Amid the plethora of China memoirs by Western writers over the years, this new one set in Shanghai from 1978 to 1979 stands out a little because it takes place during a time of transition in China. But Anne E McLaren’s Slow Train to Democracy is more than just a record of her time in China or the transition; it’s an account of a little-known democracy movement in Shanghai —around the time the government coined the term “socialism with Chinese characteristics”—that was eclipsed by Tiananmen a decade later.
November 12, 1941 was in Shanghai a day like another. Except that this was the day of the Champions Day horse races at the Shanghai Race Club. And that within a month the Japanese would put an end to the Shanghai that everyone knew. In Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai, James Carter uses this one day to paint a “kaleidoscopic portrait” of a dynamic city on the brink of war. On that day thousands of people across Shanghai gathered at one of three places around the city: a celebration of Sun Yat-sen’s birthday; the funeral of Liza Hardoon, Asia’s wealthiest woman; and the Champions Day horse races at the Shanghai Race Club.
Chinese often claim a special relationship, sometimes verging on kinship, with Jews. The origins and reasons remain unclear but it may be at least in part due to two Jewish families—the Sassoons and their rivals, the Kadoories—both of whom played lasting roles in the development of two of China’s most modern cities: Shanghai and its rival, Hong Kong.
Comma Press’s “city anthology” series of short fiction (often in translation) has reached Shanghai. Besides the setting, these stories all follow a common theme, whether intentional or not, of loneliness and isolation.
In 1942, Jewish refugee Max Faerber opened Paragon Book Gallery in Shanghai. Faerber had worked for a newspaper in Vienna before he fled the Nazis for the brighter shores of Shanghai. During his first few years in China, Faerber put his newspaper skills to use and managed a German Jewish newspaper, one of many publications produced in the refugee communities in Shanghai. But when the Japanese occupied the whole of Shanghai in December 1941, Max looked for another profession. He turned to bookselling.
In 1935, Ruth Day paid a six-week visit to her mother and step-father who were at that time living in Shanghai. When she returned, she published a short book on the trip. The book had a run of just 200 copies and seems to have quickly disappeared—but at least one copy found its way to the New York Public Library, where it was found by then PhD candidate Andrew Field, who contributed an introduction to its republication.
Toward the end of his life, Algernon Blackwood famously reminisced that “I used to tell strange, wild, improbable tales…” The tale of the friendship between Lu Xun and Uchiyama Kanzō would have met Blackwood’s standard—a look at Shanghai during those times, now nearly 100 years ago, suggests why.