"The Mukden Tiger"

"The Mukden Tiger" – Zhang Zuolin in Warlord China

A unique peek into the life and times of the mightiest warlord in China during the chaotic 1920s, as well as expat life in the capital of Northeast China, Shenyang.

Zhang_Zuolin_1927_1Robert Christensen, a Dane, went to Mukden (present day Shenyang) in 1922 accompanying the Manchurian Warlord Zhang Zuolin's biggest ever order of weapons machinery. Shortly after, he was hired by Zhang to build up the largest arsenal in all of China and consequently had the chance to document, in Kodak stills and silent film footage, the life and death of the short hot-tempered former bandit who ruled Manchuria as his own. Zhang lived a life of luxury in his small castle where he had five wives, was driven around in bright yellow bulletproof limousines, and amassed enormous personal wealth.

He often threw huge banquets for the foreign community in town, where, standing on a chair in the middle of the room, he would present his dreams for a new China – which of course invariably included himself as ruler of all.

Robert Christensen, with a very profitable contract in hand, became one of Zhang’s trusted foreign advisors and admirers. In his seven years of service he was able to follow Zhang from the great dreams and successes of the beginning, through the conquest of large swathes of eastern China including Beijing, to the final collapse of his armies, complete bankruptcy of the Manchurian economy, and his eventual assassination in 1928. Christensen also recorded Chinese street scenes with avid curiosity, documenting the development and change of Mukden, as well as the life of an expat living through good times, with baijiu and champagne flowing freely.

An afternoon or evening of fascinating tales from the roaring 20s, where warlords shifted sides and assassinated each other as often as they changed concubines, and where the majority of expats lived in the lap of luxury, while most Chinese struggled through absolute poverty. And all of this with bombs dropping all around of them...

The talk is followed by the screening of a half-hour documentary filmed by Danish engineer Robert A. Christensen, who worked for Zhang Zuolin from 1922-1929.

Based on research for a forthcoming book, whose working title is: Seven Years in Manchuria: In the Service of the Mukden Tiger.

Talk by Simon Rom Gjeroe