What can I read about Shanghai in the 1930s?
November 15, 2011 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to read about Shanghai in the 1930s. What (fact or fiction) books can you recommend?
posted by wyn to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See starts in 1937.
posted by jabes at 3:00 PM on November 15, 2011

posted by KokuRyu at 3:14 PM on November 15, 2011

I haven't actually read it, but I imagine that J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun would be a great read, about growing up in Shanghai in the 1930s
posted by Flashman at 3:17 PM on November 15, 2011

The movie Shanghai Triad (IMDb | Amazon) is a '30s crime story; it's based on a novel by Li Xiao, but I don't see any evidence that the novel's been translated. I haven't read it and have no idea where you'd find it; good movie, though.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 3:35 PM on November 15, 2011

Lust Caution by Eileen Chang starts in the late 30's and through WWII.
posted by cazoo at 3:39 PM on November 15, 2011

(My mistake. Actually it starts in Hong Kong in the 30s and Shanghai later in the 40s.)
posted by cazoo at 3:41 PM on November 15, 2011

Empire of the Sun definitely is good.

A couple of non-fiction books I haven't read, but the first of them has been on my list for a while (and I might even buy it, now you've reminded me), and the second has just been added to it:

Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai by Robert Bickers.
"Richard Maurice Tinkler went to work in 1919 for the Shanghai Municipal Police, and he died in that city from injuries received during an encounter with Japanese marines in June 1939."
And Frederic Wakeman's Policing Shanghai, 1927-1937.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:57 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kazuo Ishiguro's "When We Were Orphans."

He also wrote the screenplay for the movie "The White Countess."
posted by elizeh at 4:57 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Adeline Yen Mah writes a lot about Shanghai in the 1930s -- she was born in Shanghai in 1934 I think but writes about before she was born.

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel should work, I think.

The first half of the China Lover should also work, although the second half takes place later and also in Tokyo.

I know about 10-15 books that take place in China or Hong Kong but it's hard to find one specifically in Shanghai!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:25 AM on November 16, 2011

Man's Fate by Malraux is a few years pre 1930, and it's been a long time since I've read it, but I remember really liking it.
posted by kris.reiss at 8:15 AM on November 16, 2011

You want Shanghai: Collision Point of Cultures, 1918-1939, by Harriet Sergeant (review). It's a superb combination of history, culture, personal stories... everything you'd want to know, with excellent photos and a bibliography to point you to more sources. (Good endpaper maps, too, at least in my hardcover edition.)

Ballard's Empire of the Sun is indeed a great read, but it's not about growing up in Shanghai in the 1930s, it's about life in a prison camp beginning at the end of 1941; I don't think it should be high on your list. Man's Fate is set in 1927 and Malraux knew almost nothing about China—it's a fun read but again shouldn't be high on your list.
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on November 16, 2011

I read the Bickers book lapsangsouchong mentions this summer and would second the recommendation. Graham Earnshaw re-issues a lot of period books and you may find items of interest there, though must confess not read any myself so no specific recommendation.
posted by Abiezer at 1:02 PM on November 16, 2011

Languagehat is right about Empire of the Sun, of course; even the early sequences, before the internment camp (which I appear to have retained a more vivid picture of that the rest) are probably in 1940–41, though maybe going back into the tail end of the 30s.

But the reason I dropped back in here was to mention that there are some historical maps of Shanghai to be had here, including some very hi-res ones from the 1940s. (I've just been digging them out for a class tomorrow.) Might help you find your way around, so to speak.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 1:08 PM on November 16, 2011

*than the rest. As in, I remember the early part of the book better.


Anyway--meant to add that the first couple of chapters of Ballard's autobiography, Miracles of Life, do cover his early childhood in the 30s. I haven't read this either, though--found out about it just now.

Anyone know any Chinese literature from or about Shanghai in the 30s that's available in translation?
posted by lapsangsouchong at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2011

Pigeon's Luck, by Vladimir Tretchikoff. A rip-roaring adventure!
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:22 PM on November 16, 2011

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