China, 1898: a time of war, intrigue and growing foreign power. Onto the scene comes a Parisian fugitive with a gifted pen and a journalist's eye. Alfred Raquez drifts from Indochina to Hong Kong, Macao and Canton before falling in with a group of shady entrepreneurs in Shanghai with interests far up the Yuan River. In short order, Raquez sets off on a rollicking voyage into the heart of the lawless Miao-country, pen and camera in hand. The result is a richly recorded adventure told from the perspective of a wandering French boulevardier. In the Land of Pagodas takes readers on a picaresque journey that is as much "Moulin Rouge" as it is "Heart of Darkness", and in its narration reveals much about the derring-do and startling hypocrisy of the colonial enterprise.
Alfred Raquez was the pseudonym of Joseph Gervais, a bankrupt French lawyer who fled to the Far East in the late 1890s and had access to some of the powerful players in French Indochina. He wrote prolifically about China and Indochina, took some of the earliest photographs of Laos and made the earliest field sound recordings in that land. He died under mysterious circumstances in Marseille in 1907. Confidence man, daring explorer, dashing bon vivant, proto-photojournalist and amateur ethnographer in equal parts, Raquez offers one of the more intriguing voices (not to mention mystery-filled yarns) of any commentator on the mix of ambitions and follies of of European colonial expansion into the Far East. William L. Gibson is a writer, researcher and occasional sound artist based in Southeast Asia. With a PhD in literature from the University of Leeds, he is also the author of a trilogy of hard-boiled crime fiction set in 1890s Singapore and Malaya. Paul Bruthiaux is a prolific academic author and editor with a PhD in linguistics from the University of Southern California. French-born Paul Bruthiaux now lives in Thailand. His memoir,French Bred: Growing Up Provincial in a Bygone France, was published in 2012.