S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the category “China”

Book Review: Traveling the Silk Road

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Rating – 3 Stars

 

This is a heavy and beautiful book. Its design, execution, printing, and binding is extraordinary and professional. It is a “coffee table” travel book of startling heft in weight and content. Starting in Xi’an, China, the narrator leads us by the hand and we vicariously travel the Silk Road. We stop at Turfan, Samarkand, Bagdad, and Constantinople (Istanbul). At each stop we learn of the history of the place and its importance in sustaining the flourishing trade on the Silk Road. Though goods and all manner of merchandise (including slaves) traveled both ways, perhaps the most important commodity was the exchange of ideas, language, and learning.

The photographs are outstanding as are the reproductions of ancient artwork, scrolls, and porcelains. This is a book of learning for the ordinary folks.

Unfortunately, this tome has several major negatives:

  1. The failure to publish topographic maps in appropriate scale is unforgivable. Not once do we see the various tails of the Silk Road from Xi’an to Istanbul on one panoramic map. Throughout, the narrator describes a geological or man-made feature, and without a relevant map, we’ve no idea where it is or how it relates to the area. The maps included are art rather than functional information.
  1. All too often, the writing is pedestrian and at time is patronizing. For example, on page 141, “…whom we’ve already learned about.” On page 124, while telling about the Turfan area, the narrator discusses the clever method the folks captured water from the mountains’ snow and use it for irrigation: “…the water carried from the mountains is guaranteed to remain plentiful.” No water supply is “guaranteed” to remain plentiful indefinitely.

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Book Review: Air War Over Khalkhin Gol: The Nomonhan Incident

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Rating – Three Stars

From May to September, 1939, the Union of Socialists Soviet Republics and the Empire of Japan waged an undeclared war near the Khalkhin Gol (River) over the border between Soviet controlled Mongolia and the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo (formerly the Chinese Province Manchuria). In this little remembered war, casualties in men and equipment were exceedingly high in this vicarious conflict in the remotest and worthless real estate on the planet.

Kotelnikov presents a detailed account of the air war from the Soviet Union’s perspective.  In many ways, his account reminds one of the aerial “dog fights” over the Western Front in the Great War of 1914 to 1918. Unfortunately, his narrative fails to engender empathy in the audience. It’s a dry, statistical account, strung together in a continuous flow of text. The presentation would have been more comprehensible if he would have bulleted the data of the day-by-day air significant battles. His narrative has almost no personal details. We get some of the names of the Soviet and Japanese aviators but we do not get to know them—who they are, what they think, what they do in their off duty hours. The narrative is a dry telling of “just the facts.”

He fails to develop a broad perspective of this conflict. We do not understand very much about the war itself. He does not tell us what the war was really about (a continuation for control of the Pacific provinces—as in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905?). We need some details about the ground war to understand the implications of the air war.  We need information about the belligerent’s political thoughts and implications. At the time, the Second Sino-Japanese war was in full force, and war clouds were building aplenty over Europe.

I fault Kotelnikov severely for not providing comprehensive maps of the conflict. The few maps he offers are miniscule and unreadable. On the positive side, he presents an array of black and white photographs of Soviet aircraft and airmen, beautiful color drawings of the aircraft involved, and a supplement that details the background of the aircraft, their specifications, and performance.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Armies of Warlord China 1911-1928 by Philip Jowett

Armies of Warlord ChinaRating-Four Stars

This is a large (11” x 9”), heavy book–in weight and content. Jowett tells us just about everything we’d want to know about the history of the warlords of China that ruled the Northern provinces (and a few in the south). He laces his narrative with relevant photographs.

Unfortunately, the organization of this book is askew, and the narrative may need more copy editing. In the Introduction he relates a short history of China from the early 20th century to the early 1930s. Following is an extensive chronology of this history outlined in a bullet-type format where he introduces the warlords. Some of these entries are lengthy and introduce significant duplication of the information contained in the Introduction. There is also massive duplication of information in the subsequent pictorial biography of the major warlords and the captioned photographs of military activities.

I did enjoy the illustrated section of the aviation activities in the relevant time frame. The color drawings of the airplanes are well done and add credence to the narrative. There is also a section detailing the uniforms and equipment in the Imperial and Warlord Armies. The photographs of the warlords festooned in all their habiliments and the detailed drawings of the soldiers of the various armies in their uniforms are particularly informative.

The color pictorial of the badges and medals relevant to the National and Warlord Armies was excellent, but the captions are far too meager for the reader to understand their significance and order of importance.

This book is heady reading and designed for the cognoscenti of China’s milieu in that time period. It could be used as an important reference book for those seeking details of this not-well-known history of the Celestial Kingdom and the warlord wars (1929 to 1930).

BOOK REVIEW: 20th Century China, 3rd Edition

20th century chinaClubb weaves a heavy book loaded with the incredible history of the Chinese government from the Boxer Rebellion to the Death of Mao Tse-tung and a little beyond. I read this tome from cover to cover, including the notes. Conclusion: This is not a reading book. Rather it is a superb reference book that details the inner workings, intrigues and polemics of the players in the Nationalist and Communist governments. The meticulous index engenders a ready find.

Clubb’s writing is a tad academic and is loaded with an advanced vocabulary that sent me to the dictionary many times.

My biggest complaint is the lack of photographs of the myriad personalities, bureaucrats, military officers he discusses. Compounding the problem is that I, an English speaker, had a difficult time remembering and categorizing the wholesale number of foreign names with their function, relationships, and importance. After a hundred pages, the names become a Chinese blur.

Another negative is the appalling lack of maps. The narrative is especially difficult to comprehend when set in perspective without such important graphics.

Nonetheless, 20th Century China is keeper and I’ll place it into my China bookshelf as soon as I finish this review.

Malaysia Flight 370

Boeing_777-200ER_Malaysia_AL_(MAS)_9M-MRO_-_MSN_28420_404_(9272090094)The saga continues re Malaysia Flight 370 that disappeared a year ago this past weekend. Notwithstanding the labor and equipment employed, not a scintilla of a clue of this aircraft or its 239 passengers and crew has been found. The search extended to the Asia mainland and in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia. The investigation continues. Currently, three Dutch oceanographic ships are exploring the seas. Unfortunately, several large cyclones and particularly nasty weather has seriously hampered the search.

What happened to Malaysia Flight 370? Officially, no one knows. Some of the relatives of those missing and others are convinced that the entire search effort is a ruse to divert attention from what really happened to the flight. Others have formed a committee that offers a “substantial reward” for truthful information.

Indeed Watson, the plot thickens.

BOOK REVIEW: The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China by David J. Silbey

box rebellionThis treatise on the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 in Shantung Province in northern China and in Peking is exceptionally well researched and told. Silbey has written this book with keen understanding and the perceptive knack to engulf the audience deeply into his chronicle. Of what I know of the Boxer Rebellion, I would suggest that this book is the most comprehensive and accurate of all other popular histories. Of note, he engages us in the big pictures and leads us skillfully into minute details of individual exploits and heroism.

I fault Silbey for not providing custom-designed, detailed maps of the various campaigns and a large-scale map of northern China with key geographic features and city names. This is a serious failure and negates a five-star rating. He does suffer us with six maps from that period that are minuscule and worthless—including one of the innards of Peking. The overall map of northern China that he does provide is small and inefficacious. Accordingly, it is extremely difficult to follow the coalition’s campaign up the Dagu River to relieve the besieged legations in Peking. Included in the coalition army were elements of the armed forces from America, Great Britain, Imperial Germany, France, Austria-Hungry Empire, Imperial Russia, and Japanese Empire.

He opens his book with an overview of western imperialism in China over the past fifty years. He details the negative effects this imperialism engendered on and the general populace’s emotions and on the Imperial government; led by the Dowager Empress Tzu-his (“Cixi” in the current Pinyin spelling) and Prince Duan of the fading Qing Dynasty. Compounding the contempts was the Chinese adversarial perception of the special privileges endowed on Chinese Christians by missionaries and the western powers.

The drought in the spring of 1900 in Shantung Province crippled the breadbasket of northern China. The idle and starving farmers and peasants convinced themselves that the imperial westerners caused the drought to further humiliate and dominate them. Without leadership, the Boxer movement evolved and morphed quickly into a ragtag fighting force throughout the province. Some few of the Boxers were students of the ancient Chinese martial arts collectively dubbed “ch’uan fa.” They slaughtered Christian converts, missionaries and their families, and even important westerners; for example, the Baron August F. von Ketteler, the German minister to the Imperial Throne.

The Boxers moved into Peking and laid siege to the foreign legations—ensconced behind the Tartar wall. The Empress Dowager Cixi made the fateful decision to declare war on “the invaders,” and ordered the imperial army to repel the aggressors. The collation forces fought spirited campaigns at the Chinese’s key forts and strong points along the Dagu River in their difficult campaign to relieve the besieged legations in Peking.

The Chinese, army supported by the irregular Boxers, mounted a spirited defense causing serious causalities among the collation forces. Unfortunately, they could not fight as a unified command because of international rivalries (Japan and Russia, for example), petty jalousies, and failure to develop of a comprehensive operations plan. Of note, credit goes to the Japanese whose bravery and innovative tactics forced the fall of the key city of Tientsin (Tianjin) and they led the way to the capitol.

Nonetheless, after fifty-five days collation forces reached Peking and relieved the legation. The peace treaty, the Boxer Protocol, was harsh and unforgiving to the Chinese—imposing a ₤67 million-indemnity and territorial concessions.

Buy the The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China on Amazon.

Works by S. Martin Shelton

Book Review: Forgotten Ally by Rana Mitter

Rana_Mitter-Forgotten_Ally_ChinaRana Mitter has his premise exactly correct.  The 1937-1945 war in China is largely unknown and not long remembered.  In 1943, Allied leaders decided that the campaign in China was second tier in their long-term plan to defeat the Axis Powers—Germany, Italy, Japan, and other minor players.  Yet the Sino-Japanese war was critical to our final victory over Japan.  In all, approximately four-million Japanese troops were tied-down in the Kwangtung Army’s China campaign.  In the last chapter of this detailed tome, Mitter avers that if China had capitulated in 1938, as was a serious possibility, Japan’s imperial ambitions would have been significantly enhanced.  A pacified China would have encouraged Japan to invade British India and made their victory much easier.

Actually, the war in China began in 1931 when Japan’s Kwangtung Army seized China’s northeaster province Manchuria and set up a puppet government under the last Qing Emperor, Aisin-Gioro Puyi.

This book gives short shrift to the details of the war in China.  The war is but the stage for Mitter to detail the political machinations between the various players: personalities and governments. In all, it was the iron determination of Chiang Kai-shek, President of the Republic of China that kept China in the war—twenty million casualties and 500 million displaced persons.

President Roosevelt appointed General Joseph (“Vinegar Joe”) Stillwell as Chiang’s Chief of Staff.  In effect, Stillwell was the commander in chief of the Chinese army.  Unfortunately, the misunderstanding between Chiang and Stillwell morphed into vitriolic hatred that seriously hampered China’s war effort.   Chiang had to acquiesce to Stillwell’s authority because he desperately needed what help the USA was sending—initially over the Burma Road.  After Burma fell to the Japanese, Army Air Corps transport aircraft, based in India, flew over the Himalayas (“The Hump”) into Chunking.

Except for a few offensive strikes, China’s –man army fought a defensive war.  The notable was Stilwell’s disastrous 1943 campaign to recapture Burma with Allied troops—the vast majority was Chinese (“Chindits).

Of significance, Mitter almost ignores the American Volunteer Group (The Flying Tigers)—three squadrons of Curtiss P-40 aircraft operating in Burma and southern China and their outstanding victories over the Japanese’s Army aircraft.

This book is not an easy read.  It is more of a reference book for those deeply interested in the politics of China during the war years.

Malaysia Flight #370: People’s Republic of China’s Search Activities

We’re now in the 40th day of the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370. There were 228 passengers onboard—152 were Chinese citizens.  Accordingly, the People’s Republic of China has an extraordinary interest in locating the missing aircraft—to maintain national prestige and to assuage the families of the missing.  Daily, over 200 family members are pressing Malaysian and Chinese officials for information.  There is none.

The Chinese deployed over a dozen ships, several aircraft, and satellites in the multi-nation search.   Unfortunately, the effort of the Chinese on station in the Indian Ocean have hindered the search efforts instead of helping or they have remained silent.

For example, on Friday, 4 April (27 days after the dissapearaance), the Chinese Xinhua News Agency reported that the sailors on the Chinese patrol ship Haixum 01 heard electronic pings at 3.5 Kilohertz and at one-second intervals—the frequency that the Flight Data Recorded (“black box”) would transmit and the correct interval.  Such electronic signals are similar to those of the black box transmissions but were not confirmed as such.   Please note that it was the official new agency of the People’s Republic of China that made the announcement—not the ship on station.  Nevertheless, the ships location in the south Indian Ocean was reported as a spot in the Indian Ocean is about 950 miles west of Perth, Down Under.

Within a few days, the lead searcher discounted this Chinese claim as bogus.  Senior searchers speculate that this false report by the Chinese probably was intended to project competence and regain lost prestige. Actually, investigating this false report distracted and delayed the search effort for several critical days while the batteries on the black box were fresh and transmitting strong signals.

China’s rush to be first with search results by report bogus signals signifies incompetents or dissembling.

Marty Shelton Photo Captain (ret) S. Martin Shelton has a lifetime fascination with Far East Studies.

Black Orchids

Black orchids with their luxurious beauty symbolize great power and authority.  They are a very formal and sophisticated flower, and are the preference of the cognoscente. Some folks associate black orchids with mystery, witchcraft, and terrifying tales and myths.

Black Orchids are members of the orchidaceous family. There are two primary types: those that grow on the ground and those that grow on trees.  There are six species (including the “Dracula vampire”) and four or five hybrids.  Nonetheless, it is the Liparis nervosa that is only truly pure deep black orchid.

Black Orchid

Liparis nervosa

Indeed the black orchid is a flower of great beautify and mystery. Nonetheless, I caution you not to cultivate the femme fatale Black Orchid in my historical novel St. Catherine’s Crownelse you may well receive a bouquet when only your relatives may enjoy them.  You’ve been warned!  

Black Orchid

A key character in my novel St. Catherine’s Crown is Black Orchid—an incredibly beautiful and seductive female—as only an oriental female can be.   She is narcissistic to a faretheewell.  Quick to hot temper when provoked, inordinately vain, and having no moral compass; she gets what she wants by whatever means are necessary: treachery, seduction, prevarication.

Black Orchid

My inspiration for Black Orchid was triggered by the character The Dragon Lady in the comic strip “Terry and the Pirates,” by Milton Caniff.  This strip started in the early 1930’s and continued for about twenty years. In those days, most comic strips developed a continuing narrative.  Caniff kept his current story alive from two to three months.

The Dragon Lady was a Chinese pirate raiding shipping in the South China Seas and the Yangtze.  She was exquisitely alluring, fiercely determined, and a dangerous enemy.  When not pirating, she wore beautiful clothes that enhanced her seductive figure.  At times she was brutal—gunning down any threat, perceived or in fact.  Yet she had, as the occasion dictated, a soft heart—falling in love with Terry’s sidekick, Pat Ryan, teaching Terry to dance, and caring for orphans.  During the Japanese  war, she developed her pirate gang into a highly effective guerrilla fighting force.

If I’ve piqued your interested, please visit amazon.com and search for “Terry and the Pirates” and enjoy Caniff’s masterful drawings, dramatic dialogue, and intriguing stories.”

 Black Orchid has no soft heart.  Nonetheless, I invite you to romp with Black Orchid in my historical novel St. Catherine’s Crown.  Beware!  You’ve been warned.

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