Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai

By Robert Bickers | Go to book overview

12
We Are the Dead

I too am a creature of the empire world. Grandfather Bickers served in the wartime Indian army, and then later as a school head in both colonial Malaya, and independent Malaysia. With the 1st Gurkhas he saw wartime duty on the North-west Frontier, in Iraq, and in Persia. At King George V School in Seremban he taught the sons and daughters of the new Malay and Chinese elites before and after Malaysian independence. My father served as a crewman in the Royal Air Force, working on the Britannia aircraft which served the supply routes of the diminishing empire in the 1960s, and then on helicopters in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. In the family atlas he drew in the routes he flew ‘down the line’: Lyneham to El Adem, on around Nasser’s corner to Aden. In his logbooks are recorded the trips out further, to Changi via Khormaksar, Muhharaq, Gan; Changi to Kuching during the ‘confrontation’ with Indonesia; the Nairobi-Lusaka shuttle after UDI in Rhodesia. He spent a year on his own in Sharjah, and a weekly postcard of an Arabian scene was part of the world I grew up with. His father-in-law spent the war years with the RAF in Khartoum. My own early memories gain colour and sensory impression only with our arrival at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak international airport in 1971, at the start of a three-year stay at Flat 1, Block 1, Sunderland Road, Waterloo Road, Kowloon. From that day on I have known what empire means, even for the son of an airforce sergeant: the flat in the compound, Ah Hing the amah, the school which worked to make little Britons, cricket in the oddest of places. And on my mother’s side are the immigrant Irish, another long tale of British colonialism. Empire is present in a broader family history, with paternal ancestors, like almost every Briton’s ancestors, working over the seas in Burma,

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Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • I - The Empire World 1
  • 2 - Before Shanghai 18
  • 3 - Shanghai 1919 39
  • 4 - The Shanghai Municipal Police 64
  • 5 - Shanghai Detective 95
  • 6 - ‘Learning to Be a Man’ 130
  • 7 - The End of the ‘Good Old China’ 163
  • 8 - What We Can’t Know 202
  • 9 - Adrift in the Empire World 223
  • 10 - Empire’s Civil Dead 252
  • 11 - Aftermath 290
  • 12 - We Are the Dead 328
  • Acknowledgements 343
  • Ranks in the Shanghai Municipal Police, Foreign Branch 346
  • Note on Currency 347
  • Romanization of Chinese Words and Names 348
  • Illustrations 349
  • Notes 352
  • Unpublished and Archival Sources 390
  • Index 395
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