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Neil in eminent company at the Royal Asiatic Society, London

Neil T. Sinclair

author of the book

Letters from Manchuria

gave a fascinating talk to the

Hong Kong group

Royal Asiatic Society

August 5th 2017

Neil points to an example of his mother-in-law, Marion Young’s letters from Manchuria

Neil and his wife, Helen, first selected and transcribed sections of the letters written by Helen’s mother, Marion Young, over the six years from 1935 – 1941 that she spent in the north east Chinese province of Manchuria.


They then chose photos from the albums she had brought back from China to illustrate her story.

Helen and Neil transcribing Marion’s letters

So why would a young Irish woman want to go there, so far away from family and the place she knew?

Neil quoted a passage from the unpublished memoir of Margaret Griffiths, a school friend of Marion’s, explaining how even before she was ten years old she knew what she wanted to do.


… None of us had such clear ambitions. We were going to be film stars, actresses, spies, poets, university professors, dancers, doctors, duchesses, nurses decorated for gallantry in war, everything by starts and nothing long. Marion was going to be a missionary. It was not a day-dream, but an intention; she had no need for day-dreams.’

Margaret Griffiths is on the left and Marion is standing second from right

Marion with schoolgirls in Faku


Marion & Wang Suu Wen with baggage bearer

Helen with schoolgirls in Faku

Margaret also wrote of her good nature –


… It was the good and simple spirit in her which made her so dear a friend to all who knew her. In her company, life seemed to be a straightforward matter, with the orderly gladness of a Bach chorale. She passed securely through chaos with serenity of heart. Fortified as she was by this serenity, it was fitting that she should become an adventurer.


And an adventurer she did become, her good humour and very Irish sense of fun shining through her letters from Faku, although when she had the opportunity to avoid the censors by sending letters with colleagues who were travelling home for furlough she gave a fuller picture of the cruel oppression of the Chinese by the Japanese regime.


In 1941 the regime brought Marion and thousands of others greater grief … but that is for you to read in the book, as is her joy when her worst fears were not realised.


Helen’s brother, Harry, spots himself – much younger, at Berkeley Castle, armed with sword for boys’ adventures!

Helen, Mr Sung, Harry and Joy 1956

Harry and nephew, Tom. Can you see they’re related?

You can buy Letters from Manchuria from www.LittleKnollBookshop.co.uk and from your local bookshop by request.

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