上海大世界 Re-Tooling Shanghai's Great World for the Urban Masses (1953)

Twenty years or more ago, I was cruising the outdoor antique market in the old part of Shanghai around Fangbang Road near the City God Temple, and found a set of posters that I still have today. One of them shows the Bund at night. The other is of the Great World or da shijie 大世界, an amusement center famous in Shanghai since the 1930s, when it was a notorious playhouse for gangsters and petty criminals. Today the Great World still stands on the corner of Xizang Road and Yan’an Road where it has been since the 1920s. Recently, as I wrote in a blog last year, the Great World was reopened after extensive renovations, and is now a fun spot to take youngsters. It features opera and other performances, folk arts, and local dishes. This article reveals the transformation of the Great World in the early 1950s under the Communist Party, from a notorious funhouse featuring gambling, prostitution and other vices, into an exemplary cultural palace with CCP-approved entertainment for the masses. Reading this article explains well the imagery that can be found in my poster of the Great World from the 1960s.

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Shanghai’s White Russians (1937)

I found this article while researching what became my first book, Shanghai’s Dancing World. The White Russians played an enormous role in the cultural life of Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. Marcia Ristaino’s book Port of Last Resort is the best academic study of the Russians in Shanghai. Katya Knyazeva is also working on this fascinating topic. This article contains many fine details about the history of Russian refugees in Shanghai including their growth, their occupations, their social and financial status and earnings, and their status within the hierarchy of Shanghai society. It is a gem of an article rich in information and insights and its prediction at the end is very accurate. Indeed, the settlements were returned to Chinese sovereignty by 1943, and by the late 1940s, the bulk of the city’s Russian refugee population had left the city for other horizons. 

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The Chinese Theatres of Shanghai:  A Universal Art on the Other Side of the Globe (1925)

This article published in the Herald and later in the American journal Living Age provides a welter of details on the theater industry in Shanghai which supported the performance of Chinese regional operas. I confess not to be an expert in this area of urban entertainment but the article is full of rich details on this more traditional side of entertainment culture in Old Shanghai.

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The Americans in Shanghai: Journalist Edgar Snow’s Take on Western Imperialism in China (1930)

This is an extraordinarily rich piece of journalism on the city of Shanghai. The author, Edgar Snow, would later earn great fame for his coverage of the Communist Party in their stronghold in Yan’an, resulting in the classic Red Star Over China. Whether or not one views that work as fatally flawed, obviously Snow was deeply skeptical and critical about the colonial enterprise of the treaty port system in China, and also deeply sympathetic to the plight of the Chinese people

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THE AMERICANIZATION OF SHANGHAI (1925)

This article is interesting for many reasons, not least of which is that it covers the origins of the Foreign Y.M.C.A. It also mentions the cleanup of brothels owing to the presence of American women in them, as well as hinting at a potential campaign (which never materialized) to clean up the Russian-staffed cabarets in the outskirts of the city. Above all it shows how Americanization was equated with business efficiency and how the American model of business was outpacing and replacing the sleepy European colonial model where the compradores did all the work and the taipans lazed and dazed about with their gin and tonics at the Shanghai Club. The article precipitates another which I will post, by the famous journalist Edgar Snow.

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The Rise and Fall of Jack aka "Jackpot" Riley in Shanghai's Gambling World (1941)

This piece appeared in Time Magazine soon after the Jack Riley trial ended in 1941. It gives a nice brief summary account of the rise and fall of "Jackpot Riley" in the gambling world of Shanghai in the 1930s. Of course you have to read Paul French's book City of Devils for a more detailed, if somewhat speculative historical account of his rise and his relationship with dance impresario Joe Farren.

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