A decade ago, if you’d told me that I would spend the next ten years writing a book about Shanghai, I would have roared with laughter. I had no idea I’d be taking this amazing journey with my mother, exploring five generations of our family over a 200-year sweep of Chinese history.
Flashback to October 2008: my first visit ever, Mom’s first in fifty-eight years, to the heartbreaking wreck that had been her childhood home. An elderly man was living in the dining room, the ramshackle space where my grandfather spent his last years after twenty strangers, mostly military officers, had moved into the house.
From the Preface of Remembering Shanghai, in my mother’s voice:
The man scrutinized us with interest. “It must have been very beautiful when you lived here. Is it true your father once owned entire streets of houses?” he asked. “People said he owned Third and Fourth Roads?”
Though he’s asked, how can I, without seeming conceited, relate the glories and eccentricities of my bygone family, whose original benefactor was the empress dowager? I think of the servant boy who became an imperial minister, his playboy sons and one hundred servants; the hotels and apartment complexes; the steamships and priceless art collection; the concubines and the scandals. I am silent.
Silent no more! Here we are, a decade later, about to launch our book in the US. It’s been a hectic and thrilling few weeks introducing the story to its native city during a whirlwind tour of Shanghai in March 2018.
It started with a bang—a sold-out presentation at the Shanghai International Literary Festival in the magnificent M on the Bund . . . Through the window behind me is the domed headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank at 12 The Bund, where in 1894 my great-grandfather and his brother forged their father’s signature and drained the old man’s bank account to the tune of US$8 million (today’s currency). Had a blast with my producing partner Corey Tong, who is collaborating with me to adapt the book into a drama series; we met many old friends, and made new ones.