Shanghai: Loved and Lost
Reviewed by: John Stokdijk
The time and location of our birth profoundly shape our lives. It is a pivotal event that we have no control over. Eric Duncan Colterjohn was born in Shanghai in 1930.
Before reading Shanghai: Loved and Lost by Elizabeth (Libby) Shaen, the wife of Duncan Colterjohn, I knew very little about Shanghai. From watching Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown on CNN, I knew that today Shanghai is a modern, vibrant city. But I did not know anything about its colorful history.
A review of the Bibliography and the author’s note gives us confidence that we are presented with not only an interesting story but also a reasonably accurate history.
I am sure many readers will question my version, but it was written with an honest attempt to record events without bias.
As a post war Dutch immigrant to Canada, my interest in WWII has focused primarily on the events in Europe. The events in Asia, particularly the war between Japan and China, had little impact on my family. But I appreciated this opportunity to learn more about a different family buffeted about by very different circumstances.
The focus of the book is mostly on Shanghai rather than on the Colterjohn family. However, we are given snippets of how a childhood in Shanghai and a return to Scottish roots as a teenager molded the identity of Duncan Colterjohn. The disruptions he experienced as a youth did not impede his success as we later learn that he became a medical doctor.
We learn about the role played by foreigners in the development of Shanghai. We learn about the rivalry between the Nationalists and the Communists for control of China. We learn about the ugly Sino-Japanese war. All of this history is relevant to geopolitics today as background while we witness the rise of China. In the second half of the twenty-first century China may surpass the United States as a superpower.
Historical facts are given meaning by their interpreters and on one occasion I disagreed with the author. I do not mean this a criticism but I have a different perspective. I do not accept a moral justification for the Americans dropping atomic bombs on Japanese civilians.
In 1945, the American Air Force dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing fewer people than the Japanese had butchered in the Rape of Nanking. Under the terms of the surrender, Emperor Hirohito was granted immunity for himself and all the Imperial family from investigation during the subsequent war crimes trials. They never had to face a moral accounting.
I read this book because it was selected by the members of the Ajijic Book Club. It was time well spent. I am now looking forward to meeting Libby at our March 2017 meeting.