Uncovering The Dark History Behind a Brutal Beijing Murder

By Alistair Baker-Brian, August 28, 2021

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If you dig deep enough into the annals of Beijing history, you'll find your fair share of disturbing happenings. Many of them may be unfamiliar, even among long-term residents of the city. 

The murder of British schoolgirl Pamela Werner in January 1937 could be one such event. Werner’s mutilated body was found at the bottom of the Fox Tower. The site is nearby Kuijiachang Hutong where Werner lived with her father Edward Werner, a retired diplomat and sinologist. 

Kuijiachang Hutong where Pamela Werner lived with her father

The murder case remains unsolved even to this day. In a city that was about to be invaded by Japanese forces, rumors abounded in old colonial Peking about who could have committed such an act. An investigation led police to the Badlands hutong, including Hougou and Chuanban Hutong, where a small foreign community was engaged in opium use and prostitution.

The case forms the basis for the 2011 bestseller Midnight in Peking by British author Paul French. The book follows British detective Dennis and Chinese detective Han as they investigate the murder in a city gripped by tension. 

After the release of the book in 2011, a Midnight in Peking Walking Tour was launched. Initially, this was simply a marketing exercise to help promote the book, according to French. However, the tour later “just caught on” and after 10 years, the Official Midnight in Peking Walking Tour run by The Bespoke Travel Company has only grown in popularity. 

According to French, those who go on the tour are lucky that the areas covered remain almost the same as they were when Werner was murdered. 

“Beijing has changed so much. The fact that Pamela’s old hutong, the Fox Tower (the only surviving of the four watchtowers) and the former Badlands hutong remain is lucky given the scale of destruction,” French tells That’s.

“Kuijiachang Hutong hangs on next to the railway lines (then an old branch of the Grand Canal). The Badlands (Chuanban and Hougou Hutong) had been really forgotten as the old foreigner red light district.

Bringing that area back into the city’s consciousness was good. The Legation Quarter is also massively under-visited. Here, visitors can see streets with Western architecture in the middle of a Chinese city.”

The tour is mainly for readers of the book and also for anyone who simply wants to see “another side of Beijing.” But beware! The tour contains a few spoilers, so perhaps you’re best to read the book first.  

The most recent tours took place on Sunday, August 22 and Friday, August 27. More dates are planned for October. 

Watch this space for a chance to see a different side of Beijing!

READ MORE: ‘Destination Peking’ and Beijing’s Original Hutong Hipsters 

Visit the Bespoke Travel Company website to find out more or add them on WeChat by searching for the ID: Bespoketravelcompany

[All images via Alistair Baker-Brian/That's]

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