An amusing, helter-skelter memoir by a Welsh publishing entrepreneur who found a quiet niche in China.
After traveling there in 1998, Kitto created the popular, short-lived that’s Shanghai series of magazines, modeled on London’s Timeout and inspired by H.E. Morriss’s North-China Daily News, which was closed by the Communists in 1951. His success rankled the Chinese bureaucracy, and after seven years in business he was shut down, marked a “Muslim separatist sympathizer” and forced into a long lawsuit over trademarks and a new career as a writer and cook. The first half of this disjointed work barely mentions the publishing business, instead dwelling on his discovery of a mountaintop retreat in Moganshan, a Victorian-era resort several hours outside of Shanghai where Europeans flocked in the summer and Communist leaders used as a haven for secret liaisons. Eventually Kitto, married to a Cantonese woman, leased and fixed up a secluded, terraced house in the town, cajoling and greasing the palms of contractors, workers and bureaucrats whose MO was routinely the response, Mei banfa (“there is no way” or “You’ll just have to live with it”). Between putting out fires (literally), throwing an obsequious banquet and digging up hairy bamboo (maozhu), the town’s specialty, Kitto offers an ample history of Moganshan from colonial heyday to Communist debilitation. He records the startling changes that took place in Shanghai and witnessed the tourist surge in his wake; he and his wife even opened a coffee shop in town. Kitto obviously enjoys playing the comfortable expat Englishman, congratulating himself on his bargain smarts and hardly contrite about leaving his home country (“Shanghai is a notorious refuge for runaways,” he notes).
Affable but often self-aggrandizing.