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A Dance with the Dragon: The Vanished World of Peking's Foreign Colony Hardcover – 28 Feb 2012


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: I.B.Tauris (28 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780760523
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780760520
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 3.1 x 24.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 577,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Julia Boyd tells the fascinating tale of the foreign community surviving in Peking between the end of the Ching Dynasty and Mao s communist revolution. It is a great story very well told - turmoil behind, turmoil ahead and turmoil all around. --Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, Chairman of the BBC and former Governor of Hong Kong

Based on a treasure-trove of original sources, this book gives an enthralling insight into the expatriate community in Peking during the half-century before the triumph of Mao. Anyone who wants to understand China's relationship with foreigners, today as well as yesterday, should read it. --Piers Brendon, author of The Decline and Fall of the British Empire

A fascinating account sourced from many previously unpublished letters and archives. Boyd's characters flit on the surface of the city like water beetles, unaware of the depths below. --Frances Wood, Curator of Chinese Collections, British Library, author of China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors.

'...with its fresh insights into this historic non-meeting of minds, [A Dance With the Dragon] appears at an opportune moment.' --Literary Review

A fascinating account sourced from many previously unpublished letters and archives. Boyd's characters flit on the surface of the city like water beetles, unaware of the depths below. --Frances Wood, Curator of Chinese Collections, British Library, author of China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors.

'Boyd s volume stands alone as a valuable history of our foreign predecessors, but also offers a healthy reminder of the responsibilities incumbent upon those who make China their home.' --Asian Review of Books

A fascinating account sourced from many previously unpublished letters and archives. Boyd's characters flit on the surface of the city like water beetles, unaware of the depths below. --Frances Wood, Curator of Chinese Collections, British Library, author of China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors.

'It is as much a glimpse of a corner of the fashionable intellectual life of Europe and America in exile as it is a guide to the vanished world of Peking itself.' --Asian Affairs

A fascinating account sourced from many previously unpublished letters and archives. Boyd's characters flit on the surface of the city like water beetles, unaware of the depths below. --Frances Wood, Curator of Chinese Collections, British Library, author of China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors.

About the Author

Julia Boyd is the author of 'Hannah Riddell, An Englishwoman in Japan' and 'The Excellent Doctor Blackwell'. She has travelled frequently to China.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R. Davies on 24 Dec. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Julia Boyd has brought to life in a most accessible way the extraordinary collection of people from all walks of life and a variety of nationalities who made up the expatriate community in China in the years between the death of the Last Empress and the Communist Revolution in 1949. Adventurers, refugees from Bolshevism, cranks, charlatans and frauds (Sir Edmund Backhouse not the least of these), mystical priests like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and acute observers of a vanished world like Daniele Varè make up the cast of characters and they tell a fascinating story. Anyone with an interest in China as it begins to play a more significant role in world affairs should read this most enjoyable and illuminating book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Philip on 17 Jan. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book offers a fascinating and well-written account of the foreign community living and surviving in Peking (Beijing) between the end of the Qing Dynasty and Mao’s communist revolution in 1949. It is a story full of detailed descriptions of people and places, and provides not only a highly readable history of China at the time but also an insight into the relationship between the expatriate community and the Chinese. Well worth reading.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Booklover on 24 April 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was drawn to this book, having just read Paul French's brief series of portraits of 1920's and 1930's Beijing, 'Badlands'. He rather sniffily mentions Julia Boyd's 'Dance with the Dragon' as being 'worth mentioning' , which is a double-edged comment - so I decided to buy the Kindle edition.

The book describes Peiping (= Beijing when it was no longer the capital; 'jing' = 'capital' in chinese, thus Beijing = northern capital and Nanjing = southern capital) from around 1900 to 1949 - in other words, from the time of the Boxer rebellion until the internment of foreign nationals after Pearl Harbour and the end of the war, and up to the Revolution/Mao's reconquest of Beijing. It particularly describes the jeunesse doree (gilded youth) life of foreigners in a city which was no longer the capital, where the country was falling apart, firstly under warlordism and then under Japanese incursions, and where foreigners were isolated (or isolated themselves) from chinese society.
This book provides an excellent, if at times superficial, review of the decades of the first half of the last century of the expat Beijing community. Superficial, in that there is little mention of the different factions of the Manchu court during the Boxer rebellion; little or no discussion of the murder of Pamela Werner (for which see Paul French's excellent 'Midnight in Beijing'); little discussion of one of the most fascinating characters of the period, Edmund Backhouse; and little in-depth discussion of why what was going on politically was happening.Julia Boyd writes in an easy style and this book is readable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Wonderfully vivid and thoroughly researched book. 18 Feb. 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Outstandingly enjoyble and thoroughly researched account of the foreign community in Beijing from the Boxer Rebellion to the founding of the PRC in 1949. The dramatic and turbulent story of China's transition from Imperial to communist rule unfolds as the backdrop to a very motley crew of diplomats, socialites, scholars and charlatans. Julia Boyd's book is impeccably researched, but she never allows her fine scholarship to interfere with readability. Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Nice Picture 16 Nov. 2012
By Allan Mazur - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Boyd gives a nice view of the luxury and life enjoyed by Westerners living in Beijing's Legation Quarter before World War II.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Inside Story of a Clash between Cultures 25 Nov. 2012
By Patricia A. Osborn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A fascinating background of the relationship between the foreigners who came to and attempted dominate its trade and yet stand apart as its superiors. During the horrors of the Boxer Rebellion to the excesses of the Forbidden City, foreigners from England and Europe tended to mingle mostly with themselves --while enjoying extravagant living in their own legations. Written after research of original materials -- letters, diaries, and articles by those who experienced those hardly believable times, A Dance with the Dragon creates a vivid picture of a China, once disdained for its backwardness and brings into focus the China of today.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Entertaining and informative narrative history of expatriate life in old Peking/Beijing 3 Dec. 2013
By Grant A Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The entertaining and informative narrative history of expatriate life in Peking/Beijing over the first half of the 20th century, 'A Dance With The Dragon : The Vanished World of Peking's Foreign Colony', shows author Julia Boyd has an eye for good anecdotes, and flair for retelling them.

This book is a great read for old China hands and newcomers alike who want not only to be entertained, but also to better understand, through experiences of expatriate residents from 1900 to 1949, the extraordinary trajectory of China from the late Qing Dynasty to the present. Anyone who has lived in or visited this ever-fascinating city, or has read widely about it, is likely to find new stories unearthed by Boyd. She has mined a treasure trove of published and unpublished memoirs, official reports, correspondence and other works.

Boyd writes with a vast palette of colourful characters and stories, illustrating a spectrum of mutual ignorance, misunderstanding, congeniality and enlightenment that always has characterised foreign and Chinese interaction. Yet this is not a preachy or tendentious book: Boyd presents her narrative, and allows readers to reach their own conclusions. She succinctly states her conclusions at the very end of the book, writing in part: '...if much of the architecture of the city has changed beyond recognition, so too has that image of China once perpetuated by the expatriates who are the subject of this book and whose insensitivity and ignorance were to leave such a scar. China played its own part of course in mutual misunderstanding, and the foreigners had no crystal ball. Nevertheless (with honourable exceptions) they stand guilty of a massive failure of imagination.'

The green-tile-roofed traditional Chinese buildings and later structures of the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) Hospital in downtown Beijing are well-known as one of the most prestigious hospitals in the Chinese capital, often used by the senior Chinese leadership as well as foreigners. Less well-known is the background Boyd relates about founding of the hospital by American Protestant medical missionaries in 1921 with an $8 million donation by John D. Rockefeller, who intended that it should be one of the world's best. From 1915 to 1947, the Rockefeller Foundation poured $45 million into the PUMC, its largest grant to any single project. Boyd relates how Sir Reginald Johnston, the Scottish tutor to China's last emperor, Pu Yi, successfully insisted -- against suicide threats by elderly imperial concubines, and the indignation of palace eunuchs -- that the last emperor should receive his first pair of spectacles at the PUMC hospital. The apotheosis of the Chinese Revolution, Dr Sun Yat-sen, himself a qualified practitioner of Western medicine, chose the PUMC hospital to be treated for his terminal liver cancer, dying there in March 1925 -- followed by riotous scenes as Nationalists and Communists immediately contested ownership of his political legacy.

Many travelers through China today who encounter courteous and efficient officers of the Chinese Customs Service are unaware that it is the direct institutional descendant of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service, which was established and led over 40 years, until 1911, by Sir Robert Hart, a Chinese-speaking Irishman honoured and trusted by the Chinese Government as one of their most loyal, effective and incorruptible officials. Hart was famous in his time as an administrator and for his understanding of China. Less well-known is that he maintained a 20-member Chinese orchestra known as The IG's Own, who played western music; and that he had three children by his Chinese mistress.

Among many other colourful characters on Boyd's pages:
* Sir Miles Lampson, the six-and-a-half-foot tall British ambassador notable for duck shooting at the Summer Palace, for shooting game from British gunboats whenever he had the chance, and for diplomatic dispatches pretentiously written in the third person;
* Roy Chapman Andrews, the swashbuckling American explorer-paleontologist whose expeditions in China and Mongolia from his base in Peking for nine years (in a 47-room courtyard house formerly occupied by his friend, London "Times" correspondent and Chinese Government adviser G. E. Morrison) helped to inspire the movie character, Indiana Jones;
* Sir Edmund Backhouse, the very odd British aristocrat, China scholar and longtime Peking resident who perpetrated elaborate literary hoaxes, and claimed to have had multiple sexual encounters with Manchu aristocrats of both sexes, including the Empress Dowager Cixi;
* Joseph W. Stilwell, the Chinese-speaking US Army officer, later General, who was posted to Peking with his family, travelling widely in China from the early 1920s. Drawing on Mrs Winifred Stilwell's unpublished memoirs, Boyd shows a lesser-known aspect of "Vinegar Joe" as a connoisseur of Chinese art, a man whose sympathies for the Chinese people were such that he held a farewell banquet for 12 rickshawmen before departing Peking as the Second World War loomed; and
* Edgar and Helen Snow, the American correspondents who were Peking's original trendy Left dilettante couple, who competed in sycophantic writing about the Chinese Communists -- who may have been ethically superior relative to the rampantly corrupt Nationalists but were not as irreproachable as depicted by the Snows.

The Kindle edition is well formatted, easy to navigate, and free of the errors often seen in e-book transfers. The bibliography is an excellent guide to further reading.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
a not very amusing bit of froth! 17 April 2013
By jl Gould - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was a little tedious. The anecdotes were not very interesting or amusing and the characters were not very well drawn. It was hard to understand if this was meant to be a serious look at the foreign community in Peking or a light flit through the early 20th century in China.
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