For two and a half years (1937-1939), Captain John Seymour Letcher commanded a company of the U.S. Embassy Marine Guard in Peking. During that time, he wrote a series of letters to his parents in Virginia describing the life of a Westerner in the former imperial city. During that same time, China was invaded by Japan.
Captain Letcher describes the flavor of life in pre-Communist China—the food, servants, cold Peking winters and torrid summers, hunting, and excursions to the major tourist sites.
But his letters also tell of the Japanese slaughter of Chinese troops in the opening days of the Sino-Japanese War. He wrote about life in a city under Japanese occupation and the stirring story of the Chinese guerrillas rebounding from devastating defeat.
These letters and accompanying introduction, preface, and notes, draw attention to the Western experience in a place and time largely overlooked by military historians and modern China specialists.
Katie Letcher Lyle is the author of more than a dozen books. She has taught at Southern Seminary College, Hollins University, Washington and Lee University, and Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. She lives with her husband in Lexington, Virginia.
Roger B. Jeans is Elizabeth Lewis Otey Professor of East Asian History at Washington and Lee University. He is the author of Democracy and Socialism in Republican China.
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