Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai

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Columbia University Press, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 409 pages
2 Reviews

Richard Maurice Tinkler was an ordinary man in an extraordinary time and place. This riveting "biography of a nobody" offers a rare glimpse of imperialism and the making of modern China seen from the perspective of a working-class Englishman enforcing the order of everyday life on the streets of Shanghai. Culled from Tinkler's many personal letters, Empire Made Me meticulously documents his astonishingly revealing life in the service of the British Empire between 1919 and 1939, one of hundreds of young men who joined the Shanghai Municipal Police. Responsible for maintaining order in Shanghai's International Settlement, the SMP expanded and enforced British dominion in China's most important political, commercial, and cultural center.

Tinkler would have remained just another anonymous and forgotten colonial policeman were it not for his unexpected death, at the hands of Japanese marines and an incompetent local doctor, in June 1939. His suspicious death created a noisy diplomatic incident that was picked up by journalists and splashed across the front pages of Britain's newspapers. Many of Tinkler's personal letters survived, and they describe his personal life in unusually vivid detail, including his relationships, his knowing masculinity, his travels, and his bitter meditations on his lowly position in a powerful but waning empire.

Robert Bickers absorbing biography uses Tinkler's letters as well as extensive archival research to tell the story of this man's everyday life and violent decline in a colonial world -- a story that offers an uncommonly candid history of twentieth-century imperialism.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - datrappert - LibraryThing

Drawing from the letters and other artifacts left behind by Richard Maurice Tinkler, an expat Englishman who served as a municipal policeman in the International Settlement of Shanghai, Bickers puts ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Opinionated - LibraryThing

At one level, this is a biography of Robert Maurice Tinkler, working class Lancashire lad, decorated and gallant WW1 soldier, and detective in the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP), eventually killed in ... Read full review


The Empire World
Before Shanghai
Shanghai 1919
The Shanghai Municipal Police
Shanghai Detective
Learning to be a man
The End of the Good Old China
What We Cant Know
We Are the Dead
Ranks in the Shanghai Municipal Police Foreign Branch
Note on Currency
Romanization of Chinese Words and Names
Unpublished and Archival Sources

Adrift in the Empire World
Empires Civil Dead

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Page 377 - The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence (London: John Murray, 2001), p.

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About the author (2003)

Robert Bickers is senior lecturer in East Asia and colonial history at the University or Bristol.

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