Emily Hahn, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, China’s Wings, and The Boxer Uprising

2011 05 17 cover mock up v2I found a few more Mikey Hahn-flavored outtakes from the China’s Wings rough draft to add to the three-part story I told this week. Here’s one of them, which probably took place in late February or early March, 1941. (Hat tip to Eric Mueller, see his comment below):

Emily “Mickey” Hahn didn’t return to the United States from Hong Kong. She stayed in the Colony and fell into a none-too clandestine affair with married British Army officer Charles Ralph Boxer. He worked in intelligence, and duty often called him to long hours. In her alone time, Mickey became friendly with CNAC’s Caucasian personnel and their wives, although as a writer without a financially successful book, she couldn’t keep the fast, fashionable pace maintained by the CNAC wives and girlfriends in anything except scandal, a Hong Kong niche she’d quite well cornered.

Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, 1941

Other international notables fell into the extended social circle, including Martha Gellhorn, a groundbreaking female war correspondent who’d made her reputation reporting for Collier’s from the hottest combats of the Spanish Civil War and was a close personal friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Gellhorn had come to the Orient to write about the China war, and her nose for a good story led her straight to the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). A gorgeous, long-legged blonde, Gellhorn had a new husband in tow, her second, and he was a renowned writer in his own right — Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn, in turn, was Hemingway’s third wife, and he was basking in the smashingly successful release of For Whom the Bell Tolls, his novel of the Spanish Civil War. Gellhorn researched the airline; Hemingway pitched camp in “The Grips,” as the lobby bar of the Hong Kong Hotel was known throughout the Colony, and fell in tight with a crowd off-duty CNAC pilots and staff who often rendezvoused there after work to swill gimlets and exchange stories. One such gathering was picking up steam when a pilot noted Mickey Hahn’s absence. Hugh Woods wondered where she might be.

“She’s probably putting down a Boxer uprising,” retorted Hemingway.

The assembled fuelers erupted with laughter, and Woody could hardly wait to report the quip to the lady herself.

When he did, Mickey drew herself straight and peered at the cheeky pilot with regal Cleopatran scorn. “No one need have been concerned,” she pronounced. “You can assure Ernest that I had the situation well in hand.”

Although perhaps disappointed that such a scandalously delightful woman hadn’t fallen for one of the available aviators in their own crowd, the pilots took a measure of American pride in the fact that Mickey had poached the amorous attentions of a man who was clearly one of the more capable and intelligent officers in the British community. Mickey’s affair fared considerably more poorly in British circles, still stung by memories of King Edward the VIII’s abdication of the throne to marry “that dreadful woman,” American double divorcee Wallis Simpson.

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Next, I’ll post the compliment Hemingway paid to the CNAC pilots in his posthumous novel, Islands in the Stream.


Here’s a nice piece about Gellhorn in The Atlantic.

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Hemingway and Gellhorn left the US in January, 1941, arrived in Hong Kong on February 22, and flew into the Chinese interior aboard one of CNAC’s Curtiss Condor freight planes on March 24: Moreira, Peter, Heminway on the China Front: his WWII Spy Mission with Martha Gellhorn, pp. 13-70; Lyttle, Richard B., Ernest Hemingway: The Life and the Legend, pp. 136-138; Bond, William L., Wings for an Embattled China, pp. 237-238. [Bond misplaces his Hemingway anecdotes in Wings. In Hong Kong, Gellhorn and Hemingway lived in the room at the Repulse Bay Hotel that had been vacated by Bond’s son, Langhorne and his nurse, Olga Chen.]

“The gimlet is the tipple of Hong Kong”: Hahn, Emily, China to Me, pp. 91.

The Boxer uprising: Woods, Hugh, “The Boxer Rebellion,” Wings Over Asia: Memories of CNAC, Volume IV, pp. 30

A tone of fondness and approval colors CNAC’s memories of Mickey Hahn: Hugh Woods’s anecdotes in Wings Over Asia: Memories of CNAC, Volume IV; and in the cameo appearances she makes in Bond, William L., Wings for an Embattled China; author’s interview with Moon Chin, Frieda Chen and T.T. Chen, September 18, 2006.

That Mickey Hahn’s affair with Charles Boxer fared poorly in British circles, stung by Edward the VIII’s abdication: Cuthbertson, Ken, Nobody Said Not to Go, pp. 205.



  1. Hi, it’s me, nitpicking again.

    In your first paragraph you say the Boxer uprising story probably happened in January 1941, but as you note at the bottom, Hemingway and wife didn’t arrive in HK until 22 February. Initially apparently they stayed in the Hong Kong Hotel on Peddar Street, where that Grips bar was located. (That hotel was torn down, I believe, in the early 1950s.)

    Later during their brief stay in Hong Kong, Hemingway and Gellhorn moved to the Repulse Bay hotel on the south side of HK Island (which is still there in its original location, though housed in a new building since the 1980s). I happened to pay attention to these particular details because I attended the wedding of my niece in the Repulse Bay hotel just last month and when I noticed a small Hemingway exhibit there I made a point of learning when exactly he stayed there.

    Peter Moreira doesn’t specify precisely when they checked into the Repulse Bay Hotel, but on 25 March 1941, Hemingway and Gellhorn left HK for Mainland China. So probably (though not necessarily) the Boxer Uprising story was from when Hemingway was still in the Hong Kong hotel in the earlier part of that 22 Feb-25 March period.

    Hemingway did return to Hong Kong and the Repulse Bay hotel after the visit to Mainland China, but since the Boxer story centers in the Hong Kong Hotel bar it’s somewhat more likely, I think, that it was in the author’s initial stay in the city when he regularly hung out in “the Grips.”

    So the story, I’d say, based on what little reading I’ve done, probably is from late February or early March 1941. It couldn’t be from January, though, prior to Hemingway’s arrival.

    1. You’ve got it right again, Eric. :-) Thanks for the info. I’ve updated the post to reflect your correction. It’s always great to have fact checkers, so I appreciate your efforts and interest.

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