China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



July 14, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright July 14, 2008 Howard Y. F. Choy. Used by permission.


After the recent publication of a translation of Wang Anyi’s 1995 novel A Song of Everlasting Sorrow, we asked Howard Choy to reflect on the novel’s contents and importance. Below, Choy draws on his recently published work on late twentieth century Chinese fiction to contextualize Wang’s Shanghai story.

Among all the major cities in China, Shanghai has become the most popular in recent academic research and creative writings. This is partly a consequence of its resuscitation under Deng Xiaoping’s (1904-1997) intensified economic reforms in the 1990s, and partly due to its unique experience during one hundred years (1843-1943) of colonization and the concomitant modernization that laid the foundation for the new Shanghai we see today. Many stories of Shanghai focus on the city’s prosperous history from the late Qing dynasty to the end of World War II, during which time the French Concession, the British-American International Settlement, and later the Japanese occupation dominated the treaty port. For instance, Leo Ou-fan Lee’s Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930-1945 (1999) and Sherman Cochran’s Inventing Nanjing Road: Commercial Culture in Shanghai, 1900-1945 (1999) both conclude in 1945.