China is dirty

Many of our countless readers already know this resource, but one of the things I like to read and teach with is Tales of Old China, a website put up by SinoMedia Shanghai. They have a nice collection of postcard pictures, snippets and larger pieces from various books and newspapers about life in the Treaty Ports. A lot of the pictures are annoying, in that they are interesting but unsourced and above all undated, so that it is hard to be sure what to make of them.

Today I came across a piece on “The Fly Menace in China” from The China Journal, October 1937. It explains the dangers presented by the hordes of flies that have descended on foreign Shanghai in the aftermath of war.

“The various flies must have been observed by almost every Shanghai resident armed with a swatter during these critical days. Our natural petulance at war conditions and aerial bombing has taken a common expression in animosity against our insect aerial foes.”


Needless to say the reading provides all sorts of teachable moments, from the stunning callousness of the foreign community to the foreign concern with the infectious nature of the Chinese. I particularly liked the way that they provided pictures of all the types of flies so the scientifically-minded Shanghailanders could classify their kills.

I assume that the readings here are so useful because someone with a sharp eye at SinoMedia Shanghai is going through and picking stuff out for web-posting. Most of this treaty-port stuff works well with American undergrads, since it is in English, it is obsessed with analyzing the Chinese, and it usually has a condescending tone that is easy for students to pick up on and use as the first step in an analysis.

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