Edmund Trelawny Backhouse - perhaps quite the maddest book on China ever written by a foreigner. Truth or fiction, Backhouse’s trysts with Qing dynasty prostitutes, eunuchs and Empress Cixi in ‘Decadence Mandchoue’ are definitely strange

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Edmund Trelawny Backhouse, Décadence Mandchoue: The China Memoirs of Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse, Earnshaw Books, 2011.         

In 1898. a young Englishman walked into a homosexual brothel in Peking and began a journey that he claims took him all the way to the bedchamber of imperial China’s last great ruler, the Empress Dowager Tz’u Hsi. Published now for the first time, the controversial memoirs of Sinologist Sir Edmund Backhouse provide a unique and shocking glimpse into the hidden world of China’s imperial palace, with its rampant corruption, grand conspiracies, and uninhibited sexuality. Backhouse was made notorious by Hugh Trevor-Roper’s 1976 bestseller Hermit of Peking, which accused Backhouse of fraudulence and forgery. This work, written shortly before Backhouse’s death in 1943, lay for decades forgotten and unpublished in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, dismissed by Trevor-Roper as nothing more than “a pornographic novelette.” But Décadence Mandchoue is much more than that. Alternately shocking and lyrical, it is the masterwork of a linguistic genius—a tremendous literary achievement and a sensational account of the inner workings of the Manchu dynasty in the years before its collapse in 1911. If true, Backhouse’s chronicle completely reshapes contemporary historians’ understanding of the era and provides an account of the Empress Dowager and her inner circle that can only be described as intimate.

Murr :
Link to part 2

Joyce Lau:

HONG KONG — There are things we know about Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse, 2nd Baronet, of England: He was one of few Europeans to live among the Chinese in the early 20th century, and his writings greatly influenced the way the West saw Peking. 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.O.P. Bland, “Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking” (1914) and “China Under the Empress Dowager” (1910), shaped 20th-century views of the empress. 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. The sexually explicit “Décadence Mandchoue,” written in 1943, when Backhouse was 70 and dying, recounts his time as a young man as he explored Peking’s gay haunts and what he described as wanton practices within the Imperial Court.
Set largely from 1898 to 1908, the book starts in the ironically named House of Chaste Pleasures, where princes and other high-ranked officials buy the services of young men.