This gem of an article covers the nightlife of Peking in the late 1930s, making comparisons with Shanghai's own night scene. The author obviously spent a lot of time researching his subject. Beijingers might make some comparisons between the author's description of the nightspots of the 1930s and those of more recent years. Maggie's comes to mind.
Shanghai Cabaret Wallflowers Find Peiping Their Valhalla
JACK BELDEN Special China Press Correspondent
(The China Press May 8, 1937)
Old Capital Residents A Bit Rustic; Beauty Standards Low
IS GRAVEYARD FOR RUSSIAN HOOFERS
Cabaret For Students Would Clean Up, Says China Press Writer
PEIPING, May 4—Ex-Shanghai dancing girls are striking a rich harvest nowadays in the cabarets of Peiping and Tientsin. Driven North by the necessity tor finding work, both Chinese and Korean hostesses are finding that they can make as much money in one month in Peiping as they were able to make in two months in Shanghai.
There is a small but steady stream of girls riding the Blue Express between this city and Shanghai. For the most part, they come up third class, save a few pennies and ride second class back to Shanghai, once more to try and buck the keen competition furnished by the thousands of hostesses in that port.
Russian girls are not a part of this migration. Peiping is one of the first ports of call for young ladies from Harbin, but it is ithe graveyard of Russion taxi-dancers from Shanghai.
Haven For Wall Flowers
Word is slowly going around the less popular cabarets of Shanghai that money can be had in a hurry-up trip North and some of the wall flowers at dance spots, such as the Majestic, the Moon Palace, the Venus, the Great Eastern, the Blue Bird and others are packing their bags and hastening North to cash in on the bonanza before It has been worked out.
Cabaret life in Peiping is still of the “sawdust” variety and night life is distinctly dull, but a traveler who has not been here for some time will immediately notice changes. Some say these changes are for the better. The responsible foreign community is pretty united in saying they are for the worse.
Up until about a year ago, there were no Chinese dancing girls allowed in cabarets in Peiping. But with the departure of “puritanical” Mayor Yuan Liang, things took on a different complexion. Where once only sprouted the Alcazar and the International with their large and very buxom Russian girls, have grown the Pai Kung (White Palace), Olympia and Golden Fan cabarets with a scattering of Japanese cafes around the city. Most of these boast Chinese dancing partners.
Of the cabarets, only the Pai Kung would be considered above the average sailor “joint” in Shanghai. If you can imagine a combination of the Moon Palace, Del Monte, a Blood Alley dance-and-hug joint and the Venus, you can get some picture of this establishment which is coining money so fast that even some of the owners of Shanghai's more popular cabarets might sit up and show interest if they knew about it.
When your correspondent left Peiping about a year and a half ago, the Pai Kung was a small, moth-eaten hotel set in back of the stinking market that faces on Hatamen Street and Tung Ch’ang An Chieh, but now a coterie of blazing neon lights announces that the Pai Kung welcomes all and sundry, regardless of race, creed, color or politics to dance to their “Whoopy” music at 25 cents a throw. That the glaring red neon signs, twisted into red heart molds with arrows stuck through them, give the exterior of the establishment the appearance at a Coney Island shooting gallery or a Great World x-ray stare and bear parlor, doesn't make much difference—the thing is new in Peiping and it is going over with a bang.
The Pai Kung is one of those impossible places—you don’t believe it until you see it. The floor is small—about the size of the Little Club—and the tables are small and in such close proximity to both the floor, the dancing girls and the wall in back that four persons cannot sit down at a table without everyone standing up if one of lhe party wishes to leave the table.
A Russian orchestra plays some of the rottenest music this side of Hongkew, but they make up in in spirit what they lack in harmony.
But it’s the customers that give the Pai Kung its impossible air. You can go in any night of the week and see a Chinese correspondent for a foreign news agency crying with his head on the table because his girl doesn’t love him, or a representative of a foreign legation in evening dress whirling a Korean girl around the floor, or some broken-down hobo in shirt sleeves prancing around as if he were i a dime-a-wiggle joint in America.
There is an elderly foreign correspondent who frequents the Pai Kung night after night and swings a young Japanese girl around on his fat stomach and converses in fluent Chinese with some of the impolitest and most inefficient “table boys” in the world, there is a young official in the employ of Gen. Sung Cheh-yuan who spends all his money and most of his nights just to come and dance with a certain Chinese girl of his fancy.
Dances Four For $1
When this cabaret first opened its doors, girls were recruited from the lower class sing-song houses, a few from the country and some from Tientsin and Shanghai, Now girls from Shanghai are beginning to come here in increasing numbers. Every night is Saturday night at the Pai Kung, and the establishment doesn't know the bare emptiness that the Hotel de Pekin down the street experiences on week nights, consequently girls are kept busy. Dances are four for a dollar and out of every dollar the girl gets 50 cents.
The experience of 20-year old Miss Ch’ou Li-mei is typical of that of a number of these girls. Three months ago she was dancing in the Moon Palace Cabaret on North Szechuen Road at the rate of seven dances for a dollar and was lucky to make $70 or $80 a month. Now she dances practically every dance with Peiping’s dance-hungry customers and averages $300 a month for both dance tickets and drinks.
Dancing girls are invited to sit at tables more often in Peiping than they are in Shanghai and are immediately given $5 as soon as they sit down. This is attended to by a Russian woman ticket seller who sees that one immediately buys the tickets. In a way, the Pai Kung has had a pernicious influence on some of the girls. Miss Ch’ou, who has acquired the foreign name of “Billie” since coming to Peiping and who is often taken to one of the three foreign hotels for dinner or tea (an opportunity she never would have had in Shanghai), was given money by her mother to come to Peiping to enter the Hua Kung School for Girls, but she saw what was happening at the Pai Kung and joined the gold rush. Another girl, formerly employed in the Majestic, though making good money, is homesick for Shanghai and good music. Some here, make a few hundred dollars and return to Shanghai.
A Rowdy Joint
The Pai Kung is distinctly a rowdy joint, The establishment is restricted to both American and British Legation Guards. The management, though working with a poor talent, tries to please the customers and puts on a number of acts, including a can-can by a starry-eyed Russian damsel, a comedy peasant act by an elderly Russian man and women, that generally brings down the house, and other special entertainment features. The result is that the dance hall, which is incidentally backed with Korean money, takes in a rich harvest every night.
The Japanese Golden Fan, just in back of the Legation Quarter and near the Ch’ien Men derives whatever profit it is able to make from the ever-increasing Japanese population of the city. Dances here are five for a dollar, Asahi beer sells at a dollar for a large bottle and hard and mixed drinks are priced accordingly. The place has an air of hardness about it and girls, practically all of whom are Japanese, are not averse to making money by other means than dancing.
The Golden Fan has a bad reputation among some foreigners, who allege that they have often been cheated during a visit. An American school teacher employed in one of the large universities in the city had an unfortunate experience there recently. Warned beforehand to pay for everything as it was brought to his table, he followed this advice. When he was about to leave he was presented with a chit. An argument ensued and the teacher and his companions were set upon by a number of Japanese employees who smashed beer bottles on the ground and used the jagged ends as weapons to attack the foreign party which just managed to escape in their waiting motor car, not before the teacher, however, had been gashed on the leg by one of the waiters who reached in and stabbed him.
Other Japanese establishments of the type of Shanghai Hongkew victrola-girl places are constantly opening up. What was once a British Soldiers’ Club on Hatamen Street has now been turned into a Japanese cafe where both Japanese military men and civilians gather. With several more places near the Hatamen Gate, the street is taking on the appearance of Mingnong Road and vicinity.
The upper end of the Tung Ch’ang An Chieh might be called the Great White Way of Peiping, for it boasts the Alcazar, the Pai Kung and the Olympia Cabaret (hangout for Italian and British soldiers), the Pavilion Theater and the famed Hotel de Pekin.
Students Potential Customers
Peiping is becoming dance-conscious and there is room for a first class cabaret. There are thousands of students in this city and most of them like to dance, or would like to learn. There is no respectable place within the means of average Chinese young men and women where they may go and enjoy an evening’s entertainment. A real gold mine is waiting for the man who opens such a place in the city.
The higher class sing-song girls are still making enough money, principally from a few of the wealthy generals quartered in the vicinity. The topnotch girls from the sing-song houses are prettier, more talented and charming than their sisters in the cabarets—a fact which makes itself painfully apparent when a wealthy man invites one of them to a dance hall.