Saturday, April 4, 2009

Undoubtedly the Best Guide to Shanghai Ever


Another plug for the excellent Shanghai-based Earnshaw Classics series of reprints on China. Some of the best, and I think most popular have been the old guides to China – I’ve mentioned their reprint of The Standard Guide to Shanghai from 1934 before in a post. Now they’ve reprinted one of the most funny and irreverent guides to Shanghai ever published (let’s be honest nobody does good Shanghai guides now – all boring museums and parks and no dope, whores and booze anymore in these sad PC days).


Tael Lights by Maurine Karns and Pat Paterson was first published in 1936 and it’s a guidebook to the seamier side of Shanghai in the mid-1930s, when it was at its most outrageous. The authors, two pretty dissolute foreigners living life to the fullest and working at least partially in a Whangpoo whiskey haze, stress the nightlife, particularly the sex and sin side of the city. Political correctness hardly enters into it thankfully. Even the accompanying Sapajou cartoons and maps list the best bordellos and bars rather than maps now that point out the dirge that is People’s Square and such innocuous “delights” as the ridiculous Xintiandi and boring shopping malls as if this is all people can enjoy in our horrendously sanitised 21st century.


The “nymphs de pave” chapter starts by telling us that, “No small part of the nocturnal street scene in Shanghai is contributed by the ladies whose commodity is love, cash and carry." Another chapter is called “Fleshpots” which is a collection of dives that make the sad wanna-bes of Bar Rouge or the tackiness of Tongren Lu all too apparent to the modern reader – who, for instance, wouldn’t pass on a night at the ghastly vandalism and snobbishness that is 3 on the Bund when offered the Venus – “The Venus begins to come to life at about three when some of the other spots begin to close.Four kinds of people go there. The people who don't go to Del Montes, the people who want to sin conspicuously, the people who want to sin inconspicuously and those who have that happy alcoholic feeling, and want to keep it.”


The ad opposite is for Ciro's in 1937 - couldn't find one for The Venus.


Oh what we missed! And how pathetic is what we have been given!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Stuff and nonsense. Check out one of the Japanese city sex guides.

Vincent沈游游 said...

I am writing a book about old Shanghai architecture and quite interested in "Shanghai in Foreigners' Eyes" while your blog really inspires me a lot.

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