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Ten Great Books set in SHANGHAI

17th October 2021

Shanghai is the latest location for our ‘Ten Great Books Set In…’ series. Ten great books set in Shanghai. Shanghai, on China’s central coast, is the country’s biggest city and a global financial hub. Its heart is the Bund, a famed waterfront promenade lined with colonial-era buildings. Shanghai is rooted in traditional Chinese culture, based on the fusion of the essence of Wu and Yue, and other regions of China, and also absorbs to a lot of foreign, mainly western, ideas. Then it creates a new characteristic of its own unique Shanghai style. Shanghai has 72 museums.

未雨绸缪 – ‘dig the well before you are thirsty’ . Plan ahead. Shanghai proverb

Ten Great Books set in SHANGHAIDeath of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

Shanghai in 1990. An ancient city in a country that despite the massacre of Tiananmen Square is still in the tight grip of communist control. Chief Inspector Chen, a poet with a sound instinct for self-preservation, knows the city like few others.

When the body of a prominent Communist Party member is found, Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lead. Also, he must keep the young woman’s murder out of the papers at all costs. When his investigation leads him to the decadent offspring of high-ranking officials, he finds himself instantly removed from the case and reassigned to another area.

Chen has a choice: bend to the party’s wishes and sacrifice his morals, or continue his investigation and risk dismissal from his job and from the party. Or worse . . .

Death in Shanghai by M J Lee

Shanghai, 1928. The body of a blonde is washed up on the Beach of Dead Babies, in the heart of the smog-filled city. Seemingly a suicide, a closer inspection reveals a darker motive: the corpse has been weighed down, it’s lower half mutilated…and the Chinese character for ‘justice’ carved into the chest.

The moment Inspector Danilov lays eyes on the dismembered body, he realises that he has an exceptional case on his hands. And when the first body is followed by another, and another, each displaying a new, bloody message, he has no option but face the truth. He is dealing with the worst kind of criminal; someone determined, twisted…and vengeful.

Someone who must be caught….whatever the cost.

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

In this stunning new novel, the award-winning Tash Aw charts the overlapping lives of migrant Malaysian workers, forging lives for themselves in sprawling Shanghai.

Justin is from a family of successful property developers. Phoebe has come to China buoyed with hope, but her dreams are shattered within hours as the job she has come for seems never to have existed. Gary is a successful pop artist, but his fans and marketing machine disappear after a bar-room brawl. Yinghui has businesses that are going well but must make decisions about her life. And then there is Walter, the shadowy billionaire, ruthless and manipulative, ultimately alone in the world.

In ‘Five Star Billionaire’, Tash Aw charts the weave of their journeys in the new China, counterpointing their adventures with the old life they have left behind in Malaysia. The result is a brilliant examination of the migrations that are shaping this dazzling new city, and their effect on these individual lives.

Ten Great Books set in SHANGHAINight in Shanghai by Nicole Mones

Sailing to Shanghai in 1936, Thomas Greene goes from playing classical piano for pennies in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with his own servants, the leader of a black jazz orchestra. Song Yuhua has been bonded since age eighteen to Shanghai’s toughest crime boss, but risks her life spying on him for the Communist Party. With Shanghai shattered by the Japanese invasion, Thomas and Song find one another and forge a bond neither can deny. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and war, they navigate the city’s growing dangers until the moment when they must cast their lots in Night in Shanghai‘s final, impossible choice.

Shanghai Love by Layne Wong

Shanghai Love is a gripping novel about the unlikely love story that develops between a Chinese herbalist and a Jewish refugee in Shanghai during World War II. Peilin is betrothed to Kwan Yao, the only son of a wealthy pearl farmer. However, months before their wedding, Yao is killed by the Japanese in the Nanjing Massacre. The Kwans insist on proceeding with the wedding and beautiful Peilin is married to a ghost husband. When an uncle passes away, Peilin is sent to Shanghai to manage the Kwan family herbal shop. Meanwhile, in Berlin, Henri graduates from medical school just as Hitler rises to power and unleashes prejudice and violence against the Jewish population. He flees to Shanghai where he’s befriended by Ping, a young disfigured rickshaw driver. Ping introduces Henri to his sister Peilin. Through her kindness, Henri becomes fascinated with Chinese herbs as well as the exotic culture surrounding him. Shanghai Love is a classic story of love’s triumph over adversity.

All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

In 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires for every young Chinese woman. For Feng, that means becoming the bride of a wealthy businessman in a marriage arranged by her parents. In the enclosed world of the Sang household – a place of public ceremony and private cruelty – she learns that fulfilling her duty means bearing a male heir. Ruthless and embittered by a life that has been forced on her, Feng plots a terrible revenge. But as the years pass, she must come to a reckoning with the sacrifices and the terrible choices she has made to assure her place in family and society, before the entire country is engulfed in the fast-flowing tide of revolution.

Ten Great Books set in SHANGHAIRising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla

It’s 1943 and the Japanese juggernaut has swallowed Shanghai and the rest of eastern China, snaring droves of American and British and German Jewish refugees. Newlyweds Dr. Franz Adler and his wife, Sunny, adjust to life running the city’s only hospital for refugee Jews. Bowing to Nazi pressure, the Japanese force twenty thousand Jewish refugees, including the Adlers, to relocate to a one-square-kilometer “Shanghai Ghetto.” Heat, hunger, and tropical diseases are constant threats. But music, theater, sports, and Jewish culture thrive despite what are at times subhuman conditions. Navigating Nazi treachery and ever-worsening conditions while living under the heel of the Japanese military, the Adlers struggle to keep the hospital open and their family safe and united.

The Shanghai Factor by Charles McCarry

An American spy in China. Name: Unknown. Status: Sleeper.

He’s meant to be laying low, polishing his Mandarin and awaiting further instructions from Washington. But Shanghai is a difficult city to sleep in, especially when his nights are taken over by the seductive but enigmatic Mei – a woman with secrets he’d rather not hear.

Then he is tasked with a delicate operation. Infiltrate the core of the Chinese intelligence service. Distinguish friend from foe. Report to a single contact at HQ. Trust no one. Tell no one.

Pushed out into the cold, in a city of millions he’s suddenly very, very alone.

But in Shanghai city you’re never truly alone. Faceless strangers linger in the shadows, watching your every move. No one is safe from the Guoanbu. Not even a spy with no name…

City of Devils by Paul French

City of Devils is a dramatic non-fiction account of Shanghai’s lawless 1930s – but such a gripping read, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse. Before the Japanese invaded, outlaws from all over the world escaping fascism, communism and the law flooded to its glittering ballrooms and casinos. Two characters – ‘Lucky’ Jack Riley and dancer ‘Dapper’ Joe Farren – bestrode the Badlands like kings. But Shanghai couldn’t be their playground forever, and a violent end to their reigns of terror loomed. Nobody knows Shanghai like Paul French, bestselling author of Midnight in Peking, a global bestseller and Radio 4 book of the week, who lived there for ten years and has probed all its darkest corners and brightest ballrooms.

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

A first-hand account of China’s cultural revolution.

Nien Cheng, an anglophile and fluent English-speaker who worked for Shell in Shanghai under Mao, was put under house arrest by Red Guards in 1966 and subsequently jailed. All attempts to make her confess to the charges of being a British spy failed; all efforts to indoctrinate her were met by a steadfast and fearless refusal to accept the terms offered by her interrogators. When she was released from prison she was told that her daughter had committed suicide. In fact Meiping had been beaten to death by Maoist revolutionaries.

What amazing books there are set in Shanghai! If you have any to add to the list, please do so in the Comments below…

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