The Painter from Shanghai

The Painter from Shanghai

by Jennifer Cody Epstein


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Down the muddy waters of the Yangtze River, through the raucous glamour of prewar Shanghai and the bohemian splendor of 1920s Paris, and back to a China teetering on the brink of revolution: this is the epic story of Pan Yuliang, one of the most talented--and provocative--Chinese artists of the twentieth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393335316
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/06/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 383,482
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of the international best-selling novel The Painter from Shanghai, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment (the 2013 Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association adult fiction honor recipient), and most recently, Wunderland. She has written for the Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Self, Mademoiselle, and others. Epstein earned her MFA in fiction from Columbia University and an MA in international affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.

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The Painter from Shanghai 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books of all time. This emotional story of a heroic woman is enlightening and heart-wrenching. I'm 21 years old and I found this book fascinating. I couldn't put it down.
jj39 More than 1 year ago
What is resonant about this book is the child sold into slavery/prostitution having a natural artistic gift that becomes her life's work. She is resented by both her former workmates in prostitution and hated by her classmates in art classes. As a Chinese female, her destiny was determined by her uncle who needed money for opium, thus she became a slave to the desires of misogynistic males. In the end, she becomes a famous artist but never quite overcomes the curse of being inferior to the male artists. But, on the other hand, most women artists don't thanks to cultural influences. Talent means nothing but trouble for them.
jaime More than 1 year ago
Reading The Painter from Shanghai is time well spent. Pan Yulaing overcomes a life of hardships that no one should have to face and reaches her destiny on her own terms. This woman is a lesson to us all. So the story is worthwhile just even on that level. Ms. Epstein's prose is beautiful, almost lyrical. I started this on a cold, iserable Monday and finished Tuesday. I just felt compelled to keep reading. So if you want to read a good book, and I don't mean beach reading or trans-continental jet reading, but a good story excellently written, try The Painter from Shanghai.
Chelsea_Hannah_Boo More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was amazing. I love to read about strong women throughout history. The book is about Pan Yuliang, who at a young age was sold to a whore house. She struggles and fights to get what she wants in life. And that is to be a painter. She was an amazing woman, and artist.
Skyeblue4 More than 1 year ago
Pan Yuliang's mind slips back into her past, back into the memories seared into her mind, and she feels the pain of loss. She left Zanhua, she left Shanghai and she left her heart. She drifts back to her days as Xiuqing, a fourteen year old living with her beloved uncle. He believed that modern girls should know the classics and he spent many a pleasant hour teaching her about poetry and politics, encouraging her to use her mind to think for herself. Then he betrayed her in the worst possible way. He sold her to the House of Eternal Splendor, so that he could continue the devastating addiction that was slowly ruining their lives. There, Yuliang learned to use her body for profit and numb her mind to the horrors faced by such a young, innocent girl. But there, she met Zanhau. Her intelligence, knowledge and beauty set her apart, yet she wasn't perfect. Her unbound feet, most unconventional in China at that time, set her apart from the other flowers, but Zanhau paid no mind. He saved her, though that one act nearly destroyed him, and he loved her beyond Yuliang's understanding. From there, her life changed, and even as a concubine, her talent in art began to bloom. In truth, did her uncle really betray her? All facets of Pan Yuliang's adult life and career were affected by the politics of the time. Author, Jennifer Cody Epstein's in-depth research is obvious in her thorough documentation of the changing political situation that indeed influenced the populace towards women artists and the western art culture. From acceptance to resistance, Pan Yuliang continued to paint what she felt was true. Detailed descriptions of the art world, its masters, techniques, and materials prove many hours of research. While there exists little information about the life of this intriguing artist, the incredible imagination and storytelling skills of Jennifer Cody Epstein, leave us with a fascinating novel that is definitely worth reading again and again. I look forward to more from this author. Highly Recommended Reviewer: Elaine Fuhr, Allbooks Reviews
SBeyer More than 1 year ago
A good book it took a chapter or two to get into the characters but, in the end you're not disappointed. . At a young age she was hurled into a world of prostitution. In the end she makes a name for herself
Mother-Daughter-Book-Club More than 1 year ago
The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Pan Yuliang, a chinese artist born in 1899.

Sold into a brothel by her opium-addicted uncle when she's 14, Yuliang learns to cope with the help of her friend and top girl at the house, Jinling. Then Jinling's violent death emphasizes that life in a brothel is always tenuous and under someone else's control. When a local official, Pan Zanhua, becomes attracted to her for her mind and not her body, he buys her freedom from the house and makes her his second wife, or concubine. But the match is clearly one of love, and Zanhua wants Yuliang to develop her mind by learning to read. Soon Yuliang discovers another passion: painting. Defying convention of the times, she is admitted to the local art school, which has created scandal by bringing in nude models to paint. Yuliang wins a scholarship that takes her first to France, then to Rome to study western painting, and she returns home with new ideas about art that don't sit well with many in Chinese society at the time.

Epstein tells Yuliang's tale in this epic of a book about a woman who learns to gain control over her own fate. The Painter of Shanghai is filled with rich details of China from the early days of the 20th century into the very beginnings of the rise of communism, revealing the country's ambivalence between moving into a modern world or cleaving to the old ways. Yuliang is a strong woman who never compromises what she believes to be right, even at great cost to herself and her husband. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in 11th grade and up. Readers should be aware of detailed scenes of life in a brothel and other sexual encounters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Xiuqing grew up believing that she was destined to become an artist, the next great female poet or perhaps a talented painter. When her mother died, little Xiu was taken in by her uncle. While he fanned her dreams, his own opium addiction would take the young girl on a very different path. Thus, at fourteen, Xiuqing became Yuliang, one of the girls working at The Hall of Eternal Splendor. For several years, Yuliang¿s existence was dictated by the whims of the Godmother who ran The Hall and the men who frequently the establishment. However, after the murder of her best friend, Yuliang¿s life suddenly changed. She met a man who appreciated and encouraged her natural curiosity and love of learning so that Pan Yuliang¿s true talents could eventually surface. If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, you¿ll love The Painter of Shanghai. Both stories share the stories of young girls thrown into a world beyond their comprehension who rise above their circumstances. However, I have to admit that I actually preferred The Painter of Shanghai. In life, Pan Yuliang was a courageous woman who followed her truth no matter what the consequences. Her strength and perseverance is an inspiration to us all.
LostInMyBook More than 1 year ago
This was a great book I enjoyed it very much. The story was great and I liked the authors writing style.
Soniamarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was not bad. It was actually pretty good in the first half. The first half is about Pan when she is a child and her drug addict uncle sells her to a prostitution house. Pan makes a good friend and reader's will see the impact this girl friend had on the rest of Pan's life. I found the first half very touching and intimate. It had a "Memoirs of a Geisha" type feel to it. After the loss of her good friend, Pan meets an important man that decides to rescue her. She becomes his concubine and thankfully for her, he is a man open minded enough to allow her to pursue her painting. After a few rough spots and struggles including the starving artist phase, she becomes one of very few female artists in China. However, this is when it gets boring. The last half of the book is mostly about art and very little about Pan. There is also a major injection of politics in the last half regarding China, Japan, Italy, and France. I simply scanned over what bored me and got back to what I thought was the "good parts" or drama. I did get the impression Pan was a bit selfish in some ways and I found it odd that she was always painting herself naked, but I cannot claim to understand artists. Good book, but I would not read it again.
mthelibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Historical fiction based on the incredible life story of the Chinese painter Pan Yuliang, a woman. Don't miss the author's web site with its links to the real paintings, which have echoes of Matisse.
sagustocox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"That the buyer, if she finds one, probably won't be able to read it means little. Yuliang doesn't sign it for him. She signs for herself, to bind her work to her. To tattoo it with a message: she has won." (Page 20)Jennifer Cody Epstein's The Painter From Shanghai is a fictional account of Pan Yuliang's rise from the ashes of her life as Xiuqing, a young child sold into prostitution. Through careful brushstrokes of her own, Epstein deftly fills her canvas with the sights, sounds, and images of China--from the dark alleys and brothels to the crowded, chaotic streets of Shanghai--in the early 1920s. Yuliang is a complex character who numbly makes her way through the obstacles she faces as a new prostitute under the thumb of corrupted merchants and a harsh and battered old woman, known as Grandmother. Emerging from the dank and corrupted halls of the brothel, she jumps into her new life as the concubine/second wife to Pan Zanhua and embarks on her career as a student and painter at the height of the Communist uprising in China during the 1930s."'My husband,' she says, twisting her wedding band, 'writes that even more conservative Republicans will ally with the CCP now. For the nation's sake.''If anything, it's a marriage of convenience.' Now he looks straight into her eyes. 'And one I doubt will last.'" (Page 318)Epstein has a style all her own in which she easily weaves in relevant historical information through character interaction and development, but she also captures even difficult emotions with deft description and poise.In the brothel, readers will feel Yuliang's degradation as each man leers at her, touches her skin, and makes her kowtow to their desires. The one solace she has is the poetry of Li Qingzhao, which she recites from memory. Readers will enjoy the verse woven into the narrative as Yuliang examines herself at life-changing moments and seeks solace in the beauty of language.Yuliang is molded by her mentors, but only truly blossoms when she becomes Zanhua's wife and starts painting. Through painting she learns to combat her demons, her past, and her future, coming into her own as a painter and individual. As China is pulled in two directions between the republic and the communists, Yuliang is caught between her rebellious nature and Chinese tradition."Tearing off the sheet, she tries again, this time with better results. Use each object as a road into the next. She proceeds to the easiest object on the table, the orange . . . And in the space of a moment that neither registers nor matters, she is no longer outside the still life but working within it, running her mind's hand over nubbly fruit skin. Pressing her face against the smooth tang of the bottle glass. Exploring a vase's crevices with both finger and pencil tip, each item part of a visual sentence she is translating." (Page 220)The Painter From Shanghai has a lot to offer book clubs, readers interested in painting, historical fiction, the struggle of women in society, China, and political history, and is one of the best novels I've read this year.
wagner.sarah35 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After finishing this book, I had to look up some of Pan Yuliang's paintings, especially her controversial nudes. I really enjoyed this novel about the life of a female Chinese painter, who was sold into prostitution as child but nevertheless managed to obtain an education and studied art in France and Rome, realizing her talent as a painter. This novel also provides a fascinating description of the painter's native China during a turbulent period.
TrishNYC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The painter from Shanghai is a fictionalized accounting of the life of the Chinese painter Pan Yuliang. The author creates a story that is both stirring and beautiful and paints a picture of a lady whose love of art is her greatest passion. In this imagining of Pan Yuliang's life, she is orphaned at a young age and goes to live with her heroin addicted uncle. Unfortunately for her, her uncle eventually runs out of money for his habit and sells her to a brothel. When she arrives in the brothel, she is apprenticed to Jinling, the most popular and profitable of the girls at the house and they quickly form a friendship. Each girl finds solace in the other, making the terrible life they lead with the pawing hands of their clients seem a little more bearable. Sadly, Jinling dies quite unexpectedly and Pan becomes the top girl. One day while she is entertaining a group of gentlemen, she is struck by the presence of a man who seems at odds with his surroundings. He is not lustily clawing at the girls like the other men and quite frankly looks annoyed to be there. He rejects all her attempts to draw him into conversation or other forms of engagement. This gentleman is Zanhua who would eventually take her as his concubine.Under Zanhua's encouragement and love, she begins to explore her artistic side more openly. Though he is not at first thrilled with her involvement with the artistic circle, he supports her passion. Zanhua also exposes her to politics and its applications by bring home political tracts and newspapers. Their union is a source of much controversy as Zanhua already has a wife and child in another city. But this controversy would pale in comparison to her paintings of nudes. Her exploration of the female form is anathema to China in the early 1900s and many are aghast that any artist would dare be so explicit, least of all a woman. Over the years Pan would continue to inspire controversy and there is culmination of this controversy in a significant scene. Pan would eventually leave China after being offered an opportunity to showcase her work in Paris. This departure coincides with the Japanese invasion of China and the subsequent revolution that follows. Pan would never see China again but she would continue to identify very strongly with her heritage.
kambrogi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fictionalized biography of the Chinese painter Pan Yuliang, about whom only the bare facts are known: she was born in 1899, orphaned, then sold into a brothel by her uncle when she was still a child. She grew up to become a brilliant artist, educated in China and then Europe, but ultimately surrounded by intense controversy in her own country because of her politics and her painting, radical in both style and subject. Epstein fills in the details with fully-imagined characters and interesting intellectual, political and artistic insights that reveal the historical period. An easy read and a fascinating story. I regret that none of her paintings are shown in the book, however a quick Internet search can fill in that gap for the reader.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pan Yuliang, Chinese ex-pat artist. Have you heard of her? I hadn't either but this novel limns a fascinating and believable life for this not particularly well known historic figure. Orphaned young and raised by an opium addicted uncle, Pan Yuliang is sold into prostitution in her teens. She is bought out of her contract by a government offical whom she ultimately marries, becoming his concubine or "second wife." Amazingly, given the political climate in China during her lifetime, she is not only allowed to study at a prominent art school in Shanghai, but she also wins a scholarship to go to Paris and study there. Her work is post-Impressionist and both Asian and European in feel with her most famous and controversial paintings being of nudes, and very commonly of herself nude. While in France, she meets and associates with other young Chinese (Zhou Enlai is one such person) who will ultimately help to change the face of their homeland and drive people like Pan Yuliang from the China racing headlong towards the Cultural Revolution.This was a completely engrossing novel which kept me reading long past when the light should have been out. Epstein has drawn a very believable story for Pan Yuliang, from her beginnings as a maid in a brothel all the way to being at the nadir of the post-impressionist art movement in China. She's a warm and sympathetic character who faces set-backs with a bit of fatalism and a steely resolve, an intriguing mix in a character. Although this is billed as novel about Pan Yuliang the artist, it is quite far along in the narrative before she tries her hand at any drawing at all, which I had not expected. And while her early life was fascinating, I read with a small sense of "let's get to the painting part" nagging at the back of my mind. Pan Yuliang is very definitely the main character here, with few other characters appearing and lasting in the novel. There are no throw-away characters and no outside tangents to take the reader's attention from the major story, allowing the reader to crawl more fully into Yuliang's skin and experience the highs and lows of her life with her. I went searching on the internet for pictures of her work once I finished the book and obviously Epstein did a good job describing them as they weren't startlingly different from what I had imagined. They aren't particularly to my taste but the book definitely was. I recommend it for those who enjoy historical fiction, art history, or just a plain old good story that will keep you reading past your bedtime.
rainbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jennifer Cody Epstein has written her first novel, ¿The Painter From Shanghai.¿ Epstein grabs the reader with this beautifully written historical-fiction story about Pan Yuliang, a woman who went from prostitute to famous Chinese painter during the early 1900s.Yuliang¿s parents died when she was young, and at age 14, her uncle sold her into prostitution. She became the apprentice to the top girl, Jinling, at the ¿Hall of Eternal Splendor¿ in Wuhu, China.Jinling teaches young Yuliang how to paint on her face a mask of beauty, how to properly entertain men and how to avoid letting the horror of her occupation creep inside her soul. The two women became each other¿s safe haven from the world around them, hiding their secrets in their friendship.Unfortunately, Jinling is murdered one night after thinking she could trust a man to help her buy her way out of the prostitution lifestyle. This devastated Yuliang, and as she grieved, she found solace in sketching the body of the friend she lost.Pan Zanhua was a Chinese inspector who could not be bought-off by the Chinese officials, even when they visited Yuliang. However, Zanhua did enjoy Yuliang¿s company because of her knowledge of poetry.Zanhua was a modern thinking man and he did not want Yuliang to be trapped in prostitution, so he bought her freedom, exchanging one lifestyle and installing another, as his concubine.After parading Yuliang around town, a scandal hit the newspapers concerning Zanhua¿s placement as an official and of Yuliang¿s past. Zanhua thought it would be best to move Yuliang to Shanghai in order to save his reputation and career.In her loneliness, Yuliang began to sketch more often. She met a teacher at the Shanghai Art Academy who encouraged her to apply for the school. Her acceptance was the beginning of her passion for painting and her career. Even though Zanhua was reluctant, he stood firm to his ¿modern¿ beliefs of seeing women gain the same rights as men.Yuliang excelled in school and was encouraged by teachers to travel to Paris, where she could perfect her painting skills. Yuliang began painting nudes and became recognized for doing so in a society where this was controversial.Zanhua was not happy about Yuliang¿s new style of painting or of his wife¿s absence. This still was causing conflict in Zanhua¿s career as a Chinese political official.While in Paris, Yuliang literally became a starving young artist, perfecting her craft. She struggled through school but became well known enough to be showcased at galleries.After an affair and longing for her home, Yuliang swallows her independence and moves in with her husband and his first wife. Yuliang began teaching at art institutions and exhibiting her paintings in various shows.After a disastrous event, many of her paintings were destroyed or stolen, and Yuliang questioned her career as an artist. Her style was against Chinese traditions and created havoc for her husband¿s work. She retired for a time, focusing on being a professor at the University, in Nanjing.Her passion to paint burned insider of her, and after Yuliang received an invitation to be showcased in Paris, as an opening exhibitor, Yuliang picked up her brush again. She never returns to China.She was a woman torn between her two greatest loves: her husband and her painting. She chose the latter and lived her life out in Europe gaining many awards for her strokes at hand. She never gained wealth, but she continued to be recognized as a controversial ¿Painter From Shanghai.¿
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The storyline was good but the characters were undeveloped, scenery and setting minimal and there were major jumps in time that left me feeling that I had missed a chapter. The research is apparent and there were parts that were great but just so-so overall. Im bummed that I paid16$ for this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago