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Desire, virtue, courtesans (also known as sing-song girls), and the denizens of Shanghai's pleasure quarters are just some of the elements that constitute Han Bangqing's extraordinary novel of late imperial China. Han's richly textured, panoramic view of late-nineteenth-century Shanghai follows a range of characters from beautiful sing-song girls to lower-class prostitutes and from men in positions of social authority to criminals and ambitious young men recently arrived from the country. Considered one of the greatest works of Chinese fiction, The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai is now available for the first time in English.
Neither sentimental nor sensationalistic in its portrayal of courtesans and their male patrons, Han's work inquires into the moral and psychological consequences of desire. Han, himself a frequent habitué of Shanghai brothels, reveals a world populated by lonely souls who seek consolation amid the pleasures and decadence of Shanghai's demimonde. He describes the romantic games played by sing-song girls to lure men, as well as the tragic consequences faced by those who unexpectedly fall in love with their customers. Han also tells the stories of male patrons who find themselves emotionally trapped between desire and their sense of propriety.
First published in 1892, and made into a film by Hou Hsiao-hsien in 1998, The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai is recognized as a pioneering work of Chinese fiction in its use of psychological realism and its infusion of modernist sensibilities into the traditional genre of courtesan fiction. The novel's stature has grown with the recent discovery of Eileen Chang's previously unknown translation, which was unearthed among her papers at the University of Southern California. Chang, who lived in Shanghai until 1956 when she moved to California and began to write in English, is one of the most acclaimed Chinese writers of the twentieth century.
Columbia University Press
— Lesley Downer
Accurate and readable. The novel provides a comprehensive and detailed description of a courtesan society... Recommended.
— H. J. Kirchhoff
— Chloe Starr
— Bradley Winterton
ForewardTranslator's NoteCast of Major CharactersChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5 Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20 Chapter 21Chapter 22 Chapter 23Chapter 24Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27Chapter 28Chapter 29Chapter 30Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33Chapter 34Chapter 35Chapter 36Chapter 37Chapter 38Chapter 39Chapter 40Chapter 41Chapter 42Chapter 43Chapter 44Chapter 45Chapter 46Chapter 47Chapter 48Chapter 49Chapter 50Chapter 51Chapter 52Chapter 53Chapter 54Chapter 55Chapter 56Chapter 57Chapter 58Chapter 59Chapter 60Chapter 61Chapter 62Chapter 63Chapter 64AfterwordThe World of the Shanghai Courtesans
Columbia University Press
Posted April 17, 2009
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This was a very beautiful story, and highly insightful to the lives of courtesans of the time. I regret not having discovered this sooner! I am on an everlasting quest to learn about other cultures, and Eva Hung has provided footnotes (with a few from Eileen Chang) and even an entire essay dedicated to the explanation of life in a Chinese brothel. Han Bangqing's narrative style pulls you in to the story and refuses to let go, masterfully shifting from one character plot to the next.
My only warning is that you DO NOT read the Foreword before reading the actual narrative, as Eva Hung has taken the liberty to explain the details in full there.
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