by Peter Franklin
Monday, 13
September 2021
Explainer
13:30

Emma Raducanu’s overlooked heritage

Using the tennis star for political point scoring obscures her background
by Peter Franklin
Do commentators really care about her heritage? (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Emma Raducanu’s Twitter bio lists four cities: “london | toronto | shenyang | bucharest”. Those, respectively, are where she grew up, where she was born, where her mother came from and where her father came from.

From a British perspective, we obviously all know about London. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is also pretty familiar. Bucharest, the Romanian capital, is probably less so — but at least most of us have heard of it. 

But how many of us could honestly say the same about Shenyang? Certainly, we ought to have heard of it. For a start, it’s huge — with a population of five to nine million depending on where you draw the city limits. If it were in Europe or North America, it would be world famous. But like so many other Chinese cities, it is all but unknown in the West.

Or perhaps should I say forgotten. Shenyang is one of the most significant locations of the first half of the 20th century. In fact, it should be right up there with Sarajevo, Verdun and Stalingrad as a turning point in the course of world history — and in Shenyang’s case, not once, but twice.  

Shenyang is better known to western historians as Mukden (the city’s name in the Manchu language). In 1905, the Battle of Mukden took place between the Russians and Japanese, who were vying for control of Manchuria. At the time this was literally the most explosive battle there had ever been — a warning of what was to come during the First World War. 

The outcome was a Japanese victory, which was an almighty shock not just for the tottering Tsarist Empire, but to all the nations of Europe. Their superiority over other parts of the world could no longer be arrogantly assumed. 

Perhaps of even greater significance was the Mukden Incident of 1931 — a false flag operation that provided the Japanese Empire with a pretext for its invasion and occupation of China, starting with Manchuria. 

It can be argued that this was the real start of the Second World War.  Indeed, after the war, China was given the honour of being the first country to sign the United Nations charter — out of recognition of having been the first to be attacked. 

Hopefully, those taking so much interest in Raducanu’s family heritage will take the trouble not just to make facile political points, but also actually learn something about the places in question. 

Join the discussion


  • Full Disclosure: I loathe and detest all spectator sports.
    Of the 1931 Mukden incident, the article says “It can be argued that this was the real start of the Second World War.” That depends on what status you give to Mussolini’s invasion of Libya in the 1920’s. By 1931, Mussolini had already killed an estimated 100,000 Libyans on the battlefield and in concentration camps.
    Mussolini’s claim to Libya had about as much merit as Emperor Hirohito’s claim to Manchuria.

  • Agree absolutely. Can we English learn from her and her family? Apart from her obvious talent, how can other girls and boys build on their talent in order to achieve their own goals?

  • A very good book is Peter Flemming book ‘News from Tartary where he visits Mukden touring ‘Manchuko’, the Japanese puppet state of Manchuria, and you can get a bit of a feel for the brooding situation pre WWII as the Japanese SE Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere took off. His other wonderful book is ‘Ones Company’ on China, and others like ‘Brazilian Adventure’ must be read if you love wonderful writing and travel of the most wild and weird kind. His history of the British war with Tibet, ‘Bayonets to Lhasa’ is a must read for many reasons.

    This is also where the Russian-Japanese war was fought over – the one which shocked the world when Japan won, and where ‘The Last Emperor’ movie was set, when Japan made Manchuria a puppet constitutional Monarchy, and where Unit 731 was, the most evil medical experiment camp in world history (WWII) If you read of Military, as I do, Manchuria has been one of those endlessly conquered, and conquering states.
    Of the travel writers Peter Flemming is my favorite, wonderful to get a feel for old China – Chinese Puppet, Xinjiang (Uighurs). Thesiger also – and a vital writer if you wish to get a feel for Arabia and the MENA and Horn.

    And Emma is very admirable, amazing set of accomplishments even outside her tennis. Plays table tennis with a pro team in China!

    The thing is her exceptional – and her parents exceptional, qualities does not mean the door should be open to the world’s rif-raf, which is surely what the MSM will be saying.

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