In this old China tale like no other, Englishman Charles Mason tells of his doomed attempt to overthrow the Qing dynasty.
Lawrence of Arabia famously wrote that, “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,” for they may act upon their dreams. Such a man was young Charles Mason, who, in the late 1880s, secured a job with China’s British-run Imperial Maritime Customs Service at a river port. Here the glamor and adventure of exotic China met the reality of tedious paperwork, alcoholism, petty squabbles, and sordid sexual encounters. It was a test of character, and one which Mason would fail. From the boredom, and his connections with a secret society, a fantasy emerged of setting himself up as the “King of China.” In 1891 he secured men and arms to launch his revolt.
Mason was a much better writer than he was a revolutionary, and in mesmerising, melodramatic prose of sometimes borderline sanity, he recounts the failed insurrection from inspiration to his dramatic trial and the aftermath.
The Chinese Confessions was originally published in 1924. In this reissue, vital background and biographical information is given in an introduction by David Leffman, a travel writer and the author of The Mercenary Mandarin, a biography of the British adventurer William Mesny.