November 22, 2018

Winnipeg
-6° C, Overcast

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Rollicking revelry in pre-war Shanghai

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/7/2016 (852 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Evelyn Waugh once titled a book of his travel writing When the Going Was Good. That sums up the city of Shanghai, lovingly brought to life, in this non-fiction doorstopper that assaults all the senses.

Veteran Montreal writer Taras Grescoe has six books under his belt, including his latest prize-winning title, 2012’s Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile.

Here we are given a historical view of the former “Paris of the East.” The history is second, however, to the characters Grescoe has researched in great detail, with the emphasis here (as the subtitle suggests) being on the 1930s.

These include “Morris (Two-Gun) Cohen, a Jewish brawler from London’s East End, who after saving the life of a Cantonese cook on the Canadian Prairies was named a general in the movement to liberate China from seven centuries of Manchu domination.”

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 30 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 30 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/7/2016 (852 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Evelyn Waugh once titled a book of his travel writing When the Going Was Good. That sums up the city of Shanghai, lovingly brought to life, in this non-fiction doorstopper that assaults all the senses.

Veteran Montreal writer Taras Grescoe has six books under his belt, including his latest prize-winning title, 2012’s Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile.

Here we are given a historical view of the former "Paris of the East." The history is second, however, to the characters Grescoe has researched in great detail, with the emphasis here (as the subtitle suggests) being on the 1930s.

These include "Morris (Two-Gun) Cohen, a Jewish brawler from London’s East End, who after saving the life of a Cantonese cook on the Canadian Prairies was named a general in the movement to liberate China from seven centuries of Manchu domination."

If that reads like something from a Terry and the Pirates comic strip, it’s because the three main characters Grescoe brings to life all lived lives filled with adventure, sensuality and money.

To be fair, the city of Shanghai itself comes off as the author’s first love and major character, and Grescoe seems to agree with Aldous Huxley, who wrote of his visit that "in no city, West or East, have I ever had such an impression of dense, rank, richly clotted life."

Emily (Mickey) Hahn is a close second. Hahn grew up reading the Fu Manchu "yellow peril" nonsense of Sax Rohmer, while living in St. Louis, Miss. Life in Missouri was too tame for her; a feisty streak took her to university, where she switched to engineering after being told "the female mind is incapable of grasping mechanics or higher mathematics."

She became the first female mining engineer to graduate from the University of Wisconsin. Wanderlust and a hankering to write — or, as she later phrased it, "I use myself, which means that I use everything... I can’t help it anymore than I can help breathing" — took her to New York and eventually to Shanghai, where she wrote for the New Yorker magazine.

There she met the well-to-do Chinese poet and publisher Zau Sinmay. He introduced her to a Shanghai that would have been impenetrable to her, and that included an introduction to opium. According to Grescoe, "he matched the description of the evil Dr. Fu Manchu Mickey had thrilled to as a child. But in Sinmay’s case, the overall effect was one not of corruption and malevolence, but of exotic beauty and wistful charm."

The third representative of the time and period is Sir Victor Sassoon, whose extensive business and real estate holdings included the building of the Cathay Hotel (now the Peace) that graces the cover of the book. He rode and supported the wave of Western business control of the Bund and surrounding area until the Japanese came calling with their military.

Shanghai Grand is a somewhat padded story, but at its best it is a roller-coaster ride in a time and place of unbelievable wealth and unbelievable poverty. It was all crime, corruption and champagne cocktails until the Second World War and Mao Zedong swept it all away.

Ron Robinson found the jazz in the Cathay Hotel improved with a glass of Canadian Club.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us