Edmund Backhouse, the 20th century Sinologist, long-time Beijing resident, and occasional con-artist, is perhaps best known for his incendiary memoirs, which not only distorted Western understanding of Chinese history for more than 50 years, but also included what in retrospect can only be seen as patently fictitious stories of erotic encounters between the British Baronet and the Empress Dowager Cixi.

This week on Sinica, we are delighted to be joined by Derek Sandhaus of Earnshaw Books, who has recently produced an abridged edition of Backhouse's memoirs for the Hong Kong publishing house. As an expert on the facts and fictions of Edmund Backhouse, Derek joins us for a discussion of what is real and less-than-real in Backhouse's deathbed reminiscences, and what we can and should learn about Qing-era China from his memoirs. [standalone mp3 download]
 said on
October 4, 2015
Meta Recommendations


David Helliwell's Blog

<a href="https://oldchinesebooks.wordpress.com">https://oldchinesebooks.wordpress.com</a>

Decadence Manchu by Edmund Backhouse

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Decadence-Mandchoue-Memoirs-Trelawny-Backhouse/dp/9881944511/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1443924349&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=decadence+manchu">http://www.amazon.com/Decadence-Mandchoue-Memoirs-Trelawny-Backhouse/dp/9881944511/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1443924349&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=decadence+manchu</a>

Derek Sandhaus's two works:

Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Baijiu-Essential-Guide-Chinese-Spirits/dp/0143800132/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1443924454&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Derek+Sandhaus">http://www.amazon.com/Baijiu-Essential-Guide-Chinese-Spirits/dp/0143800132/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1443924454&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Derek+Sandhaus</a>

Tales of Old Peking

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Tales-Old-Peking-Tumultuous-Capital/dp/9881815428/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1443924398&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=tales+of+old+peking">http://www.amazon.com/Tales-Old-Peking-Tumultuous-Capital/dp/9881815428/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1443924398&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=tales+of+old+peking</a>

David Moser

Asian Observer: This Day In Chinese History

Derek Sandhaus

The Hermit of Peiking by Hugh Trevor-Roper

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/190601101X?keywords=hermit%20of%20peking&amp;qid=1443924264&amp;ref_=sr_1_1&amp;s=books&amp;sr=1-1">http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/190601101X?keywords=hermit%20of%20peking&amp;qid=1443924264&amp;ref_=sr_1_1&amp;s=books&amp;sr=1-1</a>

Homoerotic Sensibilities in Late Imperial China by Cuncun Wu

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Homoerotic-Sensibilities-Routledge-Association-Australia/dp/041564836X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1443924745&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=homoerotic+sensibilities+in+late+imperial+china">http://www.amazon.com/Homoerotic-Sensibilities-Routledge-Association-Australia/dp/041564836X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1443924745&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=homoerotic+sensibilities+in+late+imperial+china</a>

Kaiser Kuo

Chublic Opinion - Down with Nihilism

<a href="http://chublicopinion.com/2015/08/31/down-with-the-nihilists/">http://chublicopinion.com/2015/08/31/down-with-the-nihilists/</a>

Can the Chinese Government get its people to like GMOs? by Christina Larson

<a href="http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/can-the-chinese-government-get-its-people-to-like-g-m-o-s">http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/can-the-chinese-government-get-its-people-to-like-g-m-o-s</a>
 said on
October 7, 2015
The inimitable Laszlo Montgomery did a great 3 part series on Backhouse last year, definitely worth a listen http://chinahistorypodcast.com/chp-137-sir-edmund-backhouse-part-1
 said on
October 10, 2015
Hey guys!

I very much enjoyed your podcast on Backhouse but I believe you made several glaring errors of omission; in soccer we would think of them as missing open goals.

1. Hugh Trevor-Roper (HTR) and literary fraud. As Derek Sandhaus has remarked, HTR exposed Backhaus as a phony, a forger and a fraud. And I question not that HTR was in all probability correct. But how could you then omit that HTR, himself, was gulled into the greatest literary fraud of the post-war period? It was HTR, after all, who first authenticated the infamous Hitler Diaries published in Stern and the Sunday Times (of London). And just as HTR trashed Backhouse’s reputation, so the forgery of the Diaries that so comprehensively conned HTR ended up trashing the reputation of the great historian. In my mind, this amounts to more than a delicious irony, it possesses an almost Borges-like historical symmetry. And considering that HTR was so thoroughly humiliated by his crass error just a few years after publishing the Hermit, one can perhaps see the effect of a ‘curse’. Just like the Tomb of Tutankhamun, anybody who defames the memory of Backhouse is condemned to suffer a parallel fate of public ridicule and degradation (just kidding). But it’s maybe a plot for some aspiring novelist?

As a curious addendum, maybe a freaky one, Derek Sandhaus remarked that the forgery of the Life and Times of Tzu Hsi took in the experts because of its perfect Chinese and exquisite calligraphy. The Hitler Diaries that so impressed HTR were hand-written in Old Germanic script, indecipherable except to a very select few. HTR figured that no forger would ever go to the trouble to write so many pages, describing Hitler’s life in such detail, in such an esoteric script. An almost perfect parallel, no?

2. HTR and homophobia. Oy! Another open goal! To quote from the Spectator’s review of HTR’s Wartime Diaries: “[HTR] claims to enjoy ‘ordinary sexual pleasures’, but is ‘slightly homosexual’ (as his charming brother Patrick, a brilliant ophthalmologist and aesthete, was entirely), and ‘women repel me’.” HTR did eventually marry, a ‘bony’, angular aristocrat, one of those ‘androgynous’ types, eleven years his senior. HTR’s brother was ‘out’ and was one of the pioneering figures in the campaign to decriminalize homosexuality in England. So to declare HTR a homophobe seems to me a bit simplistic. Probably, what he objected to more was Backhouse’s flamboyance, ‘campness’ and promiscuity if not libertinism. HTR was, himself, an austere, rather discreet character. So little chance for any empathy with Backhouse.

3. The notorious sodomy scene with the Dowager Cixi. Come on guys. Use a little imagination! Isn’t it obvious that she had a strap-on dildo artfully fashioned by a master craftsman to resemble a giant clitoris? The master artisan labored in a basement of her palace for many years to produce this masterpiece of ingenuity, cunning and craftsmanship. Look, you have the plot for a novel right there!

4. Finally, you never mentioned the other genius linguist and Sinologist Robert van Gulik and his monumental Sexual Life in Ancient China. A podcast on van Gulik would be terrific. And what about his Judge Dee mysteries? Fabulous for their atmosphere. I, for one, am a fan. To confess a truth …eek! … van Gulik was the guy that first attracted me to the wonders of China which, in turn, eventually brought me …. to listen to Sinica podcasts.

Best regards and still a big fan


Mark Lesson Studied