Today it’s a pleasure to review the Audiobook Murders of Old China by Paul French. It is narrated by Paul French.
About the Author
Paul French was born in Enfield, London and moved to Shanghai after studying Chinese at the City Literary Institute. Paul spent nearly twenty years living and working in China, splitting time between Shanghai and Beijing. During this time, he worked as a journalist and book reviewer for a number of publications, researching the early twentieth century history of both cities, particularly the foreign communities that lived there.
French is known for his true crime literary non-fiction set in twentieth century China. His book Midnight in Peking was a New York Times bestseller, and won a number of prestigious awards including the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction and the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. Paul’s second literary non-fiction book City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir was a Kirkus Book of the Year.
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About the book
Paul French (Midnight in Peking, City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir) dives into fifty years of murder and true crime across China and Hong Kong from the start of the twentieth century in Audible original narrative non-fiction Murders of Old China. Drawing on two and a half decades of research, French explores a dozen gripping murder cases, taking listeners from warlord-wracked Beijing, through the mighty international city of Shanghai and on to the remote and bandit-infested hinterlands of the Tibetan border and Inner Mongolia.
Using new documentation, cross-referencing and what French calls ‘sleuthing by hindsight’, Murders of Old China takes a fresh look at these twelve cases, whisking listeners on a journey through the dangerous underbelly of old China and uncovering more of the country’s unique history.
Each true crime case offers new insights into foreign society in China in the last days of the dying Qing Dynasty and the first decades of the Chinese Republic, shining a light on racial tensions and the criminal underworld, and querying the extent to which foreigners exploited the turmoil of the time. With a backdrop of war, imperialism and revolution, these stories provide an incredible insight into how modern China was formed, and the dark realities behind much of its recent past.
Narrated by French, and written in the style of the “American Noir” exemplified by Capote’s In Cold Blood, Murders of Old China is a must for fans of true crime, and those keen to learn more about China’s fascinating history.Review
What I really enjoyed about this Audiobook is the way the author narrates the story as if he were sat beside you having a dram whilst lounging in a comfortable leather chair in front of a log fire. He adds the smallest details, so in a sense it becomes almost like a vigorous discussion on various murderous scandals. Twelve true stories of violence, betrayal and murder that took place in the 20th century.
A Very Awkward Death in Tibet (1907) – The first big murder case tried by the American court for China in Shanghai. It was an attempt by the POTUS (Roosevelt) to extend American justice and punishments to its US citizens in China. A white foreigner killed a Chinese national. It was unheard of in times of white supremacy and patriarchy that a white man would stand trial with the possibility of death.
The Death of a Rickshaw Man (1908) – In this case a white man is tried by a jury. Once again a white foreigner kills a Chinese national. This time a British national, which meant it even made the news in Britain. The accused denied the charge and claimed self-defense. No wonder the Chinese thought the deck was stacked against them when having to abide by foreign rules in their own country.
Trafficked to her Death – Eliza Shapera (1907) – In a time when rumours of White Slavery were abundant. When gossips spoke of white women being tricked into prostitution in foreign countries. The real outrage caused by the thought that non-whites were having sex with white women. The body of a European woman was found – a prostitute.
A Deadly Rampage in Tai-O (1918) – It’s safe to say that not all the evidence or factors leading up to this tragedy were reviewed at the time. Colonialists being reluctant or unable to take issues such as inequality, racism into account and the corruption in this remote location. There is no doubt about victim or perpetrator, but perhaps the reasons for the rampage would have shed a different light on the matter.
The Irritating Betram Lennox Simpson (1930) – French wonders how Simpson managed to attract so many enemies in so many different fractions. Perhaps his part in the looting, which the in China born Simpson always denied. His machinations and loud protestations both written and vocal made him a contentious person to everyone.
A Deadly Dinner in Shanghai’s Gangster Mansion (1932) – Shanghai represented the power position of France equal to that of their rival Britain. Shanghai was often known as the Paris of the East or the Whore of the Orient. The Green Gang was a well-known criminal operation both in China and overseas. The leader or crime boss of this gang at the time, Big-Eared Du, invited the most senior and important French officials to a dinner at his fortress like mansion. It became the most vicious of lessons in authority and power plays.
Slain by His Best Friend – Two Tragic Deaths in Shanghai (1932) – Did a personal dispute really cause one man to kill the other over something as trivial as a job promotion? Why did the two friends end up in such a contentious relationship? Or was the disagreement that ended in the death of one of them born in a more base emotion like greed?
Gareth Jones – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935) – The death of the investigative journalist looked like another kidnapping gone wrong by bandits out for quick profit. However his investigations appeared to have hit a goldmine when it came to the political pulse of that era. He was an intelligent young reporter with an interest in current affairs, and interest that probably led to his death.
The Shanghai Long Drop: The Case of The Sikh They Couldn’t Hang (1935) – A straightforward crime and conviction – a death sentence. The story really starts after the death sentence is pronounced. The guilty man was transported to a hellhole, six thousand prisoners in a space equipped for two thousand prisoners. One could argue that physics play a big role in this story and perhaps not ‘luck’ per se.
The Good Doctor Colbert – Wife Poisoner? (1936) – Interesting how poisoning was considered an alternative to ridding oneself of a wife or husband. Divorce, especially for women, was synonymous with scandal. This is also the only story where the victim is actually able to watch the trial herself. It was a case that caught the attention of not only China, but also the US.
Who Killed The Baron of Frenchtown (1941) – A murder, an assassination that remains unsolved to this day. A murder with motives that draw from long before a pre-war time and culminate in wartime. The Baron opposed the new regime and wrote favourably about the prior one. He was highly critical of the way the powers that be let crime run rampant. His opinions may have made him a potential target.
The Death of a Shanghai Gold Dealer (1947) – As an East meets West city, Shanghai became a melting pot of refugees, peasants looking for a better life and ex-soldiers. Eight long years of war and occupation had left their mark on the city that once was its own jewel in the crown of China. Greed and coming to the attention of people who were interested in making a profit to restart their lives back home was the downfall of the Gold Dealer.
I think what shines through in the majority of these old cases is just how oppressive and unjust colonialism was. It’s really no surprise that there is a general sense and feeling of mistrust towards predominantly white regimes that believed themselves to be superior above all others, especially to non-whites. Was there really any justice for victims of crime when the victim was a native, and indeed if the roles were reversed the punishments were harsher for non-whites.
This is a must-listen for readers or listeners who enjoy true crime and like their crime to be factual rather than fictional. French does an excellent job of melding history, politics, social structures and culture together with well-researched crimes that have been buried and forgotten with the passing of time.
French narrates with passion and power, and opens the door to the world and captivating history of China, albeit just a small part His voice draws readers in as he tells the tragic stories of debt, theft, abuse, violence and murder. He brings in all of the documented evidence that is available and gives life to the men, women and children who have become mere blips in history.
Buy Murders of Old China at Amazon Uk. Publisher Audible Original: pub date: 4 Dec 2019. Buy at Audible Uk.
Listening Length: 8 hours and 32 minutes, Narrated by: Paul French, Program Type: Audiobook, Version: Unabridged, Publisher: Audible Original, Audible.co.uk Release Date: 4 Dec. 2019, Language: English, English, ASIN: B08288B56D