Eating Smoke — a question and answer with the author, Chris Thrall – Part 1/5

October 16, 2011

Guest-Post by Tom Carter
Interview with Chris Thrall, author of Eating Smoke

Tom Carter, author of “CHINA: Portrait of a People”, catches up with Chris Thrall to discuss his new book “Eating Smoke, a memoir about Thrall’s descent into drug psychosis in Hong Kong’s triad heartland.

In the fall of 2009, whilst traveling in India to create my next photography book, I was contacted via email by a British writer who had read Down and out in Hong Kong, one of my online travel articles, which described this poor, dusty backpacker’s real-time impressions of Asia’s wealthiest city.

Chris Thrall said he connected with my article’s conclusion that, in spite of my western heritage, and due to my personal circumstances, I ultimately had more in common with the destitute third-world inhabitants of the Chungking Mansions, the infamous immigrant ghetto of Kowloon, than I did with the rich white bankers et al who comprise the other half of Hong Kong’s multinational population.

Chris went on to explain that he was writing a book about his own experiences living in Hong Kong, which was dramatically different from mine or any other expatriate I ever knew, and that he once worked for the 14K, the world’s largest Chinese crime family.

Attached to his email was the first chapter of his memoir, a gripping opening salvo that finds the narrator hiding from pursuing henchmen on a roof top—alongside two corpses, a disemboweled mother and child.

As a voracious reader, I know a bestseller when I see it.  I immediately forwarded Chris’s manuscript to my publisher in Hong Kong, Pete Spurrier, who runs the iconic Blacksmith Books, which specializes in Asian-themed literature.

Pete likewise was knocked off his feet by Chris’s incredible story; the next I heard, Chris was a fellow Blacksmith label mate with a book deal.

Chris Thrall was born in the UK. At eighteen, he joined the Royal Marine Commandos. Following active service in the Northern Ireland Conflict and training in Arctic warfare and survival, he earned his parachutist’s ‘wings’ and went on to serve as part of a high-security detachment onboard an aircraft carrier. In 1995, Chris moved to Hong Kong to oversee the Asia-Pacific expansion of a successful network-marketing operation he’d built, part-time, while serving in the Forces. Less than a year later, he was homeless, hooked on crystal methamphetamine and working for the 14K, Hong Kong’s largest triad crime family, as a doorman in Wanchai’s infamous red-light district.

Eating Smoke, a humorous yet deeply moving first book, is his account of what happened.

Continued on October 17, 2011 in Eating Smoke – Part 2, or if you have time and do not want to wait for the five-part series to finish posting daily, click View as Single Page.


Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, a 600-page book of photography from the 33 provinces of China, which may be found on

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All About Murder and so-called Land Grabs in Rural China

February 7, 2011

A friend and expatriate living in China sent me a link to a recent piece written by Gillian Wong of New Witness accounts renew suspicions over Chinese village leader’s gruesome death.

Gillian Wong writes, “The persisting suspicions about Qian’s death reflect a growing lack of trust in China’s government as rampant corruption and official abuse erode public confidence.”

The language Wong uses to place blame bothers me. What she writes assumes that China’s central government has total control over everything that happens in China, which it doesn’t. China is about the size of the United States with five times the population and most police work and governing takes place at the local level as in the US.

In fact, China couldn’t join the World Trade Organization in December 2001 without having a legal system similar to most Western democracies, which means this issue of a rural village leader being murdered over a land grab has to be dealt with by China’s infant legal system guided by the laws of China as such a crime would be dealt with in America under US laws.

This means criminals often go free as in the US. If the evidence and witnesses do not exist, no one is punished. The old days of Chinese officials rounding up the accused and executing them without evidence and a proper trial are supposed to be over.

For example, in 1973, Al Pacino played the part of an honest New York cop, Frank Serpico, who blew the whistle on corruption in the city police force only to have his comrades in police uniforms turn against him. Pacino’s movie was based on a true story.

The US even has a witness protection program to protect the lives of innocent people from criminals that want to erase all evidence against them even if it means murdering witnesses

I’ve written about corruption in China before and what is being done about it. What the West considers corruption in China and all of Asia was a way of life for several thousand years. The old ways of doing things do not change instantly just because a foreign legal system and new laws are created.

To allow this new legal system to work, the slow wheels of justice must be allowed to turn and that doesn’t guarantee that justice will be served. If you believe China is doing nothing about crime and corruption, learn from Bo Xilai’s 32 Million.

Another American movie, Walking Tall, was also based on the true story of honest Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser, who almost single-handily cleaned up his small town of crime and corruption, but at a horrible price, and he nearly lost his life as Serpico did.

No, I cannot blame that rural village leader’s death on China’s central government, and I cannot expect Beijing to send in the teenage Red Guard goon squad, which doesn’t exist anymore, as Mao would have done during the Cultural Revolution to punish everyone accused of a crime, even innocent people, without evidence as defined by China’s new legal system.

Gillian Wong also says, “Qian’s death is the latest violent incident to touch a nerve among the Chinese public, angry over official corruption and abuse of power, including unfair seizure of farmers’ land for development…”

Wong’s statements make it sound as if the land belongs to the farmers. It doesn’t.

 After all, the land the farmers worked belongs to the collective and the government but not individuals. In fact, even the title to urban homes individuals buy in cities clearly says that all the land belongs to the government. It’s more of a long-term lease than owning land.

How do you measure fair compensation of land that never legally belonged to the farmers in the first place?

Before 1949, most rural land belonged to wealthy landowners. In fact, the ancestors of the peasant farmers working the land today were tenant farmers that paid a rent of some sort to the real landowners, who often abused the peasants.

After winning the Chinese civil war, Mao had many of the original landowners executed for supposed crimes against those peasants. There were no fair trials. The peasants complained and the Communists executed the accused.

Correct me if you have other “facts”, but most of China’s farmers have worked the land free for about sixty years with no rent, no mortgage and no property tax.

As for murder, with a Western style legal system and no witnesses willing to step forward, there is no case. The main character of My Splendid Concubine wrote in one of his journals that in China the innocent were often punished along with the guilty while in England the criminals often went free and there was no justice for the victims.

If what Robert Hart wrote in the 19th century was true, then it seems Western justice has arrived in China. Maybe China’s central government needs to start a Western style witness protection program if they don’t have one yet.


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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Shanghai Scams, The Man Trap – Part 3/3

January 28, 2011

Serpentza talks about how someone giving you shopping tips of where to shop gets kickbacks, which means whatever price you pay is probably double or triple what you should be paying.

However, what Serpentza doesn’t tell you is it is okay to haggle over the price except maybe in a Shanghai Wal-Mart.  Yea, they have Wal-Mart’s in China.

Anyway, Serpentza says to shop by yourself unless you know someone local.  That is good advice.

Actually, I have this hand carved wood sculpture that I wanted.  The shop owner thought my wife, who is Chinese, was my guide and he told her if she could convince me to buy this carving, he’d give her a kickback.

Needless to say, she found out how low he was willing to go, that’s the price I paid for the sculpture, and she refunded me the kick back.

Meanwhile, Serpentza says the beggars all have an angle—don’t trust them.

He then says if you are a single man out walking and a woman approaches you, be suspicious.  He then goes into detail what he has learned from a friend.

The story Serpentza tells is similar to what happened to me in 1965 when I was twenty and in the US Marines stationed in Okinawa.

The Shanghai Scams Website says to watch out for “Practice English”: two (mostly good-looking) Chinese girls approach you and ask you if you want to join them for a drink so they can practice their English. After you go to the washroom or make a phone call the girls disappear and the bill arrives for an astronomical price. If you refuse to pay, the owner would call some locals who tell you that you had better pay, otherwise…   Advice:  tell them to call police as you obviously are not drunk and never consumed that many whiskies. Call their bluff.

Of a “Lady Spa / massage”, usually a tout or a female approaches you to offer you “special services”.

That’s illegal in China and therefore you should not even think about it.

Return to Shanghai Scams Part 2


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.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

Crime and the Law – Thirty Years in China

November 17, 2010

A discussion at the China Law Blog launched my investigation of crime and corruption in China. This post is one of several on this topic as a response to a few stereotypical comments at the China Law Blog discussion such as:

amp 5 said, “I’ve also asked my Chinese friends about this and the answer I usually get is along the lines of ‘The CCP is our version of the mafia’.”

Sun Kim said, “Ragtag groups that undoubtedly operate with the unspoken approval of the provincial government and/or the CCP as they ultimately help support the economy, albeit in shady terms.”

Rui Ramosu said, “The difference being, as someone above quite cogently noted, is that the government is ultimately able to control the organized crime, but turns a blind eye to it as long as it stays under control.”

James G said, “And China hasn’t really done a good job of eliminating organized crime. They have done a superb job or hiding it from foreigners, though.”

In fact, these comments are all wrong and are perfect examples of ignorant people parroting the Sinophobia and fear of Communism that exists in America and other Western nations.

Soon after 1949 until 1982, China was drug free and had to deal with few of the crimes that have plagued America and other nations for centuries.

It wasn’t until China opened its doors to world trade in the early 1980s that organized crime and corruption returned to China on a large scale.

Thirty years later, China’s growing legal system and police now deal with prostitution, gambling, drugs and all the rest just as the US and other nations in the free world have done for centuries.

In the last decade since my first trip to China, I’ve discovered that greedy individuals and groups in the smaller cities and remote provinces conduct most of the serious crime in China.

Since the Communist Party has more than 70 million members, it makes sense that some will be involved in illegal activities and thousands have already been convicted and dealt with.

China’s infant legal system was first launched in the early 1980s in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou (Canton) and other major cities. From that start, the legal system has slowly spread to the remote areas of China.

One step toward developing a modern police and legal system happened in 1984 when China became a member of Interpol, and Mr. Zhu En Tao, a member of the Communist Party of China, was appointed Deputy Director of the China Centre, Interpol.

Here are a few examples that show what China is doing to combat crime and corruption in China and internationally.

China has executed 72 people over the past week for drug trafficking offences…. Source:, June 2000

In 1994, New York resident Nguyen Hao Duc allegedly planned in cold blood, then carried out the murder of two innocent young men as part of a narcotics conspiracy. He then fled, settling eventually in the Pearl Delta area of Guangdong Province and supported by associates in the United States who sent him monthly living expenses.…

Based on information provided by the FBI to the Chinese officials, Nguyen was located…. In short order, officers of Guangdong’s Public Security Bureau arrested him in the town of Jiangmen, predicated on a Foreign Police Cooperation request made by the FBI Legal Attaché stationed in Beijing.

Then, on July 20, 2003, officers of the Ministry of Public Security transferred custody of Nguyen to two FBI Agents and a New York Police Detective, and Nguyen returned this month to the United States to face trial. Source:, July 2003

China has been active in seeking international cooperation in the fight against corruption. Since 1998, Chinese prosecutors have captured a total of about 70 criminal corruption suspects from abroad through legal assistance channels with foreign countries… Chinese police have also seized more than 230 Chinese criminal suspects from more than 30 countries and regions during the 1993 to January 2005 period with the help of Interpol, the international police body. Source: Asia Times, Oct. 29, 2005

China’s anti-drug efforts in the past year resulted in the cracking of several key transnational drug trafficking cases and the planting of opium replacement crops in the “Golden Triangle” areas, China’s police said.  Source: People’s Daily, November 22, 2006

Almost 800 illegal gambling dens in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were raided in one of Interpol’s biggest co-ordinated crackdowns. Cars, bank cards, computers and mobile phones were also confiscated. The dens handled more than $150m in bets, Interpol said. Source:, July 2010

Between 2001 and 2005, Chinese police opened more than 28,000 trafficking cases, the Chinese government arrested more than 25,000 suspected traffickers, and rescued more than 35,000 victims. During 2006, China police investigated 3,371 trafficking cases; provincial governments rescued 371 victims and arrested 415 traffickers. China also cooperated with Vietnamese, Thai and Burmese authorities to rescue victims. Source: Human

Discover more about Growing China’s Legal System


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.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

The Human Rights of Individualism

September 3, 2010

The reported that China moves to reduce number of crimes punishable by death.  Considering that in 1980, China had no legal system much has been accomplished and more is yet to come.

I agree that some of the crimes that warrant the death penalty in China are unfair for the crime committed, but China is not a Western country and the history of China prior to Communism shows that convicted criminals were often executed for a long list of nonviolent crimes.

Call me an Old Testament man. I believe if someone is convicted with overwhelming evidence of a brutal crime, he or she should face punishment equal to or worse than the crime they committed.

A trial for first-degree murder should end in a swift execution.

Face it, there are convicted criminals who cannot be allowed out of prison. Instead of locking them up for decades at a high cost to honest hardworking taxpayers, the criminals should be executed.

The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Recognition of inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”  Source: Human Rights Here and Now

I disagree with the term “all members” of the human family. Some criminals forfeit that right due to the nature of his or her crimes.

In forty-six American states and the District of Columbia, convicted criminal offenders are denied the right to vote while serving a sentence in prison. Thirty-nine states also disenfranchise felons on parole and twenty-nine disenfranchise those on probation.

In fourteen states, even ex-offenders who have served their sentences remain barred for life from voting. Source: The Sentencing Project

However, there is pressure on the United States to go easier on ex-offenders and allow them to have the right to vote again.

In fact, almost every country is changing due to pressure from human rights groups.  I don’t oppose what the human rights groups are doing yet slavery didn’t end during the American Civil War. Why isn’t more being done to end slavery?

Today, more than 27 million men, women and children endure brutal working conditions for no money and under the constant threat of beatings, torture and rape. Source:

All a slaver has to do is make sure he or she lives in a country that, at worst, will lock him or her up for life and provide free shelter, free food and free medical—something that China doesn’t do for these types of crimes.

Do you believe pampering hard-core criminals is going to change them? Maybe theWest should consider what “human rights” looks like in a collective culture as opposed to individualism.


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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