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Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai [Paperback]

Robert Bickers
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Jun 2004

'This is a biography of a nobody that offers a window into an otherwise closed world. It is a life which manages to touch us all...' Empire Made Me

Shanghai in the wake of the First World War was one of the world's most dynamic, brutal and exciting cities - an incredible panorama of nightclubs, opium-dens, gambling and murder. Threatened from within by communist workers and from without by Chinese warlords and Japanese troops, and governed by an ever more desperate British-dominated administration, Shanghai was both mesmerising and terrible.Into this maelstrom stepped a tough and resourceful ex-veteran Englishman to join the police. It is his story, told in part through his rediscovered photo-albums and letters, that Robert Bickers has uncovered in this remarkable, moving book.

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Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai + Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City 1842-1949 + Old Shanghai: Gangsters in Paradise
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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (3 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141011955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141011950
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 13.1 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 197,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


"'This is a biography of a nobody that offers a window into an otherwise closed world. It is a life which manages to touch us all' Empire Made Me"

About the Author

Robert Bickers is Senior Lecturer in History at Bristol University. He has published extensively on Chinese history.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Empire is with us, in our waking lives, and in our dreams and nightmares. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed historical biography and more 10 Mar 2004
By A Customer
An interesting biography of Richard Maurice Tinkler, a British man who lived in the International Settlement in Shanghai from 1919 to 1939, also describing the city and contemporary life.
The book provides a detailed picture of Shanghai life between the wars, and the unique nature of the International Settlement and other Treaty Ports. Tinkler joined the Shanghai Municipal Police; its composition and workings are described in some detail in the book, as are the workings of the Shanghai Municipal Council. I could really picture the place and the people.
The book discusses the Treaty Ports, Shanghailanders, Tinkler and other expatriate workers ('labourers, farm workers, railwaymen, warehousemen, quarrymen' to quote the author) in the context of the British Empire, and thus goes beyond just a biography of Tinkler.
The author is an academic and the structure and style of the book is, in my opinion, an amalgam of a purely academic history treatise and a a popular story. The writing style is somewhat more academic than I would have preferred, but is still readable. The author quotes profusely and provides detailed statistics, both of which sometimes get in the way of the story, even if they might be interesting to students of history. I'm not sure I needed to know that in 1925 (was it?) there were 7,923 acres in the External Roads areas outside the Settlement, for example.
The author must have done a tremendous amount of research, and the book is obviously a labour of love. The detail makes it a good book for students of Empire, Shanghai and the inter war years, but it is also a good read for anyone interested in modern history. The writing style is not quite as fluid as I would have liked, but it's still a very good read.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not forgotten in Shanghai 3 May 2004
This is a superbly researched, delightfully written personal history of an ordinary man in an extraordinary city. Although it tells the story of a British policeman who worked in Shanghai in the 1920s, it has a resonance today. As a British expat working in Shanghai for the last 18 months, I have felt exactly the same fascination and frustration with this Chinese city that looks Wrstern, but is not.
Dr Bickers' painstaking and patient research is also an excellent example of how to do this kind of history. It is a detective story - appropriately enough - about a detective, and he pieces together the evidence carefully. Where there are gaps - and there are many - in the documentation, his speculations seem spot on.
There are many more histories of this kind to be written, of ordinary people in extraordinary times and places. Look in your loft !
As a PS to the final chapter of the book, I went to the International Cemetery in Shanghai on 2 May to find Tinkler's memorial stone. It is still there, although hard to find buried in undergrowth.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and brilliantly researched 15 Sep 2006
Most books I have read on Shanghai offer a glimpse into a debauched world of decadence and indulgence. This seems to be the Shanghai that has lingered since the Mao proclaimed victory in 1949 and changed China's path. Even today, Shanghai is viewed as a gleaming beacon by us in the west, though having lived there for 18 months, my overwhelming memory of Shanghai is the sheer graft of everyone who lives there.

Back then, as now, not all foreigners were upper-class entrepreneurs and philanthropists. It is fascinating to read about the lives of 'ordinary' people.

What Bickers does really well is paint a picture of Tinkler's evolution (or regression) as a man of the Empire. It is painstakingly researched, with Tinkler's own story deveeloping against the backdrop of a magnificent city in decline.

Insights into the peculiarities of extraterritoriality; how the Treaty of Nanjing (and subsequent treaties) eventually returned to haunt the Shanghai Municpal Council; the racial tensions between local Chinese, White Russians, Brits, Japanese and Americans, and the eventual disintegration of Shanghai are brilliantly explained and analyzed, running alongisde the story of a man who, in the end, is difficult to like. However, as Brits, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try!

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 16 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an intriguing and carefully researched book, looking at 'the boiler room of Empire', as another reviewer has put it. The author uses Tinkler to tell a larger story, that of Britain in Shanghai between the wars, and his treatment of Tinkler and his fellow SMP officers is both sympathetic and measured. As someone who was a policeman in Hong Kong in the 80s and 90s, I also found echoes of my own experiences.
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