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Shanghai : The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City 1842-1949 Paperback – May 22, 2001
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The Treaty of Nanking that ended the First Opium War between Britain and China in 1842 granted trading concessions in Shanghai to the European powers. The international currents shaping the city over the next hundred years were complex: British merchants, Chinese warlords, Russian emigrés, Sephardic Jews, and German spies exploited its extraterritorial status to make Shanghai a hotbed of greed, vice, and intrigue. Opium was crucial to the city's extraordinary wealth and lawlessness, though Dong also relates the rise of its criminal gangs to the development of coastal steamships and consequent loss of inland-transportation jobs. Foreign participation in the opium trade was not confined to the British: the role of the French Concession in Shanghai is described in well-researched detail. The flamboyant personalities that prospered in the city's unfettered environment come alive, characters like Pockmarked Huang, who combined the post of police chief in the French Concession with leadership of the Green Gang. Dong explores Shanghai's political significance both as the source of Chiang Kai-shek's fortunes and as a center of Communist revolutionary activity. As the city again becomes the leading commercial metropolis of a dynamic national economy, Shanghai 1842-1949 successfully documents its unique role in the development of modern China. --John Stevenson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Although Stella Dong works hard to convey the atmosphere of old Shanghai, what her book does not do is provide a clear history of the city. Dates are very confused and the narrative thread lost in favour of colourful stories. This is not a book to read if you are looking for a coherent explanation of the Taiping rebellion the Opium wars or the rise of communism around Shanghai.
Several reviewers have commented on the book's exhaustive research. That may be correct but I note that Dong cites only secondary sources in English.
Overall, readers wanting a more nuanced appreciation of Shanghai would do well to look elsewhere. Those who want a racy read might be happier but it is difficult to escape the feeling that this book only adds to the myths about Shanghai rather than improving our understanding.
The city of Shanghai, as described in this book, was an extraordinary mixture of extremes of conspicuous consumption and poverty, of etiquette and immorality, and of leisure and harsh working conditions. The book can be appreciated on different levels: as an adventure story, as a description of social conditions, or as a narrative of an amazing history. Although this is not a history monograph, it would be a good accompaniment to one as it gives the reader the feeling of witnessing events as they happen. And they happen! Many current international questions have to do with China: the developments described offer background on such matters as the status of Taiwan and trade ties with the mainland.
A note of warning: the reader should be well-armed with dictionaries because of the frequency of foreign (to Americans) words and phrases, many undefined in the text. Two examples are: nankeen (a kind of yellow cotton cloth) and ronin (here, outlaws). Also, the constant use of a British term (such as godown) when an equivalent term familiar to both British and American readers (warehouse) is available makes one suspect that the author enjoys offering what H. W. Fowler refers to as "puzzles for the common man".
When I first picked up this book I was a little skeptical. The title, `Rise and Fall of a Decadent City' seemed a bit over the top and I was afraid it was going to end up being three hundred pages of vice soaked sensationalism. As a resident of Shanghai I have discovered that the myth of old Shanghai often looms larger than the truth.
I was pleasantly surprised. The book was meticulously researched, well written and most important- interesting. Since this book is a history of Shanghai, China's most populous and prosperous city, you also inadvertently get a short course in modern Chinese history while your reading it. From the Taiping rebellion to the opium war and the Boxer rebellion- many of the great historical events in Chinese history are clearly laid out and explained in the context of how they influenced and helped to form Shanghai.
`Shanghai, The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City' is a very good piece of popular history and I highly recommend it.
As Dong's text explains, Shanghai rose to prominence in the late 19th century as a treaty port. Several nations-Britain, US, and France- had gained special status through a series of treaties and thus were allowed to conduct business as if the city were their own. And there were plenty of businesses to conduct--from the importing of opium to the exporting of tea and other goods. Each colonial group lived in its own area complete with its own customs and social hierarchies.
Likewise, with the increased affluence of the city, a wealthy Chinese class also emerged, though once again it tended to live and socialize only within its own boundaries.
With so many people making so much money and so few (legal) rules to follow, Shanghai eventually became a swinging city of sin. By the 1920's, the city became synonmous with sex, opium, jazz, brothels, and pleasure in just about any form. As Dong notes, while the sinners broke all legal rules, they still followed the social stratification of the city: the british patronized British brothels, the Chinese went to Chinese brothels and so on.
Of course, with the invasion by Japan and then the fall to the Communists, the good times ended in Shanghai and most of the colonials left. I felt that Dong could have kept the reader more abreast of Chinese history in the earlier parts of the book to make the latter events (e.g., why the country was so open to communism when a city like Shanghai was not) more understandable. In addition, she introduces certain colorful Shanghai characaters-the writer Emily Hahn for instance-and then loses them.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Shanghai: the Rise and Fall of a decadent City by Stella Dong is a fantastic book! Honestly, the negative reviews I found here made me hesitate before buying it, but after I got... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Eric Mueller
Admire Sally Dong's ability to give such a detailed, faithful and interesting account of the rise and fall of Shanghai before China's liberation. Read morePublished 8 months ago by connie kang
A great book for those of us that never knew the
true story of Shanghai.
I cannot give this book anything but a mediocre review, for that is how it strikes me in its writing style and research which consists of skimming other people's (secondary)... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Ms. Margaret Blair, author, Gudao, Lone Islet, The War Years in Shanghai and Shanghai Scarlet
Seems like a good book, but I hate that it has no research of primary sources and no footnotes/endnotes at all. Read morePublished 18 months ago by P. Ben
I appreciated the backstory this book provided on Shanghai and it was a fantastic pre-trip read. The writing gets bogged down in the details of the various revolutions, but the... Read morePublished 19 months ago by HRJ
Too much detail. I have no idea who some of the characters are. If I was Chinese and had known the history of China I would have a better understanding of the complete story.Published 19 months ago by Harry French
Read it after I had spent a summer living there, nice to know the history, presented well.Published 20 months ago by CP