Shanghai Exodus

cover Shanghai exodus
DVD cover – Shanghai Exodus

As the reach of this blog grows year after year ( is now more than 6 years old), so does the number of readers. Through it I have received a few mails from researchers and met a few  people who actually lived in Old Shanghai, including (among others) Liliane Willens, Lynn Pan, Isabelle and Raymond Chao (who died this year) and  Rena Krasno (who died in 2009). Many of them have a passion for the city they call their home, although many had not been back since the late 40’s and quite a number have written books about their experience, their life in Shanghai and their families. Shanghai Exodus came to me through this blog and I don’t think I would have known it otherwise.

This documentary movie was made with the collaboration of many old Shanghailanders. It is their story and their link to the city they grew up in and that they love so much still. The 2009 movie includes a brief history of Shanghai, but is mostly interesting in the many snips of interviews of Old Shanghailanders. Many of them now live in the USA, but they and their family came from various countries including the UK, Russia and other European countries. Being from various level of society, they did not all live in the privileged world that is often associated with foreigners in old Shanghai but they all kept a very strong link to the city that can be felt throughout the movie. The movie also tells the fate of these people during WWII and how they managed to leave Shanghai in the laste 1940’s.

Although Shanghai Exodus is mostly about their life in Old Shanghai, one of the most moving part is seeing these people, coming back to their home city. The Shanghai they left has little to do with the Shanghai they come back to but some manage to find their root back to the city that they left so long ago. It is also very clear that many of them kept in touch in their new homes and feel that they lived in a very special place at a very special time. Growing in Old Shanghai is an extremely important part of their life and having to leave Shanghai left a scar in them. It is then really nice to see them closing the loop and finding back their roots. In a way, this is also the story of Shanghai and the rediscovery of its past by both Chinese and foreigners coming back to it.

About 15 minutes is available on as a trailer.

7 thoughts on “Shanghai Exodus”

  1. Yes,you may have picked this up from an e-mail of mine. This is an insight into an interesting cross-section of the people who lived in Shanghai.

    Another DVD which I can recommend is The White Countess, which is the last film made by the Merchant Ivory team. The casting is superb and it gives a poignant portrayal of Alexander Vertinsky who features in my book Shanghai Scarlet. There have been complaints about the lighting: there were not enough light bulbs in Shanghai during filming and the producers were not allowed to quickly import some, so they had to improvise. I don’t think this overcomes the excellence of the film as a whole.
    Best wishes, Margaret Blair

  2. This film captures well the ambiance of Shanghailanders living a comfortable life despite the Japanese occupation and civil war turmoil. Very heart warming reminiscences, especially of their Amahs.
    A glaring omission, except in one instance, these foreigners never learned to speak Chinese despite growing up in Shanghai. Now a great regret! The interaction with Chinese adults and children of their age was rare. The language spoken between foreigners and their domestic help was generally Pidgin English

  3. Hi Hugues,
    Thanks for this, once again, interesting post !
    For those of us leaving in Shanghai, do you know where to find this DVD ?

  4. I watched the 15 minute trailer and looked at the list of names appearing in the material. Very interesting.

    However, the material is incomplete since it hardly mentions the French (both Vichy and Gaulistes) and Russians (both White and Red).

    For example, during the war I was at the École Rémi, belonged to the White Russian Boy Scouts and for a while frequented the Soviet sport club (SSK). After the war, I attended school at the Collège Ste. Jeanne d’Arc and the Collège Français and belonged to the Association Sportive Française.

    Two references on the Shanghai French:
    “Les Francais de Shanghai” by Guy Brossolet and a book of pictures “Shanghai à la Française” by Jean-Michel Piar.

    Also, “Port of Last Resort” by Marcia Reynders Ristaino covers the Shanghai Jewish and Russian Diasporas of Shanghai.

  5. I agree with Lilianne about the lack of the Chinese language. My mother asked our helpers, Ah Fok and Ah Ling (our beloved amah, read about them in Gudao, Lone Ilset) – but they refused. When I asked about learning Chinese, my mother explained that Ah Fok and Ah Ling were excellent professionals at what they did for us and did not have to teach us their language. So … we never did learn to speak their language. I was taken to an alleyway where Ah Fok and his family lived (See Gudao) but we didi not mix.

    My father was asked not to mix too much with others due to his position as Superintendent of the Shanghai Municaple Polices’s C.I.D. We mixed very much only with other SMC people – on orders. Best wishes, Margaret Blair

  6. First, I do apologise for the typos in my last posting. My excuse is that I was in a hurry to go to a Thanksgiving family dinner. (The Canadain Thanksgiving is earlier than the American one.) You can obtain Shanghai Exodus from A2Media, LCC and China Light Media Foundation, PO Box 235527, Honolulu, HI 96823

  7. I have a ton of questions about the living experiences of WhiteRussians in Shanghai between 1935 and 1948. My mother was such when she met and married an American Army Captain (4 months pregnant with me) around Christmas ’45. Had lived her entire life in China…as a political refugee before the war and after moving to Shanghai in the late 30’s. Looking for info about social life of the many thousands of Russians–mostly White–that gathered in this incredible city.

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