Carl Crow—A Tough Old China Hand

The Life, Times, and Adventures of an American in Shanghai


Paul French

ISBN : 978-962-209-802-2


October 2006

324 pages, 6″ x 9″, 37 b&w illus.

  • HK$250.00

Carl Crow arrived in Shanghai in 1911 and made the city his home for the next quarter of a century, working there as a journalist, newspaper proprietor, and groundbreaking adman. He also did stints as a hostage negotiator, emergency police sergeant, gentleman farmer, go-between for the American government, and propagandist. As his career progressed, so did the fortunes of Shanghai. The city transformed itself from a dull colonial backwater when Crow arrived, to the thriving and ruthless cosmopolitan metropolis of the 1930s when Crow wrote his pioneering book—400 Million Customers—that encouraged a flood of businesses into the China market in an intriguing foreshadowing of today’s boom.

Among Crow’s exploits were attending the negotiations in Peking that led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty, getting a scoop on Japanese interference in China during the First World War, negotiating the release of a group of Western hostages from a mountain bandit lair, and being one of the first Westerners to journey up the Burma Road during the Second World War. He met most of the major figures of the time, including Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, the Soong sisters, and Mao’s second-in-command Zhou En-lai. During the Second World War, he worked for American intelligence alongside Owen Lattimore, coordinating US policies to support China against Japan.

The story of this one exceptional man gives us a rich view of Shanghai and China during those tempestuous years. This is a book for all with an interest in Shanghai and China of this period, and those with an interest in the development of journalism and business there.

Paul French has lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. He is a widely published analyst, journalist and commentator on China and foreign business in the country. This is his third book. His first was One Billion Shoppers—Accessing Asia’s Consuming Passions After the Meltdown written with Matthew Crabbe and inspired by Carl Crow’s similarly titled book. Recently, Paul French has written the well-received North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula—A Modern History.

“With the latest gang of get-rich-quick hucksters, hustlers and fools still washing up thick on the muddy banks of Shanghai, there could be no better timing for this lively, anecdote-rich account of the life of Carl Crow, who saw the whole thing unfold the last go round. His wry take on the desperate quest for profit in the world’s most populous nation is as relevant today as ever.” —Peter S. Goodman, Asian Economic Correspondent/Shanghai Bureau Chief, The Washington Post

“Carl Crow’s story of rags to riches to rags again set against the turbulent history of Shanghai makes for a gripping read. As a newshound, businessman, writer and entrepreneur, Crow’s insights into China’s modernization—and Western fantasies about the China market—are as fresh and illuminating as they were at the time. This is much more than a biography but brings together the whole story of Shanghai’s rise and fall. The book is full of vivid details and amusing and sometimes sad stories which anyone interested in Shanghai’s future and its past will enjoy.” —Jasper Becker, author of The Chinese and Hungry Ghosts

“Shanghai resident Paul French has written a lively, exhaustive narrative account of the life and times of entrepreneur and Shanghai businessman Carl Crow. An absorbing story about a pioneering figure in transnational commercial capitalism during the first half of the twentieth century.” —Tani E. Barlow, Professor of History, University of Washington