In his introduction to this new biography of Yuan Shikai, Patrick Fuliang Shan makes reference to the long-held view of Yuan as a stereotypical historical villain—or, in Chinese, fanmian lishi renwu. The Chinese phrase is perhaps the more apposite, as one literal translation would be “a person on the wrong side of history”. Whatever one’s view of Yuan Shikai, who rose to governmental and military power in the late 19th century before becoming China’s first permanent president in 1912, it is fairly uncontroversial to assert that he ended up, on a few occasions, on what would later come to be viewed as the “wrong side” of various historical moments. 

In the introduction to her new book, Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, Jung Chang writes that she originally set out to research a book on Sun Yat-sen to see if he really warranted the status of “Father of Modern China”. But the stories of Sun’s wife Soong Ching-ling and her two sisters ended up out-shining his, so Chang decided to write about them instead.  What results is a book with two intertwined narratives: one on the sisters of the title and one about Sun.

An American Bum in China, Tom Carter (Camphor Press, September 2019)
An American Bum in China, Tom Carter (Camphor Press, September 2019)

An American Bum in China: Featuring the bumblingly brilliant escapades of expatriate Matthew Evans is the remarkable but true story of an Iowan misfit. At the age of twenty-one, cancer survivor Evans flees his Mississippi River hometown of Muscatine and heads to China in pursuit of love. He ends up destitute, deported, working as a professor at a prestigious university, homeless, imprisoned, and an accidental participant in the 2014 Hong Kong protests.

In 1415, the English forces under Henry V inflicted a terrible defeat on the French army. After the battle, under a heap of dead soldiers, they found and captured a young man who turned out to be Charles, duc d’Orléans (1394-1465). He was taken to England and placed in honorable captivity, but Henry V ordered that he not be ransomed, so he remained in England until his release in 1440. During his 25 years in England, he learned English and wrote a great deal of well-regarded poetry in that language, and when he finally returned home it was remarked that his English was better than his French.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto was plagued by politics at its inception. Based on Victor Hugo’s (banned) play Le roi s’amuse, about a licentious king, the opera required considerable negotiation with the imperial Austrian censors before it could be performed in Austrian-controlled Venice. The King was demoted to a Duke, and the action moved to medieval Mantua (whose ducal family, the Gonzagas, had conveniently died out by the 19th century).