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Rhapsody in Bert’s

Bert’s has hosted many a diverse gathering over the years, but one Saturday last November it was the venue for the first time for two training courses about mental health, led by the charity Mind Hong Kong, write Kuma Chow and Olivia Parker.

A survey by The Correspondent (see the October 2022 issue) found that journalists in Hong Kong are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD at significantly higher levels than the rest of the population. Members of the profession made up a large part of the 30-strong audience at these engaging sessions, with some of the personal stories highlighting just how prominent mental health issues are in many people’s lives.

“This is not just an occasional occurrence,” said Dr Hannah Sugarman, a clinical psychologist and a lead clinical advisor for Mind Hong Kong, who ran the English- language session.

It’s completely normal to hover at the “struggling” end of the mental health spectrum for short periods of time, she explained. “Having negative emotions makes you human, not defective.”

Common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, however, are distinguishable from occasional low moods or jitters by the length and severity of symptoms. If you feel that you can’t get on with your life in the way you want to because of these symptoms, that’s when it’s worth seeking help, she said.

Henry Chan, training manager at Mind Hong Kong, who led the Cantonese-language session, said the long working hours and emphasis on perfectionism in some Asian cultures have contributed to stress levels among Hong Kong’s population. He suggested we try to get more in tune with the different stressors in our lives, which could have a combination of biological, social and psychological roots, and keep an eye on whether our chosen coping strategies are releasing stress or creating new problems.

Getting professional help is not always straightforward in Hong Kong, where shortages of public sector psychiatrists can mean waiting up to 94 weeks to get help. (The wait times for urgent cases are much shorter, Dr Sugarman noted.) Adding to the problem is a lack of awareness about mental health conditions and support, including among GPs, and the fact that mental health support is rarely covered by insurance policies. Other barriers are caused by language; and stigma about mental health conditions, which is still heavily felt in Hong Kong.

Help is available, however, said Dr Sugarman. Mind Hong Kong’s community directory, which lists more than 60 free to low-cost services provided by NGOs in Hong Kong, is a good place to start. And even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, staying connected with anyone who you suspect might be struggling could help their mental health in very significant ways.

Mind Hong Kong’s training courses:

The Build Your Own Burger Challenge

Knife and fork poised, and drooling only ever so slightly, Adam White kicks off a new regular food review, perusing the FCC’s most existentially draining, life-affirming menu item.

There is a certain genre of food that demands a little more from the consumer than the average meal. A bit of buy-in, some of the sweat from their brow. Before you eat, you will work for your meal. 

Exhibit A is cook-it-yourself cuisine: meals in which the ingredients are brought to you in some degree of disarray, and it is for some reason your job to carry out the alchemy required to transform them all into something delicious. Prime examples are fondue, hot pot, yakiniku, Korean barbecue. In each there is a single difference between, say, tender tofu and disintegrating mush. Between perfectly tender wagyu beef and an expensive piece of charcoal. That difference is you.

Many go out to eat to avoid these troubles. You order beef in a restaurant and expect, reasonably, to be served a well-cooked steak, not a well-done one. You are happy to have left the cooking to the professionals. But when I’m searing short ribs at a Korean barbecue joint, or dunking bone marrow into a hotpot broth for just long enough – for a shining bite-sized moment, I can pretend I’m a professional too. The difference is me.

There is, of course, the other form of food which demands a little more work. Exhibit B: the build-it-yourself meal. In which you are presented with a galaxy of options, and asked to choose wisely. The hotel buffet, the Pizza Hut salad bar of Hong Kong legend, the cart noodle stand. It’s dealer’s choice: now craft something delicious. This is perhaps much harder than the cook-it-yourself meal. Dunking balls at a hotpot – that’s easy. Choosing the flavours which merge into something greater: well, that takes a little more skill.

Enter, then, the FCC’s Build Your Own Burger: a HK$148 checkboxed crash course in the tyranny of choice.

You are handed the menu and a pen, and you make your selection from the ground up. Choose one of four bases – sesame or brioche bun, ciabatta or English muffin. Choose your patty, one of seven: ranging from wagyu beef (an extra HK$30) to chicken burger, soft-shell crab to the vegan Beyond patty. Choose your potato iteration of choice: chunky steak fries, skinny French fries or potato wedges. (Get the potato wedges: they’re excellent.)

And now the options open up like a burger van hitting an open highway. Pick from one, two, three or more of 12 toppings – onion marmalade to applewood smoked bacon, Emmenthal to gherkins, a fried egg to half an avocado. Any of four condiments to sit on the side. Or, perhaps all of the above. Who’s to stop you but yourself?

We order three burgers, trying to make the wisest choices we can.

1) A fairly straightforward bacon cheeseburger. Onion marmalade, Emmental, lettuce, tomato, gherkins, on a sesame bun. The McDonald’s glow-up. The burger is very good, medium-rare as it should be (there’s no guarantee of that in this town). Enough char for flavour, pink enough to stay tender. The cheese needs to be more melted. A stiff square sitting on a toasted bun is a sad thing to behold.

2) Teriyaki Philly steak slices on ciabatta with red cheddar, jalapeño. Bafflingly, the steak arrives in a small bowl, with the ciabatta containing everything else beside it. The reason is soon clear: the teriyaki sauce is plentiful. Constructing and eating this burger is a sloppy affair, though the sauce is excellent with the fries.

3) Falafel in a brioche, with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and half an avocado. Peri peri sauce for a bit of zing. The falafel patty is large, dense and well-cooked though it’s a struggle to see it through to the end. This might have been because we ordered three burgers for two people. The peri peri sauce tastes like a black bean sauce from a cha chaan teng, which is confusing.

The service is, as ever, impeccable. Michael, Andrew and Allan swing by with plentiful drinks (HK$50 draft beer when you order the burger menu). I mull the results of my choices, sitting before me on mostly empty plates.

I’ve done the maths because it seemed like an amusing thing to do. Do take my word for it when I say that there are eleven million, ten thousand and forty-eight possible unique combinations to order on the FCC’s Build Your Own Burger menu.

I think I’ve chosen fairly well, on the whole. But the question becomes: how many of these 11,010,048 choices would have been a disaster? Most of us can get on board with a bacon cheeseburger. But does Cajun soft shell crab topped with jalapeños and mustard engender quite the same enthusiasm?

In terms of sheer numbers, what’s the difference between the two? Nothing. It’s just another possible combination in a list of 11 million and more. The only difference was me.

We make more than 11,010,048 choices in a lifetime, and not every one of them can be a success. For every bacon and cheese, there’s chalk and cheese out there instead. Ordering a burger is just another choice. An opportunity to maybe get it wrong.

Yet we learn from our mistakes: if you order a burger poorly, then you have learned, and you have grown. You have learned that your choices in life lie open before you like a burger menu, 11 million and many more. You learn to lick your wounds and the grease from your fingers, and to choose better the next time. That’s why you owe it to yourself to try the Build Your Own Burger Menu. You need to discover that the difference is you. n

Build Your Own Burger throughout the club from 4-31 July.

Adam White

Hong Kong born and raised, Adam White is group editor at Cedar Communications, where he is in charge of content for Cathay. He is a former FCC board member of slightly too many years’ standing and previously worked at the SCMP’s Inkstone and ran city-living bible HK Magazine.

Adam White Credit: Mike Pickles



Robin Lynam died before he could complete his final assignment, which was slated to be the cover story for the April issue of The Correspondent

Here, we publish his affectionate, witty, erudite musings on our club, which was more or less his second home.

Forty years on Ice House Street, given the FCC’s prior history of rather shorter tenancies, is quite a landmark. Even the celebrated years in our last home in Sutherland House numbered just 15, from 1968 until 1982, when the club formally re-opened in the current well-loved – and, let it be said, well cared-for – heritage building. 

Of course, some of the heritage value of the North Block of the Old Dairy Farm Building derives from it being one of the few structures in Hong Kong of any antiquity yet to be demolished. 

Quite a lot, though, has to do with what its walls have witnessed over the past four decades. The FCC has played a crucial role in the reporting of a historic era for both Hong Kong and mainland China. 

I can’t quite claim to have been there from the beginning of that time. I was an occasional guest from not long after the opening until leaving Hong Kong for a while in 1987, finally signing up for membership in 1990. Still UK-based at that time, I had been making the most extensive use of visiting journalists’ privileges until then president Paul Bayfield pointed out that since I seemed to be using the Main Bar as a living room, I really ought to start paying some dues, and handed me a form. 

I can vividly remember my introduction to the Main Bar in 1982. The late Richard Hughes was still holding court at the Club Table, and I immediately loved that original solid timber bar in a way I have never quite warmed to the cracked veneer of its successor. For a lowly paid Hong Kong newcomer, however, this was clearly unaffordable, and for my first stint here I settled for the rather humbler Press Club in Wanchai, where quite a few FCC members also liked to slum it. 

Members of the press covering Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous visit to Beijing and Hong Kong in 1982 flocked to the FCC, and it remained the meeting place for those covering the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. 

It was also a vital base for those covering the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, their suppression and the Hong Kong response. Steve Knipp’s photograph of the crowds on one side of the Hong Kong Football Club’s wall and the members sunning themselves on the other remains one of the most telling images of those sadly unforgettable days. It can still be seen on the pillar at the eastern end of the bar. 

The club has always made a point of being well equipped with the hardware of news delivery, but throughout the 1980s and during the early 1990s it looked rather different to the technology we have today.

In the Main Bar, by the noticeboard where the computer monitors now stand, lurked a rank of teleprinters; and the basement, which then as now accommodated a workroom, was home to a broadcast telephone booth. 

In those days the club had many more regular telephones and they were actually used for making calls rather than just standing next to while taking or making one with a mobile. Members were paged frequently – in some cases, it was suspected, by prior arrangement with their offices, to make them look busy.

A popular leisure facility in the basement during the 1980s also seen off by technological progress was the videotape lending library. 

Of course, the big Hong Kong story for the 1990s was the run-up to the Handover, and the FCC was at the heart of things. For most of June 1997 the Main Bar was packed every night with the world’s highest profile foreign correspondents – and quite a few other famous faces besides.

Satirist PJ O’Rourke, who died earlier this year, was a ubiquitous presence, graciously signing books, addressing a club lunch and generally hanging out.

On one evening, former president Steven Vines was to be seen seated at the bar explaining to an apparently uncomprehending Jeremy Irons what a foreign correspondent’s job involved. Irons was taking the lead role in Chinese Box, a Wayne Wang film that naturally included scenes shot in the Main Bar.

On the actual night of the Handover, for those unable to stand in the rain outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, there’s not much doubt that the FCC’s Handover party was the place to be.

The late 1990s saw the beginning of the most radical refurbishment job on the premises since the original North Block was converted for club use in 1982.

The first phases, instituted under president Hans Vriens, were relatively uncontroversial, although not everybody liked the reconfiguration of the Dining Room. But it was generally agreed that the club’s upper and basement levels were looking tired and needed some attention, and Bert’s jazz bar and the new workroom quickly became popular and well used facilities.

Under musical director Allen Youngblood, Bert’s has also made a notable contribution to the cultural life of Hong Kong, providing work and an opportunity to play original music for just about all the city’s noteworthy jazz musicians and quite a few artists in other genres. 

On a slight tangent, the regularly changing photographic exhibitions on the Van Es Wall of the Main Bar can be viewed by members of the public, during designated hours, and under normal circumstances attract a healthy and curious crowd of art lovers – a few of whom are probably as curious about the famous bar itself as about the images on show.

The radical renovation of the Main Bar in the early 00s was the last of the major refurbishments – and not surprisingly the most controversial. Under president Thomas Crampton, refurbishment zeal was running at a high pitch, while more conservatively minded members felt equally strongly that the original design had nothing wrong with it and would have much preferred work restricted to such structural repairs as were necessary. 

There were confrontations. I was out of town and missed most of them – coincidentally, on the day the wreckers moved in, I was having lunch in Paris with two ex-presidents, Keith Richburg and John Giannini. I’m not sorry I missed the unpleasantness.

I can’t honestly say I have anything like the affection for the new bar that I had for the old, but it still seems to impress visitors, and I’ve never introduced anybody to it who didn’t like it. Chacun à son goût.

Of all the services the FCC supplies to the community, perhaps the most vaunted is our speaker programme, which over the years has featured an extraordinary range of extraordinary people…

[The text ends here, although the rough notes below include the following anonymous quote, which the author may well have intended to use in his final paragraph: “The presence of the FCC and individual correspondents among us adds to the cosmopolitan character of Hong Kong, and enriches the quality of our mass media.”]

Introducing the FCC’s New Members: April 2022

A retired prison superintendent who’s taken up cooking; the former pilot who’s turned to counselling; the veteran man-at-arms; plus 16 others who make up the rich tapestry of FCC membership.


I am vice president, trade lane, for Toll Global Forwarding Asia, which is part of the Japan Post. I have been living in Hong Kong for more than three-and-a-half years and have enjoyed my time here. Prior to moving to Asia, I lived in Los Angeles, California, for many years. My interests range from travel, hiking, biking and scuba diving to reading books. I have two adult sons who currently reside in the USA.




I was born and raised in Italy, where I studied law at university. I moved to Hong Kong eight years ago and consider it my home. I have been working at the law firm de Bedin & Lee since I moved here.





I was behind bars for over 30 years – as the head of Hong Kong’s major prisons – including Stanley, Lai Chi Kok and Siu Lam. Early retirement from this role granted time to pursue my interests, like volunteering, travelling and photography. My new hobby of cooking also gives me a great sense of achievement. My work taught me about security management and dealing with people from all walks of life, and I am currently the director of communications of an international federation that works against copyright theft. Having been away from life behind bars for years now, I look forward to being inside bars again – this time at the FCC.



I am an educator. My interest is in education, education policy formulation and administration, organising functions and education conferences. Now in retirement, I still hold the roles of vice president of the UNESCO Hong Kong Association; school manager at the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Group Lee Shau Kee College; and member of the fundraising committee at St Stephen’s Girls’ College. Until my retirement, I worked in the education sector. I was vice-principal and acting principal at St Stephen’s Girls’ College, then became the education services secretary of Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. In the 1980s, I was invited by the government to become a member of the Education Commission. My hobbies are photography, music, reading and writing.



I am of Irish heritage and was born in the UK. I moved to Hong Kong in 1998. I have also lived and worked in Brunei, Indonesia and Australia. After 32 years on the corporate side of the insurance industry, I retired and set up my own small company for angel investing, consultancy, board advisory and independent non-executive director services. Hong Kong is my home – I love its diversity and energy. Food and wine are a passion, history a life-long interest and digital a learning curve – plus I’m a supporter of my hometown football club, Aston Villa.



I have served in the United States military for more than 17 years, performing long tours in Iraq and Korea, and have travelled and lived in many parts of east Asia, including a year in Taiwan. I hold a master’s degree in Chinese studies and speak both Mandarin and Korean. My wife, Jessica, and our five children have joined me in Hong Kong, where I am the Army Liaison Officer at the US Consulate. My hobbies include skiing, hiking, mountain biking and motorcycle riding.



I am a Eurasian who was born in Hong Kong and am fluent in Cantonese. Sentenced to boarding school in Tasmania at the age of nine, I also went to university there. I became a solicitor in 2009 and practiced law in Melbourne. I was paroled back to Hong Kong in 2016 and am still a solicitor, specialising in commercial litigation. I am a lover of all sports, especially cricket, having proudly represented Hong Kong. But as time has gone on, my bowling averages have gone up and my batting averages down.



I have been in Hong Kong for about four years, mostly with the South China Morning Post as a digital producer and news editor. Now, I work at Haymarket, leading the AsianInvestor editorial team as their managing editor. In my 10-year career, I’ve been tasked with helping editorial teams adapt to a digital-first world, by integrating data analytics into news flows and introducing digital best practices to news teams. I also work to improve gender representation in workplaces. In 2018, I led the winning team at the SCMP hackathon with a strategy to improve the representation of women in our coverage. The idea was adapted into the project known as Lunar Today.



Starting work in Hong Kong on 8 August 1988 proved to be auspicious. I joined Cathay Pacific as a pilot after working at the now-defunct British Caledonian, and British Airways. It was an adventure in those days. I was a pilot for 47 years and recently retired. Over 20 years ago, I began an interest in mentoring, counselling and supporting those who may find their particular circumstances challenging. I obtained several qualifications and a Master’s in counselling at Monash University. With a desire to improve the standards and support of the counselling community, I formed the counselling practice Perspection, with a team of eight counsellors.



I arrived in Hong Kong in August 2021 to cover Asian equity capital markets for Bloomberg News. Many asked me why, as a journalist, I would move to the city at a time when many are deciding to leave. My answer: I want to see a place in transition with my own eyes, and report on it. My journalistic carrier started in my hometown of São Paulo, Brazil, 15 years ago. From there I relocated to Dubai for five years to cover emerging markets within Europe, Middle East and Africa. I’m hoping Hong Kong will soon allow normal travel again – I am ready to explore the region. In the meantime, I’m trying to discover hikes, distant beaches and quiet neighbourhoods across the territory.


I started my career as an auditor, became a portfolio manager, and moved on to sales before taking on a role heading up public policy for Asia-Pacific at BlackRock. As my job exposes me to a lot of policy debate, I am particularly interested in the talks hosted by the FCC. I lived in Australia for eight years before returning to Hong Kong in the 1990s. I love music and travelling, but the COVID-19 lockdowns in the last two years have driven me to explore many Hong Kong neighbourhoods that I had never visited before.



I came to Hong Kong from London in 2007 for a three-week secondment that was continually extended over a six-month period. Fifteen years later, I find myself still here, with the only regret of having not visited Asia sooner. The food, city lights, clash of cultures and lure of the hills and water in such close proximity have made it an easy decision to stay, along with the odd beer and glass of wine. I work as finance director for a small financial services firm. I am happiest on the trails or a bike – being an avid runner and cyclist.



I arrived in Hong Kong in late February 2021, leaving my wife and four adult children behind in the Netherlands, to helm the Hong Kong Maritime Museum at Pier 8 in Central. Previously, I held curatorial and managerial positions at the Kendall Whaling Museum in the US, the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the Vancouver Maritime Museum in Canada, combined with professorial positions at universities. The FCC is a great club, where three important Cs – congeniality, creativity, critical thinking – fuse. I like sports, hiking, reading and going to the movies.



I am the CEO of Joint Dynamics and a physiotherapist. I’ve worked in Africa and North America with many different patients and have also set up a women’s soap-making cooperative in South Africa. Joint Dynamics has grown from a team of four in 2013 to a firm with more than 50 healthcare professionals today, and I remain committed to serving Hong Kong and its community. I have special interests in back and neck injuries, especially chronic pain. I am currently retraining in all things related to mens’ health. Even at 57, I remain a keen video gamer, soap maker and power-lifter. I’m considering starting a new hobby as a silversmith.



I am a building services contractor. In my spare time, I like to read and write. I recently finished writing a memoir in Chinese about my teenage years spent in Vancouver, Canada. It brings me much joy to finish a piece of good writing. I also have a great passion for golf. My heroes in the sport are Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – the legendary Big Three of golf – and Tiger Woods, who has electrified the game tremendously.




I arrived in 1989 on a one-way ticket to attend the Chinese University of Hong Kong for my final year at university. After graduation, I quickly found a job in the manufacturing world and have been in the industry ever since. I started Tamco Holdings in 2004 but have embarked on many other ventures along the way, like writing The Hong Kong and Macau Taxi Guide and consulting with groups who needed my network on projects while still running my core business. My passion is to help women entrepreneurs understand what is needed to scale and exit their businesses. With the help of others, I co-founded The Women Entrepreneurs Network, which focuses on these issues.


I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I swam competitively as a kid and took weekly horse-riding lessons. In 2006, I continued my love for the outdoors and sports in Sydney, Australia, where I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in commerce. My life has transformed significantly in the past seven years. I was a risk analyst at Citibank before pursuing an EMBA from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. With over 10 years’ experience in technology and business operations, I am passionate about bridging the gap between technological leapfrogging and traditional business practices. In 2020, I co-founded a digital media agency here in Hong Kong. Outside of work, I am a part-time fitness instructor at Pure Fitness where I teach indoor cycling and TRX.



I was born and raised in Hong Kong and have been a fixed income fund manager for over 15 years. I care about my home city as well as my alma mater, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I have been active in alumni affairs there since 2009 and was elected the chairperson of the CUHK Convocation in 2021. I believe our community interest can be best served by permitting free expression of views and academic freedom.




I have been working in banking and asset management fields for more than 30 years, though I am not a money-minded person – I am just making a living. Over the past 10 years, I have tried very hard to find my real passion. Luckily, I found it in sustainability, which is the theme of the second chapter of my life. I studied for a degree in the field and set up an NGO. Lifelong learning is my philosophy – the fire of curiosity still burns in my heart. I am blessed to have a supportive wife and two lovely daughters.



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. 

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