Historic Shanghai’s Best Books, 2014


  1. Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones



Talented China fiction writer Nicole Mones turns her attention to Shanghai with this delightful tale of 1930s Shanghai, starring musician Thomas Greene who arrives from segregated Baltimore to find wealth, position, and love—only to have his life changed forever by the outbreak of World War II.  Mones has China chops, and it shows — she started doing business here in 1977, and is an impeccable researcher. Her portrait of the city and its denizens is pitch-perfect. Best of all in this book is a jewel of an historical detail: her researcher came across a plan by H.H. Kung to resettle the Shanghai Jews in Yunnan. Naturally, she incorporated this into the plot.  The story takes us from go-go Shanghai to wartime, with actual events and characters and depictions of the jazz clubs and nightspots of old Shanghai that bring the period to life.  Available on Amazon.

2. Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life by Jie Li.

Shanghai Homes-750

We’ve spent a lot of time recently raving about Shanghai Homes, and with good reason. This book is a rare alchemy: rich stories of Shanghai lane life that go beyond mere alleyway anecdotes thanks to a structure and context that makes this one of the most insightful books on Shanghai you’ll find. Author Jie Li takes in both the big sweep of history and the intimate recollections of the people who lived it, telling their stories through the lives of successive generations in the Shanghai alleyways in which her grandparents lived, and where she spent her childhood. Available on Amazon and at the Shanghai Foreign Languages Bookstore, 390 Fuzhou Road. 

  1. Among the Celestials: China in Early Photographs by Ferdinand M. Bertholet, Regine Thiriez, Lambert van der Aalsvoort


Photography’s growth in the mid-19th century coincided with the growth of interest in China. Among the Celestials is a collection of 250 photographs taken by westerners in China from 1860-1950, everything from gritty urban scenes to the beauty of temples and palaces. It’s a portrait of the people and the places of China in the period before the 1949 Revolution, a time of transformational change. Available on Amazon.

  1. The Cat with the Telltale Tattoo by Samuel Porteus


A graphic novel set in old Shanghai, with a feline detective as its main character? A little quirky, but it works. Constable Mee Mee Khang is investigating a case through the concessions of old Shanghai. Well researched and rich in deliciously accurate historical detail, the cat constable runs into triads and tycoons, historical characters and period ads, as well as details like the International Settlement’s annexation of 260,000 acres outside their boundaries using the sly tactic of extra roads. This is the first in a five-part series, Constable Khang’s Mysteries of Old Shanghai. Available at Foreign Languages Bookstore, 390 Fuzhou Road & www.drowsyemperor.com

5. The Second Tang Dynasty: The 12 sons of Fragrant Mountain (香山) who changed China by Mark O’Neill.

Xiangshan, today’s Zhongshan, in Guangdong Province, produced an impressive number of sons who were pioneers in the modernisation of China and whose legacy resonates today: from Yung Wing, the first Chinese to study at Yale, who started a program for Chinese students to study in the U.S. in the late 19th century, to the first Chinese doctor of Western medicine, the first president of Tsinghua University, the founders of the great department stores in Shanghai and more. Author Mark O’Neill takes a look at the lives of twelve of these remarkable men.

Next up: 2015 Books



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