Why I’m going on holiday


Leaving China is not a new phenomenon. Nor is writing about it – as this moving letter, newly discovered in the Shanghai archives of the North China Daily News, proves. 

July 27, 1937 

Dear Sirs,

Fothergill: ‘Rumours a bloody disgrace’

I regret I must write again to inform you of our plans to return home to England for a short period of time, in order to attend urgent family matters.

Our steamship, the Hangchow, embarks tomorrow, and docks briefly in Canton, before making its way to Southampton, stopping at Port Said, Suez, Djibouti, Colombo and Singapore (I am particularly looking forward to spending a few days ashore in Djibouti, exploring the historic hammams of the Old Quarter).

We expect to be in the bosom of Albion by October. Our adorable houseboy, Fu Lee, who will be accompanying us on the trip, is already excitedly talking about walking on the “promenade” in Margate and having “ice cweams” [sic] on Brighton Beach!

However, although this is a long-awaited and much-deserved journey for us, I feel compelled to put pen to paper to explain our reasons for our holiday.

Firstly, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Japanese ‘invasion’ of North China.

While many Shanghailanders have been quite rightly appalled at some of the more ‘unfortunate’ tactics the Nipponese Army has employed during its quarrel with the Chinaman, this did not dictate our choice of destination, which was agreed upon some months ago (although I do concede that the sound of shelling outside the Concession in the evenings has been really quite beastly, and most unconducive to quiet study-time alone with one’s houseboy).

Mrs Fothergill, who, alas, suffers numerous maladies of the ‘female persuasion,’ in addition finds the city in summer to be intolerably stuffy and the air disagrees with her frail constitution.  Her mother is also keen for our young daughter – Esmie, I think her name is – to enjoy the bracing benefits of some proper British seaside air.

Thirdly, this has nothing to do with the unfortunate so-called ‘incident’ that took place in Moganshan last week. As I explained at great – and, in my view, quite unnecessary – detail at the time, the belt on my britches had unfortunately perished completely in the noonday sun. I merely happened to be passing the public swimming baths at the time. This explanation was given to the satisfaction of all present at the Moganshan Summer Resort Association emergency committee meeting.

Scandalous insinuations that have since arisen recently regarding myself and our houseboy, Fu Lee, are quite despicable and should be ignored forthwith. Lee has been an upstanding domestic employee of the Fothergill family for six years and proved, moreover, an exceptionally keen student at the knee of Jesus Christ, our Lord Redeemer.

Finally, I wish to add that we have every intention of returning to China as soon as possible. We shall continue our Godly mission to civilize the yellow man in a matter of years,

Yours faithfully,

Reverend Peter Fothergill

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