Ever since more than a century ago when China became the
semi-colony of the Western Power and Shanghai
was forced to be under the rule of the white
supremacists, there have been two different cultures
co-existed in China: one is so-called Beijing
Style (京派), distinctively Chinese and traditional but
with a sour twist as its authenticity had long been lost
following the demise of the last indigenous regime, the Mind
Dynasty (1368 - 1644); and the other is dubbed Shanghai Style
(海派), characterized by a rather Westernized approach, more
cosmopolitan yet extremely self-indulgent.
The first photo studio Wang Kai Photo Shop
(王开照相馆) in Shanghai's "Cultural Street" 4th Avenue
( 四马路) in 1930s, the heyday during Shanghai's colonial era.
Apart from "high culture" represented
by book stores, pop culture such as photo shops and theatres
and cinemas, 4th Avenue was also a centre for "low culture" -
With a high concentration of book stores, stationary
shops, theatres, cafes and dancing parlours in and around
the 4th Avenue, the street became one of the favourite haunts
of the young ladies of elite in the old Shanghai.
These noble girls were known as mingyuan (名媛)
typically born into a rich family and received scholarly
upbringing and artistic training with an educational qualification
at an elite girls' school.
In those days, a proper noble Shanghai girl
must be capable of speaking fluent English, knowing how to
drive a car, ride a horse and play tennis.
A Noble Girl also needed to be able to compose
classical Chinese verses, produce fine calligraphy, create
exquisite ink paintings, singing the archaic Suzhou style
opera Kuiqu (昆曲) and play ancient music.
If the Noble Girls were the products of "high
culture", then the dancing, singing and performing girls
in old Shanghai were a group of people who helped shape the
pop culture on the stages and screens.
One of the most memorable pop song and film
star was Zhou Xuan (周璇).
Hauntingly beautiful and extraordinarily talent, she was
abandoned at birth and then sold to brothel by her foster
During the semi-colonial era, it became so
common to see those pretty and pretty sensitive Shanghai
actresses to end their young lives by committing suicide.
There were exceptions though. This gorgeous
performing artist named Qin Yi (秦怡) sustained her professional
career and gains wide popularity for half a century. Well
entering 80s now, she is still adored by her fans for her
dignity and elegance.
There were three First Ladies in modern Chinese
history and they were all closely associated with Shanghai:
Song Qingling (宋庆龄, 1893 - 1981), the wife
of Sun Zhongshan (孙中山), the founding father of the modern
Song Meiling (宋美龄, 1897 - 2003), the wife of
Jiang Jieshi (蒋介石), the president of the Republic of China.
Jiang Qing (江青), the wife of Mao Zedong (毛泽东),
the founding father of the People's Republic of China.
Born and grown up in Shanghai, two Songs, who
were sisters, were the classical noble Shanghai girls with
a distinguished family background, while Jiang had a rather
humble upbringing and started her career as a film actress
in Shanghai. The endings of the three First Ladies were also
quite typical to their classes: The Songs surrounded by their
loved ones at a grand funeral respectively, while Jiang committed
suicide and died alone.
Today, the 4th Avenue is renamed as Fuzhou
Road (福州路), and still the home to most book stores in Shanghai.
Green that Kills
4,000-Year Old Tree