The story of Horose, or S. Rosen-Hoa

Famous Old Shanghai movie “Love and Duty” was based on French novel “La symphonie des ombres Chinoises” by S. Rosen-Hoa also called Horose. Very little has been written about Horose, but putting together current academic articles and own research, we now have quite a clear picture of who she was and about her unusual life.

Stéphanie Rosenthal was born in Kalisz, Central Poland, in 1883 in a jewish family. She moved to Paris around the turn of the Century. In the 19th century many Polish artists, aristocrats and intellectual came to France, and many spoke French. Stéphanie Rosenthal and her family likely already spoke French when they came to France, allowing her to join the French schooling system. She then studied at the Sorbonne University, where she graduated in botany, with a thesis on germination of Plantago in 1910, aged 27.

Graduation thesis for Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa at Paris Sorbonne, 1910

She met her future husband during her studies, both of them being keen learners and practicers of Esperanto. Hua Nanhui (华南圭) 1876-1961 was a native from Wuxi, Jiangsu province, China. He arrived in France in 1904 to study at the Public Work High School (ESTP Paris) where he was the first Chinese student graduating from the School in 1908. They got married in 1908, after which he worked for “Les Chemins de fer du Nord” (Great Northern Railway). After the wedding, Stéphanie added the name of her husband to her surname, being now called Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa. They always communicated in French as witnessed by relatives. They moved to China in 1910.

Hua Nangui and S. Rosen-Hoa in 1910

Hua Nanhui worked for the Beijing-Hankou railway until 1913 when he took an official post in the Ministry of Transports and Communication of the new Chinese republic. From that point he was involved in promoting of modern technologies, education and railways in China, publishing the first Chinese Railway engineering textbook in 1916.

The first child of the family was born in 1912, Hua LanHong 華攬洪 also called Leon. The French edition of Love and duty (La Symphonie des ombres Chinoises, 1932) is dedicated to him. The family bought a plot of land in Beijing 量大人胡同(Wuliangdaren Hutong), built a house and moved in in 1914. Her first novel was published in Chinese by Shanghai based Commercial Press in 1915, under the name of 羅琛華. The topic is centered on a women doctor who got educated in France and returned to China. It is likely that the novel was written in French and translated in Chinese, probably by Hua Nanhui. The topic of Chinese students returning from studies abroad and having to adapt back to China was a quite a key topic amongst Chinese returnees in the 2000s, but it was clearly a revival, having been discussed in the 1910s. It is likely that the circle of friend of Stéphanie Rosen-Hoa included many returning students from Western countries, and maybe Japan that was also very popular for studies at the time. Her daughter Leila was born in 1916.

Her most well known is probably “Love and Duty” which first published in Chinese in 1923 then in English in 1926. With its modernity theme focusing on the opposition between traditional and modern values, in particular about arranged marriage and women’s education, it clearly resonnated with the popular Chinese literature movement at the time, the May 4th movement. This lead for the book to be made into the movie “Love and Duty” that kickstarted the popularity of Lian Hua movie production company (also called UPC) as well as being the first main role for upcoming Chinese superstar Ran Lingyu. The book credited for the 1931 movie is called in French “La symphonie des ombres”, although it was already published in Chinese as “恋爱与义务” from 1921 and in English as “Love and duty” from 1926. As mentioned earlier, it shows that the original novel was probably written in French, although only published in France much later.

Hua Nanhui, S Rosen-Hoa and their two children (about 1920-22)

China in the 1920s was far from politically stable with the Beiyang government being very weak and the country being mostly controlled by warlords fighting war against each other for territory control. One of the many examples of the lack of safety at that time was the attack of the Peking Express train in 1922 (see post “The Peking Express” for more details). This is probably one of the main reason why she took a trip back to France in 1926 along with her two children. The second part of her life including travels between China and France will be covered in post “The story of Horose or S. Rosen-Hoa (Part 2)“.

For more details about publication of the Chinese, English and French versions of the “Love and duty” please go to post “Love and duty, the book“. For more details about the movie “Love and duty”, please got to post “Love and duty

Midnight in Peking

Book cover in Australian edition
Book cover in Australian edition

Journalist and author Paul French is one of the most knowledgeable person about Shanghai. Although he now has gone back to the UK, he spent years in the city commenting about both the old and modern side of it. He is the author of The Old Shanghai A to Z (See link to my post on the book), the definitive guide about street names in Old Shanghai. It was then surprising to read a book from him about Beijing. Unsurprisingly though, Midnight in Peking tells a story that happened in Beijing in 1937, in the foreign legation or it surroundings. The atmosphere of old colonial China is very much the background of the story, very similar to the atmosphere in Shanghai at the same time.

The book is focused on the horrible murder of 19 years old Pamela Werner. Her body was found on 8th January 1937, as the bottom of the fox tower, Dongbianmen today. Daughter of a former British diplomat that was one of the best sinologist at the time, her death was the center of the media attention for a while. Unfortunately, international politics and Japanese troops surrounding the city did not help to solve the case. It is also clear that although some effort was made to find the murderer, a lot of energy was spent by well placed people to make sure that the guilty ones were never to answer their crimes.

As in previous books, French had a lot of research into the matter, including archives from the UK diplomatic services as well as other countries. The original inquiry was made by DCI Dennis, the chief of the Tianjin Municipal police, and inspector Han from the Beijing police. Nobody, apart from them and the victim’s father, had any interest in the police finding the murderer. The whole British diplomatic circle was focusing on protecting the honor of Britain and its privileges, be it by protecting the worst of its citizen. As the inquiry starts to raise questions, they are moved away to make sure they don’t find anything. It becomes obvious that the local little clique wants nothing of its secrets revealed, some of them really being horrible.

Where the body was found
Where the body was found

The book is also a dive in the badlands of Beijing, a territory next to the foreign legations that was controlled by nobody, where about anything was going on. Prostitution, gambling, drugs, human abuse and worse, all of it was flourishing at a time when nobody was sure of anything about the future. Japanese armies were coming and some people were left alone, satisfying their vices in the most sordid ways. It is also a place where the top and the scum of the foreign community mixed together. Every city has a dark side, but Beijing badlands were darker than most.

Midnight in Peking is the tale of a period, that was the end of a world. Atmosphere was surely very similar in the Shanghai badlands, after Japanese invasion a few months later. The book takes us straight to it, just like a crime novel and also helps solving one of the great murders of Old China. A great read for Old Shanghai fans.