East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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A tiny snippet of my WIP

That goes to show that I always write about the same things, in the end…

After crossing the Kin Tang bridge, and going east, the Chintang Strasse becomes Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and then turns into Petrograd Prospekt once you have passed Corso Trento. In less than two kilometers, a person who walks along this route will be subject to four different legal systems – Chinese, Austro-Hungarian, Italian and Russian, each administered by its own court. And yet, thanks to extraterritoriality, a citizen of one of the Eight Nations who breaks the law, anywhere in the Tianjin area, will be extradited to his sector. In a surreal variant of the classic joke, if there are an Italian, an Englishman and a Japanese who rob a bank together, if caught, each will be tried by a different court, and will suffer a different sentence. But it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.


Italian Airmen in China, circa 1933

This morning I was asked a short piece on the Italian Concession in Tientsin, to serve as a bridge between two history articles of mine that are being reprinted. It was a fun job, 700 words in one hour. Thanks to all the research I did for my books,The Ministry of Thunder and Cynical Little Angels, I have tons of material on the Italian presence in China between the wars.

But I did a little web search anyway, and unearthed some stuff I had never seen before, including a photograph.

These are Italian airmen, photographed in China in the early ’30s, at the time of the Breda Ba.27 debacle that is at the start of Felice Sabatini’s adventures in China. The photo is badly colorized, but you get the idea.

“And who’s Sabatini?” my brother asked me upon seeing the picture.
Nice question.
I have of course my own candidate for the role.
But what do you guys say?

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Sixteen Italians in Tientsin

There were sixteen Italians in Tietsin in 1901.

  • Two hairdressers
  • Six owners or staffers of two Italian restaurants
  • One mechanic
  • One miner
  • Two businessmen
  • One builder
  • Three artists: a singer, a musician and a painter.

These are the things one learns doing historical research.


And one can also get an article out of it, and sell it. Because bills won’t pay themselves. Continue reading

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Tientsin, 1934

Know what?
I’m writing.
And believe it or not, despite what I said before, I’m back in China in the 1930s.
But not in Shanghai.
Somewhere up north and east instead.


Tientsin – which today is called Tianjin – was a Treaty Town, back before the Second World War: the eight countries that had fought against the Boxers in 1901 each got a piece of the city, and maintained there a concession enjoying extraterritorial status.
And this included Italy. Continue reading