China to Me (Virgo/Beacon Traveler Series)

by Emily Hahn

Paperback, 1988

Status

Available

Publication

Beacon Pr (1988), 429 pages

Description

A revolutionary woman for her time, Emily Hahn takes us on an adventure through the many faces that populate the landscape of China. Blending fiction and nonfiction seamlessly, Emily Hahn looks at everything and everyone she met on her breathtaking journey through the China of the 1930s. Hahn investigates not so much the complicated issues of political blocs and party conflict, but the ordinary, or extraordinary, lives of Chinese residents and tourists. This includes taking us into the personal lives of everyone from Asian prostitutes to European merchants. Join Emily Hahn as she explores China in this literary adventure.

Rating

½ (21 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
People pick up China to Me for different reasons. Some look for a travelog, something to give an accurate picture of the politics and society of mid-war China (it was published in 1944). Some look for a personal account of an outspoken feminist American living in Shanghai and Hong Kong and beyond.
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I picked it up because I heard Hahn was like Isabella Bird, a gutsy traveler who was not afraid to live outside the conformity of her time. After reading most of Hahn's partial autobiography I have to disagree somewhat. Hahn's autobiography has been criticized as being a little self-indulgent. I agree. She frequently drops the names of then-prominent Chinese society (most who mean nothing to us in the 21st century). Whereas Bird lingers over flower and fauna, Hahn belabors relationships she had. I was distracted by all the name references. I am sure in the 1940s the individuals were impressive to know but that society has long since lost its luster in the 60+ years since. Another complaint about Hahn is her apparent little regard for the welfare of her born-out-of-wedlock child. While in the Japanese prison camps she seemed more concerned with herself than the individuals around her. Despite Hahn's apparent selfishness she writes with clever humor and keen insight. In addition her life as a concubine and mistress to a spy was interesting enough to write about!
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LibraryThing member Kasthu
Emily Hahn was an American who spent 9 years living in China as a journalist, starting in 1935. She lived first in Shanghai, where she had a common-law marriage with a native Chinese and owned a couple of gibbons. During WWII, she lived in Chungking, where she met her future husband Charles Boxer.
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I first ran into the prose of this author about a year ago when I read the Virago Book of Women Travellers, in which another essay of Hahn’s is excerpted. The first line of that essay goes:

"Though I had always wanted to be an opium addict, I can’t claim that as the reason I went to China. The opium ambition dates back to that obscure period of childhood when I wanted to be a lot of other things, too—the greatest expert on ghosts, the world’s best ice skater, the champion lion tamer, you know the kind of thing. But by the time I went to China I was grown up, and all those dreams were forgotten."

After reading that, I knew I had to find one of Emily Hahn’s books. She also wrote a biography of the famous Soong sisters, and she writes about the process of writing that book in this memoir.

I get the feeling that Hahn was an extremely chatty person in real life; she was certainly very extroverted and interested in the people around her, as seen from the constant references she makes to other Americans and British in Shanghai. Hahn certainly has a sense of humor bordering on the slapstick; when she flies to Chungking, she describes her attire thus:

"We are limited in our baggage on these planes but there is no extra charge for bodily weight. Therefore travelers usually wear as many clothes as they can, and carry whatever they can cram into their pockets, and also carry extra coats over their arms… They had told me that Chungking was cold and I was taking no chances. First I was wearing a woolen dress and jacket. Over that I was wearing a cloth coat. Over that a fur of Chinese mink. On top of all that the Chinese padded gown of plum-colored silk. On my feet were the famous sheepskin boots, on their first trip and gaining fame by the minute. I looked like a deep-sea diver. I walked like one too."

Hahn was apparently famous for embellishing stories, but judging from that passage and many more like it, she certainly knew how to deliver a story effectively. Hahn is long-winded and uses colloquial language at times; the book is over 400 pages long and in small type. But she paints a vivid portrait of China before and during the war and proves herself to be a strong, courageous woman throughout all her experiences.
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LibraryThing member autumnesf
This is a pretty old book. Emily's experience living in China from about 1935 to 1942. It is an interesting story - she was quite a pioneer. Unfortunatley she was not a very moral person (in my opinion) so that limited some of my enjoyment of the book. (Call me crazy, I just can't get into living
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with and having a married man's baby). It was suspenseful reading through the Japanese occupation and how she survived. You can learn a thing or two about history in this book.
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LibraryThing member curlygirl
Amazing picture of life in Hong Kong during the Second World War. Vividly rendered, and interesting because she's seemingly neither prejudiced nor closed to experience.
LibraryThing member antiquary
Lively personal account of life of an American woman in Shanghai before WWII
LibraryThing member Jaylia3
Candid memoir of expatriate life in 1930’s-40’s China

When I first started reading Emily Hahn’s candid memoir I felt like I’d walked into the middle of a witty and fascinating conversation that I didn’t quite have the context for. There’s a reason for that, when China to Me was first
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published in 1944 WWII was still going on and the public was already well aware of Emily Hahn and her unconventional somewhat scandalous life, so there were details she could assume people already knew. I was out of that loop, but I soon enough found my footing.

Hahn traveled to Shanghai with her sister in 1935, got a writing job for a British newspaper and decided to stay. She mixed with the rich and powerful, mainly British and other European expatriates, but she also had a romantic relationship and business partnership with an already married Chinese publisher and poet. Her apartment--which she describes in humorous detail--was in the red light district and she kept a pet gibbon name Mr. Mills who sometimes accompanied her to parties.

In 1940 Hahn traveled inland to the mountainous city of Chungking (now Chongqing) to interview one of the Soong sisters, who I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of, for a book she was writing about the family. All three sisters were married to prominent Chinese men--political and military leader Chiang Kai-shek, revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, and uber wealthy finance minister Kung Hsiang-hsi--but the sisters also cultivated their own positions of power and influence. Hahn was in Chungking while the Japanese were conducting bombing raids on the city, so she had to type her book between frightening but tedious sessions in cave-like air raid shelters.

But Hahn’s experiences in Chungking were nothing compared to her life in Japanese occupied Hong Kong. She had about a year in the city before the invasion, which was long enough to have an affair with a married British military officer and give birth to their baby. Up until this point Hahn’s memoir had been highly interesting to me, but her harrowing descriptions of the chaos, scarcity, and menace of living under enemy rule while trying to care for and feed her infant daughter and make sure her hospital imprisoned lover had food and medicine made the book almost impossible to put down.

Hahn was a follows-her-own-rules kind of person, and this is a lively, entertaining, and informative book, but it’s her astute and forthright observations about people, including herself, and their varied reactions to hardship, displacement, cultural difference, tests of love and loyalty, and the loss or gain of power that elevated this memoir above a simple recounting of events for me. The book closes in 1943 when Hahn finally returns to the US with her daughter, but the war is raging on so her life and the fate of her lover are still up in the air, making me very relieved that I had a biography on hand to fill me in on what happened next--though you could just check her Wikipedia page.

This memoir is well over 400 pages, and I did find myself skimming at times, but like many of my favorite books, China to Me sent me into passionate internet research mode, and it’s added several titles to my TBR list--I for sure have to read Hahn’s book about the Soong sisters. There’s a lot more by Hahn to choose from because she authored a total of 52(!) books and wrote articles, poems, and short stories for New Yorker magazine almost up until her death at the age of ninety-two in 1997.

In 2014 China to Me was republished by Open Road Media. I read an ebook review copy supplied to me at no cost by the publisher through NetGalley. Review opinions are mine.
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LibraryThing member Jaylia3
Candid memoir of expatriate life in 1930’s-40’s China

When I first started reading Emily Hahn’s candid memoir I felt like I’d walked into the middle of a witty and fascinating conversation that I didn’t quite have the context for. There’s a reason for that, when China to Me was first
Show More
published in 1944 WWII was still going on and the public was already well aware of Emily Hahn and her unconventional somewhat scandalous life, so there were details she could assume people already knew. I was out of that loop, but I soon enough found my footing.

Hahn traveled to Shanghai with her sister in 1935, got a writing job for a British newspaper and decided to stay. She mixed with the rich and powerful, mainly British and other European expatriates, but she also had a romantic relationship and business partnership with an already married Chinese publisher and poet. Her apartment--which she describes in humorous detail--was in the red light district and she kept a pet gibbon name Mr. Mills who sometimes accompanied her to parties.

In 1940 Hahn traveled inland to the mountainous city of Chungking (now Chongqing) to interview one of the Soong sisters, who I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of, for a book she was writing about the family. All three sisters were married to prominent Chinese men--political and military leader Chiang Kai-shek, revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, and uber wealthy finance minister Kung Hsiang-hsi--but the sisters also cultivated their own positions of power and influence. Hahn was in Chungking while the Japanese were conducting bombing raids on the city, so she had to type her book between frightening but tedious sessions in cave-like air raid shelters.

But Hahn’s experiences in Chungking were nothing compared to her life in Japanese occupied Hong Kong. She had about a year in the city before the invasion, which was long enough to have an affair with a married British military officer and give birth to their baby. Up until this point Hahn’s memoir had been highly interesting to me, but her harrowing descriptions of the chaos, scarcity, and menace of living under enemy rule while trying to care for and feed her infant daughter and make sure her hospital imprisoned lover had food and medicine made the book almost impossible to put down.

Hahn was a follows-her-own-rules kind of person, and this is a lively, entertaining, and informative book, but it’s her astute and forthright observations about people, including herself, and their varied reactions to hardship, displacement, cultural difference, tests of love and loyalty, and the loss or gain of power that elevated this memoir above a simple recounting of events for me. The book closes in 1943 when Hahn finally returns to the US with her daughter, but the war is raging on so her life and the fate of her lover are still up in the air, making me very relieved that I had a biography on hand to fill me in on what happened next--though you could just check her Wikipedia page.

This memoir is well over 400 pages, and I did find myself skimming at times, but like many of my favorite books, China to Me sent me into passionate internet research mode, and it’s added several titles to my TBR list--I for sure have to read Hahn’s book about the Soong sisters. There’s a lot more by Hahn to choose from because she authored a total of 52(!) books and wrote articles, poems, and short stories for New Yorker magazine almost up until her death at the age of ninety-two in 1997.

In 2014 China to Me was republished by Open Road Media. I read an ebook review copy supplied to me at no cost by the publisher through NetGalley. Review opinions are mine.
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LibraryThing member Fnarkle
Exciting account of tribulations experienced by Hahn in China as she evolved into a New Yorker magazine writer. Her experiences reveal a resolve to understand authentic Chinese culture; in so doing, she garners respect of the Chinese, including her beau, a scholar of Chinese classics. One wonders
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what the Chinese thought about her habit of keeping gibbons as pets, which is covered extensively here. Not covered? Her purported addiction to opium. The latter half of the books covers her experiences in Hong Kong under Japanese control. Others are imprisoned in camps; miraculously, Hahn remains free -- and seems to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Her accounts of drinking excessively, in an era known for modesty and chaste morality, are brash and welcome. Elaborate constructs recounting her innocence of being labeled a tart, or worse, appear disingenuous. During her Hong Kong sojourn, she met and romanced Charles Boxer, head of British intelligence for Hong Kong. Although married at the time, Boxer acknowledged Hahn's child as his and vowed matrimonial intent, prior to being thrown in Stanley -- the first of Hong Kong's internment camps. First published 1944,this edition followed wartime censorship laws. The book concludes with Boxer still in Stanley, and Hahn expatriated to the US with their daughter, Carola.
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LibraryThing member BeyondEdenRock
Writer Emily Hahn – known to her friends as Mickey – traveled from the USA to China in 1935 and she didn’t come home until she was repatriated – with her daughter – in 1943.

She hadn’t intended to stay for so long, but she found so many reasons to stay and establish a life there.

She was
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offered an interesting job, in newspaper journalism; and that led her into a business partnership and a romantic alliance with her – married – Chinese publisher.

She mixed with the rich and powerful, mainly British and other European expatriates.

She found and furnished an apartment in Shanghai’s red light district, and she kept a pet gibbon who she named Mr. Mills and who often accompanied her to social events.

Starting to read this book was a little like stepping into a party not knowing any of the other guests and catching the voice of a warm and witty raconteur with a great deal to talk about. I can’t say that I got the whole story straight, but I picked up lots of details and I was intrigued.

That might have happened because the author was a columnist for the New Yorker and was writing for an audience who already knew the shape of her story; it might be because she was anxious to publish this account but wary of saying too much during the war; and it could be significant that she had a serious opium habit for the first few years she spent in China ….

As time passed key events became a little clearer.

Mickey was commissioned to write a book about the three famous Soong sisters. Each sister had married a prominent Chinese men – military leader Chiang Kai-shek, revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, and wealthy finance minister Kung Hsiang-hsi – and each had used that to establish their own position of power and influence.

She traveled inland to the mountainous city of Chungking to interview the first of trio, and gaining her confidence and trust opened the doors she needed opening to complete her book.

There isn’t a great deal about the sisters in this book but there was enough to pique my curiosity, and to make me very glad that I have a copy of that book.

Then Mickey moved to Hong Kong. She began an affair with the local head of British army intelligence and she gave birth to their baby. That was planned, because she thought that a baby would steady her and he agreed ….

She was still in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded – on the same day that they attacked Pearl Harbor. That raised this book from interesting to compelling, as she vividly describes of the confusion, the uncertainty, the deprivation and the fear of living under enemy rule. She struggled to feed and care for her infant daughter and to make sure her that her lover, who was a hospital-bound prisoner, had the food and medicine that he needed.

The book closes in 1943 when Mickey is repatriated to the US with her daughter; the outcome of the war and the fate of the man she loved still uncertain.

Emily Hahn was a proud feminist and fearless traveler, and the kind of woman who lived life as she felt it ought to be lived without waiting for the rules to be changed. That made her wonderful company, but it was her skill as a writer and her interest in the people around her that really elevated this memoir. She made clear and insightful observations about the people around her – and herself and how they dealt with cultural differences, the changes that politics and the war brought, and all of life’s ups and downs.

You won’t find a comprehensive account of the history that Emily Hahn lived through in this book, you won’t find much at all about people outside her social circle; and there is so much detail in more than four hundred pages that I can’t say that I took it all in. But I can say that those pages weren’t enough, because brought her own life back to life on the page so vividly and she really made me understand what it was like to be in her position.

I was sorry to part company, but I did understand that the book had reached a natural end.
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Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

1944

ISBN

0807071013 / 9780807071014
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