Paul French
Paul French
Paul French was born in London and lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. He is the author of The New York Times bestseller Midnight in Peking (2011, Penguin) and City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir (2018, Picador). He also works regularly for BBC Radio.

In 1971, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, Beijing sent a film of Chinese ballet The Red Detachment of Women to the Venice International Film Festival, from where it became a hit with Western movie-goers.

China’s Hidden Century uses a remarkable variety of objects to illustrate life in the late Qing dynasty and remind visitors of events such as the Taiping Rebellion, the most destructive civil war anywhere ever.

Characters the British writer met in Hong Kong made it into one of his Cold War spy novels, as did an error he admitted cribbing from an out-of-date guidebook and which taught him to get the small stuff right.

Taiwanese artist Tan Teng-pho, known for his calming, depopulated portrayals of cities such as Shanghai and Tokyo, met a brutal death and vanished into obscurity until recent years.


Helen Fette, an American missionary turned entrepreneur, and her partner Li Mengshu, revolutionised the north China rug-making industry in the 1920s and ’30s.

’Twas the night before Christmas, and for senior detective John Creighton, the journey from Peking to join his family is derailed by a body, a brandy and a bloody whodunit.

In June 1924, a hotel was bombed in Guangzhou in an attempt to assassinate the French governor of Indochina. The plot failed, but the bomber’s influence was far-reaching.

In 1903, American artist Katharine Augusta Carl was invited to paint the first-ever portrait of China’s Empress Dowager Cixi, gaining unprecedented access to the imperial palace.

Adam Brookes uncovers some new heroes of the second Sino-Japanese war – the curators who catalogued the Forbidden City’s treasures, then packed them and ensured they were kept secure during years of conflict.

In the Beijing Legation Quarter, a diplomatic love triangle ignited an international incident that stained not only the noble family embroiled by it but Italy’s reputation in China.

Often dismissed as fanciful and racist, L. Ron Hubbard’s stories of his trips in Asia as a teenager in the 1920s might not all be made up, such as his friendship with an MI6 agent.

Tens of thousands of Chinese labourers and refugees called the Chinatown in Russia’s easternmost city home for decades until Stalin ordered it ‘liquidated’.

In this history of real pirates, we look at the ‘passenger ploy’ tactic used in the early 20th century that saw many a steamer sailing the South China Sea violently looted.

Like The Fast and the Furious movies, Grace D. Li’s debut novel about young Chinese-Americans is part heist, part about finding a family with those around you.

If you like reading historical fiction with a powerful sense of place, two debut novels from Singapore-based publisher Penguin Random House SEA with echoes of Graham Greene and Andre Malraux stand out.

British artist and Beijing resident Katharine Jowett became a prolific painter of the Chinese capital in the mid-20th century, her paintings influenced by the Japanese shin-hanga style.

As modernism gained traction globally in the early 20th century, in Asia it was Shanghai that embraced the philosophical and cultural movement like no other.

Joseph Sassoon charts the rise and fall of his family’s business empire, from its roots in Baghdad to China – and to posh London drawing rooms where, the academic argues, the seeds of its doom were sown.

The apparent nostalgia for a more ‘authentic’, communal way of life in Liu Xinwu’s award-winning 1984 novel, newly translated, belies its insightful social commentary.

When ‘Seto Gin’ arrived in San Francisco from Hong Kong with a trunk of opium in 1939, authorities scrambled to unravel the case of the ‘broke banker and his comely concubine’.

Transformed today, the once verdant islands of Dom João, Montanha and Lapa, later Xiao Hengqin, Da Hengqin and Wanzai, had a tumultuous history of pirates and war.

Spies have been part of Hong Kong’s landscape since the earliest days of British rule, with everyone from the Spanish to the Japanese stirring up trouble in the city.

Novelist paints an intricate portrait of contemporary life in the Thai capital in Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok, where the lives of a varied cast of characters become intertwined and unravel.

Established in 1912 by a 16-year-old prodigy, the Shanghai Academy of Art and its graduates came to define the East-meets-West aesthetic of the city in its early 20th century heyday. Today, it’s buildings face demolition.

Behind the popular myth of a great city bursting forth from a humble fishing village is the true tale of Shum Chun, a place of casinos, trains, triads and the Celestial King of the South.

After Anna Pavlova enchanted Shanghai audiences, every foreign mother wanted her daughter trained by Russian dancers, whose influence on modern Chinese ballet would be long lasting.

Author Jonathan Kaufman vividly recounts the rise, and the missteps, of the phenomenally successful Sassoon and Kadoorie dynasties, who followed the British from India to Shanghai and Hong Kong.