She is referred to as the Ugly daughter, the Bastard daughter and the Whore daughter; all very unflattering names for one of the worlds most historically fascinating cities. At her zenith Shanghai was more powerful and influential than either Peking or Hong Kong. Stella Dong has effectively and beautifully, captured the essence and excitement of China’s wayward Daughter in her book Shanghai The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City.
I am on my second reading of this book and it is so fascinating that it pulls me in like a novel. It is a wonderful book for research, or if you are like me a history dork. This book explains a lot of things about why China is like it is today; and the inherent unfairness of the international concessions foisted on a country at its weakest time in history. From humble beginnings in 1842, until the surrender to the People Liberation Army in 1949 and everything in between is covered with unflinching honesty. The opulence, decadence and modernity of the city is in stark contrast to the heartbreaking poverty that exist on it’s periphery. Government corruption, fueled by the opium trade, forced on the people of China by the British is exposed as one of the Primary weaknesses of the fledgling Republic of China. This book is an eye opener and a must read for anyone interested in the History of China.
Like most people in the United States, as a child I was fed a steady diet of Pro Nationalist Chinese Propaganda. Of course this propaganda was the invention of Washington bureaucrats who were staunchly anti-communist, but failed to recognize that China was more than just a dupe of Soviet Russia. At one time the Chinese Communist were part of a Kuomintang coalition government. They were betrayed and purged from the government by KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek a man who was deeply flawed and corrupt. Chiang pilfered billions, in his final insult to his own country when he escaped to Taiwan.
The official version of Chiang’s story is that he was mentee of Sun Yat-sen a man who is widely regarded as the father of the modern Republic of China (pre- communist ). Chiang also founded the Whampoa Military academy creating a modern, well trained cadre of professional officers. He defeated the war lords and unified most of the country by 1928. He ultimately became the Chairman of the National Military council, and the nominal leader of the Republic after Sun’s death in 1925.
Although the book is not solely about Chiang Kai-shek, we learn about the darker side of this famous defender of democracy. Simply stated he was a gangster, involved in bank robbery assassination, embezzlement of U.S. aid money and was knee deep in the opium trade as were many of his cronies.
But Chiang is only a small part of the story of Shanghai. It was a major port city and home to thousands of European and Americans. It was a very cosmopolitan city and boasted many fabulous night clubs restaurants and hotels. There were also department store including one of the worlds first shopping malls, amusement parks race tracks, tennis clubs and movie theaters. The seedy side of the city included opium dens, bars, dance halls, brothels and gambling houses. It was also the home port of the famous Yangtze River Patrol or Yang Pat for short. The movie and novel The Sand Pebbles depicted Yang Pat sailors in al of their dirty patriotic glory, in the days of Gun Boat Diplomacy. They were the extension of the Asiatic fleet which protected American interest in China. This translates as protecting mostly American business interest.
The birth of the international and the French concessions are all revealed and explained as well as the ascent to power of the infamous Green Gang. Whoever controlled Shanghai virtually controlled the opium trade in the rest of China. The KMT were so intertwined with the Green Gang that the dope trade went unhindered until the take over by the Communist. There were plenty of legal entrepreneurs who enriched themselves in the thriving environment of Shanghai, along with large American, British and European corporations. One of the most infamous of those corporations Jardine and Matheson, was responsible for the importation of Opium into china from India. Jardines as it is called is a fortune 500 company that still exist today and is listed on the London, Singapore and Hong Kong stock exchange.
Many other dark secrets are revealed, not just about Shanghai, but about the dark side of Imperialism . If you wish to find out more read the book. I found it to be not only informative but fun, a great read for the history buff.
TITLE: SHANGHAI The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City
AUTHOR: STELLA DONG
PUBLISHED BY: PERENNIAL a Harper Collins imprint
Available on Amazon and Google Books