Members Area Logout

Get to Know the Stories Behind the FCC’s Various Rooms

It’s perhaps just as well that the FCC’s walls can’t talk, but there’s a great tale attached to many of its rooms, says Robin Lynam.

Extraordinary though this may seem, back in 1991, when FCC President Peter Seidlitz suggested turning a corner of the Main Bar into an enclosed non-smoking area, the proposal was considered controversial.

To discourage opposition, Peter suggested that it be called the “Clare Hollingworth Room”. Who could then object?

Clare did. At 80 years old, she pointed out that she was still alive and did not yet want a memorial. The space went unnamed – sort of. Everybody called it the “Führerbunker”. After Peter died, aged 64 in 2012, it was officially renamed the “Peter Seidlitz Bunker”. He would have liked that.

Peter, a flamboyant, capable, and very well-connected journalist – also a noted art collector – was described in one obituary as the “Giorgio Armani of foreign correspondents”. He is also one of a select few FCC members to have had a club space named after him.

The first was Richard Hughes, whose photograph hangs in the Hughes Room and in the Main Bar, where his sculpted head still greets visitors. He died in 1984 at the age of 81.

A foreign correspondent of distinction who made his name in the 1930s reporting from Japan, Richard was probably also an intelligence agent – perhaps even a double. Though disputed, that might explain his 1956 scoop – interviewing British defectors Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in Moscow, whence they had fled in 1951.

He appears in fiction as Dikko Henderson in Ian Fleming’s 007 yarn You Only Live Twice, and as Old Craw in The Honourable Schoolboy, whose opening chapter John le Carré set in the FCC’s Sutherland House premises near Statue Square, which we quit in 1982 for our present location. 

Adjoining the Hughes Room – and sharing its role as a pop-up Chinese restaurant – the Burton Room is named for Sandra Burton, another distinguished journalist, but of a very different stamp. 

One of TIME magazine’s first female correspondents, she is perhaps best known for her coverage of the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr in the Philippines and of the 1986 People Power revolution which followed. She was also, characteristically, in the thick of things in 1989 in Tiananmen Square. 

Sandra died tragically early at 62 in 2004, a gifted and accomplished journalist, who was universally admired for her professionalism and integrity. 

UPI correspondent – and another FCC President – Bert Okuley, died in 1993 aged 58. He was a fine editor who probably could have made another career as a jazz musician, hence the name of the club’s cellar bar and jazz club. 

A photograph in Bert’s shows him with fellow pianist Larry Allen, who on Saturday evenings during the 1990s used to play and sing in the Main Bar. In the photo, Bert can be seen declining an invitation from Larry, who knew how good Bert was, to take over his seat. 

I occasionally joined Bert at the bar where he often studied horse racing form, and I wish I’d taken some tips. He gave good ones – such as this from 1975 to a UPI photographer in Saigon: “Van Es,” he shouted into a darkroom, “Get out here. There’s a chopper on that roof!” 

The photo exhibit wall at the rear of the Main Bar is named after Hugh Van Es. He did not consider that helicopter photograph his best, and there are many finer ones from a career which ranged from shooting 1960s pop stars in Europe to the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan. 

The wall is an appropriate choice of memorial for Hugh, who died in 2009 at 67. He was a connoisseur of good photography, generous with advice and encouragement to less experienced fellow professionals, and to amateur snappers. He was also an FCC President, a long-serving and valuable board member, and for several years, the custodian of the club’s liquor licence. 

Virupax Ganesh “VG” Kulkarni – whose name adorns the Workroom – was also a senior FCC Board member. He started his professional life as an officer in the Indian army, before transferring to the diplomatic corps, and finally settled on journalism, most notably at the Far Eastern Economic Review where he became Regional Editor. 

Later he pursued a freelance career. The club was his second home, and he was a frequent genial presence in the Workroom. He died – in the Health Club sauna – in 2014 at the age of 77. 

Notwithstanding Peter Seidlitz’s offer to Clare Hollingworth, the honour of having an FCC space named after you has only ever been awarded posthumously. 

Now Clare, too, has her corner. After she closed her last bar bill – in 2017 at the age of 105 – the club mounted a photo of her in the Bunker over what was for many years unofficially, but entirely inflexibly, her table. Whoever sits at it today, so it remains.

Introducing the FCC’s New Members: February 2022

A Swede, a South African, a Kiwi, a Russian, a Yorkshireman, un Français, several Chinese and assorted others walk into a bar… 


Asa Atting

Asa Atting

This is the third time my husband Fredrik and I have lived in Hong Kong. Each time we left, we sensed that we would move back. Hong Kong is a very special place for our family. Originally from Sweden, we have lived in Hong Kong and Germany for the last 16 years. I have worked as an IT consultant for international companies and have always relished meeting people from all walks of life. I enjoy the Hong Kong outdoors and can’t wait until we can travel freely again so that I can visit my children who go to university in Canada. I love the diverse and international atmosphere at the FCC.


Vincent Chow

Vincent Chow

I’m Hong Kong-born, UK-raised. In 2019, after many years away from my birthplace, I decided to return to Hong Kong to start my journalism career as a legal reporter. Since then my interest in China has only increased, although covering the country has become more difficult for foreign journalists. I recently switched to freelancing to allow me to pursue my other passion: travelling. I hope to have a career that allows me to write and travel as much as possible – starting in Taiwan next year where I’ll be studying Mandarin. I’m a massive Arsenal and Andy Murray fan.


Marc Allan Cormack-Bissett

Friends call me gregarious, and I have a love of food, travel and exploration. I’m British by birth but identify as South African having emigrated at six months old. I met my (now) husband in our uni days and we moved to London in the early 2000s where I qualified as a chartered accountant. In late 2018, I was seconded to Hong Kong and immediately fell for the city’s charm. I was joined by my husband and cats (Gin & Tonic) a year later. I’m a director and head of company secretarial services for Law Debenture Corporation.


Neil Donovan

I moved to this fascinating city in 2018 after stints in Portugal, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan, and am joined at the FCC by my wife Veronica, a Venezuelan from Caracas. I hail from Yorkshire in England. We enjoy dragon boating, scuba diving, hiking, golf and football, and have our own website documenting our travel experiences and showcasing our small philanthropic photography and sustainable fashion businesses. When we’re not dreaming of travelling or focusing on our creative projects, I work as the Head of English Department in an international school, and Veronica works as a relocation consultant and a realtor.


Kunal J Gokal

Kunal J Gokal

Originally from New Zealand, I’ve spent most of my life in Hong Kong. I now work as a relationship manager at a global private bank having spent a short stint in the luxury goods industry. I find joy in meeting new people, building relationships and learning from others. I’m driven by new experiences, having climbed Mount Kinabalu, bungeed above a lake in New Zealand, backpacked around Croatia, and explored Europe by road. I’m itching to travel again in a post-COVID-19, quarantine-free world. As a third-generation member from my family, I’m thrilled to be joining the club.


Anastasia Gordeeva

Some random information: I have a Russian accent. It may sound like appropriation, but just like the FCC’s president, I love Malbec, and not just in the evening. My profile picture was taken by my colleague, Nikolai Likhopoi, and it doesn’t matter whether I like it or not – it’s amazing. What am I doing in China? Ask my father and please let me know. I hope that one day Elon Musk and I will fly to Mars from the Baikonur cosmodrome where I was born. I still don’t know who I want to be when I grow up.


Herve Guinebert

Herve Guinebert

I’ve been living and working in Hong Kong for almost eight years, and despite some un-encouraging beginnings, it’s hard not to fall in love with this unique place, with its Chinese influence and British heritage. It has one of the most beautiful skylines in the world, while sandy beaches, rocky shores, coastlines, reservoirs, woodlands, mountain ranges, and a variety of scenic vistas make up the majority of the Island. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “Hong Kong is the most imperfect place I have ever lived, except for all the others.”


Nick Jones

Nick Jones

I’m originally from the UK, but my wife, Hanh, and I have called Hong Kong home for almost four years. I currently lead video production for Morning Studio, the South China Morning Post’s branded content arm, making short documentaries on a range of topics, from local artists to business leaders. In my spare time, I can often be found roaming the streets looking for stories for my own documentary projects or doing a bit of photography.


Arthur Koeman

Arthur Koeman

As a Dutch trader I arrived in Hong Kong in 1980, and am still here four decades later. I retired in 2015 and now share my time with my wife Annett, and my hobbies of squash (body permitting) and painting. My exhibitions are mainly held at the Fringe Club next door to the FCC. My retirement didn’t last very long. With the mainstream media hell-bent on presenting negative news, I realised the world was in need of something positive. To overcome this doom and gloom I brought together a team of experienced journalists to launch, which publishes seriously happy global news.


Anthea Lai

Anthea Lai

Born and raised in Hong Kong, I came back to the city after graduating from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and working in New York. My time spent in the US cultivated my interest in diversity. I have spent nearly 20 years working in finance, and believe women can provide different perspectives on all areas of life. As a mother of two, I am also keen on nurturing the next generation of women via allyship and support. I love travelling, trying out exotic food and shopping for local specialties.


Li Man Ying

Li Man Ying

I was born in Hong Kong and have practiced as an architect both here and overseas for more than 40 years, which often required travelling around various parts of the world. It is a great pleasure for me to join the club to share a lot of experiences and visions from other members.


Toby Littlewood

Toby Littlewood

I was born in Cyprus and spent my childhood in Yemen and London. After a Chinese studies degree, my career in HR and communications with BP, and later Lafarge, was based mainly in Asia with 26 years in Beijing and Guangzhou. Apart from expanding regional operations, I also dealt with offshore gas blow-outs, shipping collisions and the devastating Aceh tsunami. I now work as an executive coach. My first Hong Kong experience was as a student intern, helping the St Stephen’s Society rehabilitate heroin addicts from the Kowloon Walled City, where I also met my wife, Jing, then a volunteer interpreter.


Jerome Lizambard

Jerome Lizambard

I was born in France and after studying for a master’s in history in Paris, I embarked for Beijing in the 1990s to learn Chinese and try to understand who would rule the world next. After many jobs in China over two decades, I ended up back at the University of Hong Kong last year, courtesy of COVID-19 which blighted my career in luxury retail. I’m currently focused on the Pacific, the polar regions and geopolitics. 


Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason

I joined AFP in 2018 after graduating from Leeds University and then l’Institut Français de Presse in Paris. I landed in Hong Kong in March 2021 to join the agency’s Asia-Pacific team as a fact-checking editor, tackling misinformation across the region. Originally from the Peak District in England, I am enjoying discovering the city, especially learning Cantonese, hiking and consuming any amount of egg waffles. 


Justin Peter McMahon

Justin Peter McMahon

After a career in hospitality management in Australia I completed a Bachelor of Commerce with majors in banking, finance and risk management. I relocated to Hong Kong 15 years ago with two suitcases and the hope of finding a home in this fantastic, inspiring city which has since given me both my wife and a career. I am now a partner at Village Insurance Brokers, which focuses on expats. I enjoy weightlifting, boxing, yoga, hiking and living the dream and am an active member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Hong Kong Insurers Club. 


Bhagwan Benny Daulatram Ratnani

Bhagwan Benny Daulatram Ratnani

I settled in Hong Kong over five decades ago. I started my own trading business with the Middle East and India as the main markets when I was 29 years old after working here and in the US for a year. I have two offices in Guangzhou, and prior to the pandemic, I frequently travelled to Dubai where most of my clients are based. I am also a property investor and have been a Rotary Club member (and past vice president) for the past 35 years. I’m excited to join the FCC.


John Riley

John Riley

In the course of a long career in government service, I have completed two separate postings in Seoul and another in London where I chaired the Ngāti Rānana London Māori Club. I grew up in Auckland and have a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Auckland. I have affiliations to the Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri tribes from the northern tip of New Zealand and speak Māori (and Korean) fluently. 


Pooja Sawhney

Pooja Sawhney

A company secretary by profession, I came from India back in 1997 shortly after the Handover. Ever since Hong Kong has been home to me, my husband and our two daughters. I love the tremendous vibrancy of Hong Kong and how its adventures never cease. It keeps the element of wonderment alive with its beautiful outdoors and vast variety of cuisines. I like the FCC, its atmosphere, the events it hosts and its fantastic mix of Old and New World wines.


Peter Cookson Smith

Peter Smith

I arrived in Hong Kong in September 1976 and, within a year, set up URBIS, the first company in the territory specialising in city planning, urban design, environment and landscape. We cut our teeth on the New Towns programme and have since carried out many projects across China and Southeast Asia. In associated areas I have been a Professor of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong and an Adjunct Professor at Chinese University. Although technically retired, I continue to occupy a quiet corner of the URBIS office through the forbearance of long-standing friends and colleagues.


Ambar Taneja

Ambar Taneja

I am an entrepreneur, and manage Hong Kong’s only India-dedicated equities fund: The Vachi India Equity Fund. I have been a Hong Kong resident since 2012 and previously worked as a private banker and fund manager. I have a master’s degree in Public Affairs from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delhi. I’m passionate about the guitar, which I have been playing for 30-plus years, and am now starting to write original music.


Ray Tsang Heung Tak

Ray Tsang

I am a lawyer by training. My favourite fictional lawyer is Horace Rumpole. I love reading and am something of a bibliophile. I enjoy the works of Somerset Maugham, George Orwell (especially his essays and journalism), Bertrand Russell, and the local writer Chua Lam. I play golf recreationally. My handicap fluctuates between 18 and 25. I am a diehard Tiger Woods fan. I smoke cigars on a daily basis. My favourite hangouts are bookstores, cigar lounges and the FCC. 


Ginny Wilmerding

Ginny Wilmerding

I first lived in Hong Kong in 1991, straight out of university with a degree in East Asian studies. My first employer, Hutchison Whampoa, sent me to Shanghai to work on its container port joint venture. I met my American husband, Alex, there; he worked for Swire/Dragonair. We headed back to the US in 1996, but returned to Hong Kong in 2008. Since 2010 I’ve worked in financial communications, first for Brunswick and now with Finsbury Glover Hering. My twin sister was a Wall Street Journal reporter for 14 years. I’ve always loved the FCC and am thrilled to join. 

Meet the Board: Part Two

Ed Peters profiles more FCC Board members, who were elected last May for the 2021-2022 term. How did our governors come to join the FCC, what new experiences are coming down the pipeline, and what keeps them busy from day to day? We threw a few softballs at the Board and pressed them on the club’s future, too. 


Cliff Buddle
Journalist Member Governor

On-the-job training really meant something when Cliff Buddle started out with a London news agency, where he found himself covering a murder case at the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court on his first day. A dozen years later he heard of a job at the South China Morning Post. 

“I was looking for a new adventure – I had no idea what it would be like in Hong Kong, never having visited before. I arrived with just a suitcase and headed straight for the newsroom in Quarry Bay. This was 1994, an exciting time as the city prepared for the Handover.” 

Having started as a court reporter, Buddle has since been opinion page editor, news editor, chief leader writer, deputy editor and acting editor-in-chief. He is currently special projects editor and also writes columns.

A long-term FCC member, this is his seventh consecutive year as a Journalist Member Governor, and he has performed extensive work on the club’s articles of association and bylaws. 

“The club, like Hong Kong, has been through some challenging times in recent years but remains strong. It must remain a powerful voice in defence of press freedom, a platform for free discussion and, of course, a wonderful place to meet friends for a drink and a meal.” 


Hometown: Enfield, North London, England
Day job: Special Projects Editor, SCMP
Favourite dish: Chicken tikka
Tipple: Sauvignon Blanc or Burgundy
The FCC in a nutshell: “A home-from-home for journalists and a beacon for press freedom.”
Vision for the club: “I would like to see more young people, especially young journalists, join the club.”


Iain Marlow
Correspondent Member Governor

Iain Marlow

Former Globe and Mail reporter Iain Marlow’s memories of his initial visit to the FCC in 2016 mirror hundreds of other first-timers’. “The place was buzzing; one guy was holding two bottles of Champagne; everyone I met was whip-smart, engaged and friendly. I thought: ‘This place is amazing.’”

Marlow became a member almost immediately after moving to Hong Kong three years later, having discovered the FCC South Asia, also housed in a heritage building, while working for Bloomberg in New Delhi. “The club in Hong Kong is just around the corner from our office, so it’s effectively our local.” It wasn’t long before he joined the Board, and he is now a passionate member of three committees: press freedom, professional and communications.

“As the city shifts beneath our feet, we need to keep the foundations of the FCC strong. That means navigating the new political reality in Hong Kong. We must also maintain our reputation as a lively hub for debate about the issues that matter to our members,” he says.

“A lot of this requires a fine balancing of priorities. And I think the FCC’s current Board and amazing staff are doing a great job of doing that in very challenging times.”


Hometown: Pickering, Ontario, Canada
Day job: Senior Reporter, Bloomberg News
Favourite dish: Burger, Caesar salad or chicken tikka masala
Tipple: Sauvignon Blanc or IPA
The FCC in a nutshell: “The only place I want to go.”
Vision for the club: “Even in these uncertain times, we need to keep speaking out on press freedom.” 


Lucy Colback
Correspondent Member Governor

Having studied Chinese at university, Lucy Colback drifted into banking and then, fortuitously, into writing the Lex column for the Financial Times (FT), which she describes as “the best seat in journalism”. The job was based in Hong Kong, so joining the FCC was a logical step. 

“I nearly quit [the FCC] when I left the FT as I didn’t think I could justify the expense – but the club became an essential centre for me while living on Peng Chau, so I’m glad I didn’t resign.” 

While writing about responsible corporate behaviour (“payback after years as a financier caring only about the numbers”) and compiling a book of World War II veterans’ memories, Colback sits on the finance committee (“I like seeing the inner workings”), the communications committee, and is hoping to get more involved with food and beverage. 

Vis-à-vis the club, she says: “We’re in very tricky times with the political backdrop, and the position of the media is quite uncertain. I am proud to be a member of a club which supports open debate and hope we can maintain that even in the current climate.”


Hometown: Hong Kong, but originally Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England
Day job: Chairman, Mandarin Shipping
Tipple: Correspondent’s Choice red wine
Favourite dish: The Chinese menu’s chicken and shallots
Describe the FCC in three words: “My second home”
Vision for the club: “I see the FCC continuing its critical role of being an independent, objective and balanced platform to hear the views of all parties, no matter what side of the spectrum they belong.”


Zela Chin
Journalist Member Governor


Zela Chin took a well-trodden path into journalism: an internship at university, followed by a stint at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and then – having fallen for Hong Kong hook, line and sinker – signing up with TVB as a business features reporter.

She was quick to latch onto the club’s promotional deal for tyro journalists back in 2011. “At HK$250 per month, for access to stellar journalists, amazing guest speakers, and affordable meals in the middle of Central, how could I refuse?”

In her first months on the Board, Chin has been impressed with how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep the club buzzing, whether organising talks with newsmakers or finding chefs for the themed dinners.

She’s keen to share the club’s message with non-members, too. “I represented the Board at a dinner with the Foreign Ministry. We are working hard to develop relationships with government officials and to ensure the renewal of the building’s lease.”

Chin is also looking forward to working with the Charity Committee. “I want to leverage my connections with local NGOs, and social enterprises garnered from my time as a documentary producer to help the FCC further its charitable involvement.”


Hometown: Los Angeles, California, US
Day job: Principal Reporter, Money Matters, TVB Pearl
Favourite dish: Garoupa claypot
Tipple: Champagne
The FCC in a nutshell: A place “where everybody knows your name.”
Vision for the club: “It’s a tumultuous time in Hong Kong, and I hope the club can navigate these uncertain waters while staying true to our mission as a defender of press freedom.” 


Christopher Slaughter
Associate Member Governor

Christopher SLAUGHTER

Journalist – Correspondent – Associate: would the real Christopher Slaughter please stand up? Twice FCC President, long-time Board member, and one-time stalwart of Metro News, Slaughter joined the club in 1991. 

“How could you be a journalist here and not be a member?” Having taken on numerous jobs in the past three decades, entailing various changes in membership status, he is now back in Associate mode.

“Associates make up the largest body of members by a huge margin, and although by design we have fewer Board seats and less political power, our contribution to the club’s ongoing relevance and continued future is critical,” he says. “I work to ensure that contribution is both recognised and appreciated.”

Like everyone in the FCC, Slaughter remains deeply committed to press freedom and the protection of journalists, and believes that the FCC must remain a bastion of those principles.

“These days, I’m focused on the Building Project and Maintenance Committee, which deals with the upkeep of our heritage premises. Over many years on the Wall Committee, with various others, I helped establish us as a leading exhibition destination for photojournalists and photographers from Hong Kong, Asia and around the world.” 


Hometown: Denver, Colorado, US
Day job: Consultant, Asia-Pacific Satellite Communications Council
Favourite dish: Sausage rolls
Tipple: Coke Zero or Taiwanese oolong tea
The FCC in a nutshell: “The best living room I’ve ever had.”
Vision for the club: “We have a future. It might not look like the present, and maybe it will look like our (chequered) past, but the FCC will endure.”


Genavieve Alexander
Associate Member Governor

Genevieve Alexander

Genavieve Alexander moved to Hong Kong a decade ago after spotting the rising opportunity for PR in Asia, with many Western lifestyle brands looking to move east. Former years in brand strategy at Marks & Spencer and LVMH inspired her to set up Genavieve.Co in 2012.

She joined the club as soon as possible, having heard of it at London’s Frontline Club (a reciprocal of the FCC). “One of my passions is working with brands of great history and legacy, keeping them current, evolving and timeless: and for me, the FCC is just that,” says Alexander.

In 2018 she joined the Board, guiding its communications strategy, coming up with F&B concepts and enhancing the club’s website, magazine, and social media platforms to accelerate engagement, and ultimately, membership.

As a female entrepreneur, Alexander has suggested varied topics and speakers to balance club conversations and hosted events with organisations, such as Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide. She hopes to plan a breakfast series to further women’s engagement and attract new members.

“This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the FCC on Lower Albert Road, and it’s a fitting time to curate and communicate all that we have achieved together as a club and gear up for all that is to come,” she says. “Some ideas in play: a wall exhibition of the FCC archives, a special issue of The Correspondent, perhaps an FCC podcast… and a special promotion for our newly launched Byline Brew.” 


Hometown: London, England
Day job: PR Director, Genavieve.Co
Favourite dish: Sichuan fish
Tipple: Champagne
The FCC in a nutshell: “A club of conversations.”
Vision for the club: “That the FCC’s timeless legacy lives on, known for its vibrant atmosphere, eclectic members and dedication to supporting journalism in the region.”



You don’t have to be on the Board to join a committee. From events to dining, press freedom to communications, there are plenty of ways to support the club.

Professional Committee: Ideal for the curious and well-connected. Coordinates club speakers, press conferences and journalism events.

Finance Committee: A spreadsheet lover’s dream. Supervises the club’s accounts, investments, members’ accounts and budgets.

Constitutional Committee: Scrupulous but essential work. Turns the microscope on issues relating to the Club’s AoAs and rules.

Membership Committee: Social butterflies unite. Oversees membership applications, membership status changes, honorary memberships and drives.

F&B / House Committee: Gourmets with a knack for numbers. As the name suggests, this committee bolsters the club’s beating heart, from food prices to menus, international promos, wine tastings, and more.

Press Freedom Committee: Our moral compass. Monitors press freedom issues, issues statements and co-organises the annual Human Rights Press Awards.

Communications Committee: A linguistic playground. Supervises the quarterly production of The Correspondent, the FCC website, newsletters, branding and the archives.

Wall Committee: Visual storytelling at its best. Curates and coordinates our monthly Wall photo exhibits.

Charity Committee: Calling all empaths. Coordinates the FCC’s charitable activities and community involvement.

Interested in getting involved? Contact Joanne Chung ([email protected]) with a cover letter/CV outlining your relevant professional experience.

10 Minutes With Joe Evans, World News Editor at ‘The Week’

Sum up The Week in a couple of sentences.
We take the best British and international news and comment and distil it into a weekly magazine and a daily website. Our online coverage ranges from need-to-know information about the biggest news to longer features and analysis. We also have a weekly podcast, “The Week Unwrapped”, allowing the team to tap into our various areas of expertise and unpack an under-reported story. 


At 26¾ years old, you cover a vast remit. What’s your day-to-day like?
Our online team is fairly small and includes a roster of freelancers. We punch well above our weight in terms of quality and quantity. My role includes overseeing all of our foreign coverage from commissioning to editing. 

I also write features and analysis, as well as appearing regularly on the podcast talking about politics and foreign affairs. We’re a very close-knit team, so I work with our digital director and executive editor to coordinate coverage of big events or stories that sit on the line between domestic and foreign news. 


Share your most illuminating conclusions on European affairs.
I have family in Germany, so I have spent a lot of time there. It’s a place that lots of Europhile Brits hold in very high regard with good reason. Its approach to coalition governing is something more countries could learn from. 

The ability of its politicians to speak to people “across the aisle” is refreshing in an era of snap judgements and partisan political discourse. Having said that, the country gets an easy ride when it comes to some of its green policies – its nuclear phase-out comes to mind – and foreign policy, for example its stance, or lack thereof, on Russia. 


Apart from “gobsmacked”, how are you taking Brexit so far?
I think the “gobsmacked” period may have passed for most people. It certainly has for me. I grew up in a part of the country that voted in favour of Brexit, so had a pretty good idea of the amount of Eurosceptic feeling simmering under the surface even before the referendum. 

I am not sure anyone would have called for us to leave the European Union before 2016, but there was always a feeling that the United Kingdom sat awkwardly within the bloc. 

At The Week, we try to talk about Brexit without favouring Brexiteers or Remainers, but by steering a course through the middle of what is now quite an artificial divide. Writing about the UK’s vaccine roll-out was a good example, with both sides trying to claim ownership of a national success. 


You used to live in Southeast Asia. What were you doing at the time?
I lived in Cambodia between 2018 and 2019, but I also saw quite a lot of the region. I moved to Phnom Penh to work as director of communications for Aziza’s Place, a development centre for underprivileged children that I have long-supported. 

I also did some writing and stringing when I was there and fell head over heels in love with the country. It would be untrue to say that it isn’t a deeply troubled place and I would love to see that improve. But it is also wonderful in many ways and I made some lifelong friends. 


As a University of Manchester grad, which of the city’s two football teams do you support?
Neither! I am a long-time fan of the Wolverhampton Wanderers, which is owned by Shanghai-based conglomerate Fosun International. We win fewer trophies, but I consider it an enduring duty to support my local team.

Book Review: ‘China’s Russian Princess’ by Mark O’Neill

One of the most enigmatic characters to have played a role in China’s recent history is the subject of a new biography greatly relished by Mark Jones.

The subtitle of Mark O’Neill’s latest book, China’s Russian Princess, reads “The Silent Wife of Chiang Ching-Kuo”. There is no dramatic licence here. The subject of this biography is not quoted anywhere in this thoroughly researched work. She made no speeches and gave no interviews; her silence a mixture of personal choice and political expediency.

But it certainly makes for an interesting challenge. Imagine watching a play for two hours where everyone speaks except the main character, and you’ll have an idea what it’s like reading this book.

So why does this woman, so obscure she is not even named in the title, merit a biography?

Simply that she was a remarkable – if, indeed, silent – witness to history: and this is a very 20th-century history of the struggles between Communism and Nationalism, freedom and independence. She was born in Orsha, now part of Belarus, raised in Soviet Russia and lived most of her life torn between one vision of China and another.

The story of Faina Ipat’evna Vakhreva, later known as Chiang Fang-liang, begins, as O’Neill realises it must, with the moment that would dictate the rest of her life.

Faina, 17, has just graduated from technical college and is working as a turner at the Ural Heavy Machinery Factory in Sverdlovsk (which has since reverted to its pre-Soviet name, Yekaterinburg). As she walks home on a freezing night in 1933, a fellow worker saves her from “a burly Russian man” whose “attentions were becoming increasingly unwanted”. Despite her saviour’s apparently “puny” physique, he knocks the aggressor down.

This gallant fellow was a deputy supervisor at the factory. He was Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of the man who would later lead both China and Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek.

Stalin was still hedging his bets at this stage of China’s battle against the Japanese and the brewing civil war between Mao’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists. Chiang Ching-kuo’s role in the USSR swung between hostage and ambassador: but ultimately, in 1936, Stalin sent him back to China to support his father’s cause. He travelled home with Faina, who he had married the year prior.

Mark O'Neill Mark O’Neill

As a Chinese citizen, Chiang Ching-kuo met intense suspicion by the Soviets; as a Soviet, Faina encountered the same hostility from her new fellow citizens in China and, especially, later, in Taiwan. From the time they met until Chiang Ching-kuo’s death in 1988, she largely kept out of public sight.

That may have ensured her safety as the Nationalists fled their victorious opponents and later when anti-Soviet feelings ran high in Taiwan. The couple’s long periods of separation appear to have suited Chiang Ching-kuo, not least when he fathered twin sons by Chang Ya-juo, a journalist and intellectual who died in mysterious circumstances not long after the boys’ birth.

Faina bore that hurt as she bore the many hurts of her life, with stoicism – and (you’ll be getting the idea by now) in silence.

She thus makes for a curious First Lady when compared to contemporaries, such as her starry, blue-blooded mother-in-law, Soong Mei-ling, and proto-feminist Eleanor Roosevelt. She appears to have been content with the role of loyal wife and mother to three sons and a daughter.

When her husband, as President of the Republic of China, decided to effectively disinherit his sons and usher in the democracy we see in Taiwan today, we do not learn whether she approved of his historic break with the totalitarianism they had both known all their adult lives. That may simply be because, well, she never spoke of it.

Faina has found the right biographer. O’Neill’s style is subdued and punctilious, avoiding any temptation to raise the emotional temperature or put thoughts into his subjects’ heads. He is a careful researcher and an even more careful writer, although a more careful editor may have cut a few repetitive passages here and there.

The book, and Faina’s life, ends with a series of tragic events that can only make the reader admire her stoicism all the more. The same goes for the Taiwanese, whose opinion O’Neill seeks in these final chapters. They have no love for Chiang Kai-shek, but his son and his nigh-invisible wife earn some respect, if not affection.

O’Neill ends with the words: “I hope the reader finds her story as moving and dramatic as I do”. This reader was moved, but I missed the sense of drama.

Q&A: Michael Sheridan, Author of ‘The Gate to China’

Michael Sheridan sheds some light on his latest book, The Gate to China, an epic history of the rise of the People’s Republic and the decline of Hong Kong. By Ed Peters

What first led you to China?
Michael Sheridan: I was working with The Independent’s star photographer in Italy when the news broke on 4 June, 1989. We flew to Hong Kong, saw the protests, then got into China. After that, the offer from The Sunday Times to report the 1997 Handover was irresistible. 


Was researching the Chinese aspects of Gate especially tricky?
MS: A lot of material in China from the 1970s is open to scholars. The archives in Guangdong contain speeches and official directives. People published accounts of reform and opening up, which is seen as a success story. 

Plus, all the key players on the Chinese side of the Handover wrote memoirs or shared oral histories. It’s all there – but it’s in Chinese. I was lucky to have excellent research help. So this is the first Western book to give both sides of the Handover story.


What were the most spectacular surprises?
MS: Finding two confidential letters in the papers of Sir Percy Cradock, the Sinologist, spymaster and foreign policy guru. One was to [British] Prime Minister John Major, accurately warning him what China would do in Hong Kong if Chris Patten pushed on with democracy. 

In the other, he admitted to breaking the security rules in his private dealings with the Chinese – an incredible confession that put an end to his influence. It was one of those moments historians dream of.

What lessons await for China watchers?
MS: Cradock wrote that the beginning of wisdom was the confession of ignorance, which is a good rule of thumb. Elite politics take place inside a black box. The basic technique is a rigorous examination of what the leaders say and what the official media reports. Of course that doesn’t help with power struggles and internal policy battles.


What hope is there for Hong Kong?
MS: It’s clear that planners see Hong Kong as a distinctive but integrated part of the Greater Bay Area. The infrastructure tells its own story. At the moment, I’d say Hong Kong’s unique assets in banking, finance and shipping are on its side. Politics apart, cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou are already moving ahead. 

Obituary: Dr. Werner Burger, the World’s Foremost Chinese Currency Expert

By Tim Huxley

World-respected numismatist Dr. Werner Burger, who died on 15 November at 85, was considered the preeminent expert on Qing dynasty currency. Born in 1936 in Bavaria, Werner discovered an interest in China during a school visit to a Chinese painting exhibition. 

Frustrated that no one on the field trip could read Chinese characters, he studied the language at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich before setting off for China via Cold War-era Czechoslovakia and Russia. He taught German at Fudan University in Shanghai, but the school closed in 1965 due to the Cultural Revolution. 

The authorities sent Werner to Suzhou to work as a sheep farmer. Unsurprisingly, the job did not satisfy his boundless intellectual curiosity, so he headed to Hong Kong, which became home for the rest of his life. Werner’s passion for Qing dynasty economic history evolved into a specialisation in numismatics. Having obtained the first and only PhD in Chinese numismatics from Munich University, Werner turned his focus to Qing currency and spent years searching for missing mint records. 

He also acquired coins from the era, which lasted from 1644 to 1912, rummaging around antique shops on frequent trips to China. Once, Werner collected 70 100-kilogramme bags of coins from a generous Hong Kong scrap metal dealer who had imported them from Indonesia, where Qing coins circulated until the 1940s.

Accompanied by his wife Lucy, who Werner met in Hong Kong in 1975, the expert assembled the world’s only complete collection of Qing currency, representing all 268 years of the dynasty. It took 16 years to finally gain access to the First Historical Archives in Beijing, where the missing mint records were discovered after workers demolished a wall during renovations. This remarkable find enabled Werner to complete his lengthy search and ultimately led to his seminal work, Ch’ing Cash, published in 2016 by the University Museum and Art Gallery of the University of Hong Kong. The widely acclaimed volume has been hailed as the most definitive work on the subject. 

From Werner Burger’s magisterial book, Ch’ing Cash.

While researching and collecting Qing monetary history, Werner realised that the dynasty mismanaged its currency. This caused an economic disaster, which he concluded, led to the dynasty’s collapse and the cession of Hong Kong to Britain.

In addition to his numismatic research, Werner supported his wife’s humanitarian projects across China, from providing access to higher education for children from impoverished rural areas to installing infrastructure and sanitation facilities in Huaiji and Meizhou.

Despite being crippled by arthritis, Werner spent his later years cataloguing his collection and studying in his library. His inquisitive mind remained as sharp as ever; he stayed abreast of current affairs and voiced his often forthright opinions. Werner, who regularly visited the FCC, shared his findings during an illuminating club talk and always seemed most content while enjoying a glass of wine with friends and his beloved Lucy.

Werner expressed frustration that no other universities in the world (even in Hong Kong, where Chinese numismatics played a role in the city’s development) teach the subject. It is unlikely that anyone will ever have such comprehensive knowledge of Chinese currency or so enthusiastically share their passion with the world. 

2022: Time to Write That Best-Seller

New year, new ambitions. For those who aspire to add ‘book author’ to their CV, Carla Thomas quizzes publishing maven Jo Lusby for insider tips. 

We all get a little more goal-oriented at the dawn of a new year. Maybe it’s that squeaky clean feeling of settled ledgers, a calendar yet to be filled with Zoom calls, or just internal pressure to aim higher. 

And if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to sit down and write a book, then this one’s for you. We’ve enlisted FCC member Jo Lusby, the co-founder of China-focused literary agency, Pixie B, to weigh in. As a publishing veteran and the former North Asia head of Penguin Random House, Lusby knows a good story pitch when she reads one. 

She’s worked with Nobel Laureate Mo Yan, and was the first to spot Man Asian Literary Prize winner Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem. She even brought the British children’s classic, Peppa Pig, to mainland China. 

Speaking to The Correspondent, Lusby shares the highs and lows of her career, explains how to sell a book idea, and what to expect if it gets the green light. 


What’s the typical journey from book idea to store shelves?
Jo Lusby: If someone thinks they have a book in them, the very first step is to sit down and write. There is no such thing as a guaranteed hit or a definitive “no” when it comes to ideas – it’s all in the writing and execution. 

The next step is for an author to find an agent. This involves a bit of networking and a lot of online searching. You can try checking the acknowledgements of books that cater to a similar topic or readership – authors often thank their agents there. Literary agents will develop the text and get the proposal in shape, then submit to editors they think would be best suited for the work. From there, it usually takes up to a year for the book to actually hit the shelves. 

For non-fiction books, publishers will commit on the basis of a full proposal, including a synopsis, a couple of sample chapters, and an introduction to the author and what they hope to achieve. Works of fiction should generally be finished before a publisher will consider them. 

Lusby moderating a panel at the 2021 Hong Kong International Literary Festival. (Photo: Photo: Daniel Ogren & Tolga Akmen / AFP)

What kinds of story ideas stand out?
JL: The proposals I find the most exciting tend to approach a known subject from an unusual perspective, or shine a light on an entirely unknown topic that feels relevant. 

An agent needs to be persuaded that the story will have enough to sustain a book-length narrative, and the writing needs to be unforced and flow naturally. Other than that, publishing is an industry based on few absolutes – it’s really just a sense that this fills a need among either readers or commissioning editors. 


How much can someone expect to make from their first book?
JL: Certainly not enough to quit your day job, and don’t expect the hourly rate to make sense, either! First book deals can be as little as US$3,000-US$5,000, depending on the publisher and topic. On the upper end, there’s really no limit – Barack and Michelle Obama were reportedly paid US$60 million for their first two books

It comes down to simple mathematics and a perception of competition. If a publisher believes that other publishers will also be chasing the work, then they will offer a higher amount – upwards of US$100,000 – to take it off the table, or there could even be an auction situation, where rival publishers bid against each other on the advances to secure the work.


For those struggling to find a publisher, when should they throw in the towel?
JL: There’s no definite answer for this one either, but I think you should keep the faith as long as you and your agent still believe in the work. If you get to the point where you’re knocking on the same doors, however, then it might be time to give up.


What about self-publishing?
JL: Self-publishing is a good route for authors who have a ready-made audience – a lot of business book writers, for example, will offer books as part of their speaking circuit or training courses. An author will normally take a higher percentage of the book’s earnings with self-publishing – up to 50 percent instead of 10-15 percent on print, and 25 percent on eBook or audio – but it’s often a larger percentage of a smaller number. 

Be prepared to work very hard if you choose to self-publish. Independent bookshops will support local authors and are willing to take copies, but successfully selling self-published books outside of your immediate community is very difficult. Gaining visibility on major online retailers like Amazon requires a lot of time, energy and specialist skills. 

Mo Yan Mo Yan, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in literature, has been described as ‘China’s answer to Kafka’. (Photo: Bengt Nyman)

What kinds of services and support can you expect working with a publisher?
JL: From editing the manuscript to jacket design, marketing and PR, author tours, and sales and distribution, you should receive a full range of services. Different books will receive different levels of support from companies, but the starting point for getting good service from a publisher is making sure the editor who acquired it is excited. 

They are the person who has to sell the book internally to all their colleagues to make sure the sales people are excited to sell, the designer gives it a great jacket, and the marketing team brings their inspiration (and budgets!) to the launch. 


Can you tell us about a manuscript that really missed the mark for you?
JL: Many years ago, I received a manuscript for a children’s book from a Chinese publisher. They added that the translation into English would be done very quickly and at no cost… because the translator was a US-educated individual who was currently in prison (with plenty of free time on their hands!) and unable to accept money for work. I declined and never heard anything further. 


Which book are you particularly proud to have published?
JL: The first book I acquired for Penguin was Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong, in 2005 [a semi-autobiographical novel about a student from Beijing sent to Mongolia at the height of the Cultural Revolution]. I had just set up the company’s first office in China, and I bought the book one month later. 

It went on to win the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize, and for a while was the highest-selling work of fiction in translation from China. It was a really exciting journey, not only because it was the first book I published, but also because it was showcasing a personal story and perspective that at the time felt very fresh to a Western readership. 


How has publishing in Hong Kong changed under the new political landscape?
JL: The entire publishing industry in Hong Kong has become much more conservative in terms of the authors they will work with and the books that will be published and sold. There are stories of publishers having books line-edited before they can be printed and bookshops selling potentially sensitive titles under the counter, if at all. Whether that’s just self-censorship by publishers or the printers themselves, nobody knows at this stage. 


Can you explain Peppa Pig’s 2018 run-in with the Chinese censors?
JL: Peppa Pig became a meme in China, with people creating spoof artwork of the character as a “gangsta”. This part of the IP [intellectual property] was banned – the memes – while the book publishing and TV broadcast continued uninterrupted. 

We actually sold more copies, because parents were panic-buying for their Peppa-addicted children in case they were pulled from the shelves. 

“Peppa Pig” was also briefly blocked as a search term online, but we saw a benefit to that, too; online retailers placed the product on their homepages so that shoppers didn’t have to search for it. 

In the lobby, find a wide array of books by FCC members on the club’s bookshelf. (Photo: Lakshmi Harilela)

What’s your best advice to anyone who wants to write a book?
JL: Just do it, and write as though nobody is reading. You can edit, cut, rework or entirely abandon the work, but the biggest challenge is getting what is in your mind down on paper. 

Take your time with it, too. People often share work with publishers too early, before it’s been properly crafted, edited or fully thought through. Get feedback from trusted friends before you show anyone you’re hoping to work with.


Best in the Business

J.K Rowling British author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling. (Photo: Tolga Akmen / AFP)

What makes a best-selling book? Even JK Rowling (above), whose tomes (estimated: more than 500 million copies sold) have spawned movies, franchises and theme parks, might be pressed to answer. Perseverance helps, as the former jobless café scribbler would attest; and being lucky enough to hit on a formula that segues with current appetites. 

But – no surprises here – don’t underestimate public taste. How else to explain Jeffrey Archer’s schlockbuster Kane and Abel (33 million) coming close to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (35 million), or EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (15 million) trumping Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (13 million)? 


Not Quite As Easy as ABC

Three FCC stalwarts supply some hints on turning a manuscript into a masterpiece.

Mike Chinoy: “My biggest challenge writing China Live: People Power and the Television Revolution (Rowman & Littlefield: 1999) was finding my voice. I was lucky to have a good editor who told me ‘the reader wants to know not only what happened, but what you thought and felt about it – your private opinions and emotions.’ So I had to learn to set aside my journalistic objectivity, which I had spent long years honing.”

Johan Nylander: “I wish I had known when I was starting out how easy and fun it is to self-publish. I’ve written three books, and I published the last two – Shenzhen Superstars (2017) and The Epic Split (2020), both about China – myself. They sold much better than the first, although it was published by one of Scandinavia’s leading publishing houses.”

Vaudine England: “My latest book, Fortune’s Bazaar – The Making of Hong Kong, will be published by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in the US, and Corsair/Little Brown in the UK next summer [2022]. Two things are key to getting published: one is to have an important story to tell; the second is to have good friends who, in my case, asked their agent to recommend who I should contact to secure my agent. It worked!” 



Carla Thomas

Carla Thomas is a Canadian journalist. She is currently the editor of Liv magazine, Hong Kong’s health and wellness publication, and a freelance writer in her spare time. Her work has appeared in the SCMP, The Washington Post, Forbes, Time Out Hong Kong, and elsewhere.

Share Your Favourite FCC Memories With Us

Get ready for a very special issue of The Correspondent to mark the club’s 40th anniversary on Lower Albert Road – and we’re hoping that members will take part. Did you hear an inspirational speaker at the club? Find a mentor? Make lifelong friendships? Share your favourite memories with us!

We plan to feature the most colourful anecdotes in this commemorative issue. Share your memories ([email protected]) by 31 January for a chance to be included.

Capturing the Black Lives Matter Movement in Black and White

Ed Peters peers through the lens of FCC absent member Robert Gerhardt, who has been documenting the social justice movement for the past seven years. 

New Yorker Robert Gerhardt’s photographs have been published around the world, as has his writing on press freedom and human rights. But for the past seven years his work’s particular leitmotif has been the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. 

Black Lives Matter One of Eric Garner’s relatives shouts at police in Staten Island on 17 July 2019, the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death.

BLM sprang up in July 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot dead Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teen in Florida. Gerhardt picked up the story the following year, after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in similar circumstances. Since then, Gerhardt has been concentrating on photographing demonstrations on his home turf with manual Nikon F cameras and Ilford HP5 film – a piquant rarity in the age of digital dominance. Dubbed “Mic Check” after the protestors’ rallying cry, his project represents a significant body of work. 

Black Lives Matter Protestors assemble in Columbus Circle, 28 March, 2018.

“Some protests were wall-to-wall people, sometimes it would be just a few dozen,” says Gerhardt. “Sometimes I was the only photographer there. And sometimes it was every news outlet with every camera they could get their hands on. But it always kept moving.”

Black Lives Matter Protestors march past the New York Public Library on 42nd Street on 18 April, 2016.

For a long time, the fact that the protests were going on around the country and nothing was changing weighed on people, he says. “They, and myself, found it hard to fathom how police officers were not held accountable when the evidence seemed so stacked against them.” 

Black Lives Matter Demonstrators confront police officers on the fifth anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Times Square on 9 August, 2019.

“But it was this same outrage – that the killings kept happening and that no matter how many protests took place very little changed as a result – that seemed to drive people into the streets to protest time and time again.”

Black Lives Matter A Black Lives Matter protest on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem on 20 March, 2017.

Despite having taken thousands of images at BLM protests, one in particular sticks in Gerhardt’s mind. It’s not simply the lighting and composition that make it remarkable, it’s also because one of the subjects is holding up a sign that reads: “We Will Not Be Silent”.

Black Lives Matter BLM protestors urge police to ‘Stop Killing Our Children’ in Crown Heights on 19 June, 2020.

“I shot it in Union Square in November 2014. The sentiment on that sign has never left the BLM movement, which continues to be driven by anger and frustration,” he explains.

Black Lives Matter Police trying to keep protestors from leaving Union Square Park Area, New York City on 13 August, 2017.

Gerhardt’s photographs have met with near universal acclaim, but as one very well-known American once pointed out, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

“Feisty is one way to put some Far Right reactions,” he says. “But I do seem to have been spared the worst of the really horrible things that have been said online about other journalists. So far, anyway.” 

Rob Gerhardt Rob Gerhardt is an absent FCC member and a freelance photographer based in New York.
We measure site performance with cookies to improve performance.