I just finished Carl Crow’s Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom and I have to say that it is fantastic. Congratulations to the guys at China Economic Review for deciding to do a series of books reprinting old books about China as this one is certainly one of the best. It provides an excellent history of China in a very easy to read format — to be honest, it feels like you’re reading an old pulp magazine. A lot of the stories happened to Crow personally which also add a great feeling of a social history to the book as a whole.
My favourite chapters have to be the three essay like chapters in the middle describing Chinese food, foreign housewives and foreign bachelors. I could easily imagine many of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants of Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s (a trend that still persists today) as well as the clueless foreign wife who is really just tagging along after her husband and really just lives in the world of other foreign women and could have the same life living in Japan or Cairo as she does in Shanghai. Finally, I can smell and taste the alcohol flowing in the great clubs of the time. I live and work right near the old Jewish Club on what was Bubbling Well Road (Now Nanjing Xi Lu) and it still has its majesty and splendor (it’s now home to a state-owned oil company after all!).
Man, what I wouldn’t have given to live in Shanghai during that time. If you feel the same way and want something that can give you an enjoyable weekend read — go order this book from CER. You won’t regret it.