- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Author Biography: Journalist Stella Dong has written for the New York Times Book Review, Travel & Leisure, and Harper's Bazaar. A first-generation Chinese American, she grew up in Seattle and now lives in New York City. This is her first book.
In Shanghai's prime, no city in the Orient, or the world for that matter, could compare with it. At the peak of its spectacular career the swamp-ridden metropolis surely ranked as, the most pleasure-mad, rapacious, corrupt, strife-ridden, licentious, squalid, and decadent city in the world. It was the most pleasure-mad because nowhere else did the population pursue amusement, from feasting to whoring, dancing to powder-taking, with such abandoned zeal. It was rapacious because greed was its driving force; strife-ridden because calamity was always at the door; licentious because it catered to every depravity known to man; squalid because misery stared one brazenly in the face; and decadent because morality, as every Shanghai resident knew, was irrelevant. The missionaries might rail at Shanghai's wickedness and reformers condemn its iniquities, but there was never reason for the city to mend its errant ways, for as a popular Chinese saying aptly observed, "Shanghai is like the emperor's ugly daughter; she never has to worry about finding suitors."
Other great cities -- Rome, Athens, or St. Petersburg, for instance -- might flatter themselves that they had been conceived for virtuous, even heroic, purposes. Not so the ugly daughter who reveled in her bastard status. Half Oriental, half Occidental; half land, half water; neither a colony nor wholly belonging to China; inhabited by the citizens of every nation in the world but ruled by none, the emperor's ugly daughter was an anomalyamong cities. The strange fruit of a forced union between East and West, this mongrel princess came into the world through a grasping premise -- the right of one nation to foist a poisonous drug upon another.
Born in greed and humiliation, the ugly daughter grew up in the shadow of the Celestial Empire's defeat by outsiders in the Opium War. Nonetheless, within decades, she had become Asia's greatest metropolis, a brash sprawling juggernaut of a city that dominated the rest of the country with its power, sophistication, and, most of all, money.
The two characters making up the Chinese word Shang-hai together can be translated as "above the sea," a reference to the fact that the port stood on mudflats barely above sea level. Westerners, however, turned the word into a verb denoting a despicable act. To know its English meaning is to comprehend the modern city's ignoble essence. To quote one lexicon:
shanghai...[fr. Shanghai, China; fr. the formerly wide-spread use of unscrupulous means to procure sailors for voyages to the Orient] 1a: to put aboard a ship by force often with the help of liquor or a drug...b: to put by force or a threat of force into or as if into a place of detention...2: to put by trickery into an undesirable position...
It was a form of shanghaiing that created the modern city of Shanghai. A flotilla of Her Majesty's gunboats invaded the prosperous town of 250,000 "Celestials" in 1842, not departing until they had received a ransom of three million silver dollars from its wealthier residents. A few weeks later, the force of "red-haired barbarians," as the Chinese referred to the British, threatened to attack Nanking, the ancient Ming capital. In so, row and despair, the Tao-kuang emperor sued for peace, dispatching three imperial emissaries to Nanking. On August 29, 1842, aboard a British gunboat anchored outside the city, they opened the door to a century of China's exploitation by outsiders by signing the Treaty of Nanking. The treaty's terms, virtually dictated to the Chinese, were among the harshest ever extracted of a defeated government. They called for, among other things, the payment of an indemnity of 21 million silver dollars, the cession of Hong Kong, a low tariff on foreign goods, and the opening of five Chinese ports -- among them Shanghai -- to foreign trade and residence.
Jealous of Britain's victory, other Western powers, led by France and the United States, requested similar treaties with Peking. Adopting the philosophy of "soothing the barbarian," the emperor complied. To ensure that none of its rivals would obtain from the dynasty advantages it could not share in, Britain had cleverly insisted upon a "most favored nation" clause in its agreements, requiring Peking to extend a concession won by one nation to all others. One of the most important of these subsequent privileges was that of extraterritorial jurisdiction. A cornerstone of Western power in the treaty ports, extraterritoriality -- "extrality," to use its treaty port abbreviation granted foreigners immunity from the laws of China. Under this principle, subjects of the treaty powers could be tried for crimes and misdeeds committed in China only by their own consuls or their nation's courts. Fittingly, the Treaty of Nanking and the subsequent edifice of agreements for which it provided the foundation, came to be known as, the "unequal treaties."
Western gunboats and firepower were the instruments by which Britain defeated the five-thousand-year-old Flowery Kingdom, but opium paved the way. Opium, the addictive drug that Britain was so bent upon selling to the Chinese that it waged a war against them for the privilege, built modern Shanghai. Without the opium poppy, the most evil and profligate of flowers, the "Whore of Asia" would never have been created.
The drug that seduced the Chinese was brought by fan kuei, or "foreign devils" as the Chinese called foreigners. When the "barbarians from across the sea" first appeared, they hardly seemed capable of being the menace that would puncture the Celestial Empire's splendid isolation, let alone destroy a civilization its four million people considered the most glorious in the world. To the Chinese, the fan kuei were bizarre creatures. Everything about them, from their bushy whiskers to their unnaturally pale flesh, seemed outlandish, even grotesque. When they spoke, they made harsh, guttural sounds; their "legs and feet stretched out and bent with difficulty," reminding one scholar of "prancing Manchu ponies" and "water buffaloes"; and they dressed ridiculously. Another official also remarked on the devils from across the seas' resemblance to animals. They appeared to him to be "playing the parts of foxes, hares and other such animals on the stage." Even more striking, he commented, was the fact that foreigners "really do look like devils; and when people call them 'devils,' it is no mere empty term of abuse." Altogether, from the Chinese point of view, Europeans were no less than beasts given human form...Shanghai. Copyright © by Stella Dong. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
|1.||The Ugly Daughter Rises||1|
|2.||Gold in the Yangtze Mud||19|
|3.||City of Transformations||73|
|4.||Capitalists, Warlords, and Thieves||94|
|5.||The Shanghai Massacre||154|
|6.||Enter the Dwarf Bandits||194|
|7.||The Lonely Island||251|
|8.||The Ugly Daughter Repents||267|
Posted May 31, 2010
This book would be interesting for a reader looking for a rollicking and layman history of Shanghai from 1842 (the year when Shanghai was forced by the British Empire to be opened to foreign trade as a treaty port after the British Empire exacted revenge for the Ching dynasty's action to clamp down on the infamous opium trade carried out by the British) to 1949 ( the year when Shanghai fell to Mao Tee Tung).
Stella has covered the ground well. Her writing is easy to read. Her anecdotes are interesting. But if a reader wishes to follow up on them, unfortunately no endnotes are provided.
A reader looking for a more scholarly treatment of Shanghai's history will have to look elsewhere. If one is interested in how Shanghailanders lived during the war years under Japanese Occupation one can refer to In the Shadow of the rising sun: Shanghai under Japanese occupation by Christian Henriot (editor), Wen-hsin yeh (editor)First edition (march 19, 2009). If one is interested in how life was like in the International Settlement in Shanghai from 1919 to 1939, one can read Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai by Robert Bickers. This is an interesting biography of Richard Maurice Tinkler, a British man who lived there from 1919 to 1939. But it is much more than a biography. It described life in Shanghai in detailed.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.