Wednesday, 30 December 2009
New Year's Eve in Weimar Shanghai
Weimar Shanghai? These are Shanghai's smart young things welcoming in 1932. Shanghai was the world's biggest metropolis in those days, vibrant, racy, ultra modern, an amazing place few in the West appreciate. New Year's Eve was the biggest party in the whole year. Lunar New Year is something spent traditionally, with family, and Christmas was for Christians (although in westernized places like Shanghai everyone had fun). So New Year's Eve was the night people went completely over the top. They used to plan their outfits a year ahead, take their furs out of storage etc. It was the biggest social event of the year. Someone I loved was "called back" on New Year's Eve the year she'd reach 100, but somehow it was comforting to think of her back in her prime with all her friends. Note the champagne, trombones, the man in the chicken suit, and traditional garments. (though look at the flash modern cut of one lady's qi pao). Notice too how sophisticated the film techniques are, quite radical for the time, easily as up to date as in the west.
This is Shanghai at the peak of its prosperity, so they've lots to celebrate. They're partying like there was no tomorrow. They were right, there wasn't a "tomorrow". A few months earlier, Japan had attacked Manchuria, but that must have seemed so far away, hundreds of miles away in swanky Shanghai. Soon civil war would break out, tearing Shanghai apart. Then the Japanese occupation, and then the Revolution of 1949, when many of Shanghai's best and brightest fled to Hong Kong and started all over again, from scratch. Refugees to billionaires, but billionaires who never forgot what it was like being a refugee and desperate. Until then, Hong Kong was a quiet backwater, but then it eclipsed Shanghai. "Someday Shanghai will rise again", said an elderly man I knew. He was right. If the west has any chance of comprehending China, it needs to understand what Shanghai meant. Weimar, on the other side of the world.