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Carl Crow - A Tough Old China Hand

The Life, Times, and Adventures of an American in Shanghai

Paul French

Publication Year: 2006

Carl Crow arrived in Shanghai in 1911 and made the city his home for the next quarter of a century, working there as a journalist, newspaper proprietor, and groundbreaking adman. He also did stints as a hostage negotiator, emergency police sergeant, gentleman farmer, go-between for the American government, and propagandist.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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pp. v-vi

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Names and Spelling

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pp. vii

To avoid confusing readers, as far as possible Chinese names for places in this book are rendered in pinyin for the sake of clarity and consistency. Any other method is too problematic. Crow himself switched spellings throughout his writings, confusing matters further. As the writer, and one time Shanghailander, Emily Hahn once commented when tackling the question of rendering Chinese...

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pp. ix-x

In the late 1990s I was the co-author of a guide to Asian consumers called One Billion Shoppers. The title was primarily designed to grab the attention of book browsers but was also a sideways tribute to Carl Crow whose Four Hundred Million Customers had been a major inspiration despite its being 60 years old. ...

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INTRODUCTION: A Quarter Century in China

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pp. 1-6

When Carl Crow stepped onto the shore of Shanghai's Bund in the summer of 1911, he stepped into a China that was on the cusp of a period of massive upheaval and change. Shanghai was also a city on the verge of becoming the most modern and Westernized city in Asia. ...

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1. From the Mid-West to the China Coast

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pp. 7-16

Before he arrived in Shanghai feeling nervous, uncertain and wondering what would become of him, Crow had made his way from the wilds of Missouri to the shores of China. Even before he sailed, his gift for telling a story and the Crow family's general tendency to have kissed the Blarney Stone was already Herbert Carl Crow was bom in the town of Highland, Missouri, on...

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2. The China Press Man

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pp. 17-24

Production of the China Press (known as the Ta Lu Pao in Chinese) started in the summer of 1911, with Crow paid $300 per month and officially employed as the associate city editor with special responsibility for covering diplomatic affairs and Tom Millard as editor-in-chief. ...

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3. Living at the End of the Wires

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pp. 25-33

Like most people who arrive in China with some sort of business plan, Carl Crow had an idea to change the way things were done. His initial dream was to produce an English language newspaper in Shanghai in the American style. At that time, the American style on which Crow had been trained in the US consisted of filling the front page with what was deemed “important news,"...

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4. The Collapse of the Qing Dynasty and Opportunities Abound

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pp. 35-55

In October 1911 Crow received word that a revolt against Manchu rule had occurred in the treaty port of Hankou. The local telegraph operator had been too afraid to send the report to Beijing for fear of reprisal and the court's general “shoot-the-messenger" approach to bad news. However, as the telegram had been pre-paid, it had to be sent somewhere; and so after a roundabout route, it ended...

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5. Intrigue in Tokyo and World War

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pp. 57-69

The newly-married Crows left Shanghai at Christmas 1912 for their honeymoon, sailing to Manila en route to New York. He had finished his first book The Traveler's Handbook for China, a guidebook to China that was to be reprinted many times over the years. It was to become the major travel guide to China between the wars, going through a series of reprints and gaining a place as the...

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6. From Fruit Rancher to Spy

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pp. 71-81

After Japan, Crow decided not to returm to Shanghai but to buy a fruit farrn in Califomia's Santa Clara Valley. For a Missourian who had enjoyed living in Texas, visited Mexico, the Philippines, Shanghai and Tokyo, married a Canadian in China and cruised around the world, the decision to farrn fruit in Califomia may not have been an obvious one. ...

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7. Sun Yat-sen and the Biography That Never Was

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pp. 83-88

After the war, Sun Yat-sen was to re-enter Carl's life. Crow had kept in touch with Sun after his “retirement" and replacement by Yuan Shih-kai. He had eventually moved to a house provided for him by overseas Chinese supporters at 24 Rue Molière1 in Shanghai's Frenchtown where he worked on plans to develop China's governmental institutions, railways and industrial base. ...

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8. Four Hundred Million Customers and Bringing Billboards to China

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pp. 89-111

In 1918 Carl opened the doors of Carl Crow Inc., a firm of “Advertising and Merchandising Agents." In the years after the war Crow described Shanghai as “prosperous" - an apt though not always obvious statement. Perhaps a better description was provided by Jonathan Fenby, a biographer of Chiang Kai-shek's who described Shanghai at the time as a “brutal metropolis on the make."1 ...

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9. Getting Friendly with Warlords

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pp. 113-131

Crow met his fair share of warlords during his time in China and found some he liked and others he thought outright bandits. He couldn't very well avoid them and, since arriving in Shanghai, had come into contact with them both as a journalist and an advertising agent. Crow's time in China coincided roughly with the warlord period (1916-39) sparked by Yuan Shih-kai's death that left a...

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10. Rumblings in Shanghai

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pp. 133-138

Crow's bachelor status had presumably been a point in his favor when he was first hired by the China Press to work in Shanghai. Most of the larger foreign companies in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries only employed single young men who invariably did not marry until completing several years' service Crow noted that this tradition had had a lasting effect on...

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11. The Life of a China Coast Man

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pp. 139-159

Shanghai was moving on from the convulsions and revolution of 1911 and the First World War into a new phase in the life of the fledgling Republic. Sun was dead and the interim power struggle in the KMT was seemingly resolved with Chiang now in power. However, despite Chiang's pledge to restore order, China continued to fray at the seams with intemal power and unity far from secure, ...

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12. Fear in Shanghai, the Generalissimo and Three Stripes on the Arm

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pp. 161-169

Through chance and his work for the China Press, Crow had grown to know Sun Yat -sen on a personal level, and he also followed the eventful rise of Chiang Kai-shek, though from more of a distance. Even after Chiang secured control of the KMT, Crow still saw him as essentially an outsider in Chinese political circles,“a southern rice eater,"1 ...

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13. Back in the Newspaper Business

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pp. 171-176

With Carl Crow Inc. a success, Carl felt secure enough to become involved in a new newspaper venture. He was one of several Americans who founded and edited the Shanghai Evening Post in 19291 with offices at 17-21 Avenue Edward VII. The paper was effectively a reinvention of the former Shanghai Evening Crow founded the paper based on the principles he had leamt from Millard: ...

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14. The New Republic and the Soong Dynasty

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pp. 177-184

Crow's generally good opinion of Chiang had been boosted following a meeting with him after the tumultuous events of 1925 and 1927. He was part of a delegation of foreign newspapermen that traveled to Nanjing in 1928 at the Nationalist government's invitation in an attempt to try to challenge the perception of the new government as overly threatening to Great Power interests...

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15. More Skirmishes and a City in Flux

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pp. 185-192

In 1932 Crow was observing the growing Japanese threat to China with increasing alarm. Tokyo's occupation of Manchuria in September 1931 had led to a nation-wide boycott of Japanese goods and the establishment of Chinese-run societies to extend the boycott in retaliation for Japan's annexation and creation of the puppet Manchukuo state.1 ...

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16. Swallowing Like Whales, Nibbling Like Silkworms

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pp. 193-202

Since 1911 Crow had traveled extensively and regularly throughout China but it was not until 1935 that he ventured west and travelled to Sichuan, the one part of the country he had not yet seen. He was combining business with pleasure, seeing clients as well as hoping to visit the famous Yangtze Gorges. ...

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17. Final Days in the City of the Dead

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pp. 203-210

The last days of old Shanghai found Crow dealing with his advertising agency and writing enthusiastic communiq

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18. Business Over: The Escape from Shanghai

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pp. 211-222

Crow and Helen sadly packed up their belongings and joined some 5,000 other Americans and British as well as thousands more other Europeans and an equal number of Japanese civilians who boarded hastily-arranged evacuation ships in the aftermath of Black Saturday. With foreign business upping stakes and leaving China entirely or looking for a safe haven somewhere else, either further inland...

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19. Through the Back Door into China

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pp. 223-236

Throughout his quarter century in China, Crow had traveled the length and breadth of the country declaring “an insatiable curiosity"1 about travel. In the summer of 1939 he returned to a China at war, this time through the back door. The return trip to highlight China's plight had first been mooted in late 1937 when Crow spent some time at the luxurious...

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20. Tea with Madame Chiang and Whisky with Zhou En-lai

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pp. 237-248

Crow checked into the Waichupo Hostel after finding that his preferred Metropole Hotel was full. Mostly visiting diplomats were using the Waichupo and, as Crow arrived, a senior British official was leaving and he bagged the Ambassadorial Suite. He immediately met with his old Missouri News Colony friend Holly Tong who took him on a tour of the city's bomb damage. ...

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21. War Service and Being Proved Right

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pp. 249-260

In 1940 Crow, not long back from China, started to plan an extensive trip through Latin America. The latter half of 1939 had been spent writing and finishing new manuscripts in America as well as a round of fund-raising events for China, including public speaking and attending such events as a “Bowl of Rice Party" at the Worcester Club where Crow addressed the members on China's plight...

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22. The Final Prolific Years

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pp. 261-267

Throughout Crow's journalism and writing a constant theme was the successful industrialization of America and the wealthy society and thriving democracy that had been created. Though away from America for a significant portion of his life,Crow always remained a patriotic and enthusiastic American. ...

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EPILOGUE: Gone but Not Forgotten

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pp. 269

After the 1949 revolution, Carl Crow was forgotten in China ... almost.
In 1974 Dennis George Crow, the grandson of Carl's younger brother Leslie Ray and the son of Carl's favorite nephew George, who had run the passenger division of the Dollar Line in Shanghai and Hong Kong for many years, visited Beijing with his mother Olga. ...


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pp. 271-296

Select Bibliography and Further Reading

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pp. 297-299


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pp. 301-302


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pp. 303-313

E-ISBN-13: 9789888052097
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622098022

Page Count: 324
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Americans -- China -- Shanghai -- Biography.
  • Crow, Carl, 1883-1945.
  • Shanghai (China) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Journalists -- United States -- Biography
  • Shanghai (China) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
  • Journalists -- China -- Shanghai -- Biography.
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