A scene from the Metropole Ballroom in 1936. Source:  Liangyou Huabao

A scene from the Metropole Ballroom in 1936. Source: Liangyou Huabao

(NOTE: This page is still under construction!)

During the 1920s and 1930s, Shanghai was notorious for its riotous nightlife, which consisted of dozens of jazz cabarets, nightclubs, and ballrooms (dance halls in other words). The Jazz Age kicked off in the year 1919 with the first American jazz band to play in a Shanghai cafe. Nurtured in the ballrooms of the city’s hotels in the 1920s, and stoked by the launching of a taxi-dance hall industry in the city, which took in thousands of women from China and other countries who served as wu nü 舞女 or “dance hostesses,” by the 1930s, Jazz Age dance and musical culture was spread out throughout both the International Settlement and French Concession. As I relate in my first book, Shanghai’s Dancing World, the culture of the American taxi-dance hall, nightclub or cabaret featuring live jazz orchestras playing fox-trots, waltzes, rumbas, and tangos to a dancing crowd of customers became “sinicized” or localized over time as it reshaped itself to the cultural contours of the overwhelmingly Chinese population in Shanghai. While westerners dominated the Jazz Age night scenes of Shanghai in the 1920s, serving as club owners, managers, musicians, entertainers, and customers in the city’s ballrooms and cabarets, by the 1930s Chinese people had largely taken over the city’s lucrative dance industry, creating their own cabarets and staffing them with pretty young Chinese hostesses.

If one were to make a TV series about the nightlife of Shanghai in the 1920s-30s, it could be organized in this way, similar to how the award-winning TV show, The Wire. Each season could focus on a different group of people who were involved in the making of the city’s infamous nightlife industry:

The Venues: Hotels, Night Clubs, Ballrooms, Cabarets

The Artists: Bandleaders, Composers, Singers, Performers

The Dancers: Famous Dance Hostesses

The Kingpins: Builders, Owners, Managers, Gangsters

The Critics: Literati, Memoirists, News Writers

Underneath each category below is a list of clubs, people, and places that are particularly important to the history of Shanghai’s Jazz Age nightlife in the 1920s-1930s. Click on the name to find out more information from posts on my website. I will be steadily adding contents to this list, so keep posted!

The Venues: Nightlife Neighborhoods, Hotels, Night Clubs, Ballrooms, Cabarets

Ambassador Ballroom

Astor House Hotel and Ballroom: One of the finest ballrooms in the city in the 1920s, the Astor House ballroom was eventually eclipsed by the ballroom building boom of the 1930s. You will find an article on the Astor House ballroom here.

Black Cat Cabaret at Paris Hotel: One of the earliest Chinese-run cabarets, this jazz cabaret and taxi-dance hall appeared on the scene in 1928, located just north of the intersection between Nanjing Road and Tibet Road.

Blood Alley: An infamous stretch of bars, cafes, and cabarets on Rue Chu Bao San near the Bund, staffed with women from many countries and catering to the soldiers and sailors who made a port call to Shanghai and were looking for fun and quick action.

Carlton Café 

Canidrome Hotel and Ballroom: This hotel and ballroom was located on the grounds of the Canidrome race track, where people bet on the greyhound races in the French Concession. Managed by the Green Gang duo Tung and Veng, the ballroom featured Teddy Weatherford and other luminaries of the age, including Buck Clayton and his Harlem Gentlemen, who played there in 1934. This is the story of how Buck and his band got booted from the ballroom.

Casanova Ballroom

Cathay Hotel and Ballroom

Ciro’s Nightclub

Del Monte: Run by Al Israel and Thermon Demon Hyde, and located in a mansion on Avenue Haig, this was the place where people went for a late-night dance with Russian and Eurasian hostesses, followed by a breakfast of ham and eggs.

French Club (Cercle Sportif Francais)

Great Eastern Ballroom of Wing On Department Store

Great World Amusement Center

Little Club

Long Bar of Shanghai Club

Majestic Cafe and Cabaret

Majestic Hotel and Ballroom: This is the ballroom where China first learned to dance the fox-trot and Charleston, to the tunes of Whitey Smith and his Majestic orchestra in the late 1920s, precipitating the boom in Chinese dance madness that begat the Chinese jazz age of the 1930s. Unfortunately neither the hotel nor the ballroom survived the Depression era of the early 1930s, and upon their ashes new ballrooms arose.

Metropole Gardens Ballroom

Paramount Ballroom

Paradise Ballroom of Sun Co. Department Store

Sky Terrace Ballroom of Park Hotel

Peach Blossom Palace Cabaret at Yipinxiang (Y.P.S.) Hotel

Plaza Hotel 

St. Anna’s Ballroom

Tower Club of Cathay Hotel

The Trenches

Venus Cafe and Cabaret

 The Artists: Jazz Bandleaders, Musicians, Composers, Singers, Performers 

Andy Andico

Gloria Andico

Jefferson Andico

Jimmy Angel

Jack Carter 

Buck Clayton

Serge Ermoll

Joe Farren: Joe and Nellie Farren were a talented dancing duo who performed in Shanghai from the late 1920s through the late 1930s. Joe hailed from Austria. He served as a club manager at several different ballrooms in town including the famed Paramount Ballroom. Eventually, he set up his own club, Farren’s, in the infamous Badlands of western Shanghai. You can read about him here.

William Hegamin

Nora Holt

Li Jinhui

Henry Nathan

Albert Nicholas

Whitey Smith

Valaida Snow

Teddy Weatherford

Earl Whaley


The Dancers: Famous Chinese Dance Hostesses 上海舞星

The Liang Sisters (Liang Saizhen, Saizhu, Sashan, Saihu)

Peking Lily, Lily Lee, or Beiping Lili (Dance empress of 1935)

Huang Baiying (Peiying): A student from Fudan University, who became involved in a poison case after a love affair that went awry. You can read about her story here.

Chen Manli (Mary) (Paramount murder)

The Kingpins: Builders, Owners, Managers, Gangsters

Mont Berg (Little Club) 

Du Yuesheng (Metropole Ballroom)

Joe Farren (Farren’s Nightclub)

Al Israel and Thurman “Demon” Hyde (Del Monte)

Huang Jinrong (Great World)

Freddy Kaufmann: A German Jewish entertainer and impresario, who arrived in Shanghai in 1935 with the idea of setting up the finest club in town. Sir Victor Sassoon gave him that opportunity, arranging for him to manage his Tower Club in the tower of the Cathay Hotel. You can read about him here.

Louis Ladow (Ladow’s Casanova)

Jack Riley

Victor Sassoon (Cathay Hotel and Ciro’s)

Tung and Veng (Tong and Feng) (Canidrome Ballroom)

Leon Izumin

Tug Wilson


The Critics: Literati, Memoirists, News Writers

Chinese writers:

Bao Tianxiao

Liu Na’ou

Mu Shiying

Zhou Shixun

Zhou Shoujuan

English language writers:

Edna Lee Booker

Max Chaichek

Frank Clune

Henry Champly

Buck Clayton

Ruth Day

Maurice Dekobra

Hal P. Mills

John Pal

Ralph Shaw

Whitey Smith