David Leffman is a British travel writer and photographer who first visited China in 1985 and spent twenty-five years authoring guidebooks about China for Rough Guides and Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness.
While drunk at a village festival in China’s Guizhou province, he first heard about William Mesny and the part he played fighting the Miao ethnic minority in their uprising of 1854–72 against the Chinese government.
His biography of Mesny, The Mercenary Mandarin, was the result of fifteen years researching Mesny’s life both in archives and by following his travels around China, interviewing people about folklore passed down from Mesny’s time.
William Mesney: The Mercenary Mandarin
Channel Islander William Mesny (1842–1919) spent all his adult life in China as a smuggler, arms dealer and decorated general in the Qing military. He spoke fluent Chinese, was twice married to Chinese women and travelled widely, surviving assassination attempts and the rigours of the road, and proposing modern infrastructure projects. After he became embroiled in a notorious illegal arms-dealing case his career floundered, and he died in relative obscurity.