Foreign Devils

classic tales and memoirs that live on

It’s now 16 years since Earnshaw Books was founded, and the first book which triggered the whole enterprise was a volume with the delightful title Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom written by Carl Crow. I had been fascinated by the memoirs of foreigners living in China since I first arrived in Greater China in 1973. My reading, in Hong Kong in those days and for long after, always included memoirs of foreigners who had lived, traveled or had adventures in China. And by the mid-noughties, when I had set up a company in Shanghai which had design and printing capabilities, I decided to use it as a platform to give some of these old books, then resting nowhere but the dusty shelves of forgotten libraries, another run in the sun.

The first book we chose was Foreign Devils because Carl Crow was one of the best writers from the the 1930s, and also one of the most active foreigners in the great enterprise that was linking China with the outside world in that pre-war pre-revolution era. He had lived in China for decades and was instrumental in setting up the advertising industry in the country, using Shanghai as the base. He wrote several books before and after his departure when the Japanese arrived in 1940, but the best two are Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom and 400 Million Customers. What was remarkable about Crow’s books, and indeed the many other books that we republished back then, was the high degree of parallels and similarity between the experiences of these foreigners in China, in the late 19th century or early 20th century, and the experiences of foreigners in today’s China. I was encouraged to republish these books by the reaction I had to the attitudes of many foreigners who seemed to believe they were the pioneers and that their experiences were unique. In fact, many foreigners had trodden these paths before, albeit in a different era.

China has of course changed immensely in the past hundred years or more, but there are many aspects of Chinese culture and society which remain unchanged and, in a contrarian way, I always tend to emphasize the continuity rather than the changes. And these memoirs are a reminder and reflection of that continuity, as well as a fascinating first-person window into the China of the past. History books written by people today always lack, to some extent or another, authenticity, because they weren’t there. And while a writer such as Carl Crow had a deficiency in terms of the wider view provided by hindsight, the immediacy in terms of richness and depth in descriptions he and others provide, completely offsets that minor shortfall, particularly because from our perspective of today, we know the context in a way that he could never do.

These books are still available, both on our website as digital downloads or from Amazon as printed tomes for those beyond the China world. If you are in the China world, however, and would like a paper copy, drop us a line.

other Carl Crow Classics

400 Million Customers
First published in 1937, 400 Million Customers is the distillation of the experiences of one of the most successful foreign businessmen ever to wash up on the China coast. Crow brilliantly explains the eternal truths about doing business in the Middle Kingdom.
The Long Road Back to China
In 1939 Carl Crow travelled up the Burma Road from Rangoon to the wartime Chinese capital of Chongqing. The road was China’s perilous but vital 717-mile lifeline to the outside world. In Chongqing, Crow describes what was at that point the most heavily bombed city on Earth, observes the daily struggle of the Chinese people under Japanese bombardment, and interviews the most senior Chinese government members.

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