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on 10 March 2004
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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on 27 July 2012
I downloaded The Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shaghai by Robert Beckers because it was mentioned in a Guardian review of a novel about China. This book, it was suggested, gave a good background to the real ex-pat life of the era of the novel.
The book did indeed provide that background, but it could all have been said so much quicker - and so much more elegantly.
It follows the career in Shanghai of a young man who joins the police there post First World War. It becomes very clear that the author's research, while thorough, has turned up very few facts about this particular individual. The material is therefore stretched to breaking point. The final chapters are more about the author than his subject, detailing as they do the process of the research. The facts are fascinating; I am informed by the book. But I became impatient with the quality and quantity of the writing. Typographically, the spacing in the book was also rather poor, making it necessary to re-read paragraphs to get the sense. It had rather a hand-knitted feel to it.
I am uncomfortable with the 'hero' of the book being made into an 'Everyman' for the author's purposes; and I am also uncomfortable with the author's rather unflattering reading of the man on such flimsy evidence.Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai
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on 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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on 29 July 2009
This book is a fantastically detailed piece of factual historical research, which uses the life and times of one Maurice Tinkler as a vehicle to describe life in and around the International settlement of Shanghai in the early to middle 1900s from the perspective of a Shanghai Police Officer.

This is more than an autobiography of one man molded by his experiences in service of the British Empire, some aspects of which are sad such as his lost love who clearly never really forgot him and the harsher side of colonial living such as Tinkler's overtly racist attitude to the Chinese and his disdain for the Sikh and Chinese Police Officers.

The references provided with this book are quite exemplary to the point of creating a book within a book, many references indicting other possible routes of research and interest, giving the impression (to me at least) that this work could easily have been an edited down version of a Masters or Doctoral thesis.

Given the author's background and the nature of the funding for this research, the academic style of writing is entirely forgivable, given as it does to maintaining the flow of reading but it clearly leans heavily away from being a quick read.

Rightly or wrongly however, I felt that at times that some information could have been added as much because there was a reference available to support it, as to the support it gave the issue being discussed, which at times prompted the question `where are we going with this'?

That said, this is a remarkable piece of work given the depth and breadth of detail and supporting information it contains which quite rightly contributed to this book being awarded the first Institute of Historical Research prize in 2000.

As a side note and not necessarily a criticism, there appears to be more references to various topics within the text itself than included in the index, (Fairbairn & Sykes being examples) whether this is replicated in other areas in unclear.

I found this book to be both completely engrossing and yet at times hard going as we meandered into side issues which may say more about me as a reader than Mr. Bickers as a writer.

I would consider this work to be essential reading for anyone with an interest in the day to day workings of the Shanghai Municipal Police and Colonial Police life in general, especially when the settlement was taken over by the occupying Japanese forces and the obvious conflict in interests this caused the officers.

The `off-hand' manner in which the British Government is reputed to have treated these officers after their release from internment is a book in its own right, however what is said makes interesting reading.

The concluding `Acknowledgements' section demonstrates that whilst Mr. Bickers quite correctly has his name on the front page, there are (as in any work of this nature) an extensive array of others without whom such work either could not be produced or would have resulted in this work looking and feeling entirely different.

Very seldom have I seen an author be so genuine and humble in this thanks to so many, which I consider to be to Mr. Bickers credit.

In my view this is an incredible work that deserves to be priced higher than it is but then what price knowledge and everyone likes a bargain.
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on 16 February 2011
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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on 15 September 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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on 24 June 2010
This is the story of Richard Maurice Tinkler an ordinary Englishman who after fighting for his country in World war one found that his country has no job for him. He saw an ad of a policeman in Shanghai- Applicant must be unmarried, with good teeth, about 20 to 25 years of age. Salary is Taels 85 per month equivalent to 13 pounds per month.

He was given free passage to Shanghai. Sailed from Glasgow and arrived in 1919 via Port Said, Penang, Singapore and Hong Kong. ( See p 31-33 Bickers )

Coming from poverty-stricken England Tinkler was taken in by the prosperity he saw in Shanghai. Thus Tinkler became a man made by the British Empire and ended up An Englishman adrift in Shanghai.

Bickers has written a good history of Shanghai pre-World war two. He has used the life of a nondescript Englishman to illustrate well the social and political pre-war Shanghai.
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on 1 January 2017
Excellent - very good research and a story that flows and captivates.
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on 1 November 2007
Amazon shipped me this book in the USA and it came damaged. They took my word on it and shipped me another copy no charge. This is what makes Amazon.co.UK and amazon.com great. Customer service is unparalleled and superb.

I'll be with you forever.
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