I think peo­ple ro­man­ti­cize that pe­riod and look back on it through rose-tinted glasses.”

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at matthe­whodges@chi­nadaily.com.cn

This later be­came cod­i­fied as the Des­ig­nated Area for State­less Refugees when the Ja­panese or­dered an es­ti­mated 23,000 Jews and many more Chi­nese to move into an im­pov­er­ished 1-square-mile area in Hongkou.

For­eign in­flu­ence on the city was huge, and many of the fi­nan­cial in­sti­tutes and other build­ings on the Bund have col­or­ful sto­ries to tell from this pe­riod, when Shang­hai was seen as a “tax haven” in the West.

The Peace Cathay Ho­tel, now known as the Fair­mont Peace Ho­tel, tes­ti­fies to the in­flu­ence of one of the city’s most fa­mous and wealthy im­mi­grants.

Vic­tor Sassoon, a de­scen­dent of Iraqi Jews and heir to a vast bank­ing for­tune, built a se­ries of luxury ho­tels and apart­ment build­ings over this 10-year pe­riod, some of which re­main city land­marks to this day.

Mean­while, the Amer­i­cans and French in­fused the popular cul­ture with jazz orches­tras, cabarets and movies, Euro­pean fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions lined the Bund, and Ja­panese sol­diers pa­trolled the city for sub­ver­sives and spies.

Ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian An­drew D. Field, “There is a strong con­ti­nu­ity from the 1930s till now re­gard­ing how for­eign­ers have played an im­por­tant role in ur­ban cul­ture in Shang­hai. This re­lates to such things as how peo­ple con­sume, and what kind of rit­u­als they en­gage in.”

“Even though the po­lit­i­cal and reg­u­la­tory sit­u­a­tion is to­tally dif­fer­ent now, there are still a lot of sim­i­lar cul­tural dy­nam­ics, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing for­eign­ers and how Chi­nese look up to and em­u­late them.”

Qin Yi, some­thing of a na­tional trea­sure, is con­sid­ered one of China’s four great dra­matic ac­tresses from the 1940s along­side Bai Yang, Shu Xi­uwen and Zhang Ruifeng. She mar­ried “film em­peror” Jin Yan and says she con­sid­ers Mother (1949) to be her finest work.

We met at the Equa­to­rial Ho­tel on a Satur­day af­ter­noon and she ap­peared to be in re­mark­ably good health. She still looked beau­ti­ful un­der a layer of white foun­da­tion and turned up wear­ing a blue pais­ley dress.

She was work­ing on her lat­est movie, Qing­hai Lake. The movie, which she wrote the script for and also ap­pears in, fo­cuses on how two en­gi­neers, one Chi­nese and one from over­seas, over­come prob­lems while work­ing to­gether on the Qing­haiTi­bet rail­way.

The theme of East and West work­ing to­gether seems in some ways to be the story of Shang­hai it­self.

“The tech­nol­ogy and ma­chines used for film­mak­ing in the old days were def­i­nitely not as good as they are to­day, but the ac­tors and ac­tresses were more de­voted to build­ing char­ac­ters and per­fect­ing their craft than they are to­day.

“One of the most pres­ti­gious places I re­mem­ber in the 1930s in Shang­hai was the Hongqiao Club (or Coun­try Club, near Hongqiao Air­port). Ac­cord­ing to Shang­hai writer Eileen Chang, ev­ery­one tried to get rich so they could buy some land in the Hongqiao area and build a house there.

“The houses there were mainly for hol­i­day use, and were ad­ja­cent to the golf cour­ses. It was where you could find the most vil­las in the city.

“I was taken to the club­house a cou­ple of times, even though I wasn’t a mem­ber. (The Coun­try Club house used to be a res­i­dence of Vic­tor Sassoon). Ac­tiv­i­ties there like horse rid­ing mostly took place on the week­ends.

“I came from a very tra­di­tional fam­ily, though, so I didn’t so­cial­ize a lot or at­tend all the glam­orous par­ties dur­ing that pe­riod.

“The Bund was very dif­fer­ent from how it looks to­day, with­out any of those walls and rail­ings.

“Peo­ple could ac­tu­ally walk along the river­bank, as though it were a beach. It was also much less touristy. Peo­ple who hung out in the Bund area were clerks from banks and of­fi­cials from the con­sulates.

“The best restau­rant at the time was Lvbolang (green wave porch) in Yu Gar­den. The chefs there made the best xi­ao­long­bao (dumplings) in the city.

“But things went down­hill at the restau­rant when it was re­opened af­ter the cul­tural revo­lu­tion (1966-76). The orig­i­nal chefs were all re­placed and their tra­di­tions and skills lost.

“Peo­ple back then al­ways had the cour­tesy to dress well for con­certs, with men in suits and women wear­ing qi­pao.

“It seems that the trend now is more ca­sual: the more slop­pily dressed you are, the more fash­ion­able you ap­pear. In the 1930s and 1940s, the more el­e­gant and fas­tid­i­ous you were about your ap­pear­ance, the more fash­ion­able you were.

“But over­all I pre­fer Shang­hai how it is to­day, be­cause the good life of the 1930s was only avail­able to a small sec­tion of so­ci­ety.

“Most peo­ple led mis­er­able lives. It was com­mon to see peo­ple starv­ing to death on the street back then. Ev­ery time I went out, I would grab some coins to give them to beg­gars.”

band leader

a 94-year-old jazz

79, Com­poser

Pro­fes­sor Chen was born in 1935 and fol­lowed in his fa­ther’s foot­steps by bring­ing Chi­nese mu­sic to a new in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence.

His fa­ther Chen Gexin penned one of the most fa­mous Chi­nese songs of all time, Rose, Rose, I Love You (1940), which was later recorded by Frankie Laine and be­came a chart hit in the United States.

The younger Chen wrote The But­ter­fly Lovers in 1959 with He Zhan­hao. He still serves as a com­poser at the Shang­hai Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic.

“The 1930s was def­i­nitely a golden age for Shang­hai. It ranked as the eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural cen­ter of China. It was the most glam­orous city in Asia and prob­a­bly No 4 or No 5 in the world af­ter Lon­don, Paris and New York. I re­call the Park Ho­tel near Peo­ple’s Square be­ing the tallest build­ing in Asia in the 1930s.

“French cul­ture had the big­gest in­flu­ence on the city. I grew up in the for­mer French con­ces­sion, which was very dif­fer­ent back then: ro­man­tic and cul­ture-cen­tric, with lots of the­aters and cafes.

“Ev­ery­thing was cen­tered around peo­ple’s men­tal and spir­i­tual life. Now it’s all luxury build­ings, big lo­gos and designer shops. Too many.

“Many rich peo­ple would hold par­ties in their homes, but even th­ese didn’t have good fa­cil­i­ties in­side. We lived in a well-to-do house, but we still had a wooden bucket for a toi­let and it had to be poured out ev­ery day.

“Power short­ages were com­mon and ev­ery­one burned coal. Our nanny would com­plain about my fa­ther’s par­ties be­cause she had to keep fir­ing the coal-burn­ers.

“Shang­hai was glam­orous in dif­fer­ent ways back then. It was fa­mous for its nightlife and banks, whereas now it’s very mod­ern. I re­mem­ber the first time I trav­eled to the US af­ter the ‘cul­tural revo­lu­tion’ (1966-76). When I re­turned to China, ev­ery­thing looked drab and gray, even peo­ple’s fa­cial ex­pres­sions.

“A cou­ple of years ago I went back to San Fran­cisco and it seemed gray. Shang­hai has be­come very col­or­ful.

“The nov­el­ist Mao Dun used three words to de­scribe Shang­hai — light, en­ergy, heat — and I think those best por­tray it .

“My fa­ther’s song cap­tured the tempo of the city at that time, but when they took it to the West they sped it up, be­cause they still con­sid­ered it too slow. It has a Chi­nese melody but a jazz-based rhythm.

“It’s im­por­tant that both The But­ter­fly Lovers and my fa­ther’s song came out of Shang­hai: beau­ti­ful flow­ers need rich and fer­tile soil.”

Zhou Wan­rong,

Chen Gang,

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