Pacific Tides
My name is Thomas Sturm and I'm a programmer, photographer and writer.

Now go outside and look at the sky.


Over the years I've been collecting books by westerners who traveled or lived in China in the late 1930s and during the second World War years. It's an interesting subject and a satisfying area for a collector since there is only a limited number of authors and books and what I really love - almost all of these people knew each other and several of these books actually describe their random meetings from both sides.

One person who appears in several of these books is a woman by the name of Emily Hahn. A few years ago I found a first edition copy of her book "China To Me" from 1944 (current edition is still available from Amazon) and the book was simply fascinating.

I just re-read that book several months ago and now I understand what is so special about Emily Hahn - she wrote like a blogger! Her style is very fluid and direct, she is telling what happened to her and how she felt about it with an immediacy that was several decades ahead of her time and is still fresh after now more than sixty years.

Of course it also helps that her life story is one of the most eclectic biographies of any woman who lived through most of the twentieth century:

Born in 1905, she lived until 1997 and during those 92 years she was a busy woman: She forced her way into a male-only mine engineering college and graduated as one of the first female mining engineers in the US, then together with a girl friend she drove a Ford Model T across the country when most paved roads still ended at the Mississippi. She then lived for a few years with a Pygmy tribe in the deepest Africa and moved on from there to Shanghai, not before befriending the future first black President of Kenya in London and starting a successful career as a writer.

And she wasn't done yet. In Shanghai she became a sometime nude model for one of the richest men on Earth, the concubine and second wife of a Chinese poet, part-time harborer of spies against the Japanese invaders, socialite, opium smoker, monkey owner and biographer of the Soong sisters, the three most powerful women in China at that time.

She then spent several months at a time either in Hong Kong socializing, or in Chungking, the war-time Chinese capital, being bombed daily by Japanese planes and furiously writing away at her Soong biography. During that time she fell in love with the still-married head of British Military Intelligence in Hong Kong and they had a baby together out of wedlock less than three months before the Japanese invaded Hong Kong.

Why her life has never been turned into a mini-series or a movie I will never understand.

During her long life she wrote more than fifty books, most of which are now sadly forgotten, and she was a staff writer for the New Yorker for more than 65 years.

She was a life-long passionated writer, a teacher, a hobby zoologist and a leading-by-example feminist before Feminism even was a word.

Reading her words about the incredibly hard times during the Great Depression and then later in war-torn Hong Kong is enlightening. Emily Hahn was a true free spirit who lived life on her own terms, never ashamed of what she did or who she was, free and uninhibited.

© 1998 - 2024 Thomas Sturm