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Morrison of Peking


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I have just finished reading The Man Who Died Twice: the life and adventures of Morrison of Peking. It is an enthralling story of a very great man.

I had hardly ever heard of Morrison before I read the book but he is, in my opinion, the most important foreigner in Chinese history.

I suggest that others who are interested in knowing more about him read the book mentioned above or seek out other books about him. I will briefly mention some of his more notable accomplishments.

He first came to China in 1895. His first major adventure was to take a boat down the Yangtze to Chongqing and then walk across China to Burma. He chronicled his adventures in a book titled An Australian in China. The book is out of print but I am sure it makes fascinating reading.

He settled in Beijing and was the correspondent for the London Times. It was a critical juncture in Chinese history and Morrison was there not just to report on it but he played a key role in many events.

During the Boxer Rebellion he gave shelter to 3,000 Chinese Christians and played a key role in defending the foreign legations. When the Qing dynasty came to an end he became an advisor to Yuan Shi-k'ai, the first President of the Republic of China.

The most admirable quality of Morrison is his genuine empathy for the Chinese people. Although he was an Australian and closely identified with the British Empire he always remained sensitive to and looked out for the interests of the Chinese people. Wereas most other foreigners at the time were quite racist.


Full details of the book for anyone interested in reading it are:

The Man Who Died Twice: the life and adventures of Morrison of Peking

by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin

Allen and Unwin, 2004

ISBN: 1741140129

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The most important Westerner in Chinese history? How about Robert Hart, who ran China's Maritime Customs from 1861 to 1907 and developed the Chinese postal system as well. For better or worse, he was largely responsible for introducing Western notions of organisation, management and bureaucracy to China.

A lot's been written on Hart, but Spence's To Change China contains a good introductory sketch.

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it's an arbitrary interpretation to say someone is the most important simply because of reading a book.

To me, Elizabeth I may be one of the most influential for her approval to declare an opium war on china.

Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam systematically introduced the western knowledge to china and their footprints can also been seen today.

But all should agree that the man who deeply influences the modern chinese history is Marx.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As I said, it was only my opinion that Morrison was the most important foreigner in Chinese history. It is interesting to hear some other suggestions. I don't think Marx or Buddha could be included. There influence on people's way of thinking is undoubted, but neither ever set foot on China. I was thinking more of people that played a direct role in Chinese history.

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John Rabe, the Nazi official who saved more than 250,000 Chinese civilians during the Nanjing Massacre.


Henry Luce, born in China, was instrumental in swaying American public opinion in favor of the Chinese war effort against the Japanese through the use of Time Magazine.

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  • 1 year later...

Another foreigner who made a positive contribution to China's war effort against Japan was Claire Chennault, whom many of us are very familiar with.

Chennault began his love affair with China after Song Mei-ling, head of the Chinese Air Force at the time, offered him a leadership role in the air force to train Chinese pilots against Japanese bombers and fighters.

At the time, Chinese pilots cared more about face than personal safety, often refusing to bail out of a crippled plane. Many Chinese pilots also refused to adopt the hit-and-run tactics that Chennault later sponsored, calling it disgraceful. Chennault pointed out that personal safety and tactics were more important than saving face, arguing that stubborn, head-on encounters to the death with Japanese fighters will not work.

The Japanese Zero was arguably the most maneuverable fighter plane in the world upon its introduction in 1937. No fighter plane could outmaneuver it, not even the British Spitfire. The Spitfire suffered heavy casualties against the Zero during the Singapore campaign.

However the Zero had a weakness. Its turning rate was superb under 250 mph. However this maneuverability decreased at speeds over 250mph. Also the Zero had insufficient armor plating and lack of self-sealing fuel tanks. Pump a couple of ammo into the Zero, and the Zero in most cases would explode instantly.

The P-40 used by the Flying Tigers cannot compare with the Zero on maneuverability. Just like how the Zero's maneuverability decreased as its speed increased, the P-40's performance decreased as its altitude increased beyond 20,000 feet. But the P-40 had formidable speed and can easily outrun and outdive the Zero. Plus the P-40 had excellent armor plating and had self-sealing fuel tanks.

While the Japanese stressed lightness and maneuverability, the Americans stressed speed and endurance. Even today Japanese and American cars have these contrasting characteristics.

Chennault recommended that the Chinese and his Flying Tiger pilots not engage in dogfights based on the Zero's terms, but instead use the speed of their planes to overcome the Zero's maneuverability.

Never engage in twisted, repeated aerial turns against the Japanese Zero. You will get shot down. Instead engage an approaching Japanese formation at higher altitude, dive down on the opponent at lightning speed with guns blazing, and use the speed of the dive to climb back up and make another pass. Or use the speed of the dive to run away after inflicting heavy damage on Japanese planes.

These tactics worked very well, and contributed to the successful air campaign against Japanese planes in the skies over China during the later war years.

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  • 1 month later...

I also read The Man That Died Twice recently.

Although a remarkable story, I can't help thinking that his reputation is largely a result of the manuscripts he produced rather than any concrete impact he himself had on the revolution / boxer rebellion etc. There seems to be little evidence of what others in China thought of him, and it seems no-one thought to research documents produced by the Chinese side about him for the above book.

Does anyone know what his Chinese name was and whether he is portrayed as a central figure by Chinese history books? Walking down the road that was supposedly previously "Morrison Street" near Wangfujing in Beijing I tried various pronunciations of his name in Chinese but my colleagues had apparently never heard of the fellow.

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  • 2 months later...

There is Dr. Norman Bethune to consider..


Norman more or less packed up, and moved from Canada, to Spain and then on to China. In China he was a field doctor with the Communist army during the Japanese invasions of the 1930s. He died in 1939 from blood poisoning while preforming surgery in the field. Mao loved him so much that he wrote a letter about Bethune that was required reading for the masses in the 50's and 60's.

I don't really know if he was a hero or not, I disliked his political views greatly. He should of know what was happening in the Soviet Union, yet he decided to join that cause. On the other hand, the guy gave his life to a cause that he strongly believed in, and he did have a strong affection for Chinese people, as have I.


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  • 1 year later...
Morrison - the most important foreigner in Chinese history

Ooh! Come on!

He was a little man, and was not always concerned with reporting the truth. And he was somewhat biased in his views. His opinions of Ci Xi prove this.

And to nit pick -- what do you mean by the most important foreigner? It's a bit vague, is it not? And whatever Morrison was, he was not important.

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