domingo, 20 de maio de 2012

Um best seller de 1932

"I Sailed With Chinese Pirates" de Aleko E. Lilius editado em 1932 (Londres).
Recensão feita em 2009 por Lingbo Li a propósito da reedição do livro:
Um best seller de 1932, recentemente reeditado, baseado em factos reais tendo alguns deles se passado ao largo de Macau. Para quem gosta do tema e de cinema, pode ter uma ideia do que foram estes tempos, no filme de 1935, "China Seas" protagonizado por Clark Gable, Jean Harlow e Wallace Beery.
..a journalist recounting a fantastical (and true) tale of befriending and sailing with some of China's colorful pirate ships. This is the true story of the only white man to have put to sea with the desperadoes of the China Seas. This is an unforgettable story of life in terrible conditions and hazadous undertakings in which the author was fortunate not to lose his life which was the fate of his Chinese servant.
O autor

(1890-1977) Aleko E. Lilius foi jornalista, escritor e aventureiro. Nasceu em S. Petersburgo em 1890. Muito viajado começou por explorar a Ásia, Norte de África e México. Os seus livros mais conhecidos são "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates" e "Turbulent Tangiers". Viveu os últimos da sua vida nos EUA e reformou-se por completo indo para a Finlândia onse se dedicou à pintura.

In an age of punch-drunk Jack Sparrows and pirate blockbusters, reprinting "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates" seems like a particularly genius move. One of the best things about the tale is that it's true: written by adventurous journalist Aleko E. Lilius, it follows his journey from a spark of curiosity to an initially fruitless request to join the ship. Then, he's off to a detour into Hong Kong prisons (written in gut-wrenching details of filth).
Lilius entre dois piratas
There's even a female pirate queen named Lai Choi San. The tale is helpfully illustrated by Lilius's photographs, which are less evocative than his captions, like this one of San: "She was now to be obeyed, and obeyed she was." We delighted in all the pages that spoke to the "body-warm smell of blood and the pungent reek of opium" that he describes in his preface. Indeed, there are the usual whores, winos, and ne'er-do-wells that you'd expect on a high seas adventure. His journeys also provide a measure of cultural insight into everything from hospitals (degrading) to gambling (pervasive).
It's a 1930's bestseller, and reads as such - Lilius's writing style could not be described as subtle, and it sometimes takes a turn for the overly dramatic. Half of the dialogue is, by contemporary standards, politically incorrect pidgin English. That it was written in 1930 allows you to casually sidestep simplistic characterizations as charming set pieces of a past era, and focus on what it is at its heart: a quick read that's seems like fiction, but with a tale wild enough that you won't dwell too long on whether every detail is true.
The South China Seas in the 1920's was an ideal breeding ground for pirates. There was a flourishing sea trade out of Hong Kong and other Chines ports for a start. Then there was the helplessness and apathy of the governments in that area. China was gradually breaking apart into civil war and Hong Kong had so much sea traffic that it was impossible for the British to police. A large number of pirates operated out of Bias Bay although there pirates on most navigable rivers and the pirates also kept a network of operatives and informants on all the mainland ports. Corruption was endemic and the pirates were always able to keep one step ahead of the authorities.
Into this shuffled Aleko E Lilius, an American journalist born in Russia who grew up in Finland. In the spirit of Hemingway (and probably Daniel Defoe) he was looking for good copy - lurid accounts of piracy and murder. What had brought him there was tales of several incidents that had reached the outside world. Between 1921 and 1929 there were 29 major pirate attacks on shipping as well as countless other smaller incidents.
Lilius hung around Hong Kong but had no luck until, on a suggestion, he went to Macao where he met a contact in the Sun Tai, a fan-tan gambling house. From there he entered the pirate world and encountered ordinary Chinese people who had been victims of the pirates. Lilius noticed one man leaning against a shop and spoke to him. The man smiled broadly.
"Chinee pirates choppee off ear. Send him by my brother. He! He! He!" he replied amiably and there was the hole in the side of his head to prove it.
Eventually Lilius received an introduction to Lai Choi San, the "Mountain of Wealth". She commanded a pirate junk and ran a protection racket for the Macao fishing fleets as well as engaging in the usual robbery, ransom and murder. Eventually, on Lilius' request, she passed him on to one of her captains so that he could go to Bias Bay and see the inside of the notorious "House of Torture". Instead he was stoned by a crowd that had gathered to look at him - a hated foreigner. Luckily, for him, he was protected by guards.
Back in Hong Kong he tried to contact pirates who were imprisoned. Actually pirates were hanged when they were caught so he could only see those who were convicted of more minor offences and who were unwilling to discuss their maritime activities. After a meeting with a soldier, Gordon McLintock, who had spent 3 months in prison he decided to get arrested.
Lilius was imprisoned and had to put up with three inch cockroaches, awful food and a shared clipper for beard trimming (beards were not allowed and he was in danger of catching anything from leprosy to syphilis - in fact Lilius was allowed to keep his beard - possibly because the authorities knew he was a journalist) as well as hearing or witnessing the hangings and beatings that went on inside. He made some contact with the pirates inside but then succumbed to dysentery which kept him hospitalised for the remainder of his sentence.
Once released he picked up an interpreter called Weng and tried to contact Lai Choi San. Whilst going to see her, Lilius and Weng were captured by two other pirate junks. Then, after being imprisoned, he was rescued by other pirates who executed his captors. This was more to Lilius' taste. He was returned to Macao.
He encountered another pirate contact who ran a floating brothel. He was recruited as a pirate for Wong Kiu, chief of the West River pirates. Wong Kiu liked opium and pigs and he did not trust Lilius. Unsure whether to kill him or not, Wong Kiu had Lilius watched day and night. Lilius struck up a relationship with a young Chinese prostitute who was impressed with his kissing. Together with her and Weng, he escaped in a sampan. They were taken on board a junk they encountered on the river. It was here, below deck, that Lilius encountered the dreaded Dog-Man. Ko Leong Tai had been a rich merchant until he was captured by pirates who naturally ransomed him. Ko was prepared for this and had left money with his brother. His brother, however, was more inclined to let Ko remain a prisoner whilst he kept Ko's fortune.
The pirates punished Ko by keeping in a bamboo cage with a heavy sliding roof that rested on his shoulder and forced him to squat on all fours. He endured this for fourteen years until he was released during the revolutionary struggle that overthrew the Mandarins. By that time his limbs were so hideously deformed that he could only walk on all fours as the Dog-Man.
Ko Leung Tai joined a gang of pirates who operated on the river. His intention was to find his brother and get his revenge. Each year his activities had got him nearer and his brother, who was a wealthy man in a gambling syndicate, lived in fear of his life.
Sala de jogo Fan Tan - arquivo IICT
The Dog-Man gave Lilius safe passage on the understanding that he would murder a man in Macao. Lilius agreed. During this time the young prostitute kept him company and blew smoke from endless cigarettes over his body to keep him free from the bites of mosquitoes. Eventually he handed her over to a trader.
A pirata Lai Choi San
Lilius then met Wong To Ping who offered him work as a "bag man" as long as he joined Ping's secret society - "The Hall of the Righteous Heroes". This involved fasting, a bunch of white feathers, Lilius had to make a cut on his left shoulder then dip the feathers in his blood and place them in an incense burner. Then he had to kill two roosters and drink the blood.
Lilius was now a "made" man and was given a job, with Weng, to carry a sum of money. Unfortunately he was attacked by other pirates who riddled the hut, where he hid, with bullets. Lilius and Weng were rescued by Wong To Ping's men who drove off the pirates. Unfortunately Weng was mortally wounded.
Lilius was upset by the death of his friend and decided that his days of piracy were over. However he was pleased to receive a gift from Wong To Ping. It was a ring which Lilius described as one of his most valued possessions.
"Wong To Ping! You are doubtless a murderer, kidnapper, seducer, opium addict, blackmailer, and you may be bound for hell, but I believe that you are a grateful cuss and a gentleman!" If you want to read the whole story then try and pick up "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates" by Aleko E. Lilius

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