This was a very famous and terribly tragic incident in the history of the Paramount Ballroom and for Shanghai's taxi-dance industry. The incident occurred on the evening of Feb 25 1940. This was during the "lone island" (gudao) era of partial Japanese control over the city and the papers were filled with news of murders and assassinations on a daily basis. Nevertheless it was shocking that this murder of a well-known dancer occurred in one of the most popular and crowded ballrooms in the city. Later, Chinese would blame this incident on the Japanese, and the story would morph into one of anti-Japanese resistance heroism: she refused to dance with a Japanese soldier and so she was shot to death. However, I have found no evidence that supports this claim, which is repeated endlessly in Chinese media to this day. Here is how the incident was reported in the North China Herald:
Chinese Dies After Ballroom Shooting (Feb 26)
In the spacious Paramount Ballroom, filled to capacity with dancing and celebrating couples, a Chinese gunman created a panic early yesterday morning when he fired five pistol shots at Miss Mary Chen (Chen Ma¬li), an attractive young leading dance hostess, while she was seated at a table with two Chinese men friends.
One of the men was fatally wounded, the other escaped with a slight injury. In the confusion which followed, the murderer escaped.
The daring attack was perpetrated at 12:15 a.m., when the establishment was filled with merrymakers. Miss Chen and her friends were sitting at a table near the entrance to the ballroom. The band was playing the latest waltz, and the lights had been dimmed as scores of couples were surging across the parquet floor. A stealthy figure wearing foreign clothing approached the pretty Chinese girl, drew a military Mauser pistol from under his coal and started blazing away at the young woman.
Screams were heard, shouts, glasses and bottles crashed to the floor, dancers at one end of the room receded in terror while at the other end they kept on waltzing, unaware of the tragedy that had taken place. Then the music stopped abruptly in the middle of a bar.
Girl Shot Four Times
Miss Chen crumpled to the floor with four wounds, in the abdomen, back, neck and shoulder. One of her companions, Mr. Pang Chiu-tang, a tea-merchant residing in San Tuh Faung, off Connaught Road, also slumped to the floor shot through the chest, while the other, Mr. Liu Pai-yung, a broker, grasped his right arm where a bullet had torn through the flesh.
Police arrived from Bubbling Well Station, nearby, led by Inspector J. Smith. He ordered all entrances closed, including the lowering of the heavy grille which protects the main doorway. Later Chief Inspector J. A. McFarlane took charge and called the red vans of the Reserve Unit. The large building was surrounded and a thorough search was made, every person within being questioned. It was found, however, that the killer had slipped away in the confusion which reigned immediately after the crime had been committed. He had apparently escaped by the main door which opens on the corner of Yu Yuen Road and Jessfield Road. Mr. Paul Chung, Chinese sub-inspector in the Municipal Police Specials, who was a guest in the ballroom, had followed him to the top of the stairway where he had subsequently lost sight of him in the crowd of night lifers.
Military Pistol Used
The pistol used was a .22-caliber Mauser with a long barrel, a military type weapon. Five cartridge cases and a spent bullet were recovered from the floor in the vicinity of the shooting. The Police closed the ballroom for the night as soon a their investigation there had been completed.
A Fire Brigade ambulance took the wounded to the Chinese Red Cross Hospital in Avenue Haig. There Mr. Pang died at 6:30 a.m., while Miss Chen’s condition remains critical. Mr. Liu, on the other hand, was permitted to go home after his arm had been bandaged. The wounded dancing girl made a statement from her hospital cot saying that she recognized the man who shot her as one of her ad¬mirers. The motive is believed to have been jealousy.
Miss Chen is one of the most popular dancers in local Chinese balrooms. She has been married twice. Chinese reports state that she was married to the late Chinese banker Mr. Liu Hui-tze and then the late Mr. Chu Shui-fu, manager of the Kiu Fu Company. After the latter’s death she returned to her profession of "taxi-dancing" and is said to have earned considerable money in the ballrooms in the last two or three years.
Miss Chen Ma-li, died at about 2 o’clock yesterday morning in the Chinese Red Cross Hospital.
--The North China Herald, Feb 28,1940