Ahead of his appearance at the Shanghai International Literary Festival this month, Paul French shares a snippet of his new book, Destination Shanghai. He’ll be presenting a session on March 23 at 4pm

How well do you know your old Shanghai sojourners? Over the decades so many foreigners – rich, poor; famous, infamous; European, American; dodgy, legit – came to Shanghai. It’s hard to keep track of them all. A few have lived on in the city’s consciousness; most have been forgotten.

It seems everyone knows of the greatest geniuses who dropped by – Noël Coward (probably) wrote Private Lives in his suite at the Cathay Hotel in 1929; Charlie Chaplin and his new bride Paulette Goddard clowned for the cameras with opera star Mei Langfang in 1936; Einstein visited in 1922 to lecture on the theory of relativity and, of course, in 2017 Paris Hilton ate a xiaolongbao, called spaghetti Bolognese Chinese food, and said “Shanghai looks like the future!” 

Here are snippets of six of the 18 tales in the new book, Destination Shanghai, which will be launched at this year’s Shanghai International Literary Festival. 

Warner Oland of Charlie Chan fame was surprisingly welcomed to Shanghai in 1936 and presented with a moustache comb by the Mayor…

The Swedish-American actor (pictured left) played Charlie Chan on screen 16 times, including in Charlie Chan in Shanghai in 1935. That movie was so popular with Chinese audiences that Hollywood sent Oland on a promotional tour to Shanghai and Hong Kong. Chinese censors had objected to a lot of Hollywood movies and movie stars they felt insulted the Chinese people – Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd and, just before Oland arrived in town, his old friend and regular co-star Chinese-American Anna May Wong. But Oland was mobbed at the Bund on his arrival by fans.

He was followed everywhere by admiring throngs throughout his stay in Shanghai. The Mayor of Shanghai threw a banquet for him and presented him with a moustache comb, declaring him an “Ambassador of Good Will” from America to China. The reason for Oland’s acceptance was simple, really – Charlie Chan may have been a white actor in ‘yellowface’ spouting cod Confucian aphorisms, but he solved crimes using his intelligence, didn’t drink, and was a good family man. 

Read the full article, with snippets about more Shanghai sojourners, at That’s Shanghai.