I’m always looking for a new book set in Shanghai during the war. No matter how much I read about this fascinating time, I always find there’s something new to learn.
That was certainly the case in a new memoir by Patricia Luce Chapman. Tea on the Great Wall: An American Girl in War-Torn China (Earnshaw Books, 2015) is the story of the author’s childhood, mostly in Shanghai during a time of upheaval and uncertainty.
Patricia Luce Chapman was born to parents who moved to China as young adults and felt more at home in Shanghai than they did in their birth country of the United States. Her mother was renowned journalist Edna Lee Booker, who daringly interviewed Chinese warlords and the great Sun Yat-sen while he was hiding on a boat. She was almost shot as she steered her boat to Sun’s. Once on a journey from Shanghai to the US, Edna Lee left her two children–Patty and her older brother Johnny–at the port in Africa while she traveled alone upcountry to interview Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. She trusted that someone on the ship would watch her young children.
Patty’s father was a businessman and served on the boards of a number of foreign companies. Patty and her family lived comfortably in Shanghai with a number of servants in a spacious home on Amherst Avenue. Young Patty attended the German School in Shanghai while her brother went to the Shanghai American School.
But by the early 1930s, the nurturing environment at Patty’s school changed when Hitler came into power in Germany. She witnessed a shift in school administration and attitudes among her once-peaceful classmates. It’s fascinating to read how the changes in Europe spread across the seas to this one port city in China.
Patricia Luce Chapman writes a gripping story and takes the reader through the early years of World War II. At one point she is asked not to return to the German school, yet her parents try their best to stay in China. It’s only when tragedy strikes their household during the Japanese occupation that Patty’s parents decide it’s time for Edna Lee to take the children back to the US.
Tea on the Great Wall is available at Garden Books in Shanghai and will be on Amazon in the weeks to come. Strongly recommended.