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Full referenceField, Andrew David, “A night in Shanghai: Nightlife and modernity in semicolonial China, 1919-1937”, (2001)
Author(s)Field, Andrew David
Title“A night in Shanghai: Nightlife and modernity in semicolonial China, 1919-1937”,
UniversityPhD, Columbia University,
Keywordsculture; social; entertainment;
AbstractThis dissertation examines the influence of nightlife and related mass culture phenomena such as jazz music and social dancing on Chinese politics and social life in the city of Shanghai between the two world wars. In the early twentieth century, the Victorian Age formalism of the ball and tea dance dominated the leisure culture of Westerners in Shanghai, while Chinese nightlife consisted of age-old establishments such as brothels, teahouses, and opera houses. Following the Great War, informal establishments such as cafes, night clubs, and dance halls catering to Westerners arose in the city's settlements. In the late 1920s, Chinese artists, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs introduced native elements into the foreign culture of the cabaret. The Chinese dance hostess (wunu) became a popular profession and an icon of feminine modernity, pioneering patterns of leisure, consumption, fashionability, and social mobility. Under severe economic and political pressures resulting from the onset of the world depression in 1931 and the Zhabei war in 1932, previously exclusive cabarets and ballrooms opened their doors to the Chinese masses. As dance halls gained in size, popularity, and number, they became the stomping grounds for an increasingly diverse set of patrons drawn from the city's native elite and petty bourgeois population. Despite efforts at regulation by municipal authorities, the infiltration of gangsters, prostitutes, nude reviews, and other “low life” elements contributed to their general degradation in the public mind, while social campaigns portrayed cabarets as dissolute spaces that corrupted urban youth. The cabaret was also an important space for imagining modernity in Chinese literature. Popular and avant-garde writers such as Bao Tianxiao and Mu Shiying incorporated cabarets into their narratives of the modern city, perceiving them as spaces that initiated people into the sophisticated pleasures and dangers of life in the semicolonial city. Thus, nightlife shaped the modern city in both reality and image.
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