Alfred Raquez and the French Experience of the Far East, 1898-1906. In 1898, a man calling himself Alfred Raquez appeared in Indochina claiming to be a writer travelling the world to escape unfathomable sorrows back home in France. He published thousands of pages of highly detailed travel accounts that open a unique window onto the European presence in the Far East. He travelled far into the Zomia of upland Southeast Asia, a peripheral zone populated by people who lived beyond official state power. Raquez explored the nightlife of Shanghai and operated a popular cabaret in Hanoi. An amateur anthropologist, he helped mount expositions of colonial material in Hanoi and Marseille. Raquez met people in the highest circles of belle époque Indochina, as well as the kings of Annam, Cambodia, Laos and Siam. And yet, despite the charm and the ebullience and the erudition, through all his travels and rising fame, the man kept a secret that was so mortifying that even his closest companions would not learn of it until after his death in 1907. In truth, Alfred Raquez did not exist.
In the Land of Pagodas (Au Pays des Pagodes). China: 1898. In the middle of one of the most dynamic decades in the history of the Celestial Empire, when Western technology threatened to engulf age-old practices and cultural tensions were set to boil over, came a Parisian con-man with a gifted pen and a journalist’s eye. In the Land of Pagodas takes readers on a picaresque journey that is as much Moulin Rouge as it is Heart of Darkness.
"In the Land of Pagodas is an impressive academic update and required reading for anyone with a connection to China." Read the review in South China Morning Post.
Laotian Pages (Pages Laotiennes). Laos: 1900. A frontier caught in a power struggle between Eastern kingdoms and Western colonial powers, a fertile land teetering between an ancient pastoral existence and the modern machine age. Raquez’s keen eye and sensitivity to the exotic in both nature and human culture, combined with a mastery of the genre and his hallmark conversational style, transport the reader to the largely unexplored frontier of fin-de-siècle Indochina.
Read the Mission Raquez blog, featuring translations of Raquez's dispatches and photographs from his ethnographic expedition through Laos in 1905.
Read an interview with William and Paul on China Underground.