Emily Hahn an Unconventional Woman in China

Date and time: 14 February, 10-12 

Venue: Unioninkatu 38 A118 

During a party in New York in the beginning of the nineteen thirties, Emily Hahn (1905-1997) said bluntly “China does not interest me”. However she arrived in Shanghai in 1935 and left China in 1943. These years in China were probably the most important years in her life. Emily Hahn was a reporter for an American magazine the New Yorker, she wrote several books and innumerable articles on China. She was very unconventional, she broke in China all the rules that were supposed to be followed by a woman from the west but in a gentle way that seemed more acceptable. She went to dinner parties with a monkey on her shoulder, she smoked opium, she had a sentimental affair with a Chinese poet. She maintained that she was not a feminist, in fact it is true there was nothing ideological in her behaviour. She lived in China at a highly dangerous time and met people that were or will become very important in the history of modern China, such as Victor Sasoon, the Song family of which she gained the support of the Song sisters to write a book about them, Martha Ellis Gelhorn a well-known war correspondent, and many poets, artists, intellectuals and even probably the communist leader Zhou Enlai. After the total invasion of China in 1937 by Japan, the survival of Allies subjects in the Far East was in doubt. She left Shanghai in mid 1939 and went to Chongqing then under Japanese air raids and two years later to Hong Kong. She went back to New York in 1943.

She had been fascinated by China and Shanghai of those times, she communicated this fascination to her readers. She wrote “of all the cities of the world it is the town for me. Always changing, there are some things about it which never change, so that I will forever be able to know when I come back”. She never returned to Shanghai.


About the speaker

Dr. Michel Beniard has studied in Paris. He has a degree in political science [Institut d’études politiques Paris], a degree in Chinese language and history [Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales] and also a degree in grammar and literature [lettres modernes]. He has written a D.E.A [lisensiatti] in Paris on Chinese modern history. He got PhD at the University of Helsinki in East Asian Studies in 2011. The subject of the PhD thesis being: The Far Eastern Question at the Washington Conference (1921-1922) with an outline of its implications for internal politics in China.

He has been a librarian in the Department of Far Eastern Studies, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales, Paris University. In Finland, he was a lecturer in French at Åbo Akademi, and then at the language centre at the University of Helsinki.

Dr. Beniard´s main interest focus on problems of international relations and international law in the Far East between the two world wars.


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Shen Congwen 沈 從文 (1908-1988) un auteur mésestimé.pp7-12 in Ex Orientalia Lumina, Finnish Oriental Society,2013.