Saturday, July 25, 2009

From Beautiful Girls To Propaganda Tools

The Paris of the East - Shanghai's Bund 1930

Shanghainese Girls in Hand-Painted Advertisement 1928

Maoist Propaganda Poster

Our brave Shanghai Girls, May and Pearl, once enjoyed popularity in old Shanghai as "beautiful girls" who posed for calendars and advertising artwork. Such hand-painted posters, calendars, and advertisements depicted lovely young ladies in beautiful dress. Still, this was considered controversial, as is the case in Lisa See's Shanghai Girls. Another name for the women who posed for these paintings was Shanghai girls, which is where, I guess, the author gets her double-entendre title.

Well, MUCH has transpired in the book since May and Pearl's early days, and now the reader has followed the girls through to the early 1950's. No Spoiler Alert necessary here, but the girls are surprised to now see themselves depicted in Maoist propaganda posters. Refer to the UCDavis article for a brief intro to these posters and the Maoist transformation of earlier calendar art into propaganda.

By the way, I finished the book! Will give my thumb's up or down later.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Am Feeling A Little Blue About This Book...

(pardon the artistic license taken with the truly lovely, pink and pretty bookcover)

The Royal Thumb's Up looks like it may be turning downward for our sweet maidens from Shanghai unless they can break out of the sticky formulaic plot they are ensnared in right now. Currently the author is moving them around her chessboard in a predictable fashion as they adapt to life in Los Angeles while contending with their miserable, miserly father-in-law and unwanted marriages. Book clubs, no doubt, will love this book. I may yet love it, too. Hang in there with me.

But fear not! My appetite has been tantalized by mention of traditional Chinese dishes, and so I am happy to share pictures of No. 1, or is it No. 2? son (twin, so both sons should be No. 1) making traditional pork dumplings in his apartment in China with his No. 1 companion.

One cannot buy tidy packages of chopped pork there - one must brave the markets and hope for the best. My "Americans in China" managed to find chunks of pork and pork fat which they chop chop chopped until their wrists hurt so as to make minced meat. More chopping ensued as huge quantities of ginger, garlic, scallions, hot peppers, and chicken bouillion powder were reduced to individual molecules. All was then blended together to make a scary-looking mound of pink mush.

With chopsticks, bowls of water, and won ton skins at the ready, the intrepid chefs stuffed hundreds of dumplings, most of which were frozen for later. To cook them, bring chicken stock to a boil, add some hot pepper oil and other seasonings, and cook the dumplings until they float to the surface. Sprinkle in more chopped ginger and scallions to make a pretty presentation. Now you, too, can make your own yummy won ton soup!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Happy Coincidence

The New York Times today has an article in the Metropolitan section, p. 8, which happens to be quite pertinent to Lisa See's new book Shanghai Girls. (By the way, I am making further progress with the girls as they wend their way south from San Francisco to Los Angeles.) The online version of this article offers even more information and images regarding the Chinese immigrant practice of stowing away cheat books as they sailed to America. It was hoped that these cheat books would give them the right answers to U.S. Customs Service questions. This practice was deemed necessary due to the restrictive nature of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which only permitted entrance to Chinese immigrants in limited occupations.

Our Shanghai Girls, May and Pearl, have been stowing their cheat book in one of the girl's hats, but The New York Times indicates that many immigrants threw their books overboard before they landed, having already memorized the information. In the case of Chinese immigrant, Chung Fook Wing (below), his cheat book was found in New Jersey in 1941 even though he entered the country in 1932.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Will Shanghai Girls Disappoint Me?

So far, I am progressing part way through Lisa See's newest novel, Shanghai Girls, without nodding off or needing to reach for chocolate. In fact, I would feel guilty squeezing the bottoms of mystery bonbons out of respect for the trials and travails of sisters May and Pearl, who at this point are waiting out a pregnancy in the detention camp on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Have to say, the story's set up in Shanghai was very good, although I recognized the author's usual tendency to overstuff her storyline with heaps of descriptive detail meant to educate the reader. In this case, she seemed to better blend in her well researched factoids so that I didn't feel like I was being hit over the head with them. Yay, Lisa See! I will plod on at my supersonic reading pace and report more later. I have hopes for this book.