Dead, drunk or driven insane: life for a British consul in pre-1949 China

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Dead, drunk or driven insane: life for a British consul in pre-1949 China

Post by Kung-fu Hillbilly » Tue Jul 23, 2019 2:07 pm

Illustration by Adolfo Arranz

Graeme Sheppard
27 Jun, 2019

From 1843 to 1949, the typical British consul’s time in China was beset by social isolation, mental illness, alcoholism and disease, often in ‘alien, remote, and hazardous surroundings’

"Living conditions. Sometimes rough: no electricity, no ice, no Colman’s mustard, no Lipton’s tea. In some posts, no mail for months on end, thunderboxes [dry toilets], civil wars and bandits. In spite of it all, I enjoyed every post I was in and had a lot of fun "

"Worse still was choosing a Chinese wife, which was entirely unacceptable. In 1908, one young consul declined to return home on leave, instead rebelliously “going no further than Hong Kong, where he was discovered with a Chinese wife. Unrepentant, he explained that he liked the Chinese, had nothing to go home for, and by his marriage was irre­vocably committing himself to China”, wrote Coates. His actions confirmed the end of his Foreign Office career."

"Some drank in isolation, others frequented the club bar possessed by seemingly every outpost, no matter how small. Another described how “the effect of prolonged years in China with our first leaves spaced three or more years apart, can be distinguished by a degree of alcoholism and idiosyncrasies, usually amiable, amounting in the long run to some degree of abnormality”.

"Mental illness also took a direct toll in lives. At the consulate in Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) in 1923, “Mrs C called up to her husband that the meal was waiting. He called back that he was coming, there was a heavy thud, and he was found to have cut his throat,” wrote Coates. Given his character, his colleagues were not entirely surprised at the news."

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