Shanghai in Literature and Film

Shanghai has been a perennial topic in literature and film. The majority of Shanghai writers' and directors' creative work reflect their personal stories and experiences. Eileen Chang (张爱玲), a renowned Shanghai writer who later moved to Los Angeles, often describes the everyday life (including love life) of Shanghai in the 1940s. In one of her essays (Item 57c), Chang positions Shanghainese as "traditional Chinese people tempered by the high pressure of modern life" associated with the "fusion of old and new culture."

Wang Anyi (王安忆) also writes about daily life in Shanghai. In her celebrated novel--Song of Everlasting Sorrow (长恨歌; Item 60), the author depicts dramatic life change before and after her heroine (Wang Qiqiao) turns from an ordinary Shikumen girl to a "Miss Shanghai." Other women writers' novels about Shanghai include Wei Hui's (卫慧) banned novel Shanghai Baby, Hong Ying's (虹影) Concubine of Shanghai, and more (Item 58).

Mao Dun (矛盾), in his masterpiece—Midnight (子夜)—portrays life in cosmopolitan Shanghai in 1930s, especially showing how national capitalists are struggling under foreign economic oppression. This "literary lion" also demonstrates how the influx of Western lifestyle exerts tremendous impact on Shanghainese. In this book, a traditional Confucianist named Old Mr. Wu dies from a heart attack after being exposed to the frenetic ballroom dance of the younger generation (Item 61).

In films and literature depicting foreigners' lives in Old Shanghai, the city is usually portrayed as an electric and lurid cosmopolitan full of dangers associated with wars, criminality, and greedy desires. Representative work of this sort includes Lan Lian Hua (The Blue Lotus), a series of Adventures of Tintin (Item 62), Christopher New's Shanghai, director Josef von Sternberg's Oscar-winning film Shanghai Express, and much more (Item 63).