Murder in Manchuria


Murder in Manchuria

The True Story of a Jewish Virtuoso, Russian Fascists, a French Diplomat, and a Japanese Spy in Occupied China

Scott D. Seligman

240 pages
20 photographs, 4 maps, 1 chronology, 1 glossary, index


October 2023


$36.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2023


$36.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2023


$36.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

2024 IPPY Gold Medal Winner
2023 Best Book Awards Winner in History sponsored by American Book Fest
2023 Foreword INDIES Finalist in History

In Murder in Manchuria, Scott D. Seligman explores an unsolved murder set amid the chaos that reigned in China in the run-up to World War II. The story unfolds against the backdrop of a three-country struggle for control of Manchuria—an area some called China’s “Wild East”—and an explosive mixture of nationalities, religions, and ideologies. Semyon Kaspé, a young Jewish musician, is kidnapped, tortured, and ultimately murdered by disaffected, antisemitic White Russians, secretly acting on the orders of Japanese military overlords who covet his father’s wealth. When local authorities deliberately slow-walk the search for the kidnappers, a young French diplomat takes over and launches his own investigation.

Part cold-case thriller and part social history, the true, tragic saga of Kaspé is told in the context of the larger, improbable story of the lives of the twenty thousand Jews who called Harbin home at the beginning of the twentieth century. Scott D. Seligman recounts the events that led to their arrival and their hasty exodus—and solves a crime that has puzzled historians for decades.

Author Bio

Scott D. Seligman is a writer and historian. He is the national award-winning author of numerous books, including The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City (Potomac, 2020), The Third Degree: The Triple Murder that Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice (Potomac, 2018), and The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo.


"This book has all the mak­ings of a superb mys­tery. Scott Selig­man has writ­ten a well-researched account of a kid­nap­ping and mur­der that engrossed the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Harbin, Manchuria in the 1930s."—Jill S. Beerman, Jewish Book Council

“A fascinating true-crime journey into a lost corner of history. Murder in Manchuria plunges us into Harbin, China, in the first half of the twentieth century, where Semyon Kaspé, the musician son of a wealthy and prominent Jewish family, is kidnapped and murdered. Scott D. Seligman deftly peels away the layers of the case, revealing the forces that ultimately consumed the Kaspé family and Harbin’s Jews.”—Jonathan Kaufman, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter and author of The Last Kings of Shanghai: The Rival Jewish Dynasties That Helped Create Modern China

“Scott D. Seligman recovers an incredible cast of characters involved in this true crime—Jewish entrepreneurs, émigré Russian fascists, besieged Chinese detectives, Bolsheviks, spies of a half-dozen nationalities, adventurers, and a lone doomed musician. Ultimately, however, it is the once gloriously international city of Harbin itself that is most masterfully recreated.”—Paul French, author of the bestselling Midnight in Peking

“An absorbing and meticulously researched study of one of the saddest events of the history of the Jewish diaspora in modern China. . . . Readable and important.”—Xu Xin, professor at Nanjing University and president of the Chinese National Institute of Jewish Studies

“Scott D. Seligman tells the story of an ill-fated kidnap victim and brings to life the astonishing melting pot that was northeastern China in the early twentieth century. Like Guns of August it outlines the geopolitical intrigue that preceded a world war; and like an Agatha Christie detective story it follows all the twists and turns of a captivating whodunnit. A masterful blend of painstaking research and intricate storytelling.”—Ted Plafker, China correspondent and author of Doing Business in China

“Seligman is a masterful storyteller. . . . You won’t be able to put this down.”—Scott Kronick, former Beijing-based CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations Asia Pacific

“The dreadful murder of Semyon Kaspé by White Russian fascists working for the Japanese occupation army in Manchuria had all the marks of a political, economic, social, and antisemitic conspiracy. The truth has been driven out from under [Kaspé’s] tombstone in Harbin, and wandered on and on, until Scott D. Seligman has brought it to rest again.”—Dan Ben-Canaan, professor emeritus and chair of Sino-Israel Research and Study Center in Harbin, China

"This book is not just for those interested in the history of Asia in the years before World War II, since it also serves as a case study of the way the Jewish population has been treated in country after country over the centuries."—Rabbi Rachel Esserman, Reporter Group

"Seligman's book is chilling for what happened to Semyon, but it's also a lesson in history about a lesser known part of northeast Asia."—Susan Blumberg-Kason, Asian Review of Books

"Readers wishing to escape our present political strife and immerse themselves in a long-forgotten time should try this book. It will make them realize that the social unrest and institutional distrust in today's America pales in comparison to the worldwide experience of Jewish citizens throughout history."—J. Kemper Campbell, Lincoln Journal Star

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
A Note on Language and Currency
Dramatis Personae
1. Tug of War
2. Harbin—Cosmopolis in the North
3. White Russians and Antisemitism
4. The Kaspés
5. Lydia
6. Invasion
7. Two Toxic Elements
8. An Unholy Alliance
9. Kidnapped
10. Search
11. Letters
12. Playing with Fire
13. Arrest
14. Lies
15. Not Criminals but Heroes
16. No Longer Safe
17. The First Trial
18. The Second Trial
19. Powerful Influences
20. What Really Happened
21. The Fugu Plan
Glossary and Gazetteer
Further Reading


2024 IPPY Gold Medal Winner
2023 Best Book Awards Winner in History sponsored by American Book Fest
2023 Foreword INDIES Finalist in History

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