One of the earliest cabarets to open featuring Chinese dance hostesses or wunü (舞女）was the Black Cat Cabaret (黑猫舞厅). Opened at the end of 1927 and located across from the New World Amusment Center on Tibet Road (Xizang Lu) and present-day Nanjing West Road, this cabaret featured attractive hostesses as well as a jazz band called "Felix and his Meows". It soon proved quite popular amongst self-styled Chinese bohemians and also attracted a following amongst middle-class Chinese learning the ways of the jazz age. An article in the North China Herald gives a rather evocative description of the cabaret. Later, in 1931, the Black Cat became famous for an incident involving a certain dance hostess named Huang Baiying, who attempted suicide after engaging in a love affair with a local gentleman named Dong. The fact that she was from a well-to-do Cantonese family and that she had been a student at the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai prior to joining the dance hall certainly contributed to the sensationalism surrounding this case, which was written up in both the Chinese and English newspapers of the age. Below are three news articles covering the opening of the cabaret in 1927 and the suicide case in 1930.
A NEW DANCING HALL: Opening of the "Black Cat" in Thibet Road (North China Herald, 24 Dec., 1927)
The formal opening of “The Black Cat,” a cafe and cabaret at 72 Thibet Road, opposite the New World Building and next to the Ningpo Association, took place on Thursday evening, when there was a good attendance of friends and patrons. There were no speeches but guests were provided with a dinner and entertained by “Felix and his Meows,” a five piece jazz band, which has just arrived from the South.
Though not quite completed, “The Black Cat” is a very comfortable and cosy place. Walking up a fireproof stairway—on both sides were many potted plants and overhead were arbours of bamboos, which added to the distinctiveness of the decorations—one turned to the right to enter the ball room, a spacious and tastefully decorated hall. The overhead colour scheme is carried out in light blue silk, forming a very attractive pleated canopy. The stained and dark coloured walls with harmonious candelabra, and the “Black Cat” designed light shades, provided an exotic touch to the soft though bright cupola. “The Black Cat” was the subject of treatment for the illuminated music stands of the orchestra. There is seating accommodation for 200 persons and only dinners will be served.
Dancing Girl to Quit Night Life and Return Home: Echo Of Suicide Pact Case Which Stirred Shanghai Chinese (China Press, 26 Aug, 1930)
A great adventure has been her life, and one replete with events which brought forth laughter and tears. A year ago, Wong Pei-ying, who is 19 years-old, landed here from Canton, a sweet and innocent girl. A year in a cabaret has changed all that.
Center of the “death pact” case, which created a sensation among the Chinese community here, Wong Pei-ying, dancing partner employed at the Black Cat Cafe until several weeks ago, is due to sail this morning for Hongkong on the Empress of Canada.
It may be remembered that Dong San-mau, alias Dong Lien-fu, 24, son of the proprietor of the grocery store at 316 Broadway, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment by Judge Woo in the special district court on July 23 for instigating Miss Wong to commit suicide by taking an overdose of “Medinae,” a patent preparation containing poison.
An appeal has been filed in the higher court, and the case is scheduled to be resumed on September 4.
According to her present plan, she will eventually go to France to further her studies after staying with her mother in Hongkong.
Miss Wong left her home in Canton a year ago following a quarrel with her rich uncle and aunt. Though deserted and alone, she joined the Fuh Tan [Fudan] University, Kiangwan. After a short stay in the college, however, she became a dancing partner in the Great Eastern Ballroom, and early this year joined the Black Cat Cafe.
Cabaret Dancer Tells Story Of Forced Suicide: "No Human Being Prefers Death" Declares Miss Hwang (China Press Jul 8, 1930)
"No human being prefers death” declared Miss Hwang Pah-ying [Huang Baiying], dancing girl employed at the Black Cat Cafe, before Judge Wu In the Special District Court yesterday.
Miss Hwang was alleged to have been forced to commit suicide by Doong San-mao, son of a grocery owner on Broadway, in the small hours of June 29.
The case was adjourned from July 2 when Miss Hwang was in the hospital.
Doong was charged with having forced the girl to attempt suicide on June 29. It was alleged that on the previous night Doong took the girl for a drive to Woosung and [a hotel] on Bubbling Well Road where he compelled her to commit suicide by taking five of the ten tablets of "Medinae,” a patent preparation containing poison, which he bought while on way to the hotel. After she had swallowed the tablets, Doong sent her to Paulun Hospital, Burkill Road, according to the charge.
During the previous hearing Doong admitted purchasing the tablets but denied having forced her to take them.
In court yesterday, Miss Hwang stated that she fell in love with Doong a year ago but they could not marry because Doong is a married man. Miss Hwang further said that Doong had asked her to write a suicide pact. Miss Hwang related her story involving another man named Chang with whom she wants to marry.
When questioned by Judge Wu, Doong said that they both suggested death to end the trouble.
Doong said that he was afraid that she would not take them, when Judge Wu remarked that he could have taken the tablets before giving them to the girl.
After a lengthy hearing Judge Wu adjourned the case until July 16.