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Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse (History and Politics) Paperback – July 1, 1993


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Product Details

  • Series: History and Politics
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Eland & Sickle Moon Books (July 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0907871321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0907871323
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,576,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Hallstatt Prince on April 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite books. Trevor-Roper uses his considerable scholarly ability to write about a strange life that reads more like fiction than history. It is a real page turner as the eccentric and convoluted life of Backhouse is revealed. Trevor-Roper takes us from his years at Oxford and his association with famous homosexual elite of the turn of the century, his excesses in spending beyond his means, an excellent linguist, a notorious con-man, and exceptional forger, a neglected figure in history and in his old age, a latent homosexual. Homosexuality (although I mention the word twice in this review) is certainly not the prominent theme and is handled with delicacy and is merely treated as another facet in trying to understand this complex man. I recommend this book for both the historian and any reader of fiction that enjoys a good yarn. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jared M on October 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sir Edmund Backhouse (1873-1944), up until this book was first published in 1976, was renown as a great scholar of sinology. In conjunction with the British journalist and former Times correspondent J.O.P Bland, he had authored two best selling books about the Chinese Royal Court at the Forbidden City, Peking (now Beijing). Backhouse, by the time of his death, had lived in China for nearly 40 years. The high esteem in which he had been held by students and scholars of Chinese history collapsed upon publication of this book by Hugh Trevor-Roper (HTR). Trevor-Roper of course is the esteemed British historian and author of the classic "The Last Days of Hitler". The "Hermit of Peking" is the first full biography of one of history's greatest scam artists, Sir Edmund Backhouse. The pinnacle of Backhouse's achievements, the publication of "China under the Empress Dowager" in 1910, was found to be based on a forgery, one of many forgeries as it transpires, perpetuated by Backhouse, the ramifications of which continue to this day.

I first read of Backhouse in Diana Preston's book "The Boxer Rebellion", (a modern account of the siege of the Peking legations in 1900 by the Chinese Boxers) and again in Sterling Seagrave's "Dragon Lady", a revisionist biography of Tzu His, the Dowager Empress. Both authors are not charitable about Backhouse, and both give a potted biography of the man, particularly in Seagrave's book. In fact, Seagrave is particularly scathing and rightly so.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By W. J. Elvin on November 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
As other reviewers indicate, this is fine book for the scholar who is seriously into the subject. If first class research regarding Backhouse is what you're after, dig here. Certainly it's intriguing that Backhouse fooled many of the experts of his day, and I suppose the hints at his personal idiosyncrasies are fuel for high-brow gossip. Some interesting insights into China of the early twentieth century will be found. But the book is a report; page upon page of rather dry detail. The general reader looking for an entertaining romp through literary detection will probably be disappointed. If you're looking for the exciting chase you might find in, say, Don Foster's "Author Unknown," pass on. I will read just about anything I can find on literary scams and so plowed through this one but found it in general tedious and fatiguing. In the style advised for speeches and newspaper editorials, we are told what we will be told, then we are told, then we are told what we have been told. But I'm a curious writer-researcher, not an academic. And I should add that the book seems to be rising in the collectibles ranks and so I will definitely hang on to my copy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on April 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is an extraordinary example of biographical sleuthing by the fine English stylist Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford. Edmund Backhouse (1873-1944) was supposedly a gifted Sinologist, long resident in China; but under Trevor-Roper's steady gaze, he is revealed as a pathological deceiver and pornographer who, despite gentlemanly manners and extraordinary persuasiveness, was in the words of the DNB, "litigious, profligate, and a gross snob." Remarkably, as Trevor-Roper notes, Backhouse seems to have been "almost magically protected from all the effects of his own actions....sailing calmly through the stormiest seas" while "his successive victims sank spluttering in his wake." (292-93) Any prospective reader needs to ask himself whether he is prepared to devote the necessary time to learning more about such a charlatan, even when the exposition comes from the elegant hand of Trevor-Roper.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By othoniaboys on February 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
This fascinating book tells of the evil, wicked, mean and nasty Edmund Backhouse, pathological liar, and apparently the cause of the fall of the Manchu dynasty. He had a rich imagination, as was revealed in his memoirs, wherein he says that he was Verlaine's boyfriend, the Dowager Empress' boyfriend, and who knows what else.
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