Why did I love this book?
Charles Welsh Mason, self-described “unconscious martyr of the Antichrist,” for reasons the author himself is only able to ascribe to a “morbid hallucination,” gives up his post, servants, and comfortable life as a young English customs officer in a treaty port in 1890s China for a bizarre plot to lead a band of Chinese rebels to overthrow the Manchu Government and declare himself “King of China.” The scheme unravels when he’s caught with a hoard of illegal arms. Almost unbearable suspense unfolds, masterfully narrated, as the authorities struggle to connect the dots. Even after his arrest Mason is wined and dined by his British superiors in Shanghai, incomprehension preventing their full appreciation of his mad plot. Finally imprisoned, Mason is shipped back to England to live out his remaining decades as a solitary eccentric. I do not recall any book set in China’s past or present, whether fiction or nonfiction, which builds up dramatic tension as this memoir does.