This piece is in the strain of travel accounts of exotic faraway places written for a homeland audience. In this case the author is Henry Albert Phillips, a writer and publisher based in New York City who wrote extensively about his travels abroad. He later covered Eastern Europe and Italy during WWII. Clearly he had access to the most elite spaces in the city including the American Club and the Shanghai Club on the Bund, home to the famed Long Bar of Shanghai legend, and now part of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. In this piece he also describes the frenzied gambling at the Canidrome greyhound racetrack in the French Concession (it was located between Fuxing Road and Yongjia Road and between Maoming and Shaanxi Roads in today's Shanghai, where a theater now stands). He also describes going to some Chinese performances and attending an underground gambling hall in the French Concession. Oddly he doesn't appear to have paid a visit to one of the dozens of cabarets or ballroom dance halls that operated in the city during that time period. In his account of Shanghai he highlights the ever-present dangers of the city including the possibility of Chinese rising up violently against their colonial masters--thereby ironically foretelling the revolution of 1949 to come.
SHANGHAI ON THE EVE OF WAR
By HENRY ALBERT PHILLIPS
(will supply reference later)
Shanghai's gay night life was proceeding at its customary feverish pace when this article went to the printer with the title, "The Playground of the Orient." Now, as this magazine goes to press, war rages in Shanghai and the International Settlement is in grave danger. It is not necessary to emphasize the irony of the contrast between the life Mr. Phillips describes and the tragic conditions in Shanghai at the present time.-Editorial Note.
On my return from the Far East, some friends took me for a gay night on Broadway. After Shanghai, Broadway seemed as dull as a temperance town after dark. And I am afraid that Berlin-Paris's successor in the Continent's gayest night life-would also be a bit tame by contrast.
There is nothing dull in Shanghai. All is excitement. I had the feeling-and I think it was shared by all those alive to the situation-that a sword of Damocles was hanging continually over my head. I was possessed of an eat-drink-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-we-may-die complex. And I joined the others in being merry. Old-timers disavow this foreboding, but their words and actions were to the contrary.
Shanghai reveals all of the complexities, the problems, the vexations, the enigmas, the perils and the pathos of the Anti-Foreign Chinese Question. Here it is in a nutshell: both sides of it.
Before I visited Shanghai, I was told about it--the whole story presumably--by perhaps a dozen tourists who had visited that city. No two stories were anywhere near alike. One said Shanghai was not worth visiting; another, that it was too tame for words; still another, that all said and done it was an English city, not Chinese; that it was like a French Colonial town, and so on.
In a sense, they were all correct, for Shanghai is all of these things in the composite-therefore they were all wrong. True, the Shanghai of the Bund and thereabouts is permeated with English people and it therefore resembles an English or American city. But should we take up our residence within the French city, we should tell a different story. There we should find everything quite French--language, streets. shops, churches, newspapers, The same would be true should we stick too closely to the Belgian, the Italian or the Japanese quarters. All told, these “foreigners” total nearly forty thousand, I have been informed.
But back of all this, pushing the foreigners toward the sea in a vicious—sometimes murderous—manner about which no one is mistaken, are the real inhabitants of Shanghai--a million Chinese, perhaps a million and a half. The figures are indefinite--the population is leaping in numbers. Stray away from the foreign compounds if you will understand the meaning of what I say. Or, to make it much simpler, let a wild-cat ricksha boy wheel you up a side aIley out of range of the friendly street lamp or the fierce foreign policeman. The latter might not be so fatal an excursion as the former, but you would be made to feel the fangs of "foreign hatred."
Shanghai offers all sorts of deceiving aspects as we approach it up the muddy Yangtze--or Whang-poo-River, that spews a yellow gush of silt into the sea for a hundred miles and so gives it its name of the Yellow Sea.
We had sailed out of Nagasaki the night before on a clean little ship of six thousand tons. It was a glorious moonlit night with the sea as smooth as glass and the evening star shining brilliantly within plucking distance and reflected in the limpid waters where a little while before we had watched the flying fishes play.
The next day, at about one o'clock, we saw our first Asiatic mainland from the clear China Sea, a few hours later entering the polluted Yellow Sea. Now we enter the broad mouth of the Yangtze, passing several huge junks in full sail. Next we come upon a vast fleet of small sailing craft at anchor. They are all Chinese, with something about their sensuous lines that suggests the ancient triremes; their gunwales are reminiscent of old frigates and galleon s with poop-decks and painted decorations.
Basking in the idea that henceforth all sights and scenes will be wholly Chinese, we go steaming on full speed ahead almost to collide with a United States submarine around the next bend in the shore line! A little farther on is a luridly familiar gasoline station and a dozen sizable foreign ships lying in midstream.
Already our clear view of China is being clouded. However, there is compensation in the sight of dozens of sampans being propelled by coolies in pointed hats.
Now we are abreast of the city with the International Dock before us. At length our engines stop. A little blue and yellow sampan is approaching with a skirted Chinese propelling it, his right hand at the oar, his left alternately pulling a line. He takes the light lines from our ship one by one, which in turn are taken from him by hooked poles at the dock and pulled in until they have grown into stout hawsers and are fastened. We are in China!
Rows of rickshas are lined up, waiting; so also are native policemen carrying swagger sticks under their arms and wearing black helmets patterned after those worn by London "Bobbies."
We wiggle through the customs and jump into a ricksha, are whirled through the guarded gates of the wharf area and find ourselves become a part of the swirling currents of Iife that are ever awash in Shanghai.
What a town! Here is your international city of color in dead earnest. A city of noises; foreign noises-strange, subtle, mysterious, sinister. The "Hoh! Hoh!" of twenty thousand ricksha boys darting here, there and everywhere, ever quarreling with and trying to elude the swagger sticks of the huge bearded Sikh traffic policemen at every corner. They stand like handsome statues in khaki and turban, their black and white canes held slantwise across their breasts with great dignity at "Go," and stiffly at arm's length at "Stop." The raucous sounds are occasionally sweetened by the musical calls of the numerous "sweet" peddling boys with baskets over their shoulders. We are constantly side – stepping the hundreds of one-wheel carts or barrows with baskets on either side, very often with several human passengers on board, the pushers stripped to the waist, panting, a webbed yoke fastened over their shoulders and so on to the handles.
Surely this is China! we begin reassuring ourselves, when across our vision comes a huge sign: "This way to The Astor House!" The traffic pauses and we look up to find ourselves standing before a modern traffic tower regulating all the traffic along the Bund with its green and red lights-with a difference to similar towers in large cities at home. It is being operated and regulated by two East Indians in turbans! " We rub our eyes. Is it possible. can this be China?
Four men with ropes dragging and a fifth man pushing with every ounce of energy in their emaciated bodies a heavily loaded dray nearly run us down, but the next moment our attention is diverted at the spectacle of two trousered Chinese ladies in rickshas--extremely pretty, and wearing delicate-tinted, embroidered blouses that fasten with high military collars about their throats. Their laps are filled with flowers. Again we are halted, this time by a snarl of human horses who leave their loads to fend for themselves while they enter into a violent quarrel that is for the most part verbal, until a Sikh traffic officer comes bearing down upon them, giving some of them smart cracks of his stick across their bare shoulders.
Once again my eyes travel along the length of the Bund-a lovely waterfront boulevard flanked by a solid wall of substantial brick and stone buildings many stories tall. If I had been brought here blindfolded, I might have guessed it to be Marseilles, or Antwerp, or Liverpool, or San Francisco--but never China. Millions of dollars' worth of real and improved property. Monumental banks, palatial hotels. Majestic commercial houses, all reflect wealth. What if ten million of the four hundred and forty million Chinese somewhere in the background should suddenly rise in uncontrollable mob fury, arming themselves with knives, and swoop down upon these "foreign devils" ? They would probably burn these millions of dollars' worth of property, cut throats of the invaders and pitch them into the yellow Yangtze!
No, I don't think it could ever become quite as bad as all that—but nearly so. For, until now, I have neglected to say that almost the entire river for a couple of miles along the Bund is blocked by a line of formidable battleships of all the "friendly" nations that have concessions and valuable property to guard, among which are the foreign citizens referred to. These floating monsters are, and in turn create, smoldering volcanoes that smudge the city day and night with their soft-coal smoke that waves about the streets like a sooty lash. Of course, they could blow the city and their property into atoms. But what would that avail them?
And so, at length, we arrive at our hotel in a somewhat bewildered state of mind. But everything is soon assuaged, for when we arrive by elevator on an upper floor of the hotel, we experience a service more perfect than any other in the world. In the hallway we meet Boy Number One, behind whom stands Boy Number Two, and in the background, Boy Number Three. These are the names by which they are known, their importance corresponding in that order. They wear long silk robes and move silently and swiftly along the halls, recognizing us in the dark, unlocking the door, turning on the light, laying out the proper clothes on all occasions, anticipating our inmost thoughts and desires, acting with both the discretion and the indiscretion of the "property man" in the Chinese theater, who, though seen, is "invisible. "
Having dressed then, with the aid of Boys Number One, Two and Three, we are ready to see the town with our guides. I say our "guides," meaning two newspaper men to whom all things and places are open sesame.
Gayety begins at the American Club with generous portions of that Far Eastern cocktail known as "Tiger's Milk." It is said that when "Tiger's Milk" begins to run in one's veins, one slowly but surely enters the jungle, taking on its habits and enjoying its pastimes. There is a great deal of truth in it. At least, one takes on the devil-may- care nonchalance of the true Colonial. Laughter grows boisterous and a trifle hollow and mocking, but laughter it is, and that is something.
We begin to hear tales that make our blood run cold. How a prominent Britisher of Shanghai had driven his motor car a little way up back country despite warnings and had been returned to town with a knife sticking in his back; how a venturesome tourist had defied caution and directed his ricksha up back alleys of the Native Quarter behind the Willow Tea House (the original for the famous Willow Pattern porcelain) and had been found unconscious in the street; how the Hunt Club had had to abandon their meets because the farmers of whom they purchased the right-of-way, paying twice as much as the farmers got from produce raised on the land, had secreted wires that broke the horses' legs and then had beaten the dismounted huntsmen and huntswomen with whips; how--
Well, had it not been for the daredevil spirit of the "Tiger's Milk," we should have been afraid to venture in search of exciting diversion along the highways and by-ways of Shanghai.
"First of all," said our guide, significantly, "we must be sure to select a taxi whose drivers we may trust. You see, there is always a second man seated beside the chauffeur--in case anything should happen, you know?"
Yes, we thought we knew. It made us shiver, especially after our guide had seemingly had a violent quarrel in Chinese with the chauffeur in arranging terms. We dashed off behind two drunken British gobs in rickshas who were suddenly whisked down a dark lane that our guide said he would be afraid to enter in broad daylight.
"Life is a gamble," repeated our guide, "as well as a fortune, if you hit it right out here. It is all like that gay Ball given by the Duchess of Richmond, was it?--on the eve of Waterloo. You will find every old-timer very jumpy these days, while pooh-poohing any reason for doing so. Here we are at our first stop. This is the 'New World'—fourteen shows under one roof. Watch your pocketbooks and jewels, and, for God's sake, don't get separated from me !"
We entered a huge building garishly lighted with electric lights. It was thronged with Chinese--not the sort of Chinese we should like to meet, either. There were a few foreigners. They were of two classes; brazen cheap sports and others like ourselves frankly in search of diversion. There is a parklike inclosure that seems to be devoted to every sort of game of chance, surrounded by crowds of disreputable – looking Chinese, gambling.
We passed by two smoke-laden rooms where Sing-Song Girls were giving performances borrowed from the dives of the West, no doubt. Next is a Shadow Show that is worth going far to see. The puppets are pieces of asses' skin, colored, and cut in the form of figures and moved behind a tissue-paper screen with such skill that human drama is graphically depicted. Then there was a comedy theater and finally a larger auditorium in which the ancient classic drama was being shown. The place was crowded, most of the audience standing and we had to wedge our way forward in order to see anything at all on the stage. In this way, we became separated from our guide and protector. There were muttering and angry looks on all sides that impressed me most unfavorably and at times it looked as though some of the audience were going to pick a quarrel with us. Then we all became absorbed in the play and nationalities were forgotten, until I felt a tug at my arm that startled me. It was our guide. "Come along; time is getting precious. This is the best time to see the greyhounds run and it is some distance away."
So we worked our way carefully out of the ooze of humanity and were relieved to get out of the sweaty, sinister atmosphere. But our taxi was gone, despite the fact that we had paid in advance for the whole evening. Furthermore, we found ourselves in the midst of an altercation with two ricksha boys who claimed to have been run down and injured by our chauffeur. We compromised by hiring the two boys, who now trotted away with us as though nothing had happened.
It was now ten o'clock and we found the Canidrome in a hum of excitement. Round the gates swarmed a tangle of traffic, hundreds of rickshas with the "boys" fighting murderously for places of vantage, wild-cat taxi drivers doing the same, and scores of smart equipages being quite ignored despite the angry protests of their liveried chauffeurs and footmen and elegantly attired passengers. We entered the brightly lighted park and were given badges like those at the race course. This was quite another thing from the "native" New World. The smartest people in Shanghai--both Chinese and foreign--were devotees, either of this greyhound course, or of one of the other two. The Chinese were dressed in their finest flowered silk gowns; the foreigners in the main wore evening clothes.
We paused with the crowd gathered around the kennels and looked through the wire fences at the beautiful dogs being exercised by their "jockeys," straining at their leashes and baying in the excitement preceding the race. Each bore a number and old-timers were studying their "form" and making notes on their race programs.
There were at least a thousand people in the grandstand, and, from what I could judge, everybody had plunged heavily. The dogs were being led out on the track where they were installed in the starting cage. The whistle blew. At the same instant the front of the cage was lifted off mechanically, the spotlights were turned on the entire circuit and the electrically operated "rabbit" came out of his hole and went with lightning speed around the track, followed by the six greyhounds. I had chosen the winning dog and won $5-Mex (about two dollars in American money).
Another race and we had to be dashing on again in search of pleasure. This time it was Jai Alai (the Basque game of Pelota). We arrived in time for the big game. It seemed strange to see this native Spanish game being played before a gallery that was three-quarters Chinese. Jai Alai is not only the fastest game in the world, but it stands out among the greatest gambling games. You bet on every move of the players who are rapidity personified-and cover your losses as well as you can by playing the opposite sides one against the other. Within fifteen minutes you stand to lose--or to make--anywhere from $15 to $1500. My losses were $15.
Then we were off for the French Quarter to a bootleg gambling hell, playing despite a drastic Government order that no gambling should be permitted in the French Settlement. Our entry proved to be very much like crashing a speak-easy at home. Once inside, it was a miniature Monte Carlo with two tables and croupiers in faultless evening dress. We stayed long enough to see a fortune lost and scarcely a dollar won, and then with great politeness bade our adieus.
There were a score of these secret gambling houses, our guide told us, but only one great night club on the scale of the French Club that we should now visit. Our motor car drove through a huge fleet of parked cars and up to the grandiose entrance, where our evening clothes were scanned and approved, our names and those of our sponsors duly registered. Then we climbed the grand staircase into a grander salon that seemed a couple of acres or more in extent and served as dance hall, restaurant and theater. Nearly a thousand people, bejewelled and smartly dressed, were eating and drinking, smoking and making merry. We were assigned a table and were soon dancing in the gay throng to jazz tunes played by an all-French orchestra. One sip of champagne and we completely forgot that we were anywhere but on Place Pigalle. The hours slipped by, the pace growing merrier and livelier, with a gay show that included imitations of Al Jolson, Charlie Chaplin and Chevalier. The entire English colony seemed to be there, and half of the American.
When we left and were wafted through what seemed to be a Chinese City of Dreams, we realized how easy it was to forget--in Shanghai. The next day, when we awoke, Number One Boy informed us that two gentlemen were waiting to take us to the
The Shanghai Club! With "the longest bar in the world" and three hundred members standing seven deep before it for the greater part of the popular "hour," between eleven and two. Not to mention the scores at the tables--eight at a table with a custom of treating twice around!
And there you stay until it is time to go to the races—at one of the three race courses. Anybody who is anybody in the “Colonies” drives out in something. The mob of jostling rickshas and motor cars is reminiscent of a little Ascot—except that it is so Chinese. Every Chinese of wealth goes and every other Chinese with a dollar to gamble goes. All the Sikhs on furlough go. Every British tar who has not spent his last dollar on Sing-Song girls is there, and also the Tommies. You meet everybody you should know in the betting ring—even the Amahs bringing their tender charges down and perhaps bet their month’s salary on their favorites.
But the smart thing is to know a member of the Jockey Club and have him take you to his Tiffin Room betweenwhiles. Tiffin is served on balconies overlooking the paddock and there is a bar to serve you “Tiger’s Milk,” champagne or a side-car!
And there you remain, perhaps with the gayest party ever, until it is time to rush away and dress for a cocktail party preceding a dinner, to which, by this time, you surely have been invited, and from where you go the same old round again.