Paul French

Author Paul French explains in the Wall Street Journal more about the characters in his bestseller Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China. “We are missing this massive component of the foreign experience in China [in the 1930s]”

The Wall Street Journal:

Who is your favorite character in “The Badlands”?

The one which everyone was fascinated by was Shura. Even now I have white Russians in Brazil in their 90s who send me letters saying he was a nobody who just talked big. To some he was a fairly seedy Russian guy selling a bit of wine in a café, but others say he was running the Badlands. He owned a big house out by the racecourse, he owned a dance troupe, he owned at least three or four brothels or bars. He was rumored to be behind a big bank robbery. He was also a hermaphrodite. The only picture I have of him was when he was one of the last white Russians left in China. He was on the police records so no one would give him citizenship. The white Russians were a really sad story all round. Most of them were anti-Bolshevik and had no particularly great skills. They tended to come from the upper echelons of society, and they fell on very hard times. There was nowhere for them to go. They have been forgotten by history, really.

Did you write the book, then, to resurrect these forgotten characters?

I think so. We are missing this massive component of the foreign experience in China. These people didn’t write their own histories, and nobody ever asked them. We have God knows how many memoirs from businesspeople and diplomats. But there were also a lot of army deserters from the British and American navies, the white Russians, and in Beijing and Shanghai from the mid-1930s on, the Jews arriving from Europe. I really liked that as you find more about them, they start to take shape. You really are recovering people.

More in the Wall Street Journal.

Paul French is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch of fill in our speakers’ request form.

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