Gangs of Old Shanghai: The Hovans Gang

By Paul French, March 12, 2018

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Paul French, New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in Peking, is back in China in March presenting  City of Devils in Shanghai, Suzhou and Beijing. The book sees him delve into the murky underworld of Old Shanghai. There were plenty of wrong'uns about, and a whole lot of bad blood between them. In this 'Gangs of Old Shanghai' series, French presents us with a who's who of old time organized crime, and quite the rogues gallery it is too.


The Hovans Gang

Boss: Eugene Pick (aka Hovans)
Base: The Taydong Boarding House, Tien Dong Road (Tiantong Lu)

Few gang bosses in Shanghai were more notorious, or attracted as much Special Branch attention, as Captain Eugene Pick, AKA Hovens or Dr. Clige. None of those were his real name – he was a Latvian who fought in the Great War for Russia. He had come to China as a Soviet commissar, and ran a ballet corps and an opera company.

He reportedly bled dry every intelligence service in Shanghai, selling them duff intel, and blackmailed a gay American judge who later committed suicide. His gang specialized in forgery and white slaving, and met regularly at boarding house in Hongkou.

It was run by Pick’s Georgian common-law wife, who ran the place as a staging post for trafficked women and brothel. Pick carried on blurring the lines between intelligence and crime, selling secrets to the Japanese and Russians, or whoever paid.

His crew included Nathan Rabin, a former Detroit mob hitman living in Shanghai. Most of his gang were White Russian and gave themselves grand titles – ‘Count’ or ‘Baron’. In terms of pure criminality Pick was remembered perhaps for one gift he gave Shanghai, a gift it would much rather have not had…  Paul Lojnikoff.


Paul French will be one of the featured authors at Shanghai Literary Festival 2018 at M Glam on March 15 at 6pm and March 17 at 12pm. See event listings here and here.

He will be at the Bookworm in Suzhou on March 19, see event listing here.

He will be at the Bookworm in Beijing on March 21 and March 22, and hosting a pair of walking tours in Beijing on March 24 and March 31.

To read about more Gangs of Old Shanghai, click here.

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