Memoir or Is It? Then there are fuzzier facts, like his claim that he had affairs with both Oscar Wilde and the Empress Dowager Cixi. At the peak of his career, Backhouse was a respected expert in the field of Orientalism. He worked for The Times of London as a researcher and translator, and his books on China were best sellers.
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Memoir or Is It? Then there are fuzzier facts, like his claim that he had affairs with both Oscar Wilde and the Empress Dowager Cixi. At the peak of his career, Backhouse was a respected expert in the field of Orientalism. He worked for The Times of London as a researcher and translator, and his books on China were best sellers. Two works he wrote with the British journalist J. But some of his sources and claims have since been proved fraudulent he was roundly criticized after it was discovered that a diary he quoted turned out be a forgery , and historians are divided on the significance of his contribution to Western understanding of Chinese life — and whether it is significant at all.
Next week, two Hong Kong companies will release English and Chinese versions of a previously unpublished manuscript by Backhouse that purports to be a memoir.
Set largely from to , the book starts in the ironically named House of Chaste Pleasures, where princes and other high-ranked officials buy the services of young men. The memoir will primarily be distributed in Hong Kong, with a limited number of copies also available in the United States and Europe, but not widely in mainland China. Beijing has not explicitly banned the book, but the publishers are reluctant to do battle with censors.
Bao Pu, the head of New Century Press, which is publishing the Chinese translation, said there had been an attempt to contact mainland publishers.
According to Backhouse, he met the aging empress after he helped restore looted works to her palace. He was then called in for a private audience, during which the empress complained about the barbaric behaviors of foreign diplomats. While there is documentation linking Backhouse to political life in Beijing, it is not known whether he actually returned treasure or had this conversation. His Swiss physician, Reinhard Hoeppli, commissioned the memoir, but then never published it.
The manuscript was eventually passed to the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who also chose not to publish. Image Sir Edmund Backhouse from by S. Bao of New Century Press said. The second is because of the greasy paragraphs about sex. In the first paragraph, Backhouse manages to drop in Shakespeare, Wilde and Verlaine. The famously multilingual author uses a mish-mash of French, Latin and Chinese, rendering a few parts hard to read, even if one has a background in those languages.
As for its historical merit, even the new publishers admit that the book may not be entirely true. Instead, they say, its value comes in its details of that era. Sandhaus said. Bao added. Sandhaus admitted. When he was writing, there was little information about China available in the West. Backhouse, who was fluent in Mandarin, Manchurian, Mongolian and Japanese, had a certain amount of clout — and it was almost impossible for his readers to verify his claims.
Backhouse knew full well European stereotypes of China — as an exotic, and erotic, fantasy world of empresses and opium smoke — and he gave his readers exactly what they wanted. Hinsch said.
Memoir (or Is It?) of Sex and Opium
Early life[ edit ] Backhouse was born into a Quaker family in Darlington ; his relatives included many churchmen and scholars. In , he inherited the family baronetcy from his father, Sir Jonathan Backhouse, 1st Baronet , a director of Barclays Bank. I heard not a kind word nor received a grudging dole of sympathy While at Oxford he suffered a nervous breakdown in , and although he returned to the university in , he never completed his degree, instead fleeing the country due to the massive debts he had accumulated. Backhouse fed Morrison what he said was insider information about the Manchu court, but there is no evidence of him having any significant ties with anyone of prominence.