Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sci-Fi excursion to College Station

On Monday, a small crew of Austin writers made the two-hour drive out to College Station to visit the science fiction archives at Texas A&M Cushing Library. In attendance, Nicky Drayden (a Space Squid contributor who supplied some of these photos), some random awesome guy (a Space Squid co-editor), Elle Van Hensbergen (Space Squid Assistant editor), and myself.

Last month my zine, Space Squid, spawned a modestly viral meme when we published an issue on a clay tablet. Since then I've been trying to find an archive that would take it, because in theory it can survive forever, and I'm just self-centered enough to stash it somewhere where it might. Two podunk archives in Austin turned me down flat. A third archivist said she could slip it into the back stacks, but she couldn't catalog it or tell any of her co-workers about it.

On a tip from the inestimable Lawrence Person, I asked Catherine Coker, the new curator of the Cushing Library's Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection. Not only was she interested in the clay tablet and the Space Squid back issues, but she also offered a behind the scenes tour of the archive.

Does it make me a nerd that I really enjoyed looking behind the scenes of an archive?

The archive itself is behind a locked door that has cold, dust-free air whistling through the cracks. The archive's environment system is similar to the ones used in nuclear submarines, Ms. Coker tells us.

To maximize space, the shelves slide on motorized tracks. It's the sort of library that Katsuhiro Ôtomo would have designed.

First we see the periodicals, a category that contains virtually complete runs of all the major pulps running back to the 1920s. It's here that Coker shows us a sight even more chilling than the Navy-grade AC vents. The floor is covered with tiny scraps of paper. It's the rotting detritus of low-grade paper, dissolving in its own chemical stew. Irreplaceable magazines from the classic age of Science Fiction flake off to the ground to be vacuumed up every couple of months.

Coker takes us deeper into the motorized stacks to see the rare books, early copies of Dracula, a signed first-edition of Fahrenheit 451 (the European edition is called Celsius 233).

The personal manuscripts and papers of notable authors fill several aisles. George R.R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, and Joe Lansdale making up the bulk of the space. At random we pulled down a box of Michael Moorcock's old things. It was a fascinating selection of effects that will no doubt be relevant to coming centuries of historians. There were multiple drafts of his fiction work and an anti-Klan pamphlet.

I didn't touch Joe Lansdale's stuff because I figured he would kick my ass if he found out.

Upstairs there's a temporary exhibit dedicated to Science Fiction titled "One Hundred Years Hence."

It's only open until next January, so you will want to hurry out there to catch it. There's an early edition of Frankenstein with an illustration of the monster (he looks brooding, muscular, and slightly American Indian). Hand-written letters by J.R.R. Tolkien are standouts. I liked the timeline posters, which were as thorough and concise a record of the genre as anything I've seen. The fan art figurines were also particularly inciteful.

Catherine Coker anticipated my desire to see the library's clay tablets (not part of the science fiction collection, technically speaking). They were much smaller than I had imagined. One of them was apparently a receipt for a sheep carcass, and it was just about the right size for a receipt. I can imagine some Mesopotamian putting the lozenge-sized clay receipt in his pocket and accidentally leaving it in his tunic as he beat his laundry on some creek stones.

And if that weren't enough, we got to see a working replica of an early printing press.

At the end of the extensive and informative tour, we experienced the height of College Station graciousness when Catherine Coker posed for the official handover of the Space Squid clay tablet. During the tour I found out that once a state agency accepts a gift, it is illegal to dispose of it.

Oh. Whoops.

There's more photos at Nicky Drayden's blog and at my other blog, Zombie Lapdance.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jews and Boxing Before the War

L.P. Hartley had it right, of course: the past is another country. Things really are done differently there. But this is true both of the distant past and the more recent. The more you read about cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries--places no longer in living memory of anyone, but places which we can learn a great deal about with minimal effort--the more you realize how alien they were in so many ways. When we read about them and look at photos and watch films shot in those cities, the rough outlines are familiar, but the details are often not, and might as well have come from fiction. (Which is why I've long claimed that one of the best secondary worlds (in the Tolkienian sense) ever created is the film M, from 1931).

So Stephen Norwood's "`American Jewish Muscle'; Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Ring, 1890-1940" (Modern Judaism v29n2, May 2009) feels in many ways like a bunch of outtakes from the best novel never written, while also having poignant overtones because of the tragedy which was to come.

In Norwood's words, the article is about how Jewish boxers "helped undermine hoary stereotypes of Jewish males' physical incapacity, cowardice, and effeminacy that dated almost from the beginning of the Second Diaspora. These stereotypes were so pernicious that many gentiles in Europe and America believed Jews were unqualified for military service."

Some highlights:

- Following the Kishinev pogrom, Jews across Eastern Europe and the Pale of Settlement established armed self-defense groups. "Less than two months after Kishinev the Atlanta Constitution reported that in Odessa, which contained one of the largest Jewish populations of any Russian city, "Every Hebrew carries a gun." Jews there developed a communications system that enabled units of armed men from across their community to quickly converge on a particular section that came under attack."
Not that Odessa Jews were soft or unarmed before Kishinev. Many of them were hardcore chatta. Daniel Panzac wrote, in "International and Domestic Maritime Trade in the Ottoman Empire during the 18th Century" (International Journal of Middle East Studies, v24n2, May 1992): 
...brokers, always of local origin, were essential mediators between the European merchants, on the one hand, and the buyers and suppliers, on the other. They spoke Turkish or Arabic, perhaps both, as well as one or many European languages, and had wide commercial experience on both sides. They were always drawn from minority groups--Armenians, Greeks, or Jews. The last had a monopoly on dealings with French merchants. They organized the sales and shipments of European merchandise with local Muslim or minority buyers. They harassed debtors and even supplied European merchants confined with the plague.

This Jewish readiness resulted in attempted pogroms turning into actual battles. The pogromists at Gomel in 1906 were, according to a Jewish Morning Journal reporter, "met by Jews armed with revolvers, knives, and iron bars" who after "fierce combat...succeeded in beating back the attacking multitude." Many Jews died--it was a pogrom--but so did many pogromists.

- Americans have no call to feel superior to Russians about this. From the 1890s through the 1920s, "Jew-hunting" was a pastime for Christian youths in the big cities. They'd rampage through Jewish neighborhoods, assaulting and even mutilating the residents. Beatings were common, rapes less so but not unheard of. Boys were forced to display their circumcision, girls had their clothes torn off, and orthodox Jews had their beards pulled. Synagogues were desecrated, merchandise was stolen from Jewish shops, and the police were either indifferent to the Jew-hunters or aided them. Jewish peddlers in Chicago in 1901 even said that "Jews in Russia...were safer from assault and insult in that country than they are on the streets of Chicago."
However, a number of the Jewish boys who suffered through this took up boxing, and used their skills in self-defense. One such was Meyer Lansky--yes, that Meyer Lansky. Another was Mickey Cohen, the Mickster so memorably portrayed in James Ellroy's novels. In 1938 eight Irish-American thugs invaded Cohen's neighborhood:

The marauders had already "snatched a yeshiva boy's glasses from his face and spun them into the street," seized a Jewish newsboy's papers and thrown them into the gutter, and pulled an old man's beard when they attacked Cohen. But with "swift and terrible precision" the Jewish boxer struck down each one of his assailants, leaving them groaning in pain, "all broken up...on the sidewalk." When one of the two who had remained conscious cried out, "in a child's voice," that Cohen had hurt his testicles, the Jewish fighter, "kicking him...into his companion's vomit," replied, "Save you money if I have. Kids cost an arm and a leg these days."

- I knew about the Jewish boxers of England in the late 18th and early 19th century, of course--introduced scientific boxing, introduced the uppercut, helped make the sport more than Irish stand-down, etc. But I didn't know that Daniel Mendoza, the "Light of Israel," was on a ship, sailing to Ireland in 1791, when it was attacked by pirates. Mendoza personally beat two of the pirates into unconsciousness, causing the rest to flee back to their ship.

- It was Jews who desegregated boxing. Most prominent white prizefighters, including John L. Sullivan and Gentleman Jim Corbett, refused to box blacks. Jews did. The great Jack Johnson was knocked out in a fight in Galveston, Texas, in 1901 by "Chrysanthemum Joe" Choynski, but Texas Rangers arrested both Johnson and Choynski for violating an anti-prizefighting law. Choynski and Johnson shared a cell for four weeks, and Choynski taught Johnson as much as he could about how to box.

- Most of us know--I would hope--about Jesse Owens clowning the Nazis at the '38 Olympics, and about Joe Louis beating Max Schmeling in 1938, and about the symbolic importance of those victories. But I didn't know about Max Baer's fight with Schmeling in June 1933.

Norwood disagrees with Wikipedia on one point (I'll side with Norwood, of course--if Wikipedia said the sun rose this morning I'd run to the window to make sure): that Schmeling was a friend to the Nazis. (Wife was a "strong Nazi sympathizer," Schmeling gave the Nazi salute to Mussolini in Oct. 1933, and Schmeling praised Hitler to the press).

In June, 1933, Max Baer--who at this point was publicly identifying himself as a Jew--took on Schmeling. Before the fight Schmeling, "the Black Uhlan of the Rhine," declared his support for Hitler and claimed that (per Norwood) "Germany had never been more peaceful than under Nazism, and that he had seen 'no cruelties against Jews.'" Baer responded by announcing that he would wear the Star of David on his trunks during the match and for every match following, which he did. During the match, Baer "taunted Schmeling by placing his hands on the portion of his trunks with the Star of David, and fluttering the symbol of Jewish pride at him." In "the dirtiest heavyweight brawl since bare knuckle days" Baer won on a TKO in the tenth round.
There's a lot more in the article, of course. Norwood talks about how closely tied the Jewish boxers were to their individual neighborhoods, about their efforts to provide good role models for other Jews and to be flawless in the press, and about what happened with these boxers after WW2 (short version: a lot of them joined the George Washington Legion and the Irgun). If you're at all interested in this subject, the article is well worth searching out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Camille Flammarion, Mad Scientist, and the expedition into the Hollow Earth.

Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) was a French astronomer, science popularizer, and author of science fiction. (Wikipedia entry here). He's not well-known in the U.S., but in Europe he has a certain reputation as a Victorian poor man's Carl Sagan. (Hmm. Costermonger's Carl Sagan? Or would that be too obscure?)

Flammarion was also, ahem, a bit of a nut job. The Wiki entry touches on his views on "spiritism," and the at-the-time notorious Flammarion Woodcut (that's the Woodcut there on the right) hint at Flammarion's tendency to let his enthusiasm get the better of him, at the expense of strict truthfulness. (I certainly understand and sympathise with him in this regard. I guess we can just think of this as the 19th century French sf version of truthiness).

But the following, taken from a Times of London piece in 1888 (I think), is new to me:

A most remarkable bill has been introduced in the American Congress. It appropriates 100,000dol to be expended in boring into the earth's crust, and the duty of spending the money has been relegated to the Engineer Corps of the United States Army. This boring is to be done "with a view of extending and enlarging our knowledge of the features and peculiarities of its formation and structure." The provision for making a report requires "that the Secretary of War shall make a report to the Fiftieth Congress showing the progress of the boring up to the date of the report, together with the views of the board as to the depth to which, with mechanical instruments and appliances at their command, it can be carried ; and that the estimates submitted by the War department for the ensuing year shall include an estimate of the amount necessary to prosecute the work during the fiscal year ending June 30,1889." In choosing land for the purpose preference is required to be given to that of little value, and the title shall be secured to land four miles in every direction from the bore-hole. Curiously akin to this scheme is one propounded almost coincidently by M. Flammarion, the eminent French astronomer, who has been dubbed for his pains "a mad scientist." M. Flammarion's mind is exercised by the spectacle presented in Europe at the present time, where 5,000,000 men stand armed for mutual destruction. In the interests of humanity and science, he wises to utilise the services of these men to some profitable and peaceful task. This is no less than to dig an enormous hole into the globe for the purpose of once for all finding out what is inside. With the armies of Europe for workmen, he would by their means solve the perplexing problems and mysteries which surround the vast regions hid from mortal eye in the body of this sphere. A London paper says :--Of the interior of our earth below the depth of one mile nothing whatever is known, and not even a guess can be made of the 8000 miles which separate us in a direct line from our kinsfolk in Australia and New Zealand. M. Flammarion's weird idea leads to some interesting and amusing reflections. The hole would have to have a diagonal direction, for no hauling gear miles long could be contrived for pulling up and letting down men vertically, as miners do. Cornish miners even work stripped to the skin on account of the heat, and M. Flammarion's soldiers would have to stand a temperature no salamander could endure. Imagine, too, if his hole reached a depth of many miles, the excited work there would be in, perhaps, tunneling through stratas of solid gold, and of finding precious stones as big as boulders. But anything is better than war, and if M. Flammarion, by his wild project, can only divert men from slaughtering each other, the world would be a gainer, and he would be hailed to all time as a benefactor to the human race.

Out here in real life, the idea of all those countries setting aside their enmities and coming together for one big mining project is silly. Never happen. And if it did, we know what would be found: the crust and upper mantle, the lithosphere. If such an expedition had taken place, the only thing of significance that would have taken place is a possible adoption of or at least consideration of the theory of continental drift.

(Not that such an expedition would have stopped loons like Neal Adams, but never mind).

But in fiction or an there is where this might-have-been has potential. A Steampunk The Core, for example. (The Core was great! YES IT WAS SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP). Or...well, imagine the scene: thousands of Prussian and French and British soldiers, covertly casting hostile glances at each other as they use their picks and shovels, crack an opening into an enormous cavern. Some of the soldiers fall into the cavern, others scramble away from the hole. Then...

...well, what's in the cavern? The Mole Man's moloids? Dinosaurs? Some Lovecraftian monster? (Can't recall offhand if HPL had any monster lurking in the depths of the earth). Whatever it is, it retaliates, and suddenly we've got a new version of War of the Worlds, but with the invaders coming from below.

And that's just one of the possible scenarios.

Having just given the preceding a moment's thought, I realize I'm refitting the plot of La Guerre Infernale for a Subterraneans Invade scenario. La Guerre Infernale was a French pulp, created by Pierre Giffard and Albert Robida, which ran for thirty issues in 1908. La Guerre Infernale was about the world war of 1937, which began between Germany and Great Britain and France, dragged in the United States, and then took a right turn when the Japanese, dastardly Yellow Perils that they are, take advantage of the war in Europe to attack. They conquer Europe and attack and conquer most of the United States. This forces the British, Germans, Russians, and Americans to unite into the "White Wall" and attack the Japanese.

I wouldn't want to do a Yellow Peril scenario, but if you swap out the Subterraneans for the Japanese...oh, sod, this is what Harry Harrison did in his Worldwar series, didn't he?

Never mind.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The atemporality of 21st century urban warfare

Viewing this morning's front page picture of the world today, one can't help but be struck by the atemporal medievalism of it all, from riot-armored Israeli knights on horseback to the Gandalfian cathode ray necromancers in their remote mountain lairs to the English warrior princes.

How very Blackwater Prince Harry it all is.

Still waiting for the Web to produce a fragmented Shakespeare suited to articulate this strange Zeitgeist.

Another early robot.

This one from 1909/1910/1911. The article is from the American Examiner sometime in 1911 (should have written down the exact date, but didn't.


H. Whitman, a Berlin inventor, has, after many years, succeeded in making a mechanical man that can walk, and make other human movements, and can speak, sing, whistle and laugh. This mechanical masterpiece is so human that at a distance of a yard it cannot be told from a living being.

The figure is a mass of intricate cogs and machinery. In the chest a number of phonographs are arranged, but how the machinery is controlled is a secret of the inventor. It has been said that wireless electric waves are at the bottom of the mechanical miracle. Each part of the figure is controlled by a little electric motor.

The inventor carries about with him a disk upon which is a little needle. This is attached to an electric coil of his own invention, which is in harmony with the little motors inside the figure. By moving the needle from one point to another, he starts by wireless waves the parts that he wants to move. And the principle is owrked out in endless combinations.

The invention seems in fact to duplicate Bulwer Lytton's mechanical servants in his famous story "The Coming Race," and at a latter date H. G. Wells's conception of the same solution of the servant problem.

Writers of fiction, in all countries and ages, have found inspiration in the idea of duplicating the complicated works of nature with mechanical constructions. To describe such imaginary mechanisms is much easier than actually to construct them.

Clockmakers, owing to their familiarity with the means of producing all sorts of movements in the transmission of power, have always been the most ingenious artificers on these lines--but they have usually constructed their moving human figures with the main purpose of their contrivances--to tell the time of day and the progress of the seasons.

To construct a mechanical man is merely to triumph over mechanical difficulties--the man being of no use, but merely a curiosity when created--which appears to be the case with Mr. Whitman.

I found this article, with the (admittedly murky) picture on the left, back in June, during my hiatus. While looking for some accompanying information on this "H. Whitman," I found the Cybernetic Zoo (a site I hadn't known about) and its page on this robot, which was apparently named "Occultus" or "Barbarossa." I took the (much clearer) photo on the right, from that page, and I trust the owner(s) of the Cybernetic Zoo will forgive me borrowing the image from their site.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Victorian Women: Industrial Espionage And You!

The use of women as spies was certainly common enough in the 19th century. But a lot of the spying was not quite what you'd think. From a Straits Times of Singapore article, 21 October 1907:

During at least a century in Russia, ladies who have enjoyed the ear of the Court have been known to use their social opportunities for the purpose of obtaining State secrets for their various allies. In other Imperial Courts in Europe favoured courtiers have been long credited with the practice of eliciting political information for the benefit of their patrons. It is, however, comparatively of late years that the system of female espionage has been introduced into Great Britain and America with the object of elucidating matters of the first importance to financiers, promoters of trusts, and concessionnaires [sic] of all kinds.

The enormous profits which can be made by those who promote combines, railway amalgamations, mineral or other State concessions make it worth the while of capitalists to scatter some thousands of pounds amongst well-dressed and well-educated ladies and gentlemen of leisure who will exert themselves to obtain accurate information from authentic sources as to coming events of financial significance. For instance, the knowledge that some Oriental State was about to make a new issue or to convert an old one on certain lines has, in the past, enabled diplomatic capitalists to anticipate Stock Exchange fluctuations and secure a considerable profit.

In a more limited way, information as to the racing stables of celebrated owners is often gathered in the drawing-room or billiard-room of a country house far more effectually than by loafers about the training quarters. Lady detectives are sometimes employed by fortune-hunters to investigate the position and prospects of Amreican and other heiresses, and to report upon their movements and pastimes.
As far as I know industrial espionage hasn't been used at all in fiction about the 19th century, and I certainly haven't heard of a story or novel in which a Victorian woman was an industrial spy, but it's logical and even obvious once you think about it, and as the preceding shows, it was certainly a reality.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Female Private Eye: One Woman's Story

A longish account by May Storey, billed in the 1920s as "the female Sherlock Holmes." That's her on the right, on card #42 of the Imperial Tobacco Company's 50 Churchman Tobacco Cards of 1938. She acquired an unusual amount of fame for a private eye, in part because she was a woman (unusual though hardly unknown in the 1930s) and in part because she wrote articles, like the one below, which were widely reprinted.

I think this article is interesting on a few levels: what the life of a private detective during the pulp era was really like, how similar the English p.i. was to the American, and how popular stereotypes of rising crime and lawlessness were played to by law enforcers. (Crime wasn't nearly as bad in the 1930s as it was thought to be, and was a lot better than crime had been in the 1890s).

The following appeared in a London paper in 1932; I read it in the 17 April 1932 issue of the Straits Times of Singapore:


By May Storey, the well-known woman detective, who, in an unofficial capacity has been responsible for the arrest of many famous criminals
Gangster Battle in Harlem
It is a strange paradox that my life as a woman detective has been a singularly quiet one, while my life as an ordinary citizen has been a thoroughly exciting one.

Everyone has heard of the Harlem "child massacre," where little children fell victims to the murderous machine guns of battling gangsters in a New York Street. Well, it was only by a lucky chance that my bullet-ridden corpse was not taken to the mortuary alongside the murdered children.

I was in New York on a pleasure trip, which was also intended to be a "rest," as I had been working very hard prior to my sailing, and I was visiting Harlem with a woman friend. We were strolling quietly through the busy streets, when suddenly the air was thick with gun smoke, and hideous shouts rang in our ears.

With bullets flying everywhere, we rushed for the shelter of a near-by shop, and before our eyes saw enacted the drama that was to make the law of the United States a by-word to the world.

Bullet-Ridden Car

We heard the screams of the dying children, and saw the bullet-ridden car of the slayers racing down the street. Then we saw the shrieking police car, spitting flame and death, as it opened fire on the fleeing gangsters.

I think we stood in greater danger of death from the police than we did from the crooks, as the men in blue fired at everything, and didn't seem to care very much whether they hit the passing citizen or not.

Bullets had ploughed their way into the walls just near where we had been standing, and, had it not been for the presence of mind of my friend, I should have been in the position of a man standing just near us at the time the shooting commenced.

He was carried into a nearby-shop, and carried out again a few minutes later--in a coffin. They apparently keep them in readiness for such emergencies in gangster-ridden America.

Only a few years previously I had had another narrow escape in New York. It was at the time they were extending the subway, and a portion of the roadway of 11th Street collapsed with great loss of life.

"Lifted" Property

We were strolling casually through the street at the time, when an ominous roar warned us of the crash. In a matter of seconds the roadway within a few feet of us was a mass of shattered ruins, wreathed by clouds of dust, behind which we could see people actually falling amidst the crumbling concrete.

Having related some of my own narrow escapes, I will describe the escapes of well-known shoplifters from me. It forms the most unpleasant memory of my life to think that a woman whom I once trailed from a Liverpool store, with a large quantity of "lifted" property in her bag, got away because she boarded a bus and when I went to do so I found that it could take no more passengers.

A similar thing happened when I waited for over an hour for a male thief I was after, only to see him board a bus that moved off only a "split" second before I could get aboard.

It has been with women, rather than men, that I have had to struggle when making arrests. I do not mean arrest in the proper sense of the word, of course, as all we can do is to hold a suspect and draw the attention of the police.

Unpleasant Movements

In this we have only the same rights as ordinary citizens, who have power to apprehend suspected persons.

On one occasion I laid hold of a woman, who turned and showed fight. It happened that the neighborhood was a pretty tough one, and within a few minutes the woman had a host of sympathisers, who readily joined in the fray.

I managed to retain my hold on my "prisoner," but I was subjected to a really rough time, being kicked and struck with a bottle, before my shouts and the general disturbance brought a policeman on the scene.

I shan't forget one little scene with a man. He was one of the nastiest men I have ever met, and I wanted him on behalf of a wife whom he had deserted. Why she wanted him is more than I can imagine, for he was the ugliest piece of work imaginable.

He had formerly been a prize-fighter, and his profession had not improved what few good looks he had. I found him in a vile public house somewhere in the East End, and quietly went up and asked him if he were so-and-so.

His answer was a torrent of abuse, followed by a violent blow, which caught me behind the ear and nearly stunned me. I recovered myself, however, and as he struck again caught his wrist and flung him over my head with one of the best-known ju-jitsu holds.

He hit the floor with tremendous force, to the utter amazement of the loungers in the bar, who quickly divided themselves into partisanship. Some cheered to Bill to get up and lay me out, others took my side, but Bill had had enough.

At least, I thought he had, until a heavy spittoon crashed through the glass doorway as I was leaving. He came after me, but stopped when I turned grim-faced and ready for him.
I have never been employed to detect drug-runners, which is, of course, a matter for the regular police, but during the course of a longish trip, taken on behalf of a wealthy client, I nearly became embroiled with a big gang of smugglers.

I was aboard a big liner between Sydney Vancouver [sic], when I made the acquaintance of a very charming, middle-aged woman. Now, I have never ceased to marvel at the credulity of people and the ease with which they are taken-in by the consummate swindlers.
Nevertheless, good judge of character as I have reason to believe myself to be, I never dreamed of suspecting this delightful lady acquaintance, and when, at Sydney, she asked me if I would take a small parcel back to Vancouver for her I readily agreed.

The contents of the parcel, she told me, were letters and private papers entrusted to her by her son. He had wanted to read them on the voyage, and to return them by post. However, she thought it safer to trust them to me.

On the way back to Vancouver--for I had completed my inquiries in Sydney in a few days--I happened to examine the exterior of the package, and was suspicious of its weight. For a long time I fought against my suspicions, but finally common sense overcame sentiment and I opened it.

Inside I found cocaine that was, at that time, worth many thousands of pounds. The charming traveler had been a drug-runner, and had realised the impossibility of getting it ashore at Sydney, and so wished to return the valuable drug to Vancouver.

I dropped it overboard, and carefully avoided the "son" when he boarded the ship at the Canadian port.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Demise of the UFO

If you remember the guys I found watching UFOs out in Hyde Park, well, they've posted a new video from last week.

HardmanChris is right, it doesn't look at all like an airplane.

The thing is, at 8:33 that Wednesday, over in Austin, I was hustling the Cryptopolis writing group outdoors so they could catch a glimpse of the International Space Station. It was about as bright as it gets that night, about as bright as Jupiter.

For anyone who hasn't seen an ISS flyover, you should check out and enter in your exact geographic coordinates (which is fairly easy to do with the help of Googlemaps). You can probably catch a couple ISS flyovers a week without standing around watching the sky every night.

There's actually quite a lot of youtube videos of the ISS that look virtually identical to HardmanChris's UFO videos, and the observers express hardly less wonder and amazement.

So, do I have the moral obligation to tell HardmanChris he's spent the last two years of his life videotaping the International Space Station? Is he likely to believe me? Is a delusional faith justified if it makes you feel special?

More robots of the 1920s.

This quartet taken from The San Antonio Light, 16 October, 1928, under the headline "Steel Soldiers May Do Mankind's Fighting."


The caption for the above is "Possibly in some grim war of the future the doughboy will have become the "iron boy." The army has enlisted its first mechanical man, "Private Robot," and put him to work at Aberdeen proving grounds.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Lion Man

You probably don't recognize this. No particular reason you should. But you should tip your hat or salute it anyhow.

This is the Lion Man. (Scan taken from Brian Fagan's very well done Cro-Magnon, which I'll be excerpting here in the near future, 'cause, well, the book has some stuff worth excepting).

The Löwenmensch was taken from the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in the Lone Valley in southern Germany. In 1939 two archaeologists, Otto Völzing and Robert Wetzel, found a Cro-Magnon settlement in the cave, including a huge amount of mammoth ivory fragments. In the late 1960s another archaeologist, Joachim Hahn, started piecing together the larger fragments. The reconstruction was completed in 1988 by Elisabeth Schmid and Ute Wolf.

The finished product is 28.1 centimeters (just over 11 inches) tall. Its pawlike feet don't allow it to stand on its own, so it was clearly meant to be placed in a hole or leaned against something. It is both animal and human.

The Lion Man is 34,000 years old, and is the oldest imaginary being in the world.

I should probably do some riff on the "Most Interesting Man In The World" ad campaign, about how the Lion Man still thinks of dragons as nouveau arrivistes and of the Epic of Gilgamesh as a one-hit wonder, but...the Lion Man is over three times older than the entirety of recorded human civilization. The Lion Man is seventeen times older than the amount of time from the death of Christ to now. I can't summon levity about the Lion Man. Just respect tinged with awe.

Spanish Robots of the Golden Age

Four images of robots from a Spanish newspaper of the 1930s (I've lost the exact citation).


That's Ruth Elder on the phone with Willie.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ben Thompson, Lawman and Murderer

Ben Thompson stood trial for murder four times, and was convicted once, before the people of Austin made him City Marshal.

I learned about Ben Thompson earlier this year while reading a walking tour guide for a local cemetery. Most of the gravestones on the tour belonged to local figures of stature: Former governors, community leaders, the architectural woodcarver Peter Heinrich Mansbendel, and the sorts of people who have streets and university buildings named after them.

So you can imagine the surprise when I read the abbreviated biography of a man whose life was a bullet-list of bloodshed. Ben Thompson wounded another boy playing guns as a boy, stabbed a Frenchman in New Orleans, shot a burglar, killed three men during the Civil War in non-combat altercations, shot two men in a bar fight in Austin, shot the sheriff of Ellsworth Kansas, shot a theater owner in San Antonio, etc. etc.

The best online writeup of his life is at the Mad Monarchist Blog, which lists the salient murders and shootings, but also throws in relevent biographical info, like how Ben Thompson and his one-armed wife took care of orphans (the Mad Monarchist profiles Ben Thompson because of Thompson's stint in Emperor Maximillian's army).

Looking at such an extensive gunfighter resume, it's a wonder that Ben Thompson isn't more famous. My theory is his name was too dull. Ben Thompson was partners with Bat Masterson, got arrested by Wyatt Earp, and had a business partner killed by Wild Bill Hickok. All those people had far more colorful names. In comparison, "Marshall Thompson" is a pretty plain moniker.

During his lifetime, Ben Thompson had made a name for himself as a ruthless killer. Yet Austin made Ben Thompson City Marshal in 1881 (I haven't found out if this is an elected position). I think about this whenever I write an article about Leonardo Quintana, the Austin police officer who shot Nathaniel Sanders II. I think there is still a part of the collected Austin mindset that sees the world as brutal and cruel, and the only way to protect yourself is to befriend the worst of the lot.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mall Foxes

Let's consider cryptids. It takes so little for an animal to migrate from the category of pedestrian fauna to an extra-ordinary cryptozoological creature (speaking of which, when did "creature" start to mean an animal that doesn't exist?).

For instance, take the foxes that live at Austin's Highland Mall. They are an elusive animal in an incongruous place. And it takes very little darkness to stymie attempts to record their existence.

I saw two foxes in the mall parking lot last week. They skimmed the asphalt with their noses to the ground, hunting for dropped pieces of food court cuisine. If they were lucky they ate a gumball or licked residual pretzel-dipping sauce. It's amazing how even at a distance they look so little like cats, or dogs, or raccoons, or anything else that you would expect to see.

Each image was more blurry and grainy than the last. I found myself annotating the unconvincing shapes with strident labels.

Even the video seems unconvincing.

Considering this quality of evidence, I could find Bigfoot and chupacabra sleeping in the Dillards dumpsters and never convince anyone.

The Female Spies of China.

Not the current ones, although I'm sure there are some. No, the ones I'm referring to are from decades ago, when we could all root for the Chinese in good conscience.

From the Sandusky Register--yes, Sandusky, Ohio, I'm sure this originated from somewhere else, but I found it in the Register--26 Oct. 1894: 


She Got  Military Secrets From The Japanese Officers

Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 25.--Among advices by the Empress of Japan is news of the arrest at Hiroshima of a female spy, who gives her name as Otaia. She has been using her wiles with effect among Japanese officials, and had several of them at her back [sic] and call, with the result that she was piling up a magnificent load of information for wily old Ei Hung Chang, one of whose extensive household, it appears, she was a member. She is beautiful and accomplished in seductive arts, and as she spoke Japanese fluently, was admirably fitted for the work to which she was assigned. Her accent betrays her Chinese birth. The officers who have been paying for the smiles with military secrets will pay the penalty of their rashness.
The context for the preceding was of course the 1894-5 war between China and Japan over Korea.

Thirty years later, almost to the day, in the North-China Herald, 4 October 1924:
A Female Spy
On Saturday afternoon the Chapel police and military established a guard at the Settlement boundaries and examined women who tried to get out of the native section. They had earlier in the week arrest a woman tattooed on the breast, and assuming, perhaps not without good cause, that an organized band of female spies were at work, they tried to catch others, but it seems that the former victim was the only one to fall into the net. Reports to the effect that this woman had been paraded throughout Chapei for three days are absolutely false, though the woman was marched from the place of arrest to the police headquarters. This promenade probably gave rise to the other story.
The context for that article was Lu Rongting's attempt to to reacquire power in Jiangsu, and conflict between the forces of warlords in and around the Chapei/Zhabei section of Shanghai. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Nine-Eleven is observed again today, this time with as much or more politics and contention as ever before. It’s regarded by so many as such a defining moment in U.S. history that it’s hardly possible to be unaware of the date. It IS possible to welcome a reminder that this day is a part of the human world, not apart from it.

I have a perpetual calendar with a quote for every day of the year. I’ve kept it since the 1990’s, because I like most of the quotes (and have replaced the few I don’t like.) For September 11, the calendar’s quote is this:

“What is Love? I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed though his shoes and the stars through his soul.” – Victor Hugo.

Happy Apocalyptic Anniversary

Is it just me, or does our culture seem kind of baffled about exactly how to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11?

For a few years, my own practice on each anniversary was to order a different September 11 commemorative action figure produced real-time by Osprey-browsing gnomes in some Hong Kong atelier. But that meme ran out of steam when the get the bad guys action movie narrative got preempted by Iraq and the endless war. Once they stopped letting special ops guys grow Grizzly Adams beards and dress in outlaw remixes of Afghan headgear and X-games acrylics, the coolness ran out pretty fast.

Thinking back on all this make me wonder if the perfect way to celebrate the 10th anniversary next year might be some special Northern Alliance Commemorative edition of the North Face catalog. Like Outside magazine with AK-47s, except Outside is already kind of like that (see this month's Sebastian Junger cover). I guess we don't need to commemorate 9/11, because it already constitutes a ubiquitous subtextual layer of our consciousness, the contemporary semiotic equivalent of the thin geologic layer of ash from the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs. Lurking invisibly but always there, dancing with the memories of investment bankers learning to fly.

Maybe if we could just turn it back into a Western instead of a nihilist disaster movie, it would dissipate like legends of the fall.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pulp History

I have no idea who the Talbot Players are, but I can guarantee you that I would have read a lot more history as a youngster if it looked like this and had a title like Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America.

From the catalog copy:

Smedley Butler took a Chinese bullet to the chest at age eighteen, but that did not stop him from running down rebels in Nicaragua and Haiti, or from saving the lives of his men in France. But when he learned that America was trading the of Marines to make Wall Street fat cats even fatter, Butler went on a crusade. He threw the gangsters out of Philadelphia, faced down Herbert Hoover to help veterans, and blew the lid off a plot to overthrow FDR.

A erjack cover, a great title, a main character named "Smedley," and it's all true? Well played, Talbot Players. Well played.

The New York Times tries its hand at predictions: 2009 from the viewpoint of 1909

From the New York Times, Sunday, September 26, 1909:

By Stephen Chalmers

(Editorial on "The Pioneers' Centennial" from The Universal Times, Oct. 1, A.D. 2009)

With this year of our city, 2009, epochmaking, eramarking celebrations have come and gone--centennial exercises in honor of Henry Hudson, Robert Fulton, the Wright brothers, William Marconi, and other pioneers of last century's strides in science, industrial and otherwise.

It is the second time in our city's history that two weeks of her varied life have been given over as a mighty tribute to those men who marked the beginnings of great inventions, improvements, discoveries, and of applications which have for their result the amazing facilities for life and living afforded in this year of grace 2009.

The celebrations just ended not only mark the close of another great chapter in the history of New York; they have been an episode in the story of the universe. Since 100 years ago, when the replicas of Hudson's Half Moon and Fulton's Clermont sailed the Hudson River amid the saluting cannon of the navies of earth, times have indeed changed. The first centenary celebration was merely a local affair, gigantic though it was. The celebrations of later date have been of universal importance--the universal spirit which has characterized such functions since the reorganization of world government did away with the purely local interest.

It is curious and interesting to us at this late day to examine and compare photographs of the celebrations of 1909 with the telegravures which we print elsewhere in today's issue. Aside from the subject interest of these modern pictures we cannot help noticing and commenting on the change in method of production and reproduction, even in the detail of the modern arts. Yet even in the year 1909 it was no subject for incredulity that the taking and making of pictures by wireless color telephotogravure was about to supersede the quaint, and even then archaic, camera methods.

In the telegravures of the recent celebrations, which we publish elsewhere in this issue, we realize at a glance what has happened in this old but ever new world during the 100 years which have elapsed since the centennial's first celebration. We are at once struck by the absence of all wheeled vehicles on land and of all funneled or masted surface vessels at sea. The streets which were crowded by all sorts and conditions of more or less crude vehicles are to-day devoted to pedestrian traffic, always excepting babies' perambulators. The latter, it is interesting to recall, were at the time of which we speak the daily and particular victim of the automobile, which is now an obsolte curio, while babies and perambulators survive and have come to their own gain. A nursemaid could now wheel a perambulator containing twins from the Battery to 775th Street, following the middle of Broadway, and read a book undisturbed and in perfect safety--only, of course, no nursemaid would be foolish enough to essay the task on foot.

The greatest change, to return to the telegravures, is to be remarked in the sudden complete appearance of the air vessel as a landscape feature. In olden days a writer of the romantic school stated that no picture of the tropics was complete that did not contain at least a speck representing a turkey buzzard in the background. We might say that to-day no picture is complete that does not have an airship somewhere in the back-sky. In the celebration pictures we find the aerovessel, almost absent from the celebrations of 1909, crowding in upon the vision as cabs did around the old-fashioned theatre one hundred years ago. We find the aerovessel in its many forms--from the single-seated skimmer to the vast aerocruisers, of which the Martian type is perhaps the finest example--equivalent to the Dreadnaught of the ante-pax days. Also, we perceive along the sea coast and on the Hudson River a type of vessel which was not foreshadowed even at the time of the first centennial celebrations--the submarine and flying skimmer, in playfully sobriqued the "susky-marine." Of course, the gradual elimination of earth and ocean surface travel made it inevitable that the submarine aerovessel should have the monopoly of the earth and the waters under the earth. It is hardly necessary to recall the case of the last of the old steel warships, the Amerigo, which foundered in 1947 with all souls after having been split by the Flying Diver (Jupiter: 2d class; 10 v.c.) as the latter shot from the ocean bed to the air leap.

The picture of last week's celebration has been vividly described in the columns of The Universal Times; also a programme of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration was reprinted for purposes of comparison. There can be no doubt after a comparative reading that times have changed since 1909. We reproduce one portion of an article of 100 yars ago. It has a quaint sound to twenty-first century ears and carries with it a suggestion of the verbiage and smallness of viewpoint which tended to mar the journalistic style of the middle American period:

Beginning next Saturday, Sept. 25, and continuing until Oct. 9, the State of New York will celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the Hudson River by Henry Hudson in 1609 and the one hundredth anniversary of the successful inauguration of steam navigation upon the same river by Robert Fulton in 1807.

The first week will be New York City's City's week, although that is rather a narrow description of it, since the celebration will lap over into New Jersey and points on the lower Hudson as far as Newburg. The second week will belong to the lower upper Hudson.

"Rather a narrow description of it," indeed. But at that time world affairs were "rather narrow"--being confined to the "world." The Ramseian metal had not yet been discovered, and airship construction was still in its infancy, stumbling as yet over the problem of lighter motors. Although Prof. Blowell had received his famous message from the Grand Astronomical Axilla of Mars, Prof. Bickering had as yet refused to credit it. In fact, he died discrediting Blowell's statement that he had discovered Mars. In the early part of the century, too, exploration had been somewhat retarded by the famous Peary-Cook controversy, in which, it will be remembered, it was conclusively shown that both men had reached the north pole, but neither of them had brought it back, the other having got it first and having refused every inducement to give it up or reveal its whereabouts. After seven years of party feeling, which rivaled the famous Dreyfus case in Paris, one Oscar Flounder of Hoboken landed on Mars in a balloon which had fourteen patches in it, and after having been called a liar on eighteen specific occasions, in nineteen different places, and always in unequivocal terms, Oscar Flounder--that is to say, Mars, was discovered. Science then forgot the north pole incident, or as it has been written in history, the "Peary-Cook Mincident."

The discovery by Prof. Ramsey of the light but durable metal which bears his name stimulated progress in aerial navigation. With the death of Mr. Flounder, following a slight accident to his famous balloon, (it went up and never came down,) the embargo--the individual copyright--on discovery was lifted. Many ba-lunatics [sic] and aeroplanters then visited Mars and the adjacent suburbs. They found the Martians a highly refined people, who had known the use of safety matches and gum pastilles for some time.

After that, aerial navigation superseded the then paramount automobile. A fortunate circumstance in the development of aerial transportation facilities was a dispute over New York's sky-line. The dispute had been going on for some time. The question was not the necessity for an even sky-line, (this was admitted,) but whether it should be fixed at the maximum or the minimum. As the maximum point would make further storeying necessary in too many cases and the minimum would require a great deal of sawing-off operations, a medium was struck, and the Mayor signed an order compelling owners of buildings to plane off, or build up, their roofs to 1,000 feet above street level. In this way a level plain was arrived at which presently became useful as a landing place for aerial liners and was highly adapted for practice speeding with skimmers.

The perfecting of the submarine, following the introduction of the airship for overland travel, produced a startling metamorphosis in general transportation. With the exception of subterranean (then called subway) transit, all traffic was by air or submarine. The improvement by Frank Reade, a boy inventor, of Jack Wright's "Flying Diver" did away with the necessity for transfer companies, and presently the world was winged, or rather plunged--or both--into that era which had hitherto been considered in the realm of "Circling the Girdle in Eight Minutes," b the authro of "Girdling the Circle in Seven," copyrighted in Great Britain by the publishers of "Squaring the Circle in Six."

As compared with the programme published yesterday of the ancient celebrations of 1909, the following programme of aerial, submarine, feathered, and aquatic sports in 2009 should suggest to the perceptive mind some of the improvements that have been effected in the last 100 years:


The chief features of the opening day will be the rendezvous of Earthian and foreign planetary aerial vessels over the Hudson River and extending from the Baseball Grounds (roof of the Universal Times Building) to the Hackensack Terminals (High Level). Aerial parade of vessels of every type starting from the Narrows and circling Chicago, returning at 3. P.M. (Eastern time.)

Parade to be repeated at night, with Martian halo illuminations, Jupiterian fires, &c., and Earth illuminated by electricty from the harnesses of Niagara Falls and Fundy tides.

Sunday will be devoted to religious by those accustomed to worship.

Tuesday will be devoted to the historical pageant, all nations and known planetary peoples participating, while Wednesday will be Education Day, during which the President will review the relics of the Wright Brothers' first flying machine, the first submarine, the balloon with the fourteen patches (replica), and a sample of Prof. Koch's tuberculin.

On Thursday nothing will happen, a military parade being out of the question, but a bust of A. Carnegie, (the twentieth century Rameses) and an authetic photograph of The Hague requiescating in pace will be exhibited to the true believers.

Friday's celebrations will be held on Mars. Return tickets, (including berth on the forward aeroplanes,) $17.

The week will close with a grand procession of the planetary delegations to finish with a rendering of the "Anthem of the Starry Hosts." (Universal Keyboard.)

One of the most interesting features of the entire celebration is EXPECTED TO BE a 2,000 mile clipper aeroscat dash from New York to Chicago and return, by Dr. Scuten P. Hodges of Hoboken, and Baam Gaaaab of Mars, (respectively portraying Wilbur Wright and Glenn H. Curtiss.)
We cannot refrain, in conclusion, from printing that admirably written climax of our special correspondent in describing the historic pageant as it passed the reviewing eye of President Bryan, (a great-great-great-grandson of the great-great-great Commoner:)

Slowly the birdlike monsters glided past, hung aloft the sunlight like giant Auks of the Dark Ages.

It was Man's Triumph! And below, cutting the sun-kissed waters of the Hudson with their peering gyroscopes, came the vast dark flotilla of the waters under the earth.

Beyond, upon the Palisades, darted swift flocks of skimmers, while from the level towers of Manhattan shot coveys of welcoming aeroyaks, their wings beating the thin air like the gossamer of moths and their dynamos humming like large quantities of bees confined in small bottles.

But--What is this? What draws from a million throats a sob of reminiscent grief--exquisite and refined? What relics are these that come, borne in triumph aloft the planes of yon giant cruiser? What objects are these that we venerate to-day?

A transfer ticket, mounted on a brass lion rampant; a Raines law sandwich, clutched in the teethy jaws of a Tammany tiger; an Amsterdam Avenue car, mounted on rusted rails of an ancient franchise; a Grand Street car horse, (stuffed,) loaned by the Municipat Zoo; a King, the last of his kind, loaned by the British Museum, with a ticket attached, "Do not feed or annoy his Majesty"; and--now, why do the people take off their hats?--an aeroplane, crushed and bruised and spattered with gore!

From the telephonicon three thousand feet overhead bursts a paean of music. No human musician touches the keys. The mysteries of wireless currents in ether waft the strains from far forests and waterfalls, frozen gorges and sweltering deserts. It is the world's tribute. And now the primitive Clermont creaks and splashes throught he waters, (sun-kissed,) and now comes a float, showing icebergs, bears, and gumdrops, and bearing two men and a legend, "We both done it, but he's a liar." And lastly comes a silver dollar mounted on a crystal of common salt. At that President Bryan's eyes fill and friends who are standing near see him remove his hat and hear him murmur:

"My great-great-great-grand--"

The rest is drowned in a blast of triumphal music from the overhead telephonicon. The clipper aerostats are off on the 2,000-mile dash to Chicago and back!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Double Three Dominoes, Wild Pheasants, White Pigeons, and Salt Water Sisters: the world of the 1920 Shanghai prostitute

From the North-China Herald, 12 May 1923:

As Known to Chinese

The topic of the "sing-song" girls having once again come upon the journalistic horizon, it may interest many readers to have a Chinese view of these public characters, and to learn something from Chinese sources about the Chinese section of the demi-monde of Shanghai in general.

Some time ago there appeared in a Chinese magazine the "New Man" a long article on the subject, which is very informing and valuable as it was written by one who had made careful investigations and was well qualified to write on the matter. The salient points are contained in the following article. It needs only to be added that the information given relates to conditions prior to the recently-adapted policy of licensing and gradually closing public houses of prostitution.

What are commonly called "sing-song" girls have been known by varying names in Chinese, the more fashionable designations not being equivalent to "sing-song," but to "story-teller" or "entertainer." The term shu yu was used to denote the residences of these so-called "narrators of books" or entertainers. The places of public entertainment where they displayed their art were called shu ch'ang or shu lou. This class of prostitutes in their residences sold their beauty (or venery) and in the public places of entertainment they sold their skill. The two matters were kept quite distinct from each other.

The use of the name shu yu in Shanghai's underworld began in the early days of the emperor Hsien Fêng, and the originator was a skilful entertainer named Chu So-lan. Although she did not know many characters, yet she could write a little, and sing and improvise a few songs, so she attracted the lovers of gaiety. Having started a hall of entertainment, she had a signboard hung up at her residence to signify that the entertainer lived there. In the early days of T'ung Chih there appeared many noted entertainers, and the boards used on their residence could be seen in many places.

At that time the entertainment halls had strict regulation; every prostitute who took part had to know at least a few songs and be able to sing them, and the young girls had to be under the tutelage of an older one in order to gain admission to the stage. That the entertainers or "sing-song" girls practised prostitution in their residences was an open secret, but they themselves said they only sold their skill, and would not admit the secret vice. Included in the duties of these entertainers, besides singing or reciting, they had to assist in drinking festivities. They were often sent out just for this purpose; and they would sit close to the guests and make themselves agreeable, while at the same time preserving the decorum of an entertainer.

Ostensibly they had only one source of income, that is they got a little for their singing; but this was only one dollar for each occasion; the expenses were heavy, and if the girls had depended only on that one source, would they not have died of hunger? But their actual receipts were not small as they had other sources of income; when they sold themselves they received high prices, so that although their apparent income was small, yet they were able to display great extravagance, and might be seen with opium pipes or water tobacco pipes worth eight hundred or a thousand taels. As for the splendour and extravagance of their clothing there is no need to speak about it.

But even when their numbers increased, these "singsong" girls or professional entertainers could not be reckoned as of the ordinary stream of the vice world, as their price was still very high, and only officials and rich people could approach them. They were the aristocracy of the prostitutes and although they sold themselves to vice, yet they did not have a very hard time, and they met very little in the way of ill-treatment.

In the early days of Kuang Hsu the "sing-song" girls of the Chinese city nearly all migrated to the International Settlement, and their signboards could be seen in many streets; their number was then from 200 to 300. Entertainment halls were popular, with five or six girls attached to each, and having an old entertainer as manager. Formerly the entertainers did not speak openly about accepting guests for the night, but later they face to face talked jokingly about the price of this indulgence.

As the price of the entertainers became lower, the number of men who consorted with them for vice became more, and as the number of men increased, so the number of entertainers also increased. But the life became gradually harder; the girls used to live in good houses, wear fine clothes and adornments, and also have good food; this was considered the proper thing. As they became more numerous and the price less, the housing and clothing and jewelry, etc., might still be passable, but in food they came off badly. This was because house, clothing, etc., were part of the stock-in-trade to attract men, while the food was a matter for the girls themselves. It was truly said that as the business of the "sing-song" girls became more extensive, their own position became steadily worse. When the prices were cheapened, many men who could not before compete with the rich patrons, were now able to take advantage of the situation and so visited the residences of the girls, and the girls could not, as before, select their patrons from the most apparently respectable, but they were obliged to receive even grooms, actors, and others. The richer patrons of the past had some respect for etiquette and appearances, so the worst forms of vicious indulgence could to some extent be avoided; but with grooms, actors, etc., there was no preserving of decorum, and no limit to the kinds of low practices, and a bad reputation was the result.

But even when the price of vice was lower than it used to be, yet it was not easy to gain entrance to an entertainer's residence. Unless one had an introducer he had to seek an invitation by means of paying for the girl's songs at the entertainment hall, and this required repeating for days; then when entrance to the residence had been gained it was not at all certain that the girl would sell her favours on short acquaintance. This being so, men of strong passion did not care for the slow process, and as at that time the "Ch'ang San" prostitutes were numerous and easily accessible, and cheap, many men turned in that direction, and the commercialized vice of the "sing-song" girls was interfered with by the Ch'ang San girls. Attempts have been made to reestablish the prestige of the shu yu, but these have been short-lived, and the name shu yu is now chiefly one of past history.

The term "Ch'ang San" is the name of a domino used in playing; it has three dots doubled. In past days a certain class of prostitutes received three dollars for their services in pressing guests to drink, and three dollars more for accommodating the guest for the night. These fixed amounts resembled the "double three" of the domino, so this class of girls became known as the ch'ang san. At one time they used to be Shanghai's highest grade of prostitutes. When the name became common, some noted women like Chu So-lan (noted above) introduced the name shu yu to differentiate between higher and lower classes, selecting for the former those who could gain a living by their skill. The distinction being made, some of the patrons naturally preferred the shu yu and lightly regarded the ch'ang san, so in the early years of Kuang Hsu the latter had come to be regarded as a lower class of prostitute, when the ch'ang san moved into the International Settlement they did not number 500. Subsequently, when the shu yu was no longer a novelty and men began to tire of it, the ch'ang san used their best endeavours to better their position; they abolished the "double three" system and followed much the same customs as the shu yu, but made themselves very accessible to pleasure seekers; thus the "sing-song" girls of the shu yu were displaced by the ch'ang san, and had nothing to do but change and themselves become ch'ang san; and this class then naturally became the highest class of prostitutes. For a time the name "story-teller" was applied to them, but as they seldom appeared at the entertainment halls, or if they did they only sang a few songs and did not tell stories, they gradually ceased to be called sheng and were only called hsien.

The ways of getting money from the guests were many; besides what was paid for encouraging drinking and for the accommodation of the night, there were the expenses of the feast; these feasts cost from four taels to ten tales, and the brothel's share was about one-third. Then there were presents or tips, amounting to about four taels; it was reckoned that half of this was to go to the instrumentalists and accompanists, and half to the cook and servants; but in reality the greater part of it went to the brothel. When Mexican dollars came into general use, taels gave place to dollars, which was good for the guests but was hard on the brothels, especially as expenses always increased.

The receipts of the ch'ang san were of four kinds; 1. The price for going to a place when invited; 2, the share of the feast expenses; 3, receipts from the games at cards or dominoes; 4, presents and tips. The first of these was one dollar;, the feast would bring in 10 dollars, and dominoes six dollars or more. While under this plan nothing was openly charged for spending the night, yet in fact with one thing and other this item cost more than the previously mentioned four kinds put together, as one night would cost the pleasure seeker from 30 to 50 dollars. The gambling receipts are now more, as many men connected with foreign firms, and returned students, like to play poker for high stakes and it is customary to reckon 12 dollars as the girl's share.


The life of a ch'ang san is at best one of great bitterness. These are four things they have to do all the year round--1. To use words of entertainment which often do not agree with their feelings; 2. To pretend to be gay and jolly, or feign irrigation; to simulate affection, and make sport, and do other things, just for a living; 3. They have to adapt themselves to the psychology of the vicious men who consort with them; 4. They have to practise songs and to get themselves up for the occasions. While their clothing is good, their food is bad, and they get no opportunity for sleep before about three o'clock in the morning. There are some people who can only speak of the gaudiness and extravagance of the ch'ang san prostitutes; but they do not know of the bitter tears of the girls, and that the gaudiness is but a sign of their distress. What has just been said refers to ordinary conditions; sometimes things are much worse and the suffering is intense. When they are very popular, or when they are passed by coldly by men, then their life is made very miserable. When very popular they are kept busy all the time, without enough food to eat and with insufficient sleep; though hoarse, they must sing, and though utterly tired out, they must still entertain. But greater still is their bitterness when men look coldly on them and pass them by; they cannot then escape the beating and cursing of their mistress, and ridicule and indignities from others; at such times only the sun knows their grief by day, and the lights see their tears fall at night.

There are three kinds of ch'ang san prostitutes--the free, the half free, and those not free at all. The first kind enter the brothel of their own accord, pay all expenses from their earnings, and are in everything their own mistresses. The second kind have mortgaged themselves to the brothel for a term of years, after which they revert to their previous condition; in this case some control is exercised over them by the house. Those not free have been sold absolutely to the brothel and are regarded as chattels to be dealt with as their owners please; they have a very bitter lot. At present most of the ch'ang san belong to the second kind; those of the third kind are fewer, while those of the first kind are not more than one in 20 of the whole. There are also some mothers who put their own daughters into prostitution, but these are few.In 1918 the number of ch'ang san was about 1,200 (over 1,100 names are given by the writer). This refers only to those whose names are exhibited; the number of those engaged in brothels in various capacities is quite as large, as every prostitute of the ch'ang san class had one or more attendants of much the same moral character, so the number just given might safely be doubled. in an estimation of the number concerned there is also to be taken into account the mistresses and other women, the book-keepers, cooks and servants, runners, ricsha pullers, etc.


We next speak about the Yao er class. Yao er is the name of a domino, the "one-two." In the early days of Tung Chih, there was at Shanghai a class of prostitutes who received 1,000 cash as tea money, and 2,000 cash for assisting in the wine drinking. This reminded people of the "one-two" domino, so the name yao er was popularly applied to these girls. This class at one time ranked about the same as the ch'ang san, but as the last-named advanced to the place of the shu yu, the yao er were left behind and are now regarded as a lower class. The receipts from their patrons were 1,000 cash for tea, 2,000 cash for the wine drinking, 5,000 to 10,000 for the feast, and 2,000 for the night. This was afterwards changed, so that while new acquaintances paid for tea, regular patrons paid nothing; the feast cost $6 or $8, and there was $12 for cards or dominoes. For the accommodation of the night, newcomers, or those who had not shared in the drinking or playing, paid $6, while old friends just gave $2 as a present. As lower grades became more popular, the yao er lost some of their business, their patrons being limited to a few of certain classes. An investigation in 1918 gave the number of yao er at about 500.The life of the yao er is a hard one; in clothing, housing and food, the conditions are unsatisfactory. Being of a lower class, they wear poor clothing, and their food is very poor; the houses they are in may be passable on the outside, but they are extremely bad inside. I have a friend who has been with these girls, and he told me that their conditions are extremely hard. They even look to their patrons to give them clothing; in warm weather, when they require but little, this can be done, but in cold weather, when plenty of warm clothing is required, the guests cannot supply what is necessary, so the girls shiver and become purple with cold. As for food, better not mention it. They have a meal at midday and another at six or seven in the evening, but this is mostly taken cold, as it is about the time when guests begin to arrive, and at a signal the girls have to put down their bowls and assemble to let the guest make his selection. If selected, the guest must be accommodated before the girl can return to her cold food; and if passed over, yet time has to be spent in waiting about, during which the food has become cold. As for sleeping room, except those who have night guests, they are packed five or six in a small room without as much comfort as pigs or dogs. Those with guests have beds, truly, but what sleep can they get? They have other hardships; when the guests are many the girls suffer physically, and they contract venereal diseases. If the guests are few, they are bullied by the mistresses and others and this kind of life is a life of hell.


There are places where men and women are introduced to one another for illicit intercourse, which are known as t'ai chi. Some of these are camouflaged as photographers' shops. A place is rented, and arrangements made with a few girls, and the thing is begun quite easily. At first there are some restrictions, and only those who are known can enter, but in course of time anyone can go. The higher grades of t'ai chi require $10 to $15 for introducing a couple to each other, and the next grade want $5 to $8; of this amount two-thirds go to the girl, and the rest to the master of the shop or house. Most of the girls who go to these places have an infatuations for some particular man, but because of family difficulties they cannot get their desire, so they use this means to gain their end. At first they only have relations with the one to whom they are specially attracted, but the proprietor of the house knows how to take advantage of the weakness and brings pressure to bear, with the result that after one visit other visits are paid, until the girl becomes a regular prostitute. Some girls go to these places from economic reasons, or family or marriage difficulties; others are led by passion and seek introductions with the idea of gratifying desire and getting a little extra money at the same time.

The Yeh Chi, "Pheasants," or "Wild birds," are a class of prostitutes who go about from place to place like flying birds, and as their gaudy clothing resembled the pheasant, the name yeh chi, or pheasant, has been given to them. Formerly they operated in the Chinese city, but gradually they invaded the Settlements until, in the central parts, they could be found anywhere. Their number is greater than that of any other class of prostitutes, they are of low class, and are entirely dependent on vice for a living. They are great disseminators of venereal diseases and in general are much like mere animals, so people regard them simply as a means for passion gratification, and do not dream of thinking about their condition, which is worse than that of animals, and cannot be regarded as human. As the number of yeh chi increased, they became of different grades; besides those who stood on the sides of the streets, there are those who went into tea-shops, or wandered about the streets seeking custom, so that vice-seekers were gathered in by them from all classes. The practice of seizing hold of men was followed by some; others used their arts to get men to go with them to places for immoral purposes. Bartering took place on the streets, and the girls would go wherever the patrons wanted. Street-walking began about seven in the evening, and went on till eleven or twelve, and these girls were known as "night-wandering spirits." An investigation made in 1918 of the numbers of yeh chi gave an estimate of at least 6,000.

The lower class of yeh chi consisted practically entirely of those who had been sold into the life, and they had no freedom of movement to speak of. In teashops and on the streets their business was to attract men; in the former much trouble and many arts were required to lead men to the houses, and often efforts failed, so it was not an easy task. But the streets were worse. No matter the weather, hot or cold, rain, frost, or snow, when evening came they must stand in groups and call out to men and on the least response they must take hold of them and cajole them to respond. If not successful, the girls were beaten. In the cold weather their clothing was insufficient, but as they dare not go back without a patron they had to stand shivering and enduring hardships from the elements. If they secured a patron they had a little respite, but if not they know what to expect from their mistress, and the poor girls could only prepare their skins for a good hiding! The lower grades had very poor food and no proper sleeping accommodation. Among the yeh chi there are very many girls of 13 and 14 years of age; this compulsion of young girls to prostitution is a crime against humanity, but brothels are most anxious to get these young ones, and the mistresses are after profit, so while the brothel system is allowed, the compulsion of young ones cannot be avoided.


The name P'eng Ho T'ao is given to the higher class of clandestine prostitutes. They hang out signs at their doors, giving their names, and in the houses there is card-playing and drinking, with payment for the same similar to the ch'ang san. When they go out by invitation, the charge is $1. Some of them have no fixed charges for the night's accommodation, but those connected with the smaller places require at least $10. There are about 40 houses, with about 110 inmates of this class.

The Po Ko Tang are the "White Pigeon Gang." Pigeons only know their old homes, and if taken elsewhere they take the first opportunity to return. In Shanghai there are men who sell their own wives to other men, and before long the women escape, leaving the purchaser without woman or the money he paid for her. Because of some resemblance to the habit of the homing pigeon, this class of woman is known as the "white pigeon," and as they work together, the word "gang" has been added. This trick is usually worked by men kidnappers, who by various devices kidnap a woman and then use their power and also their art to gain her affection, and when they know she will return, they sell her to some foolish rich man, as a way of relieving him of some of his money. Various schemes are used. The man will sometimes himself sell the woman to the victim, and cause her to escape soon with some valuables; at other times someone else will take the woman, and after a few days the pimp will appear to claim her, asserting she has been kidnapped, and talking about going to law, and so extorting money from the victim as well as taking the woman away. Another plan is for the woman to entice the victim to her house and while in the midst of his infatuation he is seized and charged with adultery and made to pay heavily to settle the matter.

The Hwa Yen Chien are a lower class of prostitutes, whose lives are very pitiable. Disease is so rife amongst them that almost every one of them may be called a representative of disease. In 1918 there were over 1,000 of these girls; some have been sold to brothels because of poverty, others have been kidnapped or in other ways victimized. They are the slaves of the mistresses, and their earnings are taken by them. By day or by night these girls have to be on the lookout to invite patrons, and on receipt of 20 cents they have to submit to vice. If they have a guest for the night they may get a little rest, but otherwise there is little or no sleep for them. The mistresses treat them harshly; if they do anything a little displeasing, anger is vented upon them, and if they do not secure many men they are beaten and cursed. They have to be seeking business in all kinds of weather, and also occupy spare time with needlework.

The Hwa Yen Chien might well be called the lowest class of prostitutes, and yet there is a lower class still, a most deplorable set, the Nailing-shod [I think--the article scan is faint here--Jess] prostitutes, Ting P'êng Ch'ang Chi. The origin of the name ting p'êng cannot be discovered for certain. There are in Shanghai about 40 of this class, who have sunk below the other classes. They are so full of disease as to be outcast, or they are of evil disposition, or they have been sold specially out of spite by hard mistresses. The price of their service used to be five cents, but may now be 10 cents; and yet they have so many visitors of the lower classes that they may make $2 for the day and night; if they take less than this their mistresses exhibit the whips of punishment.


The Hsien Shui Mei, Salt-Water Sisters, are Cantonese prostitutes who mostly live at Hongkew and their number in 1918 was about 250. Most of these girls speak a little English, and cater for foreign sailors and soldiers, etc. Others are patronised by Cantonese. These girls dress differently from the usual Chinese courtesan; they do not have the gaudy finery, and often they do not wear stockings, and at times are bare-footed. They are more hygienic than some others, partly because of the Cantonese love of cleanliness, and partly because they wish to attract foreigners.

To complete the picture of Shanghai's underworld, mention must be made of various other forms of vice-attractions, and this will now be done briefly. When opium-dens were in evidence, there were women who frequented them for vice purposes. Tea-houses are often associated with vice, and so are many places of amusement. Many Chinese hotels are used for assignation, this being a very serious form of the evil at Shanghai. Houses or rooms are often advertised as being to let, and on inquiry it is found that the intention is temporary accommodation for immoral purposes. What are known as "little rooms" are also rented for these purposes, and are much frequented. Then there are indecent pictures and photographs, and lewd books sold for the purpose of stimulating vice. Gambling, drinking, opium-smoking and extravagance are associated with prostitution, and it is not easy to effect reform in these matters. Various attempts have been made to improve matters, and there are also institutions for rescue work, the Door of Hope being especially well known and appreciated. After hearing the report of the Vice Commission not long ago, the foreign ratepayers at their annual meeting adopted the policy of gradual elimination of brothels from the International Settlement. It will be an excellent thing if we all help the movement which has such a good intention.

This article has been written after three weeks of thorough investigation by those who undertook the duty, and a week was occupied in preparing for publication the information gained, there being much more than is given above. The investigation took place in 1920.