Peking: An Epic Novel of Twentieth-Century China

Peking: An Epic Novel of Twentieth-Century China

by Anthony Grey


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This epic novel of a wide-eyed missionary and a rebellious woman thrust into China’s Communist revolution is “an excellent read, panoramic in scope” ( Financial Times ).
In 1931, young English-born missionary Jakob Kellner brings all the crusading passion of his untried Christian faith to a China racked by famine and bloody civil war. He burns to save the world’s largest nation from Communism.
But when he is swept along on the cold, unforgiving Long March, Jakob becomes entangled with Mei-ling, a beautiful and fervent revolutionary. Soon, powerful new emotions challenge and reshape his faith—and entrap him forever in the vast country’s tortured destiny.
Once held hostage by Red Guards in Peking for more than two years, author Anthony Grey traces the path of China’s Communist party from its covert inception through purge and revolution. He crafts a portrait of China as a land of great beauty and harshness—of triumph and tragedy—in a sweeping narrative, rich in historical and cultural revelations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504049252
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 03/06/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 647
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Anthony Grey became a foreign correspondent with Reuters after beginning his career in journalism in Norfolk, England, where he was born and educated. He reported on the Cold War from East Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Sofia, and Bucharest for two years before being assigned to China to cover the Cultural Revolution. There, his imprisonment by Red Guards in a house beside the historic Forbidden City of China’s emperors attracted worldwide headlines for over two years. After his release, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to journalism, and was named UK Journalist of the Year. He has gone on to become a radio and television broadcaster, bestselling historical novelist, independent publisher, and frequent public speaker. 

Read an Excerpt


A Novel of China's Revolution 1921â?"1978

By Anthony Grey


Copyright © 1988 Anthony Grey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-5164-3


Several hundred Pakhoi hogs imprisoned in willow-twig cages on the open afterdeck of the Tomeko Maru squealed with fright as the wind-lashed East China Sea buffeted the ten-thousand-ton Japanese freighter with gathering force. The ship was nearing the end of its seven-week voyage from Tilbury to Shanghai, and the cages had been stacked in layers five and six deep by coolies who had jogtrotted them to the wharves at Pakhoi, close to the Hainan Strait. Only narrow aisles had been left between the stacked cages, and ducks and barnyard fowl piled on top of them in smaller baskets were beginning to squawk anxiously in their turn as the wind rose.

The clamor increased when a young Chinese man and woman, attired in smart Western clothes, paused in their stroll around the deck and walked in among the cages to talk casually with the grimy deck coolie tending the animals. A sallow-faced European who had been walking in the opposite direction stopped when he noticed the incongruously dressed Asians conversing together. Moving quickly into the lee of a suspended lifeboat, he continued to watch the little group discreetly from a position where he could not be seen.

In his second-class cabin close beneath the stern, Jakob Kellner lay on his narrow bunk reading a Chinese language primer, trying to ignore the noise of the frightened hogs and the constant clatter and thump of the vessel's rudder that penetrated the cabin's bulk-heads. The boy whose imagination had been fired by a sunburned China missionary in a dismal church hall had grown into a tall, lean, serious-faced young man. At twenty, Jakob was now well over six feet tall — his long angular frame had yet to fill out but his shoulders were broad and straight. His face was determined and strong-jawed, his short, neatly parted hair had retained the fairness inherited from his Swiss father, and the eager impetuosity that had led him to donate his tram fare to China ten years before was still evident in the alertness of his expression. But the long voyage from Tilbury had already made him restless, and as the ship began to roll more noticeably, his attention wandered from the book.

Beyond the porthole the dragon-backed coastline of Fukien was faintly visible in the gathering twilight; the northbound freighter had passed through the broad Formosa Strait and the sight of China's jagged southeastern mountain ranges quickened the realization in Jakob that soon he would at last set foot on Chinese soil. Landfall in Shanghai was now less than twenty-four hours away, and as he stared out through the porthole at the indistinct knuckles of land, Jakob wondered for the thousandth time on the voyage what he would encounter when he stepped ashore. At the thought that he would know for certain next day, a fist of excitement tightened in the pit of his stomach. Feeling an irresistible urge just to gaze at the enigmatic coastline of which he had dreamed for so long, Jakob flung the book aside, put on his jacket, and left the cramped cabin, heading for the foot of the nearest companionway that led up to the afterdeck.

At that same moment the female figure detached itself from the little group of Asians standing among the hog cages at the stern and began to walk toward the top of the same companionway. The rising wind plucked at her brimmed hat, forcing her to lift a slender arm to hold it in place, and the long European skirt she wore beneath a neatly tailored jacket pasted itself against her slim thighs as she stepped carefully through the gaps between the cages. From the shadow of one of the Tomeko Maru's lifeboats, the eyes of the watching European followed her closely but she passed his place of concealment without noticing his presence.

As Jakob mounted the narrow companionway leading to the afterdeck, the ship began to pitch and roll more sharply. He had to clutch at the side rails at every step to prevent himself from falling, and as he leaned his weight against the deck door, the ship rolled suddenly to port, swinging it wide open. Thrown off-balance, he almost cannoned into the Chinese girl, who had been reaching for the door from outside. Before she recoiled, their faces almost touched, and for a moment Jakob's vision seemed to fill with the golden glow of her skin: startled Asiatic eyes grew momentarily round, raven-dark hair shivered and swung to conceal a beguilingly curved cheek. As she leaned instinctively away from him, stretching a hand toward a bulkhead to steady herself, the gusting wind lifted her hat free of her head and bowled it spinning toward the ship's rails. The same gust swirled out her long skirts, uncovering for an instant the full length of her slender legs from ankle to thigh; then Jakob lunged past her, bent double in pursuit of the hat.

He snatched it up when it flattened itself against the port rails and returned to find its owner waiting inside the closed door at the top of the companionway, her face composed and unsmiling.

"I'm very sorry." Jakob inclined his head apologetically. "It was all my fault. I almost knocked you over."

"Please don't apologize. We must blame China's rough seas."

She spoke her accented English carefully without any trace of self-consciousness, and her smile of response was no more than polite. Aged about twenty, she had a striking face, high-cheeked with dark, lustrous eyes. Her glossy black hair was cut in a fashionable long bob that curled softly to her shoulders, and her skirt and jacket of pale worsted matched the color of the now-battered hat that Jakob held before him …

"I'm afraid it's spoiled."

Jakob glanced awkwardly at the sorry object in his hands. It had become crumpled and dented, and the gray felt was wet and muddied from contact with the deck. He reshaped it as best he could and brushed away the mud with the sleeve of his jacket, preparing to hand it back — but he continued to cling to it illogically as he gazed at the Chinese girl.

"I'm Jakob Kellner. I'm traveling to Shanghai to take up a post with the Anglo-Chinese Mission."

"I hope your work is satisfying, Mr. Kellner."

The girl's tone was again formal, without real interest. She was graceful and self-possessed in her bearing, and as he looked at her Jakob realized he had seen her come aboard at Hong Kong with other new first-class passengers. Until then he had not had cause to pay her any attention, but the sudden intimacy of their near-collision had produced in him an instinctive desire to prolong the conversation.

"May I ask your name?" Jakob braced his legs against the ship's movement, holding the hat against his chest, unconsciously bargaining its return for her name.

"I am Lu Mei-ling."

"You speak English very well," said Jakob, groping uncertainly for words to justify his actions. "Have you been in England?"

"My brother and I have been studying in Europe for the past two years — he was in Paris and I attended the Royal College of Music in London."

"I've got sheet music in my cabin trunk — some hymns." Jakob rushed on impulsively, without pausing for thought. "There's a piano on the saloon deck. Perhaps you would like to play them this evening. It might help take all our minds off this storm."

Lu Mei-ling smiled politely again but this time she took firm hold of the companionway rail and held out her free hand. "My hat, Mr. Kellner. Thank you for saving it."

Jakob's face reddened in embarrassment. "Please forgive me. I had no right to assume you'd want to play Christian hymns."

"You need not apologize. I expect I already know them."

She took the hat from his hands and turned away down the companionway. Feeling both concerned for her safety and startled by the strength of his own reactions to her, Jakob watched the retreating figure of the beautiful Chinese girl until she went out of sight. But although the Tomeko Maru was wallowing in the troughs between waves and rearing over their crests, she descended the tilting steps quickly and confidently without looking back.


By the time Jakob stepped out onto the lurching afterdeck, he found the gathering darkness had almost obliterated the Fukien Mountains. The deck's only other visible human occupants were the hog keeper and the smartly dressed Chinese talking together among the cages in the stern, but as Jakob passed the lifeboat station a bulkhead light came on, illuminating the previously concealed figure of the European standing in the shadows. He wore a pale, double-breasted tropical suit and a white felt homburg, and Jakob had a fleeting impression of a gaunt, weather-beaten face and the glint of narrow eyes looking out watchfully from beneath its brim. Recovering from his surprise, Jakob nodded politely in greeting, but the man made no reply, and Jakob continued to the port rail and leaned against it, staring into the dusk in the direction of the Chinese coast.

The wind, driving up from the south with increasing force, was pushing a growing swell of water past the Tomeko Maru, steepening the inclines over which she rose and fell. Spume whipped from the wave tops stung his face, and in that moment a faint apprehension at the power of the storm began to mingle with the unfamiliar feeling of physical excitement which the encounter with Lu Meiling had produced in him. At twenty, he reflected as he stood at the rail, he was still innocent of all sexual experience by conscious choice: after leaving school at fifteen he had become an apprenticed engineer in a textile mill while he waited to enter the Anglo-Chinese Mission's training college. Because the ambition to become a missionary had developed early, he had gladly allowed the little chapel in Moss Side to dominate his young life and had followed its moral exhortations to the letter. Later, at college, he had conscientiously devoted all his energies to his studies with the distant goal of China in mind, allowing himself few distractions — but this fleeting review of his recent past provided no explanation for the surprising force of the attraction he had suddenly felt to the Chinese girl. In his mind's eye he could still see her startled almond-shaped eyes close before his face, almost feel the brush of her dark, glossy hair. Having come so near to her, he imagined he could still detect the presence of subtle fragrances which surrounded her, and these sensations persisted with an intensity he found faintly bewildering as he gazed at the white-topped waves mounting around the ship.

"Have you ever been in a typhoon before?"

The strange voice speaking close to his ear made Jakob start and he turned to find the European in the white homburg standing beside him. He had spoken with a pronounced French accent, raising his voice to make himself heard above the squawking and squealing of the livestock — but although he scanned the rising seas around them, Jakob noticed that the Frenchman's gaze returned repeatedly to the two Asian figures talking among the hog cages.

"Is it really going to be a typhoon?" asked Jakob at last, trying to keep his voice casual.

The Frenchman nodded. "I think it will reach its peak around midnight."

Jakob's feeling of anxiety mounted, tightening the muscles of his chest. "I've never been anywhere near a typhoon before — but I suppose I'll soon get used to things like this."

"Nobody ever gets used to typhoons. They're best avoided." The Frenchman eyed Jakob's serviceable suit of inexpensive brown worsted and the cheap brass tiepin which fastened the wings of his collar beneath his tie knot. "May I ask, monsieur, what it is that attracts a young Englishman like you to the Orient?"

"I'm a missionary. This is my first post." Jakob scanned the angry sea in the gathering gloom, making an effort to conceal his growing unease. "I've wanted to come to China ever since I can remember."

"And what do you hope to achieve in China?" The Frenchman's question had a perfunctory tone, as though he had little real interest in the answer, and as he spoke he shifted to a position in which he could keep the stern of the ship under constant scrutiny.

"A quarter of the entire human family lives here, many of them in the direst poverty. Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism — all their own religions are weak and fatalistic. They do almost nothing to lighten the terrible burdens on the people. Millions die in famine and floods …" Jakob broke off, aware that he was repeating, parrot-fashion, the words of his mission college teachers; on that tiny ship in the midst of a rising storm, he wondered whether his words appeared foolish, and in an effort to retrieve the situation, he turned earnestly to face the Frenchman. "The people of China seem to be unable to save themselves, monsieur. I happen to believe the need to preach the Christian Gospel is greater in China than anywhere else in the world!"

"I've met Chinese military governors with very different views," said the Frenchman dryly. "They'll tell you there are far too many illiterate peasants and coolies. They positively welcome the droughts and the floods which kill their countrymen by the million — they see it as nature's way of solving China's problems."

Jakob found himself flinching inwardly at the callousness of the Frenchman's words but he did not allow his feelings to show. Instead he held out his hand in a formal gesture of greeting.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion — my name is Jakob Kellner, monsieur."

"Devraux." The Frenchman shook hands without enthusiasm. "Jacques Devraux."

"Do you know China well, Monsieur Devraux?"

"I know Indochina better — I served in the Infanterie Coloniale in Tongking. My home now is Saigon. I guide sportsmen who wish to hunt big game in the jungles of Annam." He waved a deprecating hand and stared distractedly toward the stern of the ship again. "I suspect you are better equipped than I am for China, Monsieur Kellner."

"My own qualifications are very slight," said Jakob tentatively. "I studied for two years at the Anglo-Chinese Mission training college in London before I left England — and I've only recently begun to learn Chinese …"

The Frenchman, who had given up all pretense of listening, was staring openly over Jakob's shoulder, and almost immediately the missionary heard the rapid sound of approaching footsteps. A moment later a Chinese in his late twenties passed them, walking briskly: he was wearing a well-tailored European suit and carrying a soft hat, and Jakob recognized him as the man who had been talking to the hog keeper. Devraux watched until he left the deck, and as soon as the companionway door closed behind him, he relaxed against the ship's rail and lit a cheroot.

"Did you pass an attractive Chinese girl on your way up to the deck, Monsieur Kellner?" he asked with studied casualness.

"Yes, I did."

"Do you know who she is?"

"I think her name is Lu Mei-ling. She and her brother have been studying in Europe."

"I thought as much." Devraux's eyes narrowed and he drew thoughtfully on his cheroot, staring in silence toward the stern. When Jakob turned to follow his gaze, he saw only the bent figure of the deck coolie, who was busying himself lashing the willowtwig hog cages together with lengths of rope.

"What makes you ask about the Chinese girl and her brother, Monsieur Devraux?" asked Jakob in a puzzled voice. "Do you know her family?"

The Frenchman turned back slowly to face Jakob, almost as if he had forgotten he was there. "Your missionary training college may have taught you a lot about China's ancient religions, Monsieur Kellner. But when you get into the interior you won't have to worry too much about the disciples of Confucius, the Taoist temples, or the Buddhists. They won't be your chief danger."

"What do you mean?"

"Didn't your training college tell you anything about China's Communists?"

"We were shown some newspaper stories. I think they said a few 'Red Bandits' were fighting in remote areas — but soldiers of the government were tracking them down and finishing them off."

A sardonic smile flitted across Jacques Devraux's face. "The Chinese Nationalists have flung a tight blockade around all the Red areas — that's true. But I'd be very surprised if they had 'finished off' the Communists."

"But Monsieur Devraux," said Jakob, mystified, "I don't understand what all this has to do with anyone on this ship."


Excerpted from Peking by Anthony Grey. Copyright © 1988 Anthony Grey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Author's Note,
Prologue Manchester 1921,
PART ONE The Marchers Gather 1931,
PART TWO The Long March Begins 1934,
PART THREE The Marchers Change Step 1935,
PART FOUR The Marchers Triumph Summer 1935,
PART FIVE The Marchers Falter 1957,
PART SIX The Marchers Break Ranks 1966,
PART SEVEN The Long March Ends 1976,
Epilogue 1978,
About the Author,

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