Ocean Devil by James MacManusGiles Whilttell reviews the George Hogg biography by James MacManus on the Times. The biography, Ocean Devil, has recently been adapted into a film, Children of Huang Shi, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh.

And the great rolling convulsion that seized China for 23 years, devouring tens of millions of innocents but leaving Mao triumphant, was another. This was a maelstrom of overlapping wars, famines, floods and generalised destruction fuelled by the greed of warlords, Japanese fascism, paranoid Chinese nationalism and overcooked Marxian ideology.

Through the chaos ran the fragile threads of countless individual stories, but few can have been more astonishing or, in the end, uplifting, than that of George Aylwin Hogg.

James MacManus, then a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, first heard about Hogg in an eavesdropped conversation at the British Embassy Club in Beijing in 1984. The account that he has pieced together since is of an Englishman abroad, but hardly of the cliché those words suggest.

Hogg had the prodigious stamina so often traced to the rainswept playing fields of English public schools, and he stood out in China for other obvious reasons, including his height, his hair, his “high nose” and the colour of his skin. But more than any of his compatriots who immersed themselves in war-torn China, he stands out for something else entirely: his goodness.

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