Giant Man Zhan Shicai (Chang Woo Gow) and Catherine Santley

If Yao Ming had lived in Qing Dynasty China, perhaps his astonishing height might have landed him a role in a circus or onstage.

Photo credit: By ralph repo – Chang The Chinese Giant [c1870] Attribution Unk [RESTORED], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33422368
That was the life of Zhan Shicai, better known among Western audiences as Chang Woo Gow, whose towering stature (he reportedly stood over 8 feet tall) propelled him into such a career in the 1800s, including a stint in P.T. Barnum’s famous circus freak show that toured the US.

Born in Qing-era China in the 1840s, Chang Woo Gow made his first appearance abroad in London in 1865 at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, together Kin Foo, his onstage wife, and the dwarf Chung Mow. An article published on Nov 9, 1893 in the London Times described what Chang Woo Gow’s performances were like in that era:

Amidst a hushed room Chang would arise to the tinkles of bells and a piano playing a Polka. He slowly descended to greet his audience, and to gasps of amazement at his great height, he would gently shake hands with those nearest the front. With excitedly playing music he would “chin chin” to his audience and then, with a great flourish of gongs he would majestically regain his throne – and the exhibition would be finished.

The admission fees to this spectacle of Victorian human curiosity were up to three shillings. Chang’s employers disgracefully refused him permission to walk about town with the shameful excuse that this lowered his value as an “exhibit”. This he found untenable, and longed for a quieter life.

Indeed, as Chang Woo Gow, who went on to tour Europe, the US and Australia as “Chang the Chinese Giant”, lived an existence which the Dorset Magazine characterized as “tawdry”:

Even though Barnum paid him the handsome sum of $500-a-month to dress up in Mandarin robes or the war-mongering finery of a Mongolian warrior, Chang almost certainly wished that it didn’t have to be that way.

He was fluent in six languages, gentle, intelligent, well-mannered and quiet by nature with no natural affinity for the brash showmanship of the circus world.

Still, traveling the globe allowed Chang Woo Gow to meet Catherine Santley, who enchanted him during his visit to Australia. They married in a church in Sydney and went on to have two children, Edwin and Ernest.

The couple eventually moved to a villa they dubbed “Moyuen” in Bournemouth, England, at a time when Chang Woo Gow suffered from tuberculosis. He opened a teahouse and store selling Chinese imports there. But surely he harbored deep affection for his wife Catherine, as the report in the London times stated that in 1893 “he died of a broken heart, at the age of 52, just four months after his wife’s death.”

You can also learn more about Zhan Shicai/Chang Woo Gow and Catherine Santley at his Wikipedia page and this page maintained by the Chinese Museum in Australia.

What do you think of Zhan Shicai/Chang Woo Gow and Catherine Santley?

Photo credit: By ralph repo – Chang The Chinese Giant [c1870] Attribution Unk [RESTORED], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33422368

“The Moment Our Eyes Met, I Froze”: Chinese Men Open up About Dating Foreign Women on Vice.cn

“Her name was Olivia, and she was extremely passionate. … I still remember when I handed the drink to her, the way I felt when she raised her head to look at me. The moment our eyes met, I froze, because her laughter was too enchanting.”

This is the second installment of my English translation of a Chinese-language article on Vice.cn featuring interviews with four Chinese men who dated foreign women. Today’s interview is with a Chinese man who is an architect living in England, and he has dated women from many different countries there.

If you missed the first installment, have a look at “She Liked Having Threesomes”: Chinese Men Open up About Dating Foreign Women on Vice.cn. And stay tuned for the third and final posts!


24 years old, architect, living in England.

VICE: From what countries are the women you’ve dated?

Actually quite a few. America, England, Brazil, South Korea, Poland, Vietnam, Switzerland. I came in contact with all of these women after arriving in England to study abroad.

Which girl left the deepest impression with you?

Currently it’s this girl from Brazil. Her name was Olivia, and she was extremely passionate. I was particularly impressed by her when we first met. I worked at a pub at the time, and she came by herself to have a drink. I still remember when I handed the drink to her, the way I felt when she raised her head to look at me. The moment our eyes met, I froze, because her laughter was too enchanting. I think I must have stood there for a while, and now that I think about it, I imagine I must have looked especially ridiculous. I also remember when she noticed I didn’t say anything, she asked one thing: “What do you find in my eyes?” She was laughing as she asked me. I will never forget this.

Having dated so many foreign girls, do you have any vanity or sense of pride?

Yes, in China. Many people will look at me, so there times when I feel a little vanity. And overseas as well. Even though people won’t say so, but I’ve felt that they think it’s strange to see white women and Asian men together, so I can feel I am relatively special.

Why do you think Westerners feel it’s strange? Is it because of stereotypes about Asian men?

Exactly. Most people believe Asian men, particularly Chinese men, are very nerdy. Dating Asian men, it’s just like what we call “science and engineering dudes,” and these men are not the most popular no matter where you are. Western women prefer athletic, humorous and sociable guys, as they were taught by their culture. It’s the complete opposite of our educational environment. Of course, there are times when I feel that this stereotype has some basis.

Does this influence your relationships with foreign girls?

Yes. Honestly speaking, especially in England, the locals are very traditional. My former English girlfriend didn’t have a high estimation of Eastern culture, and thought that the Eastern way of being more restrained was not a good characteristic. Her only goal to date me was to learn about Eastern culture, so she could add some content to her report…she always said, “All of my friends don’t like Chinese men because they think you’re too awkward.” But I felt her xenophobia was also rather awkward.

Are there many Chinese men around you who have dated foreign girls?

Very few. I only know of one friend who has.

Is it easier for Chinese women to find foreign boyfriends?

Yes. There’s a big difference in how foreigners treat Chinese men and Chinese women. For example, when there’s a party, the best place for people to hook up, they will invite the Chinese women who are studying with us to go, but won’t invite Chinese men. It clearly shows that, overseas, Chinese men are not as welcome as a group.

As a Chinese man, how do you break through this kind of “dating barrier”?

To connect with foreign women, you need a lot of confidence. This is the core problem, which affects your language, communication and personal charisma. So, if you want to date foreign women, perhaps you need to have confidence in yourself first. I know many guys who were these huge ladies’ men in China that, after coming to England, never mind that they had no luck with the women, they found it was strenuous to get accustomed to life overseas.

When I first went there I was like that, I had no confidence to speak up among foreigners. But in China, a foreign man who can’t even speak Chinese clearly can get a Chinese girlfriend. It’s not just that they are more “coddled” because Chinese women like foreign men. It’s also that foreign men will confidently express themselves no matter what, and let others get to know them.


What do you think of the interview?

P.S.: This is the second installment of my English translation of a Chinese-language article on Vice.cn featuring interviews with four Chinese men who dated foreign women. If you missed the first installment, have a look at “She Liked Having Threesomes”: Chinese Men Open up About Dating Foreign Women on Vice.cn. And stay tuned for the third and final posts!

AMWF History: Frank Soo, the First Asian Soccer Player in England

As soccer fever grips the globe with the start of the World Cup, it’s the perfect time to remember some long-forgotten soccer greats from the past, such as Frank Soo, the first Asian soccer player in the English football league as well as the first person of color to represent England in international matches.

By all accounts, Frank Soo – who was born in 1914 to Our Quong Soo, a Chinese sailor, and Beatrice Williams, a white English woman – was a spectacular player of his time:

“Anyone reading match reports from the time or interviews with supporters who watched him play can see how highly regarded he was for the elegance and skill of his play,” she says.

“In his time, he was also regarded as one of the best by his fellow players, like Joe Mercer and Stan Mortensen and it wasn’t uncommon for Stoke City fans to say that Frank Soo was ‘better than Matthews’.”

Soo broke into the first team not long after Matthews, and Stoke fostered a reputation for intelligent, skillful football that made them one of the most celebrated sides in the country.

In the sides of Mather and his replacement Bob McGrory, Soo was a star in the Potteries and would later captain the men in Red and White.

Frank Soo’s soccer career spanned the 1930s and 1940s, eras known for overt and aggressively racist behavior against minorities in England. Given that many of today’s nonwhite players must still endure racist treatment on the field, Soo surely had it harder, despite how there are few records of racist incidents against him, beyond slurs (such as “Chinaman”). And did race impact his soccer career? “Soo himself suggested in 1975 that his relatively few appearances for the national team came down to his “oriental blood”,” as reported by Planet Football.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Frank Soo also married a white English woman (Beryl Freda Lunt) in 1938, though their relationship ended in tragedy when she died of a drug overdose in March 1952.

You can learn more about Frank Soo by reading The Wanderer: The Story of Frank Soo by Susan Gardiner, watching this BBC video and also by visiting The Frank Soo Foundation, an organization that aims to continue Soo’s legacy in the UK by supporting “a player of Chinese or East Asian descent to an official home nation cap.” (Let’s hope the foundation makes it happen!)

What do you think of Frank Soo’s story?

Interview with Competitive Ceroc/Modern Jive Dancers Samson Chan and Georgia Traher

Georgia and Samson
Georgia and Samson

Falling in love on the dance floor is not just the stuff of romantic comedies. It happened in London, England to Samson “Samo” Chan and book blogger Georgia Traher, who felt the sparks fly while dancing Modern Jive and Ceroc for fun.

But for this AMWF couple, dancing is more than a hobby. Samson recently won first place in the Advanced Freestyle category with his partner and now competes at an open level. Georgia, who has danced since she was 13, is an intermediate dancer just starting her competitive career. Wow!

This weekend, they will rock the ballrooms of Hong Kong as participants in the Pan Asian Ceroc Championships, a charity event raising money for Angels for Orphans. Here’s a Youtube video from last year’s event:

In fact, the couple will be part of a group lead by Samson that will provide entertainment:

Be entertained by performances from Samson Chan and his team of 8 young, vibrant Ceroc dancers…

…and instruction on Saturday Oct 24:

4-5pm, Whips & Scrolls with Samson ‘Samo’ Chan:

Want to leave your followers with that “Wwheee!” feeling and impress onlookers? Whip along to this workshop to cover both some whirlwind moves and slick techniques.

The technique side will focus on connection for both lead and follow, then you’ll be learning a style of moves called ‘Whips’ and ‘Scrolls’ that can be used to enhance your smooth jive repertoire.

About Samo

Samo is known for his smooth and fluid style. This diverse dancer has stormed onto the UK ceroc scene, winning people over with his infectious smile and whirlwind whips. His smooth jive butters up all he dances with, and his collection of trophies would tell you the judges love him too!

FYI, for those of you new to Ceroc, here’s a quick introduction from the Ceroc website:

Ceroc is an abbreviation of the French phrase c’est Rock.

We have been introducing complete beginners to the world of partner dancing for over 30 years and today we are the biggest dance club in the world with hundreds of classes across the globe.

We teach dance in its general form, and we use dances like Salsa, Ballroom, Latin American, Street dance, Hip Hop, Musical Theatre, Tango and Jive to develop our creative and expressive inner-self.

I sat down with Georgia and Samson to learn more about how they met, their strengths as dancers, and what they’ll be up to during the Pan Asian Ceroc Championships.

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You both met on the dance floor. Could you tell us a little bit about that first time you were together?

We had had a few dances before we officially ‘met’ but he soon became my favourite dancer.

Most nights after the class, the group will move on to a nearby bar to keep dancing. As we were walking over, he asked me out for a drink on our own and we’ve carried on dancing since then.

You do Ceroc and Modern Jive dancing. Why are you attracted to these styles of dance?

The Ceroc franchise is set up to be friendly and for socialising as well as learning to dance. All dancing is great for meeting people, my dad and step mum met while dancing (tango) as well! Modern jive isn’t what people imagine, it is alot smoother than traditional jive or swing dancing and people often surprise themselves with how easy it is to learn few moves.

Could you tell us a little about your competitive strengths as dancers?

Competitions are so much fun! Samson inspired me to start to compete after I watched him (win) in London. Competition dancing is a little different to our usual freestyle (casual/social) Dancing. You get used to finding your judge and showing off your personality. Samson’s speciality is musicallity and hitting every beat with a ‘wow’ move with his partner. I love the feeling of competition dancing, you have to tighten up your styling and there is nothing like hearing the crowd cheer!

This weekend, you are both in Hong Kong for the Pan Asian Ceroc Championships, which is being organized as a charity event for Angels for Orphans. Could you tell us a little about what you and Samson will be dancing in this competition and how your efforts are supporting this charity?

This weekend the Pan Asia Ceroc Championships are going on. We are a group of eight and we are performing a group caberet dance, which features ceroc in its most advanced forms to show off what is possible with these simple dance moves. Some of the more advanced in the group will be judging the competition beginner categories, and the group is also providing two workshops to pass on some signature moves. We’re entertainment, judges and instructors for the weekend.

What advice would you have for someone interested in competitive dance?

Here I’ll hand over to Samson as he’s the expert: The most important things for competitive ceroc dancing are the couple’s personality, that they are compatible with eachother and dance with the same style. A few flash moves are useful but most of all it’s important to listen to the music. And as I tell Georgia: No making faces! A resting happy face is fine, but if you mess up pretend you didn’t, you might think the judges can’t see a wrinkled nose, but they’re always watching! You have to love every move and every song, even if you’re dancing to YMCA by the village people!

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A big thanks to Georgia and Samson for this interview! If you’re in Hong Kong and wondering what to do this weekend, consider heading to the Pan Asian Ceroc Championships, where you can catch them and many other brilliant dancers in action while supporting the charity Angels for Orphans. Book lovers will enjoy Georgia’s book blog Stories in Books.

Double Happiness: From a UK Half-Marathon to a Romantic Dalian Proposal

SoC running 2
Sarah and her husband.

You never know where love’s going to find you — and where it might take you. Sarah (a native of Birmingham, England and the woman behind Diaries of a Yangxifu) had just finished the Half-Marathon in Birmingham, all sweaty and exhausted, when lo and behold, she discovered an incredibly handsome Chinese man right beside her. A man who would propose to her less than a year later in his hometown of Dalian, China. 

Have an unusual love story or thrilling guest post you’d love to see published on Speaking of China? Learn how you can do it (just Sarah did) at the submit a post page.

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I never felt quite the same after that year of teaching English in Nanjing in 2010. When I returned to the UK, I found I had a little thing for Chinese men, who reminded me of my year in China and shared my love of 饮茶 (drinking tea) and 烤鱼 (roasted fish). However after about two years, I had got back in to the swing of things back home and was really enjoying living in a multicultural city with a big Chinatown and occasional trips to KTV.

I had been training for the Half Marathon for over four months, including a three-week holiday in China where I managed to sneak in a few runs on the banks of the Pearl River in Guangzhou and along Victoria Harbour in HK. I was feeling incredibly proud of myself when I had completed the 13.1 mile run and felt on top of the world as I walked from the finish line to my home 10 minutes away. Still, I was a bit achey and was trying to decide whether to take a little rest or just get home and have a nice shower. I saw a free bit of wall in the square and decided to take a little rest.

SoC running 1

I soon noticed the handsome Chinese man sitting on the wall next to me and was deciding how to make conversation, a habit of mine since returning from China. Then he turned to me and congratulated me on finishing the run. (Let’s hope it was the medal round my neck rather than the bright red face and disgusting hair that gave me away!)

We got to chatting for a while, exchanged snacks (they put some strange things in race finish bags) and chatted about sport. I had not met such a sporty Chinese person before, or one with freckles. Some time into the conversation I asked whether he was Chinese, and he replied, “Yes, but don’t be scared.” (I’m not sure what kind of experience he’d had of British people!). I answered (in Chinese) that I wasn’t afraid and actually I could speak a little Chinese myself, much to his surprise!

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We spent the rest of that day together, and I think it was the best day of my life. I had not only met not only the most handsome man I’ve ever known. I also met the man who 10 months later proposed to me “movie-style” at the top of Dalian’s sightseeing tower observation deck, right in his hometown where we had moved a couple of months before. I feel so lucky to have met a man with such integrity and intelligence, someone who always strives to be better — just like me.

That day, sitting on a wall in the Birmingham city centre, marks the start of my greatest adventure: of marriage, of a new family, of living a taste of real Chinese life.

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Sarah is currently studying Mandarin Chinese in Guilin, China, where she lives with her husband, and documents the challenges and the joys of her adventure at Diaries of a Yangxifu.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.