Jack London in China

This October at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Trade Show (NCIBA), I stopped at the University of Georgia Press booth searching for a book about Jack London (1876 – 1916).

In fact, Jack London, Photographer (ISBN 978-0-8203-2967-3) by Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Sara S. Hodson and Philip Adam was there, and I have a copy in front of me as I’m writing this post.

It is a beautiful book and proves that London had talent beyond writing stories such as White Fang or Call of the Wild.

London took photos in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War in Korea and Manchuria.

On page 57, the caption says, “London had his camera confiscated in Japan and was often detained by Japanese officials when he got too close to the front lines, especially as the war spread to the Yalu River, the boundary between Korea and Manchuria.” 

The experiences London had in Korea and China would lead to an essay and a story that ignited a debate that he was a racist.

Jack London, Socialist-Capitalist

He wrote the The Unparalleled Invasion, which takes place in a fictional 1975, when the West decides to destroy China (for no good reason) by using biological warfare. I guess the West couldn’t sell opium to China anymore.

While at the NCIBA, I had two conversations about London. One editor said she had heard that London was a racist and she had trouble believing that.  Later, another editor from the University of George Press also said he didn’t believe London was a racist.

London’s 1904 essay, The Yellow Peril, may have contributed to the claim that he was a racist. Using Google, I found sites that support this theory.

However, after seeing the pictures in Jack London, Photographer (Amazon link), it is hard to believe he was a racist.

There have also been rumors that London committed suicide but there is no evidence to support that theory either.

If London were a racist, why did his Japanese servant Tokinosuke Sekine stay loyal to the end even after London was bankrupt and his “fair weather” friends had abandoned him?

See China: Portrait of a People


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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