Paul FrenchFeb 10, 2022
Shanghai's Darkest Day
The Thirties and Forties were some of the first instances of aerial bombardment of civilian populations—and an indication of their destructive power. We often point to the Nazi bombing in Guernica, Spain in 1937—immortalized by Pablo Picasso—as the first instance of what happens when “the bomber gets through”, to paraphrase then-Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
But just a few months later, across a continent, the world got a glimpse of what bombardment would look like in one of the world’s most built-up and international cities of the time: Shanghai, and “Bloody Saturday”: August 14th 1937.
Paul French’s Bloody Saturday: Shanghai's Darkest Day (Penguin Australia: 2018), recently republished by Penguin’s Southeast Asia arm, is a short telling of what happened on that fateful day.
In this interview, Paul and I talk about what happened in Shanghai on August 14th, and what it tells us about the nature of the city, the foreigners that lived there, and how the rest of the Sino-Japanese War developed.
Paul French was born in London, educated there and in Glasgow, and lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. His book Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China (Penguin Group USA: 2012) was a New York Times Bestseller, a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, a Mystery Writers’ of America Edgar award winner for Best Fact Crime and a Crime Writers’ Association (UK) Dagger award for non-fiction. Both Midnight in Peking and City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai (Picador USA: 2018) are currently being developed for television. More can be found on Paul French’s blog China Rhyming.
In our interview, we also mention another one of Paul’s works: Through the Looking Glass: China's Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao (Hong Kong University Press: 2009)
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.