SHANGHAI-LEKSIKON
A Spanish writer on the nightlife and prostitution

In 1927 the Spanish polician, journalist and writer Vicente Blasco Ibañez published the book A Novelist's Tour of the World about his recently completed trip around the world. While he was in Shanghai he, among other things, took a keen interest in the influence of the noveau riche on the nightlife:

Shanghai is in the midst of a boom today. Everyone here is rich. People who, a few years ago, were nothing but petty clerks, now have millions. Conditions in this Chinese port are, in this respect, quite similar to those in California in the middle of the nineteenth century.

One has only to make the tour of Shanghai’s pleasure resorts to become aware of its wealth and the newness of its prosperity. Besides being famous throughout the Far East for its industries and the activity of its port, Shanghai represents to those who know the East a city of pleasure and reckless spending. The electric lights of its Fou-Tcheou Road shine brilliantly until dawn, and all night long its restaurants are open, and its cafes, and gambling houses, and other houses which I need not describe.

Chinese women enjoy greater liberty here than in the rest of China, and the courtesans of Shanghai are famous, and play a role in many of the novels and comedies of Chinese literature. At night they pass down Fou-Tcheou Road in their rickshaws, arrayed in showy flowered kimonos that cover them from head to foot, their faces painted like those of a doll, their eyes elongated by patches of black paint in the corners. They go from restaurant to restaurant, to take part in the banquets, for no Chinese dinner is quite complete if, during its course, a number of courtesans do not pass through the banquet hall to converse graciously with the banqueters, flirt a little, recite verses and sing songs, after which they move on to lend the animation of their presence to other banquets. For these brief visits to the banqueting hall they are paid by the restaurateur.

(...)

There is nothing anywhere to be compared with a night on the famous avenue known as Fou-Tcheou Road. Here one may find women from all countries, and every language known. The Russian upheaval sent to Shanghai a great flood of red-haired, green-eyed women, emotional, neurotic, and semi-savage, all at the same time. European courtesans are here in great numbers, side by side with their Chinese competitors. The millionaires of the recent boom are throwing banknotes about by the fistful. A theater supper in Shanghai far exceeds the wildest fancies of the Satiricon.

(Vicente Blasco Ibañez: A Novelist’s Tour of the World. Thornton Butterworth 1927, pp. 191-92, 193)


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