Very Quick Review: DESTINATION SHANGHAI by Paul French (Blacksmith Books)

Destination Shanghai_18mm spineA fascinating collection of short biographies

18 true stories of those who went…

For the privileged a cosmopolitan pleasure ground; for the desperate a port of last resort.

A pot of gold at the end of an Oriental rainbow; a thick slice of hell denounced from the pulpit.

The start of a journey for many; the end of the road for some.

A place to find fame, or to seek anonymity; rogues, chancers, showgirls, criminals…

For so many people from so many lands, there was one phrase that sent a tingle of hope or a shiver of anticipation down every spine: “DESTINATION SHANGHAI”

Ever since I read his contributions to Penguin’s series of short China Specials, I’ve been a big fan of Paul French’s books. He has a gift for bringing history alive, and writes in an engaging style. In Destination Shanghai, the author offers a collection of short biographies of people who found themselves in Shanghai at one point or another. Destination Shanghai is an excellent, illuminating read.

Some of these people are names you might already know (Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Aleister Crowley, for example), while others have been largely forgotten by history — if, in fact, they were ever widely known. The cast are drawn from all over the Western world, arriving in Shanghai either in search of fortune and fame; or under duress; or for publicity.

In each case, French offers a broad portrait of early-20th Century Shanghai — from the top to the bottom of society, he uses these biographies to highlight different aspects of life in a city that was considered one of the most fun (and corrupt) of the age.

With Destination Shanghai, Paul French adds to the growing range of excellent titles about China in the early-20th Century. It’s accessible, engaging, and very well written. Definitely recommended for all fans of history and Chinese history in particular.


Paul French’s Destination Shanghai is out now, published by Blacksmith Books.

Also on CR: Review of City of Devils

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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