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Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 2 months ago








All of the law enforcement agencies in Shanghai have, at one time or another, engaged in the regulation of vice, especially gambling and prostitution. Each has ultimately been frustrated by the limits of its jurisdiction. Suppression in one sector of the city simply means that activities move to another zone of control that is more lenient. The municipal partition of Shanghai is one of the key factors in making it a “capital of vice”.








Commercialised gambling in Shanghai exists on a scale that ranks amongst the largest in the world. This industry is not without its social costs. Gambling encourages violence and white-collar crime. It also leads to trouble for ordinary residents, who all too often lose their money at the dog track, the race course, or in a casino or lottery. Many take their lives – the roof of the Great World amusement centre lacks a handrail on one side. The management sees no point in making it harder for a man to kill himself. Westerners like to think themselves immune to such hysteria.

Casinos frequented by foreigners are often registered in local Latin American consulates in order to take advantage of those countries’ extraterritoriality. However, a large Chinese contingent patronise these gambling establishments as well. There are even foreign style casinos run exclusively for Chinese. A good half of the patrons of casinos in the French Concession are Chinese women aged between twenty and thirty, mostly the wives and concubines of local merchants and officials.



High rollers at casinos receive, without charge, the best tobacco, wine, liquor, food and opium available. Du Yuesheng’s best-known casino (the Fusheng at 181 Avenue Foch) even provides its best customers with rides to and from home in a limousine. In the French Concession especially, but also in the International Settlement, these gambling houses are more or less tolerated by the police, though many are equipped with camouflage in case the police decide on a sudden raid for some reason.

Gambling on horse racing was initially the exclusive preserve of the foreign community. The race tracks are segregated, though some ninety per cent of the Shanghai Race Club’s revenue comes from the Chinese. At the courses in the Chinese sections of the city, the local warlord takes a hefty cut – forty per cent of the profits go to Garrison Command. Greyhound racing has yet to be firmly established in Shanghai.


The traditional Chinese form of gambling called huahui (花会 “flower club”) came to Shanghai via Ningbo but is illegal in the Chinese Municipality. Because individual players’ stakes may range from one copper coin to hundred dollars, this numbers game appeals to upper and lower classes alike. It is particularly popular with women, who often burn incense or consult fortune tellers before betting. According to Chinese police reports, huahui losses are a major cause of female suicide. The huahui game is visualised as doors to a house.

There are 36 doors in total, each with its own special name. When lots are drawn on these doors, only one is to be counted. Any gambler may put in any sum of money in any currency in one of these doors. If, when the lots on these doors are drawn, the door counted is the one in which he put his money, he gets back 29 times the amount he put in. The organisers of the lottery (which is drawn every morning and evening) pocket the remaining 7/36ths of the money wagered. The headquarters where lots are drawn is located in the foreign concessions. The office moves around a lot, as huahui is also banned there. However, the International and French police are regularly paid off and allow it to flourish.





Going clubbing



Dance halls are often also centres of vice, though dancing itself was originally, and still is in large part, quite respectable. The tea dance was one of the first cultural events to bring together the Chinese and Western elites of Shanghai. People of high society met at first once a week at the Astor Hotel, at the north end of the Bund. Nowadays tea dances are held every weekday. Western dancing has become more and more popular with the Chinese middle classes, and many dancing schools have appeared, while gramophone and record sales continue to climb. The reason for such popularity is partly due to the kinds of Chinese who inhabit Shanghai – frequently they are the Westernised younger generation who wish to escape the restrictive climate of Chinese family life. This is particularly true for young women. Shanghai has started to abandon the restraints that kept Chinese girls the shy prisoners of their parents or husbands. It is a period of tea dances, fashion shows that make the clinging Shanghai gown the in thing for all of China, nightclubs and society affairs.



The lavish nightclubs that are now so popular mainly cater to Shanghai’s large and affluent community of foreign bachelors. Many of these young men have been sent from home by their companies, which is how they come to be on an adventure that they could never afford by themselves. Shanghai is the place to give the bachelor all the fun he could possibly ask for. Through whatever crises, civil wars and general disaster, Shanghai continues on with the world’s most glamorous, glittering nightlife. Beneath the neon and brilliant lights, the theatres, teahouses, dance halls and clubs are jammed with customers all year round.



The most famous nightclubs include Farren’s and Del Monte’s, both of which are also casinos, where the dancing partners are silk-clad White Russian women, watched over by Sikh guards. Del Monte’s only really gets going between 3.00 and 4.00 a.m., and Ciro’s and Roxy’s usually close at 6.00 a.m. But a typical night out starts much earlier with highballs at the St. Anne Ballroom on Love Lane, where the Filipino orchestra plays, or a couple of absinthes at the huge semicircular bar at the French Club on Rue Cardinal Mercier. This is followed by rounds to the Ambassador, the Casanova, the Venus Café, or the Vienna, where the untroubled foreign male may nonchalantly choose his companion for the evening form a cosmopolitan assortment of glamorous but ill-fated girls.



Out On The Tiles

“You drift into one of these cabarets an hour or so before midnight. You choose your table not too far from the floor and you look them over: the pretty Chinese girls with their slit silk dresses and too much rouge on their cheeks; the glorious Russians with their décolleté evening gowns – Chanel and Molineux models, if you don’t look too closely; the dim and touchingly attractive Koreans; the slightly shifty half-castes; the quick and clever Japanese… You buy your ticket and dance with them, and if you invite one to your table you have to pay something extra, and the girl has a half cider or something, which magically turns into champagne when you get your chit.”




At the same time, dance halls are also growing in number and are very popular indeed. Many, if not most, are tawdry affairs, with Russian hostesses, a risqué floor show and catering mostly to foreign sailors. Public dancing is somewhat monopolised by White Russian women. At least a thousand Russian women are employed as dancers in various establishments of greater or lesser repute. Just under half are thought to be practising prostitutes. The general insalubrious nature of these places frequently leads to complaints from certain quarters. Similar complaints are voiced about the ten massage parlours licensed by the police in the French Concession and the twenty-six unlicensed massage parlours in the International Settlement. The average massage parlour has about six masseuses and is open from noon until midnight. Fees for massages and baths go directly to the owner. Sexual services are contracted for directly with the masseuses, who make about $25 a month, after paying the parlour owner for board, fuel and so forth.





Prostitution in Shanghai



The market for prostitution in Shanghai is enormous, though it is difficult to give numbers with any certainty. Streetwalkers have become common in a city where men greatly outnumber women (by about 15 to 10). In 1920, the Shanghai Municipal Council estimated that there were more than 70,000 prostitutes in the foreign concessions: 12,000 high-class changsan (长三, “long threes”, specialists in hosting banquets and gambling parties); 4900 second-class yao’er (一二, “one-twos”, so named as they are paid one yuan for snacks and two yuan for drinking companionship), mostly found in the French Concession and on Beijing Road; 37,140 unregistered streetwalkers; and 21,315 women working in “flower-smoke rooms” (huayanjian 花烟间, where men smoke opium first and visit prostitutes afterwards) and “nail sheds” (dingpeng 丁棚, or dives that cater for labourers). Assuming these figures are roughly correct (and generalising somewhat), then at that time in the French Concession, where there were 39,210 adult women on the population register, one in every three women was a prostitute. This is, however, a trifle misleading, as China lacks an age of consent and therefore many Chinese prostitutes are very young indeed, and would not be shown on the population register.



From nightfall until one or two a.m., prostitutes can be found all along Nanking and Fuzhou Roads. The situation is especially pronounced on the streets around the large Chinese department stores and hotels, and even on the street directly in front of Louza Police Station. The police generally appear to be doing little to get these women off the streets, as far as the public is concerned. The SMP does periodically round up the prostitutes on Nanking Road and force them to spend a night behind bars, but the pimps pay a trifling fine to gain their release, and they start again the next evening.



American and White Russian prostitutes mainly cater to a foreign clientele, but the vast majority of prostitutes in Shanghai serve Chinese clients. Many of the girls and women who work in Shanghai brothels were originally sold into prostitution by family members. Others are seized by kidnappers either in the countryside or just after getting off the boat in the city. The magnitude of the traffic in children and women is extraordinary, and is not helped by the police’s complicity in the matter. If a prostitute manages to flee the brothel, she is lucky to get as far as the Door of Hope, or some other relief organisation, without being picked up by the owner’s hoodlum (liumang) friends while the local beat cop looks the other way.



Brothels used to be licensed by the Municipal Council, but in May 1920, following a report by the Special Vice Committee, the Council began to gradually close down the Settlement's bordellos. Every year, one fifth of the licenses would be chosen at random to be cancelled, thus eliminating prostitution form the International Settlement in the space of five years. The method for this was rather unusual. Every three months, Chinese brothel keepers and foreign (mostly American) madams would fill the Town Hall. Numbered balls were mixed around by the police in a drum usually used for a tombola. Then, the tap was turned at the bottom and a ball rolled out. The number was called out in English, then in Chinese. Whichever brothel held that licence number had to close down. Within a year, 210 brothels had closed. Curiously, the number of The Line, owned by the influential Gracie Gale, was never called. As a consequence of the closures, prostitutes took to the streets in large numbers, resulting in the current situation, and the brothels quickly reopened anyway, now without license and undercover.




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