The Americans in Shanghai: Journalist Edgar Snow’s Take on Western Imperialism in China (1930)

 This is an extraordinarily rich piece of journalism on the city of Shanghai. The author, Edgar Snow, would later earn great fame for his coverage of the Communist Party in their stronghold in Yan’an, resulting in the classic Red Star Over China. Whether or not one views that work as fatally flawed, obviously Snow was deeply skeptical and critical about the colonial enterprise of the treaty port system in China, and also deeply sympathetic to the plight of the Chinese people. While he reserves most of his trenchant critiques for the Americans in Shanghai, he also swipes at the Brits, the French and other colonial “masters” of the city. he also saves some ammo for the Russians—his account of Russian cabaret or ex-cabaret hostesses is what originally got my attention in this piece. 

The Americans in Shanghai

American Mercury 20 (Aug. 1930) 437-445


Edgar Snow

Shanghai, to a noticeable extent, has become Americanized. There, in the most polyglot city in Asia, the roving American finds all the comforts of home:  Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers, the radio and jazz bands, cocktails and correspondence schools, night clubs and cabarets, neon lights and skyscrapers, chewing gum and Buicks, wide trousers and long skirts, Methodist evangelists and the Salvation Army. And there, too, he finds such peculiarly American institutions as navy wives, shot-gun weddings, Girl Scouts, Spanish American War veterans, a board of censors, daylight hold-ups, immaculate barbershops, a Short Story Club, wheat cakes, and a Chamber of Commerce. All these things may be, as touring Congressmen and other such idealists are fond of saying, the splendid evidences of American influence in China." They may be the instruments of attaining confraternity between China and America. But I do not think so. The fact is that nobody in Shanghai worries himself very much about Sino-American understanding. Both the Chinese and Americans are too busy making money.

It is not strictly true, however, as I once heard a sagacious old China-hand remark, that most Americans go to the town “because it is the only big city in the world where a bank clerk can afford to keep a mistress." They are there for the same reason they have implanted themselves elsewhere: they have something to sell. The business man goes to market sewing machines, hot water bags (for which, incidentally, there is a lively demand), or what you will; the missionary goes to sell the BibIe. And both use high-powered American merchandising tactics--much to the dismay of their European competitors.

A few Americans are blown to Shanghai under auspices less innocuous. Some arrive for plain adventure, some to satiate a thirst for Wanderlust or for things hard and intoxicating, others to acquire what is known as “experience abroad," a number simply because no questions are asked. But if they remain it is because it is easier to make a fortune and that fortune will buy more bodily comforts than in most other centers of Christian culture.

Shanghai has been accused of many things.  It has been called the most materialistic city in the world. Assuredly it is one of the ugliest. Repugnant to some, its fascination for others lies in its very crudities, its stark and frank carnalities. Over it hangs the promise of gold and Gehenna.  Never drab, it burns with the primal longings of an animal heart. It is as swift, as sudden, as elemental as the jungle, its appetite ever-ravishing, always unappeased. It has at once the charm and the futility of a mistress who never knows repletion. But, politically speaking, there are three Shanghais.

Hypothetically under the joint management of all nationals with extraterritoriality rights is the International Settlement. Adjoining it, the French Concession is governed by the French, who permit a few well-chosen Chinese to sit on their Municipal Council. Rolling up to the very boundaries of these foreign land grants, which China disgorged after losing the wars forced upon her by British opium smugglers, are Chapei, Nantao Hongkew, the Native City and other districts under Chinese jurisdiction. Collectively, the latter are called the Municipality of Greater Shanghai. Thus, in the major city, there are three dissimilar and separate administrations, although the casual visitor will not easily discern where one of them joins another.

Of the trio, the International Settlement is the most thickly populated, and contains the greatest concentration of wealth, and the more important Chinese and foreign business offices. It is governed by a Municipal Council, in theory representative of the foreign population, and in theory responsible to the international consular body of Shanghai, of which the chairman is the Hon. Edwin S. Cunningham, the American consul-general.

Chinese compose more than 90% of the Settlement's slightly less than a million population, and they contribute almost a like percentage to the total taxes gathered. Until lately they were allowed no members on the Council. At present they are not permitted to vote, can own no property except through foreigners, and have no perceptible political rights. But they now have three councillors, chosen by the Chinese business interests to sit with the foreigners, a concession to which the local reactionaries gave grudging consent under pressure from their home governments. Actually, however, the basic situation remains little affected, for the foreigners still have nine members of the Council, a safe majority which can be reduced only with their own consent.

While supposedly international in character, the Council for years has been composed only of Britishers, Japanese and Americans. Of the present members six, are British. Against that majority, the remaining councillors, two Japanese and one American, are ineffectual. This has regularly been the case since the Settlement first became “international.”

In practice the Americans wield little if any political power in Shanghai. Although an enterprising, rotund little American barrister, Stirling Fessenden, receives $25,000 a year for wearing the grandiloquent title of Director-General of the International Settlement and for journeying to Washington to propagandize against the withdrawal of American marines and sailors, and against the abolition of extraterritoriality, his British employers deceive no one—at least no one in Shanghai.

The Settlement is thus a poorly camouflaged British colony today, and it has always been so in the past. This is possible because, while in population the British are not greatly in excess of the other foreign groups, in voting strength, determined by property ownership, they easily dominate. Ironically, they derive most of their power from votes which ought to belong to the Chinese--from the scores who have been required to register their ownership at the British Consulate in the names of rich Crown subjects. Thus the uniquely feudal and hybrid government which prevails in the town enables no more than a score of Britishers to rule the Settlement as one of the narrowest oligarchies surviving in the world today. Everything from the u in labour, as spelled in the Council's Municipal Gazette, to the British uniforms worn by the White Russian mercenaries who supplement the British police, has about it the odor of jolly old England.  Yet Washington naively accepts dual responsibility with London for what is done, while virtuously assuring the plain people that America has and wants no concessions in China.

Having no real voice in the British municipal government, the Shanghai American concentrates on trade. Because he has nothing to say about it, the physical condition of the city leaves him unworried.  Behold, the spectacle of an American uncontaminated with the virus of civic pride! In many ways he is a more likable, more interesting, more intelligent fellow than the unroving friends he has left at home. Personally, he will advise you that he is more cosmopolitan, more tolerant, and--with a flash of pride--more wicked.

Let us see what he is really like.


It is said that in the International Settlement and the French Concession, there are more gamblers, more opium addicts, more criminals, more diseased persons and more illegitimate children than in any other large city under occidental administration.  Sociologists who have studied the scene attribute the prevalent immorality to the fact that the male population is so greatly in the majority. They declare that it explains the abnormally widespread gaiety among foreign married women as well as the astonishing number of murders committed by the Chinese over love betrayed.

That females are few is not difficult to understand: last year the corpses of more than 25,000 girl children were picked up from the streets and rivers, and several thousand of these victims of infanticide and starvation were found in the foreign concessions.

Statistics show that the ratio of professional prostitutes in the International Settlement, as determined by the Shanghai Moral Welfare League (now expired) is one to every 149 of the population—the highest in any city of the world. Tokyo, next in line, enjoys but one prostitute to every 277 females, according to the same authority. So Shanghai is a man's town and no place for unprotected feminine chastity.

Although the Municipal Council (and hence all foreign consuls) officially maintains the pleasant fiction that prostitution within the Settlement is illegal and exists only furtively, in practice no effort is made to curb it. After five o'clock in the afternoon no downtown street is without its quota of "business women"-to employ Chinese euphemism. The avenue Edward VII, for a distance of perhaps a mile, from Szechuen road to Tibet road, is lined with hordes of them. In groups of a dozen or more they stand on every street corner, beneath every convenient arch, come Summer, Winter, rain or shine. Most of them are native slave girls, purchased in the famine districts of the interior at ages varying from twelve to twenty. They work generally for a period of five years. After that, if they are still alive, they are given freedom by their masters, but they usually die in the profession. Such women swarm on all the streets in the heart of the Settlement and after six o'clock even busy Nanking-road, near the great shopping center, is sedulously avoided by unescorted decent women who fear they will be misunderstood.

So far as I have observed, public solicitation is permitted nowhere in China save in the foreign treaty ports. In strictly Chinese cities street urging is vigorously suppressed. I have seen offenders summarily punished, after the imperial fashion, with lashes of long bamboo. In the Settlement, however, it is common entertainment to witness a well-meaning China-lad, virtuously bending homeward with his week's rice money, suddenly beset by a brood of fluttering silk-clad figures who, with their cackling amahs, drag him bodily from the main thoroughfare into some alleyway—all this under the proboscis of a British or Sikh policeman.

Foreign civilians are also occasionally snagged, but I have seen the girls refuse flatly to entertain American and European soldiers. Some remote seemliness, some unsurrendered chauvinism, some never-lost and innate delicacy, gentle and puzzling, revolts against accepting the uniformed chan dan yang kwei tzu--bandit foreign devil. There are, of course, enterprises operated exclusively for the alien military.  And there are others maintained exclusively for foreign civilians.

Of the latter the most eminent are Nos. 14, 15, and 16 Soochow road and 52 Kiangse road, in which American and Russian talent is employed. Run on a royal scale by the American Misses Darling, Wolfe and Estis, these establishments operate with immunity from the attentions of the Municipal Council. That their existence is known to the American consul-general cannot be doubted, for I note in the correspondence of the late Moral Welfare Society several letters calling them to the attention of the American authorities. A letter written by the Rev. Carleton Lacey, addressed to the secretary of the Municipal Council, alleges that “houses with American and European inmates long have enjoyed immunity because of the personal interest of high officials." To this charge I can find no record of an adequate reply.

In these houses a single drink costs $10. This obviates the necessity of a bouncer; on liquor so expensive few care to indulge in bacchanals. The establishments are conducted in a manner sedately suitable to the habits of the middle-aged and elderly taipans who patronize them. By their henna-haired proprietresses all things are managed in a ree-fined way. Customers are provided with limousine transportation when they depart. There is no droll exchange of silver. An obsequious compradore  appears at the end of the month, presents his chits, receives payment from the white man's Chinese cashier, and silently disappears. That is all.

In their more communicative moods, the ladies speak of the romance that has walked in their halls. They tell of nice matches that have been arranged between ree-fined girls and gray-haired potentates of the farther East. And when they are a little drunk, they scatter mud on the reputations of many of the adornments of contemporary British and American society. Strange things happen in a city where there are four foreign males to every eligible foreign female.


In the cabarets of Shanghai you will, if you listen carefully, hear a certain phrase oft-repeated during the course of an evening's, more accurately a morning's, revelry. The Russians hiss it to each other every time another Yank comes through the door: Amerikanski durak! It is a greeting, not unlike that which has made Texas Guinan famous, for it is a way of calling you a sucker, an “American damfool.''

Who is the most generous spender in the Shanghai cabarets? Who buys the most dance tickets, the most smallbottlsvine at $20 a quart? Who keeps the ladies supplied with holeproof hosiery and argent slippers? Who drinks the most, shouts the loudest, dances the best? Who falls for the ex-princess, sick-mother, younger-brother and -sister sob stories? Ask the White Russian cabaret girl. She will answer Amerikanski durak!

Without him night life in Shanghai would be a pallid thing, inanimate, beggarly.

With him it is the most glittering madness in the orient.  From the evil-smelling “Golden Eagle” in the lower Szechuen road, where inebriated marines and sailors reel, to such pretentious salons “The Tavern” and the “Del Monte,” where eminent members of the American colony are wine-buyers for fair Siberian emigrees, it is American money and American laughter that enables all the joints to function profitably.

Nobody knows how many women there are in Shanghai. I have estimates running from 5,000 to 15,000. Since they are not required to produce passports--Shanghai being a so-called free port--it is next to impossible to know that exact number. Refugees out of proletarian Russia, they have fled down from Vladivostok and Manchuria. Of the small bourgeoisie who refuse to accept the new order in their homeland, they arrive on the China coast penniless, without social status, without legal nationality, without means of earning a living. Many are orphans; other have left their parents in Russia. They grasp the first opportunity that offers them a livelihood. And to many of them that means a cabaret.

With the cleverer of them, it is but a stepping-stone to something better.  That something better may mean lawful marriage, or merely luxurious concubinage. While more expensive, the latter is more in favor among the Americans. For though a man may with social acquittal change mistresses frequently, odium attaches to him if he marries a Russian or an oriental. All Europeans and Americans in China regard themselves as socially, morally and mentally superior to the “indigines” and Russians. When a marriage occurs it is popularly believed that "foreign prestige" suffers.  An Englishman, discussing this, once remarked to me, "No gentleman ever marries a woman who ought to be his mistress--and in Shanghai every occidental is supposed to be a gentleman."

Sometimes unions of this sort prove very embarrassing. I remember one hilarious instance.  Two American tourists were sitting with me in the lounge of the Astor House one afternoon when a Shanghai American stopped for a moment and introduced his wife, a beautiful ex-cabaret girl.  She asked, wishing to show interest in her husband's countrymen, what rooms they had.  One said his was No. 216. The other was on the third floor. "Oh," exclaimed Olga, "zey are both ver' nice.  I have like zem ver' much."  She laughed her captivating laugh and I think the significance of the remark went over the heads of the visitors. But in the eye of her husband I saw agony; he feared she had been in every room in the hotel.

I do not wish to convey that the American community is without the solid fiber by wholesome American women.  That would not be true. The trouble is that in numbers they are far from adequate. Far fewer than 800 females there are some 3000 males.  This is exclusive of the 1,200 marines, and the gobs, who vary from 1,000 to 3,000, according to the number of honored ambassadors of good-will lying on the Bund.

Most American women are married before they go to Shanghai; if not, they marry soon afterward. It is safer that way.  If one may believe the things one hears and half the things one sees, some of them are advocates of a certain latitude in love. And Shanghai is crowded with fiends in human form who will take advantage of a lady when she is slightly squiffed.

For good clean fun there is the Columbia Country Club.  It provides a social background for anyone who can pay the initiation fee and the membership dues. For the men, there is the American Club, which boasts the second longest bar in the world--first honors going to the British Shanghai Club. There is also a Y. M. C. A. Erected largely by American money--John D. Rockefeller invested in it for the future of Standard Oil in China to the extent of about half a million dollars--it caters mainly to the British, who occupy about 60% of its rooms. No Chinese are admitted, nor are Eurasians of Chinese nationality.

Other divertisements exist in the form of horse-racing, dog-racing, hai alai, fantan, roulette and ma-chong tables. In the orient only Macao rivals Shanghai in the variety of its gambling enterprises. Besides the pari-mutuels run in connection with the equine and canine tracks, the foreign authorities permit the functioning of lotteries and a wide range of skin-games. The most successful is the International Savings Society. It sells " bonds" offering participation in “prize drawings” held each month. Although it, and all the other speculative pursuits I have mentioned, are contrary to French, British and Chinese law, most of them operate under licenses issued by the local French or British authorities.

Opium is sold in the Settlement in much the same way that liquor is sold in the United States. In the French ,Concession, where no effort at concealment is made, 'it is purchasable at more than 200 different establishments. The French Municipal Council is alleged to derive an annual income in excess of 8,000,000 taels from the opium merchants, prostitution, the parimutuels and “squeeze.” Much of the last is regularly collected and paid over by the Ching and Hung Pangs, Chinese criminal parties that control what the pulpit denounces as organized vice. Opium-smoking is the one illicit pastime that has not won acolytes among Shanghai Americans; it makes them deathly sick.

Somewhere in the city are hidden the virtuous men and women. I have been told there is an American merchant who has never been in a cabaret and whose contact with Russian and oriental women is limited to alms-giving to the mendicants infesting the streets. Such a man seems plausible when seen on the green lawns of the Columbia Country Club.

Here the best foreign food in the orient is served, and here there is an outdoor tiled swimming pool, and a brace of tennis courts. In Summer, in the heat of an August evening, the Shanghai American cart sit in a cloistered tranquillity. Far from the sickly orient, he lolls in cushioned ease, sips amber drinks, dreams lazily under a sky of deep velvet and misty chrome, hears Rudy Vallee come out of the orthophonic, feels the warm breath of the parched earth against his temples, and believes he is back in Evanston-and perhaps wishes to God he were.

But presently his glass is empty. He bellows across the peace and quiet, “Boy, bring one piece whiskey soda!" and the spell is broken. To his companion he remarks that Shanghai is not such a helluva place after all.


If people say that in Shanghai there are more heathen, more sinners, more concubines than anywhere else in the world, there are also more missionaries. Before going to China I cannot remember having seen a missionary. Of course I had met some of the millionaire soul-savers of Honolulu; but somehow the opulent Castles and the Youngs and the Bishops of that town never seemed to me to be of true missionary calibre. The first hero of the true line I encountered in China made a vastly different impression on me.

It was in the lobby of the Navy Y. M.C. A. I was waiting to greet an old gob whose acquaintance I had made in Hawaii. Suddenly there appeared before me a man wearing a shiny alpaca coat, baggy trousers and dusty shoes. Under his arm was a bundle of tracts, which he was distributing among the sailors. In his eyes there the gleam of one who has found his God, and the fact that they were badly crossed somewhat enhanced their zealous effect.  It is said, indeed, that because of this infirmity the rev. gentleman has been particularly successful as an evangelist, for every time he gazes down upon an auditor and asks him if he will stand up for Jehovah, two men rise from their seats.  He addressed himself to me as follows:

“My friend, excuse me for this intrusion but may I ask if you know your Saviour?”

They really talk like that! Although he spoke like a caricature, he was obviously serious and I replied in the same spirit, confessing that my religious education had been neglected.

"You are a traveler?" Yes.  He hurried on.  “So are we all, all travelers on the great road of life. And all of us need a companion, a Jesus Christ. He has helped me; He has helped millions of others; He can help you if you will acknowledge His presence. Jesus is living in us always--" And so on. Through all the bathos he continued, as subtle as a popgun.

After reciting his piece, the missionary handed me a tract, which contained, “in simplest language possible, the good news of salvation from sin through the Son of God, our Saviour, Jesus Christ." More than 5,000,000 such tracts are distributed each year by Protestant missions in China, most of them paid for by Americans at home who fancy that they are thereby accomplishing a splendid good. But the actual speed of proselytization in the country may be judged by the fact that after more than a century of effort, the net result today is but 700,000 communicants claimed by Protestant Christian crusaders.  That many of these are rice Christians—professing the faith with the hope of snapping up an occasional square meal--no one doubts.  But even regarding them all as bona fide converts, at this rate of progress we may hope to see China a Protestant Christian nation some 500 centuries hence!

Of the 4,000 Protestant missionaries in China today about 700 live in Shanghai.  The foreign business man sees little of most of them, or of their work. Cross-eyed Larson, the disciple who approached me in the Navy Y, is the only one I have seen bothering about the future of his own backsliding nationals, and he confines his effort largely to sailors and soldiers. But he is an independent, attached to no church.  He preaches the Lord's will on gratuities and from friends in America.

The most exciting of recent events in Shanghai evangelical circles was the arrival of one Edward Carter, a colored brother.  He was a great favorite with Chinese who could not afford the price of admission to a foreign cinema. Of him I read in the latest China Christian Year-Book:

Edward Carter, African by descent, uninvited but apparently providentially sent, arrived in Shanghai. His first meetings were held in Martyr's Memorial Hall: for the first week under missionary auspices, but for the second week under those of the Y. M. C. A. The hall was well filled each afternoon. A number professed conversion and a few were healed in answer to prayer and anointing with oil. Mr. Carter was a comedian before his conversion, earning $2.75 per week; hence he was well skilled in interesting his audience. This skill he now consecrates to the Lord's service.

I read further how Brother Carter's evangelical drive so impressed his white colleagues that he was invited to make appearances at Nanking, Yu Yao and Ningpo. He scored his greatest success at Ningpo, where,

Five days ran into ten and 3,000 persons were reported to have been affected. The Presbyterian Church, which seats 1,000 people, was too small to accommodate the audience.  Women walked long distances on their bound feet, only to find no seating room.

Brother Carter could not speak nor write Chinese, but that was a minor handicap.  Through music, the universal language, he first roused his audience to a receptive frame of mind. And then:

What was new in his meetings was the emphasis laid on singing by himself and the congregation. Although the meetings were for the Chinese, most of whom knew but but little English, the singing was in English. Mr. Carter was fortunate in having his addresses translated by a very sympathetic interpreter. At least once the interpreter was a woman; in every case a Chinese, Mr. Carter's prayers for the sick and anointing with oil in evangelistic meetings was a rather unusual feature.

The missionary who wrote that account for home consumption knew quite well that it was not Brother Carter's rib-ticklers, nor his anointings with oil, nor his" message" that attracted his audience. It was his dark skin. To the Chinese a black man is full of mystery. He is good joss in Taoism. He will draw a crowd wherever he goes.

Shanghai recently has been visited by several other evangelists. The Rev. Joseph Flacks, a converted Jew, came with the burning ambition of “reviving all the churches and then evangelizing non-Christians." He exhausted himself in the revivals and “all attempts to reach non-Christians proved unavailing." Professor Kuramada, a convert from Tokyo, acquitted himself with greater honor, being responsible for about seventy of his countrymen accepting and serving Christ. Last Autumn one Leland Wang conducted a series of revivals in which he exhorted several thousand attentive orientals to heed the call of their Lord. They listened patiently, kept their seats, and accepted the free literature and the free food, but there were no converts.

Many of the missionaries in Shanghai may be found in the six-story Missions Building, headquarters of the amalgamated Christian holy men in China. Their duties range from those of treasurers, handling large sums annually, to the job of stamping Bibles and tracts with indelible mission heraldry. Among them are some wealthy hierarchs, rivaling the exploiters who looted the Hawaiians while confounding them with the wonder of “salvation from sin through the Son of God, our Saviour, Jesus Christ." Cluttered with unnecessary servants, their homes are expensively furnished, and from them they travel back and forth in little imported motor cars. They enjoy membership in the American Club and the Columbia Country Club; they smoke large cigars and grow to resemble them in girth and mentality. They have made their money in Shanghai real estate. They provide elaborate and fashionable weddings for their daughters and furnish them with rich dowries, insuring marriage with the Best Families.

All the while, a few hundred miles to the northwest, 20,000,000 Chinese are waiting to be “delivered”-- not via the glorious pathway of our Lord-the Taoist promise of a Jade City is to them more alluring than the Christian Heaven; what they seek is rescue from starvation. They plead only for a meagre cup of millet a day.

Hard to put down in even the most devout American breast is the acquisitive instinct. Far in the interior you will find missionaries who have built for themselves houses in every respect modern, usually the most substantial in their communities. Throughout China the average missionary has three or four minions at his bidding, his table is set with the best that the land provides, his children--and he propagates more rapidly than the Chinese--are sent abroad to college.

But the future of Christian endeavor does not appear too roseate. Hostility against the foreign dominies shows such a bristling face that all but a few of the outposts have been deserted. The brethren are running for the coast towns and treaty ports as fast as their legs will carry them. The government at present is too weak-kneed openly to declare against Christianity, although the Kuomintang itself is virulent in its denunciations of “Christian imperialism.” The Nationalists have gone so far as to forbid compulsory religious instruction in mission schools; they have threatened to withdraw registration privileges from the Shanghai Baptist College and Gin-ling University (Nanking) because this order has been ignored. In Christian schools, numerous student strikes, organized by communists and the Kuomintang, have greatly interfered with proselyting.  As Christian propaganda the Kuomintang has banned such films as “Ben Hur” and “The Ten Commandments.”


“Arrogance” is the word commonly used among white foreigners, particularly Americans and Britishers, to describe the aggressive attitude of what for them is becoming a more difficult China.  “Affrontery” is also a popular term in the official British North China Daily News. But except when their epidermis of racial vanity and conceit is pricked by unpleasant contacts with the independence and cockiness of the new China, the Shanghai foreigners little bother themselves about what is happening in the hearts and minds of the multitudes around them. The Caucasian Shanghailander lives in a world unto himself, in what an English writer, Arthur Ransome, has called “a hermetically sealed glass case.” To him the some 3,000,000 Chinese workers in Greater Shanghai are so much background--necessary for trade and industry, but isn't it--ah--unfortunate that they couldn't all be like us?

Americans have been doing business in Shanghai for about eighty years. A number of families have attained to the second, not a few to even the third adult generation in China. I do not know all of them, but of some score I can remember only four who speak any Chinese. In three families of my acquaintance that have reached second generation in China only two of the children (and none of the parents), speak the language of the country in which they were born. In one such family none of the children, nor the father nor mother, has ever been to another city in China, not even to the neighboring historic beauty of Hangchow, although they have made numerous trips abroad.

Indeed, few Shanghai Americans, excluding the missionaries, learn to speak Chinese. It is not taught in the local American grade and high-schools, supported by the American community. The consul-general himself does not speak it. With the exception of some traveling tobacco and oil men, to most Americans the native tongue is only a bother; it is thought that China would be better off if all spoke English.  To tell such persons that Chinese is capable of delicate conceits is to make them laugh. They prefer to converse with the “native" in pidgin-English. If a servant does not at once comprehend the meaning of such jargon as, "Boy, catchee mastah one piece No. I motor-car wanchee go Bundside more far catchee young missee that side,” the impatient American ascribes it to the inferior intellect of the yellow race.

The Shanghai American knows this city, or that part of it which concerns his income and entertainment, but about China he knows little. Li Po, Tu Fu, Po Chu-yi, Wu Tao-tzu, all names golden in the classic glory that was T'ang, mean no more to him than to the average newspaper reader in America. Likewise the names of Chen Tu-shiu, T. T. Lew, Hu Shih, “Jimmie” Yen, Chang Fa-kwei, Sun Chung-shan, “Red” Chu Tak and the others who will go down into history as having given form and vigor to the new China, are to him “just so much Chinese.”

Although he has made numerous appearances in Shanghai, many Americans there have never heard Mei Lan-fang; a number had never even heard of him till he was acclaimed by New York.  The Shanghai mei-kuo ren thinks his tourist-countrymen are funny--but when they ask, he cannot tell them whether the anaglyphs they inevitably buy are genuine jade or polished quartz. He is still under the impression that there are only eighteen provinces in China and he cannot pronounce their names so that a non-English-speaking Chinese will know what he is talking about. Nor can he do much better with the names of the last Chinese dynasty and the present year of the republic--if he knows them. He thinks that it is dangerous to travel outside of Shanghai and seldom ventures it; he meticulously avoids Chinese food, screams when he hears Chinese music, assures visitors that all Chinese are potential criminals, and believes that the practice of “squeeze,” or the accepting and giving of gratuities, is the cause of China's inferior position in the family of nations. In pidgin-English he holds solemn conversations with his house boys and from them makes sweeping generalizations about the Chinese people.

Much the same prejudice is present, perhaps even to a greater degree, among the British; it also shows itself, though to a lesser degree, among the French and other Europeans. On their part, the Chinese hold opinions of the white colonials which are adequately expressed only in their own language. Practically every attempt at Sino-foreign fraternizing has become a farce. The latest example is the bankruptcy of the Union Club, in which, for “face,” a number of prominent foreign and Chinese business men pay membership dues. But they are seldom seen in the clubhouse. The Kiangwan Country Club, the Shanghai Club and the Columbia Country Club exclude Chinese.

Recently the American Club condescended to receive them, but that too was a “face stunt” only.  It had been rumored that the Shanghai (British) Club planned to admit two or three selected bourgeois Chinese in order to furnish propaganda on the progress of Sino-British understanding. The Americans in Shanghai, while little loving the Chinese, have even less esteem for their English cousins, so the thought that the latter might benefit commercially through this act of magnanimity made them decide to let down their own color bar. Over the Shanghai Club, however, where the old guard rallied to crush the “oriental recognition” motion, the Union Jack still waves only for God, the King and St. George!

Edgar Snow and his wife Helen Foster Snow c. 1930s