The Financial Specter in The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai | 海上花中的金融魂灵,2022
14 4月 2024

The Financial Specter in The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai

2022,Lecture Performance

In 1891, Han Bangqing went to Beijing for the imperial examination for the last time. There, he met Sun Yusheng, the author of a Dream of Prosperity in Shanghai. The two novelists read each other’s manuscripts. According to Sun, at that time Han had already drafted the titles for twenty-four chapters of his novel, among which “half were completed.” The book was initially titled Chronicles of the Flower Kingdom, though Han was not satisfied and wanted to change it to The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai.

In order to publish his works independently, Han founded the magazine Peculiar Tales of Shanghai, affiliated to with Shanghai News, taking advantage of the newspaper’s printing and distribution channels. Legend of Flowers of Shanghai became the first original, local novel ever published as a serial by periodicals in China. Before the official publication of Peculiar Tales of Shanghai, Han placed a prominent advertisement in Shanghai News for eleven consecutive days, and then forty-five times for the following year to build momentum for the novel. These methods of publication, distribution, and promotion were groundbreaking at the time. Han had the mind of a modern businessman.

The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai is in fact the epitome of novels of the old times, although the structure, in which the author took the most pride, bears resemblance to that of Western novels. Characterized by extremely economic writing, it reads like a script, with only dialogues and a few actions. It’s full of innuendos and matter-of-fact accounts, yet they are light and unobtrusive, woven into the texture of ordinary human life, sparse and gray, with many things ‘escaping our notice at the time (Eileen Chang’s review).

Payne Zhu plays the role of a male courtesan in this performance. Inheriting the alternative financial narrative from previous works and combining it with his own experience of Shanghai, he manages to re-activate the spirit of finance flowing throughout the novel. The financial instruments used by guests (insurance, securities and commercial papers), business models manipulated by high-class brothels (issuing currency notes, shareholding and financial fraud) and the mentality of guests and courtesans who trade off in various situations depicted in the novel make it a prophecy of Shanghai, where, even a century later, life still seems trapped in such circumstances.