Shanghai Shanghai

Shanghai Shanghai
Shanghai Shanghai

Watching today’s Chinese TV is not always very rewarding as content is often of various quality. Shanghai’s main commercial TV station Dragon TV is well known for its many talk shows, TV series as well as the current hit “China Talent” or  中国达人秀 .  The channel recently started broadcasting a new TV series called “Shanghai Shanghai” or 上海上海. Taking place in old Shanghai, it naturally attracted my interest as well as helping my language skills.

The show tells the story of imaginary entrepreneur and businessman Liu Gong Zhen, using it to show various episodes of Shanghai history. It integrates historical elements and city symbols  such as the cabarets and casino competitions into the story. One of the main point is the famous entertainment center and cabaret Great World or 大世界 on the corner of Yanan Lu and Xizhang lu that recently been renovated. It also includes historical facts of the period as well political turmoil of the time. The production spent a lot of time, money and energy to make this a flagship of Dragon TV.

The 40 episodes series need 40 million RMB for production and the effort really shows. The decor and costumes are most often right on the spot. Outside scenes were filmed in gardens of old Shanghai villa and the decor of inside scenes was very well studied to give a real feel for the period. Historians have been clearly involved in set and dresses design and some of the dialogs are in played Shanghai dialect adding again to the whole atmosphere.

Most importantly, the show manages to stir away from too much politics, being a great history lesson for many people in a way that is mostly unbiased for China standards. Heroes and villains are not always on the same side and this adds to the credibility of the whole show. It also avoids the current wave of special effects and over-the-top fights. Mostly focusing on people’s emotions and relations, it manages to captivate the audience, while giving a new and much brighter light to the city history. As Shanghai is re-discovering or re-inventing its past, the series creates a new mythology for the city.

Shanghai Shanghai is a great show cleverly captivating people as well as sending a great message to Shanghainese about their city’s past. I hope a DVD version with English subtitles will be made as it could open a foreign career for the program, or at least allow the many foreigners living in Shanghai to watch it. Although attention has been paid to details and most of the story takes place in the former foreign concessions I have yet to  see a foreigner on screen. This little point would have been a great point to the show, underlining Shanghai history as an international city.

4 thoughts on “Shanghai Shanghai”

  1. Hi,

    I was researching old 1920/30’s Shanghai and stumbled across your wonderful blog. My grandparents lived in Shanghai before the Communists came in – when they left – “in a hurry”! I know very little of their lives from then, and thought I would ask – just by chance if anyone who follows your blog knew them. There were Violet Haas Ollerdessen, and her husband James Henry Ollerdessen.

    thank you,
    Elaine Ollerdessen Seed

  2. Hello Hughues,

    Thankyou for your piece this week. I am finding your weekly episodes very interesting.
    You are very fortunate to be able to watch Dragon TV. We get Asian programmes here in Australia but I haven’t come across these episodes of Shanghai Shanghai as yet.
    We get the Asian cinema movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I really enjoy this type of mythical theatre. Ancient Chinese classics are a favourite too. I sense that you are not so fond of these. Nonetheless, they were popular here with audiences when they were shown.
    I would love to see this series and hope too that soon it will come out on DVD so we can enjoy it also. Pre 1949 Shanghai stories have been attempted in various forms by the Western Production Companies and not always with historical accuracy. It sounds like the team at Dragon TV have put much effort into the production of these storylines and their authenticity.
    I hope this programme has some impact on the preservation of Shanghai’s Historical buildings in order to trully maintain its connection with its past.

    Yours sincerely,

    Maria Venn.

  3. Hi, I am living in Paris, France. I am a journalist and author, currently working on life in the French Compound in the period of 1937-45. You mentionned in your article “historians who helped for the restitution of scenes for “Shanghai Shanghai”. Would you be kind enough to tell me who they are ? I would like to get in touch with them. Many thanks. Sylvie

  4. Bonjour Hughes:

    I find it very bizarre that no foreigner is depicted in ShanghaiShanghai Approximately50,000 foreigners of various nationalities lived in the two extraterritorial concessions during the30′ and 40’s until the takeover of mainland China by the PRC. .Perhaps sensitivity about the past when Shanghai was ruled by foreigners and later occupied by the Japanese army.

    Chinese businessmen and gangsters had to interact with the powers-to-be (often corrupt foreign police) in these concessions to be successful in their enterprises, whether legal or illegal.

    I hope one day your blog will become a book with pictures of Old Shanghai.

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