2019 James Carter book about Old Shanghai races was on my reading list for a while before I finally could go through it. Focus on Old Shanghai through the horse races and a very thorough research makes it an entertaining read full of new or rarely found information about my favorite topic.
Horse races in Old Shanghai
The book centers around horses races in Old Shanghai. Although this type of activity has gone out of fashion a lot, horses races were a major part of entertainment in Old Shanghai. The highlight of the season was the twice a year Champions Day, the main competition between horse owners. Shanghai would stop for the afternoon with large crowds joining for viewing and betting on the race. This made the Shanghai Race Course was the most important point of the city along with the Bund. The first main point of the book is to show the upmost importance of the event for the social life of Shanghai, that may be little difficult to grasp in today’s World of unlimited entertainment.
New information about race courses
The books also brings a lot of information about The Shanghai Race Club and the race course (that was located in today’s people square). What is really new is the in-depth information about the other major race course, IRC (International Race Course) located in Jiangwan district. Although started by Chinese who could not get membership in the Shanghai Race Club, both Race Courses had strong links and membership in one would bring access to the other, allowing Chinese and foreign horse owners to mix.
Many new characters
Finally, the book brings out a lot of characters that were previously little studied. The cast of horse owners competing for the main price gives is varied, showing different sides of the Shanghailander society. As opposed to what was mostly thought, some of those characters were Eurasians, children of (mostly) western fathers and Chinese mothers. The book also turn the light on the Chinese modern society that was created in Shanghai, with several inclination towards foreigners and political conviction. Whether they lived from or competed with foreigners in Shanghai, the whole development of Shanghai was influenced by the West, while trying to keep a distinctive Chinese character.
Although very detailed, the book lacks in pictures which will make it harder to comprehend for people unfamiliar with the topic. The other missing point is a transcription in characters of the main people and location. This would have helped research on them on the Chinese internet, where probably more information is available.
A great read about Old Shanghai
Champions Day is the result of an incredibly thorough research, compiling the whole English press from Old Shanghai, as well as massive research in existing academia on the topic. It definitely brings lots of information on many new characters in a very entertaining manner and definitely a recommended reading for anybody interested in Old Shanghai.