Here is a letter that I posted to the South China Morning Post.
Jason Wordie in his article ‘La Bella Hong Kong’ (Post Magazine 10/03) discuss about the presence of Fascist Italy in Hong Kong. In particular introducing Edda Ciano, the first born of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, then married to Galeazzo Ciano (1903 – 1944) Consul of Italy in Shanghai from 1930 until 1933.
Indeed Edda and Galeazzo were a very open couple, so to speak, and this is well known and documented, but that she had an affair with Chang Hsueh-liang (known as the Young Marshal) seems a great scoop made by Wordie, if true, which I doubt. As a matter of fact there is no record or hint about this. It is true however that the Young Marshal was a friend of the Ciano family and spent months in their house in Leghorn, Italy. The old people there still remember him for his love of riding at the Luna Park, screaming like a madman in the process.
It is also not true that Italy honored the incredible amount of money that Mussolini promised to the Holy See on signing the Treaty of Lateran in 1929. Yes, it was promised, but never delivered. Italy was a poor country back then and there were pressing issues at hand, more urgent than giving millions to the pope.
Here are some quotes taken from Wordie which I would like to further comment:
“Recent newspaper investigations in Europe have exposed the extent to which the Catholic Church’s secular property empire was expanded in the early 1930s. Sizeable Italian state cash injections provided by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini enabled, for example, the acquisition of a large and extremely valuable central London property portfolio. But for decades, unsurprisingly, a thick veil of secrecy surrounded these commercial holdings and how they were secured. In 1929, Mussolini concluded a concordat, or “peace treaty”, with the Catholic Church. Internationally known as the Treaty of the Lateran, this agreement regularised relations between the church and the Italian state after nearly six tense decades following the unification of Italy, in 1871. As is often the case in religious affairs, underlying economic and political realities were more significant than any spiritual explanation would suggest. After unification, the church had lost control of the central Italian regions hitherto known as the Papal States – and the significant revenue that those territories generated.”
Not true – likewise false the article published in London – saying that Italy paid a large amount of money to the Vatican in fact Italy never paid what was promised in the treaty. The war in Ethiopia (1935 – 1936) and the sanctions imposed by the League of Nations bled white Italy’s finances. Then there was the civil war in Spain, which opened a larger hole into which Italy sunk the last available gold. This explain why Mussolini got even closer to Nazi Germany, which was providing coal and oil to Italy. When Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940, because Italy had no other viable choices, due to British unwillingness to compromise, Mussolini was certain that it will last for only 3 weeks. Italian soldiers had not enough bullets for their rifles, the navy had provision for 3 months.
Another myth worth dispelling is that was Mussolini who declared war. In fact was King Victor Emanuel III as Italy was still a Monarchy. Without the constant approval in writing by the King, Mussolini had no real powers.
“…a shadowy businessman and bullion broker named P.G. Calcina, lived in Hong Kong for decades and eventually died here in the 1970s.”
So shadowy indeed that no one remember him, was he really Italian? By a quick search on google I can find that he worked for Jardine Matheson before the War, that his daughter studied at St. James School in Malvern, England and then university in New York after the war. The girl married an American Navy officer in 1956, an aide to John Cassady, Commander of the 6th Fleet. Was he really a shadowy Italian or a shadowy British double agent pretending to be Italian? I can’t say for sure.
“Edda lengthiest liaison was with Chang Hsueh-liang, the “Young Marshal” of Manchuria. A handsome, game-for-anything playboy (and former heroin addict), “Peter” Chang – as he was known within his wide circle of foreign friends – and the vivacious, free-wheeling Edda hit it off very well. So well, in fact, that the latter spent months at a time in Hong Kong, discreetly and apparently ecstatically ensconced at the Repulse Bay Hotel with Chang and his entourage.”
This is pure fantasy. Chang was courted by Galeazzo Ciano, not Edda, and for political reasons. Ciano invited him to stay in Livorno. That Edda and Galeazzo had several affairs is true but I don’t think that Galeazzo would take a lover of Edda, the mother of his children, into his home if he had suspected an affair with her. This was against the ethos of the fascist man, as he pretended to be. Not to forget that while in Shanghai she got pregnant and delivered her first son, Fabrizio. Guglielmo Marconi set up a special radio connection Rome-Shanghai to let grandfather and grandmother talk with her.
The British Secret service concocted a story according to which Galeazzo Ciano had a sexual liaison with the double divorced Bessie Wallis Warfield later known as Wally Simpson, making her pregnant. According to this file Simpson, on the way back to England, stopped in India to have an abortion that rendered her barren. They presented this false report to King Edward VIII to convince him to give her up. Edda had always denied this story, admitting all the other infidelities. In fact she said that in Shanghai she discovered the womanizer nature of Galeazzo and contemplated suicide, wanting to jump from the terrace at the Park Hotel in Nanjin Road. But then she tought that instead of killing herself she will pay back her husband with the same money. In spite of this subsequently she tried everything to have him freed in 1944 and never spoke or forgave her father for not having pardoned him. In fact Mussolini would have gladly spared Galeazzo’s life, but his hands were tied. All the shots in Italy were called by Hitler and Hitler had always hated Galeazzo Ciano.