Expatriate Lodging in Pre-World War II China



Classic vehicle photographed by Alf van Been at the Lawman museum, The Netherlands, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Medical missionary Doctor. Basil Winslow, described his 1920s trip to up-country China in his journal, excerpted in my recent blog Expatriate Pre World War II Travel in China.Ten or 12 porters who latched onto the car’s running boards, or roof  moved the doctor’s belongings, counted as pieces (48 — Winslow’s piano counted as one piece).



My stepdad often traveled up country to see his agents during his pre-World War II years in China working both for the Standard Oil, and their subsidiary STANCO. Dad sold Flit, a powerful insecticide that prevented many cases of malaria. As a small child I remember Dad spraying Flit around my bed every night before I climbed in. He then covered my bed with a mosquito net.

Lodging at Chinese inns generally consisted of a kang —a communal stone “bed” with a going fire underneath for warmth. Conscious of vermin, Dad would instead  climb a ladder to the roof, open his cot, spray Flit and cover himself with his mosquito net.


Dr. Winslow had a different experience on his trip. At Yuin-Chang they stopped at a native inn that was actually a stockade enclosure with rickety buildings. They found themselves in a milling crowd of travelers with donkeys, horses, cars, trucks, and various types of vehicles. Winslow’s party was assigned to a horse stall where they set up their cots and ate supper from their commissary of canned tomato soup and crackers.

Road weary, they took to their cots for a restful sleep just as their fellow travelers in neighboring stalls got started on a night  of carousing and gambling. The ubiquitous rats soon began to forage and play over their cots and food supplies. Since they needed more covers, they combined forces and spread their bedding in nearby fodder and straw. Their new bed, soft and warm, awakened the jiggers who  moved in for a feast. Finally they combined all bedding on a single cot for a brief sleep.

After 65 miles of travel the next day, they refused to bed down at a similar inn.  Their manager found them lodging at the town public reading room — a single bare room with a few old newspapers. Here they set up their cots, had hot water delivered from across the street for their dinner, and slept comfortably .

My husband and I, both children of  “Old China Hands,” grew up hearing many stories of expatriate life in this bygone era.

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