SHANGHAI by Harriet Sergeant


: Collision Point of Cultures 1918/1939
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 Sparkling history of modern Shanghai, short on depth and novelty but alive with the fractious spirit of one of the world's most eclectic cities. Between 1842 and 1937, a combination of cultural excellence, foreign influence, high finance, and illicit criminality made Shanghai, according to Sergeant, ``the most international metropolis the world has ever seen.'' By 1932, three million people lived in the sectored city, divided by French, British, and American conquering agents after the Opium War. Sergeant visits this old Shanghai in two ways: from the vantage point of a disenchanted modern Westerner who now sees a ``mummified'' Shanghai, rendered ``spiritually dead'' under Communism, and through interviews with Western and Chinese survivors of the pre- Revolutionary period, who recall in vivid detail the high and wold side of former era. A British former banker, one of many who in the Thirties used Shanghai as a center of money speculation, helps to recall when Sergeant names ``the spoiling life'' of wealthy foreigners, employing Chinese servants at lavish parties and pursuing foot-bound women as exotic sexual toys. ``In pursuit of profit, the British created a corrupt, unlovely and pitiless city,'' writes Sergeant. The influx to Shanghai of White Russians fleeing Bolshevism is recounted, as are the city's own political heroes and feats. Sergeant visits the one-time home of Chinese liberator Sun Yat Sen, tracks down the quarters of Chinese political satirist Lu Xun, and recalls the powerful resistance in Shanghai to both Japanese and Nationalist assault in 1927 and again in 1937. A history of the Shanghai cinema rounds out the cross-cultural portrait. A whirlwind tour of an extraordinary place.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-517-57025-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1991


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