Verbiest’s World Map 坤與全圖

David LeffmanAntiques, map, Mesny, Verbiest, William Gill, Woodblock print Leave a Comment

In 2016 I was extraordinarily lucky to come across this woodblock-printed world map at an antiques stall in Beijing. (The poor quality of the photo is because they didn’t want me taking one, and I had to sneak it from a distance with my ancient, low-res ipod touch camera. They wouldn’t sell me the print either.) The original version dates …

Mesny in the Shanghai Evening Courier

David LeffmanMesny, Miao 1 Comment

In 1868 Mesny landed a job of arms instructor with the Sichuan Army, and went off to Guizhou province to fight against ethnic Miao rebels. He spent much of the next two years around the town of Chong’an in southeastern Guizhou, teaching the Chinese soldiers how to use modern firearms and field guns, fighting in several battles, and watching the …

Mesny in China’s Millions

David LeffmanMesny, Miao, Miao War Leave a Comment

On 19 February 1877, British missionaries Charles Judd (Zhu Mingyang, 祝名扬) and James Broumton (Ba Zicheng, 巴子成) arrived at Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, to establish the city’s first Protestant outpost. They recorded their impressions of the city – including their welcome from Mesny – in China’s Millions, journal of the China Inland Mission. On their way to Guiyang, Judd …

China’s First Rollercoaster

David LeffmanMesny, Uncategorized Leave a Comment

During the late 1880s, a new craze swept foreign colonies in southeast Asia. Switchback railways – an embryonic form of rollercoaster – had appeared in the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Java and Hong Kong, and were raking in huge profits (well, except for Hong Kong’s, which somehow managed to go bankrupt within a year). In 1890 a French consortium, led by …

Was Mesny a Liar?

David LeffmanMesny Leave a Comment

Reading the Miscellany, with all its action, great claims and grandstanding, you have to wonder – how much of it is true? After all, there’s no doubt that the Miscellany was written as a piece of propaganda, designed to restore Mesny’s reputation at a time that his life was unravelling. Could anyone have led such an adventurous life, and yet …

The Battle for Changshu, 1863

David LeffmanGeneral Hou, Mesny, Taipings Leave a Comment

During one of his smuggling operations along the Yangzi river in November 1862, Mesny was captured by Taiping rebels off Fushan, a small village notorious for its pirates and gun-runners. First threatening him with execution, then planning to ransom him for $100,000, the rebels eventually decided to keep Mesny alive as a bargaining chip. Mesny was escorted 16km south along …

Mesny’s Famine Report, 1889

David LeffmanAnhui, Famine Relief, Hefei, Mesny Leave a Comment

In 1889, Mesny made a brief survey of the countryside around Hefei, the modern capital of Anhui province, for the Shanghai Famine Relief Committee. This had been set up to raise and distribute funds during a prolonged drought in eastern China, which had hit central and northern Anhui particularly hard. Mesny’s task – undertaken voluntarily – was to see that …

Mercenary Mandarin Sources

David LeffmanMesny, Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Mesny on Mesny The biggest single source of information for Mesny’s life are his own writings, especially the four-volume, 2000-page Mesny’s Chinese Miscellany, published between 1895 and 1906. Aside from thousands of random articles on Chinese subjects, the Miscellany sketches in Mesny’s childhood and time at sea (1842–1860), before focusing in-depth on selected episodes from his first fifteen years in …

Mesny 1862: A Prisoner on the Yangzi

David LeffmanGeneral Hou, Mesny, Taipings, Travel writing Leave a Comment

During the Taiping Uprising, Mesny found work as a “Blockade Runner”, ferrying contraband arms and salt upstream along the war-ravaged lower Yangzi between Shanghai and the inland metropolis of Wuhan. The work was profitable but extremely dangerous, and it wasn’t long before Mesny was fighting off pirates and getting himself badly battered during a near-fatal assault by the Qing navy. …