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Shanghai Baby: A Novel Paperback – August 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (August 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743421574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743421577
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although it caused an uproar in the author's native China, Western readers will find 27-year-old Wei Hui's semiautobiographical offering reminiscent of fiction by the brat pack writers of the '80s, though more clich‚d and less edgy. Waitress Nikki "but my friends call me Coco after Coco Chanel" is in love with Tian Tian, a melancholy and impotent artist who falls prey to narcotics. Coco loves him madly, but not so madly that she wants to give up sex, and this is why she's also been seeing Mark, a married German businessman. Coco's deceptions, Tian Tian's problems with his wealthy mother (who he suspects killed his father) and the intertwining worlds of art and fashion are all fodder for Coco's upcoming slice-of-lifestyle novel, in which Shanghai's privileged 20-somethings are shown in their natural habitat of clubs and coffeehouses. Beneath the techno beat, though, the sore subject of Western imperialism its avatars, this time, multinational managers still lurks. Among Coco's friends, one known as Madonna stands out in particular: she earned a fortune first as a madam and then as the widow of a rich man. Wei Hui evidently wants to imitate her heroes, the beats and Henry Miller, and relishes observations like "our bodies were already tarnished, and our minds beyond help." But she spends more time analyzing people by the brands they use and the cars they drive, thus giving the book an odd air of beat fluff, as if Jack Kerouac had mated with Judith Krantz. The book is as alluring as a gossip column, but, alas, as shallow as one, too. (Sept. 11)Forecast: Forty thousand copies of Shanghai Baby were burned by the Chinese government. Proving censors make the best publicists, rights were subsequently sold in 19 countries 200,000 copies are in print in Japan alone. U.S. media curiosity is already high, but the resulting sales bounce may be minor.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Wei Hui's debut novel, which was banned in China, delves deep into the dark and glittering heart of Shanghai, as experienced by a hopeful and hedonistic young novelist, Nikki (better known to her friends as Coco, after the also irrepressibly glamorous Coco Chanel). Although deeply in love with her impotent artist boyfriend Tian Tian, the frustrated Coco takes a successful German businessman as a lover. What follows is the painful and explicit sexual and vocational journey of a young woman in search of her true self, attempting to gain control of her own trajectory as nefarious forces work on her from both within and without. Indeed, it seems almost as if the city's over-the-top materialism drives its inhabitants toward adultery and dark passions, forcing them at once into the dual role of victim/accomplice. It is just such paradoxes that make Wei Hui's novel so complex and thought-provoking: she deftly explores the intimate relationships that belie the seeming oppositions of East and West, love and desire, the natural and the artificial, hedonism and spiritualism. Haunting and resonant, Shanghai Baby proves the existence of the sacred in the profane. For all Chinese literature and contemporary fiction collections. Tania Barnes, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The plot was shallow, the metaphors too over the top.
M. Chang
Being �Banned and burned in (her native) China� seems to have greatly helped the popularity of this novel than actually hurt it.
Nate Freedman
At one point I stopped and put the book down and asked if I should keep on reading.
Matthew M. Yau

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth W. Movius on August 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
..."Shanghai Baby" isn't so much a novel as a guidebook to the damp, sticky underbelly of Shanghai's nightlife. Unfortunately, Wei Hui misses the ironies and idiosyncrasies of this decidedly skanky scene and rather proceeds to fawningly gush and name-drop throughout. It's quite humorous to us here in Shanghai, as we all know every one of the bar and restaurant owners she repetitively refers to...
That does sum up, however, the culture that Wei Hui is depicting. Ignore the ads: this is NOT representative of China, NOT representative of Shanghai, NOT representative of the "new youth" and NOT representative of China's budding Bohemian crowd. The lifestyle it documents is unique to the anorexic, gaudily made-up gals who lurk in expatriate bars hoping to snare Caucasian sugar daddies who will provide them with visas, condos, cars and/or cash. They'll sleep with a rock musician or artist once in a while to prove that they're "alternative" and not just party girls.
Wei Hui does little to tone down the highly autobiographical nature of the book, which is the reason why it so lacks any sense of humor or perspective. She didn't even change the name of her foreign boyfriend from his real-life version.
The author tries to prove her literary credentials by dropping references to great modern Western writers throughout the book, both in the text and in really random quotes at the beginning of each chapter. She particularly uses and abuses Henry Miller and Milan Kundera, who were extremely popular among Shanghainese college students during Wei Hui's student days. She name-drops three different writers within the first five pages of the book, and one Kundera quote gets repeated three different times. Editorial oops.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A.T. on October 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As an 1980's western punker/artist ( in the U.S.) of of Asian origins, I am just amazed by the clueless comments made by some reviewers who don't have a clue about a country and base their knowledge of a country on a self serving author who plays you into the age old stereotypes of East and West, this time magnified 100 fold (e.g. impotent male vs verile male). Because it was banned , the marketing hype calls the book "real China of today" and cool, and it represents modern China. You almost feel from the raving reviews that there is this great movement and turmoil and as if every one in Coco's age is like her. Perhaps you should see how the young really live in China, just like how the world perceives America vs how we really are. Good grief! The writing is hollow and hard to sympathize when one really knows what is happening in China. You would figure us to be more sophisticated.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth W. Movius on January 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The self-indulgent "Shanghai Baby" isn't so much a novel as a guidebook to the damp, sticky underbelly of Shanghai's nightlife. Unfortunately, Wei Hui misses the ironies and idiosyncrasies of this decidedly skanky scene and rather proceeds to fawningly gush and name-drop throughout. It's quite humorous to us here in Shanghai, as we all know every one of the bar and restaurant owners she repetitively refers to...
That does sum up, however, the culture that Wei Hui is depicting. Ignore the ads: this is NOT representative of China, NOT representative of Shanghai, NOT representative of the "new youth" and NOT representative of China's budding Bohemian crowd. The lifestyle it documents is unique to the anorexic, gaudily made-up gals who lurk in expatriate bars hoping to snare Caucasian sugar daddies who will provide them with visas, condos, cars and/or cash. They'll sleep with a rock musician or artist once in a while to prove that they're "alternative" and not just party girls.
Wei Hui does little to tone down the highly autobiographical nature of the book, which is the reason why it so lacks any sense of humor or perspective. She didn't even change the name of her foreign boyfriend from his real-life version.
The author tries to prove her literary credentials by dropping references to great modern Western writers throughout the book, both in the text and in really random quotes at the beginning of each chapter. She particularly uses and abuses Henry Miller and Milan Kundera, who were extremely popular among Shanghainese college students during Wei Hui's student days. She name-drops three different writers within the first five pages of the book, and one Kundera quote gets repeated three different times. Editorial oops.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Unus e populo on July 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
As everyone probably knows, this book was banned in China. Why? Well, Wei Hui writes about things like sex, drugs, unemployment, German men and masturbation. Basically things that lost their shock value about twenty years ago in America, but managed to drive some communists insane in 2000, when "40,000 copies were publicly burned, serving only to fan the flames of the author's cult status." The story goes something like this:

Coco, the protagonist, is caught between two men: an unemployed, impotent Chinese man named Tian Tian and a horny, married German named Mark. The book reads a bit like a diary. It goes on and on about the sex she's had with Mark, what she did with her cool, modern friends and pointless details such as what people were wearing, what she bought at the grocery store, etc. The world she lives in is apparently Shanghai's underbelly, where drugs and wild parties flourish. In the end she must decide between Mark and Tian Tian. Each chapter starts with a few quotes. Some of them are interesting, but they didn't necessarily enrich the book.

Coco takes a bit getting used to. She describes herself as her daddy's little princess. She says her parents spoil her. She sometimes brags too much about how attractive, clever and talented she is. Her actions are often difficult to understand, especially because she has a tendency to do things such as quit her job and have sex in a public bathroom at the drop of a hat.

Hui's writing style is distinctive. She does have a talent for creating a mood and describing situations. The plot itself is actually pretty simple, a woman caught between two lovers. I don't think this book is terrible, I just don't think it's bestseller material. I also doubt that it truly portrays the "real" China. 80% of China's population still works agriculture, and most young people aren't as spoiled and rich as Coco/Hui.

Overall I'd classify this book as light summer read.
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