Desmond Power and the Tianjin gurdwara Tuesday, Aug 20 2013 

Recently, I posted on the Tientsin gurdwara, established for the Sikh policemen in the former British concession. The gurdwara that really no one knows about or has escaped notice like so many histories in Old China. Based on archival notes, I was aware that there was a Sikh temple in Tientsin. Maps, J J Singh of Kapurthala’s book provide sufficient evidence of a gurdwara’s existence in Tientsin, today’s Tianjin.

By sheer stroke of luck, my post on Parsees in Old China helped me connect with Angela Elliot. She knew the DhunjiShah family from Tientsin. She also knew Desmond Power. Long story short, Desmond Power actually knew of the Tientsin Sikh temple and had mentioned it in passing in his book, Little Foreign Devil. He didn’t know much about the temple, except that it had a Sikh guard at the entrance. In one of the photographs (from his own collection)  there is the fuzzy yet undeniable evidence of the Sikh emblem flag post.  In a generous gesture, for which I am deeply grateful, Desmond Power furnished a sketch of the Sikh Temple’s whereabouts (See map below).

Tracing the gurdwara is a herculean task in itself, especially given the fact that old buildings in China have been demolished in the name of modernization,   but I am optimistic more information is available somewhere. Similarly for the Hankow Sikh temple. As long as we have an inkling we can rebuild the Sikh and Indian history in Old China.

Map drawn by Desmond Power

Map drawn by Desmond Power

The Tientsin gurdwara Monday, Aug 12 2013 

The Tientsin gurdwara

“I passed it every day on my way to and from school (TGS) during 1938 and 1939. A uniformed guard at its entrance stopped any passers-by from entering the place. I could look down on to its grounds from my bedroom window. I’m attaching a picture of what I could see of the place. It’s the walled in treed lot with a central path crossing from the temple on the right (obscured by a back neighbour’s house) to the entrance gate on the left (obscured by another neighbour’s house). The temple flag on a tall flagpole standing beside the path is clearly visible.” Source: Desmond Power, author of “Little Foreign Devil.”

Talati House Hotel, Tientsin Sunday, Jul 28 2013 

Source: Internet

Source: Internet

Apart from Old Shanghai, British Indians made their way into other Chinese cities and treaty ports as well. Sindhi businessmen, Ismaili merchants and the Parsi community made significant gain in Old Shanghai and places like TsingTao/Qingdao and Tientstin/Tianjin.

Talati House Hotel, Tientsin was jointly run by  S B Talati and  his nephew Jamshed Talati and DhunjiShah*. S B Talati, a penniless Bombay businessman,  made his fortune in China, in Siberian fur trading and then went on to become the proprietor of the Talati House Hotel (now known as Tianjin First Hotel) in 1924/1929, on 246 Victoria Road.

After Japanese occupation, foreigners in Tientsin were interned in Weihsien civilian camp. The Talati and DhunjiShah family members were inmates of this camp till its liberation in October, 1945. The DhunjiShah family flew out of China. Talati, it seems stayed back, though his daughter Katy Talati escaped to London*.  Talati, in the internment camp had been sick and was given the choice for freedom (by the Japanese)  if he renounced his British citizenship, which he refused to do. After the communist takeover, Talati was asked by the Chinese government to pay his 100+ hotel staff in lieu of taxes. But, Talati very well could not pay as the hotel had no guests.  This ‘tax’ wrangle caused exhaustion and eventually his death.

Anecdotes and fragmented memories are all that’s left of the Talati and DhunjiShah’s China sojourn.  Books , oral and written histories provide a narrow glimpse of the Tientsin Indians. Too many Indian histories in China have been overlooked and remain unobserved.

*Further fact checking is required to outline the Talati and DhunjiShah family tree in China and properly identify the members.

Tianjin gurdwara Monday, Jul 22 2013 


Source: University of Texas.

The above c.1912 Tientsin map identifies the location of a Sikh temple. J J Singh of Kapurthala royal family, mentioned in his writings, of Sikh policemen stationed in Tientsin, approaching him for funds for a gurdwara. Then there is a picture of 2 Sikh soldiers/policemen, where one of them is holding a chaur used ritually for the holy book Guru Granth Sahib.  

Unfortunately, I haven’t come across any photographs of the Tientsin/Tianjin gurdwara. Yet. Again, the topic requires research and fact-finding to ascertain and explore the life of Tientsin Indian Sikhs.

Dhunjishahs evacuating Weihsien in October 1945. Wednesday, May 22 2013 

Dhunjishahs evacuating Weihsien in October 1945.

Many thanks to Angela Elliot for sharing this brilliant photo of the Tianjin Parsee family called Dhunjishahs, evacuating Weihsien in October 1945. Darab DhunjiShah was the co-owner of the Tientsin/Tianjin Talati hotel in China. Weihsien was the Japanese run internment camp during World War II to keep civilians of Allied countries living in Northern China

Boxer Rebellion , China Friday, Mar 29 2013 

1900 boxer

Naturalist in China – Arthur Sowerby Tuesday, Mar 5 2013 


Arthur Sowerby was the son of a Christian missionary in China, the Reverend Arthur Sowerby, and Louisa Clayton. He was also the great grandson of James Sowerby the botanist and founder of the Geological Society. From 1881, Arthur’s parents were based at the Baptist Missionary Society mission station in Shanxi.The Sowerby family was on furlough in England at the time of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion during which many of their friends and colleagues at their Shanxi mission station were massacred. Sowerby attended Bristol University studying for a BSc in Science but dropped out and returned to China where he was appointed lecturer and curator of the Anglo-Chinese College in Tientsin.  Sowerby joined the Duke of Bedford’s 1906 Mission to collect zoological specimens in Shensi for the British Museum during which time he discovered a new species of Jerboa which was subsequently named after him Dipus sagitta sowerby. Sowerby was taken on as a naturalist for Robert Sterling Clark‘s Expedition of 1909 which sought specimens from the Yellow River into Shensi and then to Kansu province and made the first map of a little-known area of China. Clarke and Sowerby later published a book about the expedition entitled Through Shên-kan: the account of the Clark expedition in north China, 1908-9. Sowerby married Mary Ann Mesny in 1909, but she was to die just 5 years later.He made four separate expeditions into Manchuria and parts of Mongolia during the next few years, the last being in 1915 and then wrote his book Fur and Feather in North China. In. the autumn of 1915 he went over to meet his brother and sister, both missionaries in Sian, and took the opportunity to seek more specimens in the Ch’ingling range to the south of the city.”  (Source: Wikipedia).

Book link :

Smithsonian has a nice collection of Sowerby’s papers.

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