).

The book was not easily available. Finally, I requested Professor Bickers, University of Bristol for his help. In his blog post, Professor Bickers sheds light on the book’s story line and the much intriguing and bemusing India Office shenanigans that eventually highlight that E.I.M.Barrett, in fact is not the author at all! It was perhaps a quasi-doppelgänger, one Captain J.G.Barrett from Straits Settlement police who had arrived in Singapore in 1906 with the Royal West Kent regiment as a sergeant and finally retired from service in 1935. (Update: The Imperial War Museum lists Oswald Barrett as the author of ‘Drums of Asia.’  http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/publication/61343)

It does make sense because E.I.M.Barrett though bestowed the Companions of the Order of the Indian Empire(C.I.E.) honor for his role prior to and in the First World War had largely spent much of his service in Federated Malay Straits and Shanghai. His sports accomplishments merited plenty of attention , thanks to his cricket , rugby and shooting records, world over. A prolific Hampshire county cricket player, Barrett based on archival records does not come across as spy material. Though, in handling the Shanghai Sikh contingent from 1907, sometimes a very inept and insecure Barrett shapes up.

Barrett was forced to resign from his position as Commissioner of Shanghai Municipal Police in 1929, when an investigation on police methods was conducted by the Shanghai Municipal Council. Yet, there are many mysterious parts to Barrett. His second marriage to one ‘Kitty’ from Shanghai, his being sued for a contract breach by a colleague and ultimately after resigning his quiet disappearance to Britain.

More research is needed on this elusive figure.

More on H W G Hayter’s caricatures Tuesday, May 7 2013 

Sikh caricature from 'Letters from a Shanghai Griffin'

Sikh caricature from ‘Letters from a Shanghai Griffin’

In my last post on H W G Hayter, I referred to his 1902 book,’Caricatures’ among other things.

Henry William Goodenough Hayter (1862-1915) edited or illustrated for other well-known Shanghai or China related books, besides contributing to dailies or weeklies such as, ‘The Rattle’ or ‘The Eastern Sketch.’ In ‘Letters from a Shanghai Griffin’ he includes again the caricature of a Sikh policeman. The author of the book, Jay Denby, provides a tiny description of the Indian contingent in the Shanghai Municipal Police:

“The police force is composed principally of Indians, who also supply a great deal of the crime. They are of two castes, viz.,Malwais and Manjhas.”

Denby meant Malwas & Manjhas/Majhas  and this was essentially how the Sikhs were categorized in Old Shanghai and other colonies. The legal disputes involving Shanghai Sikhs took enormous amount of the H.B.M. court’s time and with language complexities included many a times, the Sikh policemen.

Not much information is available on H.W.G. Hayter except to state his role as a caricaturist in Shanghai.

What follows below is my puny attempt to create a bibliography of sorts (along with online links/physical formats) for H.W.G. Hayter’s books on China/Shanghai. Please feel free to email me at sikhsinshanghai@gmail.com for any additions/modifications.

H.W.G Hayter’s select China bibliography

Lays of far Cathay and others. A collection of original poems. By “Tung Chia.” [pseud. for J.O.P. Bland] Illus. by H. H. ( 1890 by Kelly & Walsh iShanghai) 
View at http://openlibrary.org/works/OL5790248W/Lays_of_far_Cathay_and_others

The amateur circus of 1901 by J Em Lemière;H.W.G.Hayter(Toole-Stott, Shanghai, 1901) (No online views available)

Available at http://www.worldcat.org/title/amateur-circus-of-1901/oclc/65911432&referer=brief_results

Caricatures bH. W. G. Hayter (Kelly & Walsh, Shanghai, the Oriental Press, 1902)

View at  http://openlibrary.org/works/OL16526853W/Caricatures

 Pidgin English rhymes : being the strange adventures of Wei Man-Man and Ossaw Tee / by H.W.G. Hayter ;  (Shanghai : China Print. Co., 1909) 

View (U.S. only) at http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011985006

Folk songs of China / by A.K. ; illustrated by H.W.G. Hayter (Shanghai : China Printing Company, Ltd., Publishers, 1909 )

Available in National Library of Australia. http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/4697287

Letters of a Shanghai Griffin … Illustrated by H. W. G. Hayter  Jay Denby (Author) aka Letters from China and some Eastern sketches (1911)

View at http://openlibrary.org/books/OL24150540M/Letters_from_China_and_some_Eastern_sketches

Caricatures by H W G Hayter Monday, May 6 2013 


From ‘The Rattle’ (1896)

Henry William Goodenough Hayter (1862-1915) was the editor of ‘The Eastern Sketch’, an illustrated weekly in Shanghai’s International Settlement in early twentieth century. His cartoons on Sketch’s  front cover were satirical, lampooning Shanghai’s Who’s who. The July,1896 edition of ”The Rattle’ (another publication) includes his caricatures of Sikhs. One of the illustrations, titled ‘Hide and Sikh’ distinctly depicts a very black-complexioned Sikh beating a Chinese ‘coolie.’


From: ‘The Rattle’ (1896)

Hayter’s cartoons of various eminent Shanghai personalities found a place in his 1902 book published in Shanghai by ‘Kelly and Walsh’, titled ‘Caricatures’ .It contained 32 color illustrations. Most were taken from his collection in  ‘The Rattle’ but few new ones were also added. The book included 5 original cartoons that he’d sketched for the Shanghai Race Club.

Here’s a well-known Shanghai Municipal Councilor who’d penned some humorous verses for ‘The Rattle’  – J.O.P. Bland. Hayter titled Bland’s caricature as ‘Tung Chia.’  Unfortunately not much is known of Hayter. He is, however,credited with introducing the caricature genre in Shanghai.

(I am not sure what the meaning of Tung Chia is but the inference could be ‘wise one’  or worldly wise.)  Anyone knows what it means?

J.O.P. Bland from 'Caricatures' by Hayter

J.O.P. Bland from ‘Caricatures’ by Hayter

Books on China Sunday, May 5 2013 

To Read Books on China

Friedrich Schiff: The Shanghai cartoonist Sunday, Apr 28 2013 

Friedrich Schiff (1908-1968) , was an Austrian cartoonist in Shanghai in 1930s and 1940s and sketched for several newspapers and illustrated publications. He was deeply impacted in his works by everyday life in China. His book ‘Maskee’ on Shanghai is well-known.  But it’s his collaboration with Ellen Thorbecke nee Catleen, a German photojournalist that produced a delightful China series including one on Shanghai depicting life in this city of contrasts and of course included my favorite:the Shanghai Sikhs.  North China Daily News advertised it as a keeper, which it certainly is. The Sikh traffic cop visuals are classic and highlight how ubiquitous they were in Old Shanghai . At the end of the post is the video link to view the book in its entirety.



Video link for the book :


Book Recommendation Friday, Mar 15 2013 

Books Recommendation

A Parsi Perspective – excerpts from Dosabhai Framji Karaka’s book. Saturday, Mar 9 2013 

Sir Jamshedji Jijibhai

Sir Jamshedji Jijibhai

Prior to and around the first Opium war, Parsi merchants monopolized  trade in the Far East.  As favored British Indian citizens, Parsis forged ahead establishing their businesses, in India and overseas.  The perspective from inside in that time period is an unusual one and fortunately it does exist (in the English language) – though the book was written with the intent  to highlight Parsis as epitome of business intelligence and benevolence. (Excerpts from the book, as related to China trade are outlined in the following paragraphs.)

In his 1884  book ‘History of the Parsis’, author Dosabhai Framji Karaka states “It was the Eastern trade which brought the Parsis a mine of wealth. The Readymoneys, the Dadiseths, the Banajis, Sir Jamshedji Jijibhai the first baronet, the Kamas, and many others amassed their wealth in this trade.” According to Karaka after 1842, this monopoly encountered competition from other Indians including Khojas and Muslim merchants. Eventually, it was the Calcutta and Bombay Jews, the better educated business community that displaced the Parsi. ” While the Parsi merchants of China remained in the old groove, the Jews took better advantage of the new treaty ports in China and the opening up of trade on new lines of business. The extension of steam communication between India and China gradually extinguished the Parsi merchants’ service of sailing vessels, and last of all, when the civil war raged in the United States of America in 1862, the attention of the Parsis was to some extent diverted from their Chinese trade, by the greater attraction of the enormous profits in cotton trading with England.”


After the end of the American War however the ‘share mania’ in Bombay led to many Parsee businesses to bankruptcy. Many Chinese branches also suspended their businesses. “There are still, however, a few Parsi commercial establishments in Hongkong and Shanghai, but the Jews now enjoy the monopoly of the trade between India and China which formerly belonged to the Parsis.”

Prominent Parsis figure in the book including Sir Jamshedji Jijibhai. Karaka describes him as “the man who shed the greatest lustre on the Parsi race in India.”  The book was written in 1884 (Sir Jamshedji died in 1859) and thus is not too much of a backward glance in time. Heavily laced with Parsi pride, at most junctures Karaka gushes about the philanthropic and benevolent Parsis who have changed the face of the territory they inhabited due to their sheer diligence and enterprising spirit.

At the young age of 16, Sir Jamshedji made his first voyage to China in 1799 and realized the business potential. Karaka makes available the translated letter(from Gujarati to English, written by Sir Jamshedji to his friend) the blow by blow account when Sir Jamshedji was captured by the French, on way to Madagascar (1806) on board the ‘Brunswick’ and his eventual release – a fascinating account. “Shrewd, sagacious, and observant, with a natural bent of mind for commercial pursuits, the experience that he acquired during his repeated visits to China, and the knowledge he possessed of the chief traders in that country, proved of incalculable value to him. This experience he brought to bear on the extensive transactions which he subsequently had with China, Europe, and other parts of the world.” Eulogizing, Karaka spares no adjectives in praise of Sir Jamshedji stating further  ” If a stranger landed on the shores of Bombay and inquired what were the works by which Sir Jamshedji Jijibhai had acquired so much renown, it could not be long before he found them out.”

Congratulating Sir Jamshedji on his 1842 knighthood , Karaka singles out the significant accomplishments, munificence of the new baronet and the baronetcy patent is included in the appendix. Much of the book deals with the various distinguished members of the Parsi race before proceeding on to explain the history of Zoarastrianism , the various religious books and customs.  The letters exchanged with Sir Jamshedji also are inserted to reflect the contribution of this opium merchant.

There is a mention of Grant Medical College, Bombay funded generously by Sr Jamshedji to provide deserving and needy students medical education in India. One Parsi who studied at this college slowly made his way to Shanghai, China and became a part of the Shanghai Masonic society. How, why and when – few answers and more questions remain on this interesting facet. More on this Shanghai Parsi soon.

Book link: http://openlibrary.org/works/OL2605774W/History_of_the_Parsis

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