The publication of Midnight drew people who remembered some of the other characters of Beijing's badlands, a lawless place adjoining the Legation
Quarter that made Casablanca look like Disney World. That new material led to his latest book, The Badlands: Decadent Playground of Old Peking.
Besides bringing even more colorful characters into the story, The Badlands will add details to the U.K. series being filmed by the Kudos
The story of history's losers, liars, and refugees is rarely recorded, French says. The missionaries, diplomats, journalists, and historians have all
chronicled their lives in China in painstaking detail. "My thing is uncovering the lost side of the foreign story in China, the underbelly," he says. "You
can only find little whispers of them, little traces of them, and you have to build it up from there."
His newest book brings readers a cast of characters that include a White Russian named Shura Giraldi, a hermaphrodite who lived a double life, running one
of Beijing's most successful nightclubs and dance troupes. He was "sometimes an anonymous man in a suit lost in a crowd, sometimes an eye-catching,
head-turning femme fatale in a tailored dress with ruby-red nails, jet-black hair, and a smile that could melt a man's heart at forty paces," French writes
French leads walking tours through the remnants of Beijing's badlands, and says that the fascination with the bad boys and girls of Beijing's past comes
from several places. "There is a perpetual interest in the underbelly of societies and the lost characters of history," he says. Add in unsolved murders
and "the notion of Europeans and Americans being bad abroad" and you've got a heady -- and profitable -- mix.
The badlands is not the first topic for French, 46, an expert on Chinese consumers for the market research firm Mintel. He's lived in China for about 16
years and produced a kind of rogue's gallery of material on old China, including North Korea, the Paranoid Peninsula (2005), Carl Crow: A Tough Old China Hand (2006), and Through the Looking Glass: China Foreign Journalists From Opium War to Mao (2009). And, under the aegis of his consulting work, he's co-authored One Billion Suckers: Accessing Asia's Consuming Passions After the Meltdown (1998), Oil on Water: Wankers, Pirates and the Rise of China (2010), and Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines are Changing a Nation (2010). (No
one can accuse the man of boring titles.)
But it's French's predilection for the underworld that seems to resonate most. Badlands paints a wrenching picture of the lives of prostitutes
Marie and Peggy, girls from White Russian families who were tricked into the life by their fathers and boyfriends. "The customers were sometimes violent,
often drunk and dirty, and there might be six, seven, eight of them a night - double that on weekends and holidays," French writes.