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Paul French’s book ‘Midnight in Peking’ – retracing the steps of a murder

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Whilst living in Beijing, a friend told me about a book he had read by author and historian Paul French called ‘midnight in peking’…a true story based in 1937 Peking around the Legation Quarter.  This is now an area that is home to several fabulous restaurants.  ‘Lost Heaven’ being just one and one I have previously written about.  Legation Quarter is a beautiful compound which in the 1930’s was home to embassies and clubs of the foreign colony of Peking who lived there between 1861 and 1959.  It is located in Dongcheng District, to the east of Tian’anmen Square.

But back to the story, it was a time when Japanese troups had already occupied Manchuria and were ready to advance south. At the time it was said that Chiang Kai-shek and his government, long since fled to Nanking, are ready to cut a deal with Tokyo and leave Peking to its fate.

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(photo of Chiang Kai-shek from Wikipedia)

Chiang Kai-shek was a Chinese political and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975 and was  an influential member of the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party, and was a close ally of Sun Yat-sen who was the founder of the Republic of China.

Again, back to the story…there is much tension for both Chinese and foreigners in Peking and inside the ancient city walls. On one of those walls, not far from the nefarious Badlands, is a massive watchtower which is said to be haunted, or so the locals believe, by fox spirits that prey upon innocent mortals.

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Then one night, the body of a British expatiate school girl (Pamela) is found dumped at this watchtower. Pamela is the daughter of a former British consul to China, and when the details of her death become known, the diplomatic community find it hard to cope with the way she was brutally killed.

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Seventy-five years after the murder, which was not solved at the time as without specific evidence, was wrongly attributed to a Japanese secret society or an American organized sex ring. Another account for the murder was that Pamela’s death was in retaliation for the killing of a Japanese soldier by British soldiers in a drunken brawl. Although the source of the information was a known eccentric, British diplomats accepted this account and as the police investigation at the time was inefficient and ineffective, the matter was not taken further..Paul French’s investigation gives the case the resolution it was denied at the time.

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After my friends had finished reading the book, we each downloaded the audio walk of Pamela’s Peking (Beijing) as it was in 1937 and were ready to retrace the places that Pamela visited, where she lived, the location of her death and other major locations mentioned in Paul French’s book.

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We caught the subway to Qianmen and commenced the walk. We walked to various locations over a couple of hours including the Armour Factory Alley, where Pamela lived and whilst her home has now gone, the Hutong (or street) was still there.

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We walked to the Foxtower where Pamela’s body was found and the badlands which were the infamous red-light/nightlife district of Peking, the former Legation Quarter and also to areas where many of the suspects in Pamela’s murder spent their days.  I enjoyed the book and definitely enjoyed the audio tour.

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