The Bund, Shanghai.
Saturday 18 January, 1936.
Under the tower clock and telephone wires Jacintha watched the ships come and go. Sweat trickled on her neck. Maurice borrowed a trolley from the Cathay to move the boxes. Jiahao, who had not left with Willem and Adeline, pushed it along the Bund. Left onto Nanking Road, left again: away from the Bird Market and Great World amusement centre. He swerved the cart from criss-crossing trams and rampaging rickshaws. They waited for the bus outside Park Hotel. All human life was in this city. Indian policemen watched mah-jong players for ivory gambling. Vietnamese in straw pointed hats spoke with French dealers of silk and cotton. An Italian merchant sat high behind household goods, his radio blaring Rudolf Hess’s speech. There were so many stations to choose from and the city seemed to sound them all. In minutes, the Thomas Cook motor bus arrived and they heaved the trolley on board. The ride quickly passed Jing’An Temple. It went far out to Avenue Joffre and further, through the Badlands. The driver stopped for them on Yu Yuen Road: hamburger and corn beef smells from the Hungaria. The restaurant’s aged proprietor, Stella Szirmay, stood at the entrance in a low cut top, greeting ugly Dr. Miorini and his spouse, Ruby Edwards. Jacintha led the monks on into the Book Mart next door. It was a shop full of new age literature and nazi tracts. The ‘Countess’ thumbed the League of Truth books and prepared their receipt. While Jacintha waited, she made the decision to return home to Singapore.
Chaokung glanced to the upper floors of the Glen Line Building: the German embassy. Only twice since Lincoln M.P.’s appendix was removed did the pain hit: on learning of Stephani’s assassination plot, and when incarcerated in Vienna. Quickly, he looked back to the twenty-five miles of wharf. Back to smoke-stacks of bobbing steamers on the Whangpoo’s brown-blue water. The pain subsided, was soon forgotten as he and Margot walked the harbour. Each day he took a different acolyte and they’d look over the boats for sale. It was six months since Hertha’s suicide. His plan was to take them for a leisurely getaway to Madeira Island, south-west of Portugal. He’d read of breathtaking sea cliffs and tiny villages by mouths of ravines. The Mediterranean climate would be good for their health. A hundred foot floating monastery, would manifest his dreams so perfectly: at least until they reached Tibet. He could see it all, beyond the Yellow Sea. All the opportunity. In South Africa, the largest diamonds. Mexico’s revolutionary new President. America’s tribes self-governing their reservations. The sellers were interested in his idea: he’d already found a captain for ‘The Ark’. Margot was silent during each conversation about credit lines and financial backers. They wanted several hundred dollars in advance; money she knew they didn’t have.
He turned his back on the harbour that let the world pollute China. A world of Donald Duck and Monopoly; of Shirley Temple On The Good Ship Lollipop. Bauer’s legacy was a Germany re-arming, growling at it’s own tail. Himmler and Heydrich’s SS murdered their own: Kapp Putschist Gustav von Kahr; White Internationalist Ernst Rohm. Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, and infuriated MacDonald and Laval. Bonnie and Clyde were dead, Elgar too. There was nothing out there anyway, thought Chaokung.
They took the train along the coast seven hundred miles northeast, to Tientsin. The League of Truth worshipped at Dabei Temple on Tianwei Road. Like Shanghai there were European settlements and an Anglo-American concession. In the Japanese area they found Shoukei Chogen, a calligrapher who brought new funds but was antagonistic with Jiahao. Chogen regarded the Chinese as a sub-species. At sunrise, they gathered around the Future Buddha in Dabei’s Grand Hall, the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings on each side. They prayed by ancient statues of bronze, iron, wood and stone. In the afternoons Chao led them on walks through the Jewish Cemetery, or to the hilltops for mountain views; teasers for Tibet. Or they sat at the benches on the waterfront and watched the ships. In the evenings they returned to the Buddhist House on the corner of Poppe Road and Romanoff Avenue. They were watched by British agents who scrutinised Chaokung’s meetings with Soviets, and reported back to Whitehall. Meanwhile, Chaokung wrote a new book, ‘Dawn or Doom of Humanity’. Over two hundred and fifty pages he expounded the principles of good government, free press, education, national defence and foreign politics. In each case man had a choice to make: embrace the ultimate potential of humankind; or sink into a deep, degrading abyss which threatened all life on Earth. He appealed to readers to cast off false labels of nationality. Yet he failed to intervene in the bullying of Jiahao. Failed to tell Chogen to recognise their shared humanity.
Mid-May 1937, and the dark prophecies of ‘Dawn or Doom’ appear in bookstores. Early June, the Second Sino-Japanese War begins. At the end of the month, the Japanese navy takes out Tientsin’s forts and aircraft. The city falls quickly to three thousand soldiers, though the foreign concessions are left alone. In August, the occupying forces travel seventy miles to suppress Chinese militia, leaving a skeleton staff of a hundred. From the cornfields, rebels machine gun the barracks. Their bodies are burned by four Japanese bomber planes, first of the vicious reinforcements. Chaokung keeps his monks indoors. Jiahao, ready to abscond, finds he is penned in. Reports have come from Shanghai: unbelievable stories of thousands massacred in city-wide bombardment. He’s sceptical, until he sees the photo. The lone baby crying in the smoking debris of Shanghai Station, ‘Bloody Saturday’, is printed in papers around the world. Weeks later a typhoon, among the worst in Hong Kong’s history, claims eleven thousand lives.
William, the First Baron Tyrrell, signs the visitors book. His Foreign Office replacement, Vansittart, meets him in the hall. Socialising usually takes place at the club, but Vansittart is up to his eyes in it. Tyrrell, now seventy-one, is confident he isn’t going to be put to work. Behind the door they hear loud cursing. The impossible man! Cause of all migraines! Vansittart opens up quickly and dresses down his civil servant. Andrew Scott apologises, but Trebitsch Lincoln; again! Tyrrell empathises; chuckles; feels an anger of three decades here. After Whitehall, Tyrrell went to Paris as their Ambassador, and found Trebitsch staring out at him from a Buddhist lecture poster. No sooner had he returned to Britain than Trebitsch arrived at Liverpool docks. He’d assumed, three years later, he was free of the annoyance.
“You’re William Tyrrell aren’t you?” asked Andrew. “Look at this. Jan 7th, 1934: Telegram to George V. ‘Wholly wanton imprisonment in provocative insult challenge to China!’ What?? 28th June, Alexander Cadogan in Peking: ‘Please, I hope the British Empire and I will reconcile.’ Miles Lampson in Shanghai the following year: more nonsense!”
“I hardly see what I can do about any of it,” quipped Tyrrell.
“This Summer: to the P.M. ‘I am a victim of a diabolical vendetta waged by your government’s machinations. I demand honourable amends for all the wrongs perpetrated against me.’”
“Mr. Scott, that is enough,” said Vansittart. “Baron Tyrrell doesn’t want to hear any of this!”
From Scott’s desk, Tyrrell picked up, ‘Anti-Japanese Propaganda’, a new pamphlet from The League of Truth. “I quite understand Mr. Scott’s exasperation… Listen to this. ‘As a resident of Tientsin I declare: I have never seen a better behaved Army of Occupation than the Japanese. They molest nobody, interfere with no lawful occupation…’” Tyrrell dropped the pamphlet back onto the desk.
“Japanese propaganda, more like,” said Vansittart. “Let’s get out of here, William. I’ll buy lunch.”
They were gone, without Andrew Scott gleaning any advice from Tyrrell. He read on: of Chaokung’s description of the New Japanese Empire: just, tolerant, and peaceful. Then, he recorded his last minute on the last page of the Trebitsch Lincoln file.
‘I think the only comment I can make on this is !!!’
Weeks after the fall of Shanghai, reports came from the West the Panchen Lama had died. The leader of Tibetan Buddhism had gone. The same day the aggressors set out for Nanking on killing competitions, transmitting plagues of death-by-rape, two to three hundred thousand people murdered in six weeks. A month later the heartless Japanese warriors bombed Chongqing, turning the brown Yangtze red. From America, Roosevelt excuses Hirohito over Americans killed in Shanghai. Chamberlain appeases Hitler over Czechoslovakia. Global forces converge in Spain as Franco leads massacres in Guernica and Brunete. In Hungary, Regent Miklós Horthy tries to distance his government from pro-German co-operation, set up by his late Prime Minister, Gyula Gömbös. Joachim von Ribbentrop and Martin Luther of the German Foreign Office notify Horthy they are not happy about this. At the end of May 1938, Gömbös’s successor passes The First Jewish Law: millions of Jews are restricted from marriage and employment. Sandor Trebitsch has every reason to be worried when a few weeks later a skinhead in black cloak shows up at his door. She introduces herself as Tao Lo, Margot Markuse, a disciple of Chaokung. Sandor has no idea who she’s talking about. When he reads her letter of introduction he’s less pleased. Krausz comes around that evening and Sandor warms to her. They subject her to such quizzing, allowing her to stay seems only polite.
The following day she walks to the Royal Palace, and again twice that week. Unable to get a meeting she leaves a signed copy of ‘Dawn or Doom’, dedicated to Regent Horthy, and a note from Tientsin.
‘Tortured by nostalgia, broken of body and soul, a tired wanderer on this earth returns to his native soil. The path of glory and success is paved but with sorrow and grief until one rests at the place of his birth.’
Local and international papers want to learn Margot’s story and she impresses many readers with her intelligence. Still, the weeks pass without word from the Royal Court. Sandor tires of her love for Chaokung and tells her all about Ignacz Trebitsch. Finally, Regent Horthy sends a man to fetch her. At that moment, she’s on a train pulling out of Budapest-Keleti. Margot Markuse does not return to China.
The Tientsin escalation drives Chaokung, Maurice and Chogun back to Shanghai, port of last resort. Labourers fill craters were once stood the Palace Hotel; the Wing On department store; the Great World amusement centre. Sassoon House is boarded up and the Cathay Hotel lobby is only boards. A bomb had frozen the hands on her clock tower at 4:27. The rising violence does not spare the respectable Cathay. One day, they see a gun battle break out in front, spitting balls of blood. In the past year, say members of the Buddhist Benevolent Society, they picked eighteen thousand cadavers from the streets. Chinese gangsters still move the opium, but a nastier Japanese strain that boils into blood. On Chaokung’s sixtieth birthday, everywhere he walks he sees beggars with festering sores and eye infections. The monks are anomalies: fixed stoic features in a stream of diverse identities; almost. Chaokung claims to be the tenth Panchen Lama; to another, the reincarnated (fourteenth) Dalai Lama; to another, the Lama Dorji Den.
Shanghai feels the coming war and defies it, taking in boat-loads of Jews Canada and Cuba will not. Japanese barricades are around each foreign concession; checkpoints everywhere. The Germans, once slow to Nazism, are pushed to become fully fledged party members. Consul Martin Fischer strongly resents Goebbels’ new posting, Louis Siefkin. From the consulate, Siefkin transmits the speeches of Hitler and Hess to six Shanghai public radio frequencies. Above the houses of the International Settlement, national flags rise like some great pissing contest. Chaokung has Maurice deliver a press release: a universal appeal for world peace. A few days later the Abbot’s bowels are a disaster zone. Through the night he burns on the toilet in excremeditation. In the morning he learns the Third Reich have invaded Poland. After sleep his pain has gone, but the problem has not. Shanghai sees little evidence of the war in the months coming up to Christmas. The New York Times publish his second appeal: all governments of warring European countries must resign at once. On New Year’s Day Franklin D. Roosevelt pleads for world peace. The Abbot tells the United Press he is going to America to meet with him. He says goodbye to Chogen, to Maurice; to Baron Collenberg and Walter Fuchs; to Baroness Soucanton and Lo Chia-Ling. He says goodbye to Dr. Miorini and Two-Gun Cohen; Mickey Hahn and Stella Szirmay. He says goodbye to Shanghai, whose light is dying. The press gather around as he tells them he has been denied a visa, and that the American bureaucrats are stupid, stupid people, but they are tired. Tired of his old rants of turncoats and treachery. Tired with Trebitsch Lincoln, whose international vaudeville act has had its day.