A friend, Luther Deese, who spent many years in Taiwan, sent this reading recommendation.
This book may be available at your public library. There appear to be a number of inexpensive copies available for sale at the Amazon link.
Here is Luther's e-mail:
Rene Liang recommended that I read, "An American in China -- 1936 - 1939"
(A Memoir by Gould H. 'Jim' Thomas -- http://www.amazon.com/American-China-1936-1939-Memoir/dp/0975880004
The copyright is held by Beverly Thomas (his widow), the Library of Congress Control No. is: 2004093983 and the ISBN is 0-9758800-0-4. I have what is listed as a 'first edition'. Rene says that she knew him in Beijing when she was a youngster and knew him well enough to call him 'Uncle Jim'.
The book starts by recounting how young Gould had saved enough money for what he'd planned to be a trip around the world -- a heady trip for the times of 1936. His travels in China begin in Part III after Part I gets him from the East Coast of the USA, through the Panama Canal and to Japan. Part II, a recounting of his sojourn in Japan, is fairly brief and would probably be of more interest to you and folks who've spent time in Japan than it was to me -- I was anxious for him to get on to China where his adventures take up most of the book. He arrived in Beijing in September, 1936 intending to stay in China for several weeks but ended up staying for three years.
Gould finds employment as a traveling representative for Texaco, much like Jim Lilley's older brother Frank did for Standard Oil during the same time frame [see, "China Hands" by James Lilley with Jeffrey Lilley, ISBN: 1-58648-136-3]. They were essentially traveling kerosene merchants covering large expanses of China during a time when 'travel and communications were indeed inconvenient'.
Gould's writings, as compiled by his wife and others, describes in detail the situations he encountered throughout his travels and should be very interesting for you to compare and contrast with your past and upcoming China peregrinations. Actually, some of what Gould encountered in rural China of the late 1930s wasn't significantly different from some of the things I and my friends experienced in rural Taiwan as late as 1960. The progress in Taiwan since the decade of the 1970s is mind boggling, as is the progress in mainland China since the decade of the 1990s.
The Gould book includes numerous photos, most of which he personally took during his travels. The photos alone make the book a worthwhile possession and for us who have spent time in Asia and have traveled in China, it is especially interesting.