This article is interesting for many reasons, not least of which is that it covers the origins of the Foreign Y.M.C.A. It also mentions the cleanup of brothels owing to the presence of American women in them, as well as hinting at a potential campaign (which never materialized) to clean up the Russian-staffed cabarets in the outskirts of the city. Above all it shows how Americanization was equated with business efficiency and how the American model of business was outpacing and replacing the sleepy European colonial model where the compradores did all the work and the taipans lazed and dazed about with their gin and tonics at the Shanghai Club. The article precipitates another which I will post, by the famous journalist Edgar Snow.


Living Age 326: 140-2 July 18, 1925 (from the China Weekly Review May 23)

There was a time not so many years ago when the' ladies' of Kiangse Road enjoyed a certain respectability; when prominent taipans or managers of foreign business-houses were accustomed to giving at these places dinners to which they invited all their friends. But those days of old Shanghai are gone forever, because Shanghai has become ‘Americanized.’ They put over last week a 750,000-tael campaign to construct a modern foreign Y. M. C. A. building. It was a real' American' drive, with a campaign chairman, publicity committee, committee on 'lists and office arrangements' --and novel to behold, the chairmen of all of the committees with the exception of the trustees were Englishmen.

But Shanghai 'put over' the Y. M.C. A. project, and since the scheme was not only sponsored by but actually assisted in a most material way by Britons who headed 'teams' and who did their share of applauding when the daily quotas were chalked up on the board, we may definitely state that Shanghai has now turned the corner and has accepted 'Americanization.'

Naturally, old Shanghai did not die without a struggle. One Bruce Lockhart, scion of a noble family, but who earns a more or less precarious living by selling bonds for a local savings society, sang the swan song of the diehards. In a letter published in the correspondence column of one of the papers he, among a number of other things, said:

'The Americanization of Shanghai proceeds apace.

'Its latest “stunt” is this projected Y. M. C. A. “Campaign,” with its "teams," its “noonday luncheons at which the workers will discuss plans,” and what not -- and for what, if you please?

'Well, to put it pithily, just this: To raise the huge sum of $280,000 to erect opposite the race course a glorified, "Hanbury Institute" which shall provide cheap dossing and living facilities for clerical workers, just as the original Hanbury Institute provides these facilities for sea workers. The new "Hanbury Institute" opposite the racecourse is to be called the "Foreign Y. M. C. A," and doubtless will breed a distinct and particular crop of young "Christians," who can watch the early morning training on the racetrack from their bedroom windows! ...

'When these American Christians have got those two hundred cheap bedrooms going, it seems to me there will be a lot of Shanghai widows--boarding-house keepers--and children put out of business, who also will have nowhere to lay their heads.

'I make an appeal to my British countrymen, to all of European race who know me or have read me, and to those of my American friends who know me well and are my friends -- I appeal, to all these to have nothing whatever to do with this American-organized campaign of begging and mendicancy!”

It is difficult to say just when this ‘Americanization’ of Shanghai really began. Some say it dates back to the day when Honorable Lebbeus Redman Wilfley, the first American judge of the United States Court for China, established by Act of Congress in 1906, arrived in Shanghai. According to the story, which the old-timers relate, someone told Wilfley on the boat coming out that Shanghai was filled with houses of ill fame, that all of the inmates of these houses called themselves 'American girls,' and that this term was used all up and down the China coast as meaning prostitute. The new judge, anxious to make a record in a new and untried field of politics, announced at a dinner party tendered him by the handful of American citizens at the old Astor House Hotel the first night of his arrival that he intended to 'cleanse the fair name of American womanhood of the stain which Shanghai had placed thereon.'

Immediately he instructed his young district attorney to notify all of the American girls down the line' to appear in court and answer charges which had been lodged against them. They opposed the order, employed illustrious legal talent, and the town was in an uproar because one of its established and intrenched institutions was being attacked. But Wilfley won out, and all of the 'American girls' had either to leave town or to become wives of non-Americans, thus placing themselves beyond the reach of American law in this land of extraterritoriality. But, in winning, the new judge also lost out, for the storm which he raised never died down, until he was forced to tender his resignation to President Taft.

Since those days of practically a quarter of a century ago the germ of ‘Americanism’ has been eating into the vitals of old Shanghai. This year the Shanghai Municipal Council completes the total elimination of ‘brothels,’ a term for these places which would have been considered insulting in the old days. This five-year elimination scheme for houses of prostitution was, of course, the work of an American with his ‘Moral Welfare League,’ which kept up the agitation until the city fathers were worn out opposing him. Now the former inmates of these places are reported to be living in more or less respectable rooming and apartment houses, but that's not part of our story. And they say other changes have come about, some without attracting much attention. It is even whispered that there is less drinking at the famous 'longest bar in the world,' that the days are past when a young man coming out to the Far East spends his first five years getting so deeply in debt that it requires another five to get out and still another five to accumulate sufficient to purchase a ticket home. There are still a few cabarets scattered about town, on the outskirts, as it were, where Russian dancing partners are supplied by the management at so much per head and where the girls receive a commission on the wine sold, but if the proprietors of these places are not shivering in their shoes they should be, for their days undoubtedly are numbered.

This change in the character of Shanghai has been gradual but inevitable, despite the protests of the stand-patters. Shanghai has in a decade changed from-an out-of-the-way town on the mud flats at the mouth of the Yangtze-kiang to a modern world-port with ocean-going steamers calling every week. The citizens are beginning to take pride in the publication of statistics showing the growth of the number of kilowatts of power used, in the figures of tonnage cleared, in statistics proving healthfulness over other ports. Business houses are trying to outdo one another in the style and class of office buildings constructed, and the citizens mention casually' that this building has a modern ‘American-style’ heating plant, and that one an elevator - not a 'lift,' but an elevator with a 'microdrive' that stops automatically at the different floors.

Competition has had much to do with this so-called 'Americanization' of Shanghai. In the old days, when there were but a few firms or hongs, and they monopolized the trade, it was possible for foreign business-men to take things easy. If they absorbed too many cocktails during the noon hour and failed to arouse themselves after the noon siesta, it didn't make a particular difference, for the compradore ran the business anyway. But things have changed now, especially since the young Chinese have begun to evince an aptitude for going into modern business. Now there are fewer cocktails before the 'longest bar,' and no noon siestas at all. When the new foreign Y. M. C. A. gets going with its night-school classes in salesmanship and advertising and accounting and efficiency, all will be over but the shouting.  The 'Americanization' of the Paris of the Orient will be complete.