Review of Taras Grescoe, Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World (St. Martin’s Press, June 2016; HarperCollins Canada, May 2016).
Cross-posted from Asian Review of Books
Of all human societies of which we have knowledge, Shanghai in the late 1930s perhaps comes closest to the sci-fi dystopias beloved of Hollywood, societies in which the gilded, sophisticated inhabitants of a fabulous city live surrounded but cut off from wasted badlands, served by an abject underclass living as far from the light of day as it does from the consciousness of its masters. For inside the self-policed boundaries of Shanghai’s International Settlement and its French Concession lay both one of the greatest concentrations of wealth on the face of the planet and some of the most sordid scenes of human misery.
The taipans of British, American, French, Japanese and other stock who controlled and owned the wealth of Shanghai lived hedonistic lives of truly decadent luxury. For the wealthy, life was sweet, as Noël Coward, who passed through in 1930 and wrote Private Lives while laid up with influenza in a suite in the Cathay Hotel, remembered. “I entered the social whirl of Shanghai with zest,” he wrote. Continue reading “Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World”