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Shanghai Nightscapes

A Nocturnal Biography of a Global City

The pulsing beat of its nightlife has long drawn travelers to the streets of Shanghai, where the night scene is a crucial component of the city’s image as a global metropolis. In Shanghai Nightscapes, sociologist James Farrer and historian Andrew David Field examine the cosmopolitan nightlife culture that first arose in Shanghai in the 1920s and that has been experiencing a revival since the 1980s. Drawing on over twenty years of fieldwork and hundreds of interviews, the authors spotlight a largely hidden world of nighttime pleasures—the dancing, drinking, and socializing going on in dance clubs and bars that have flourished in Shanghai over the last century.

The book begins by examining the history of the jazz-age dance scenes that arose in the ballrooms and nightclubs of Shanghai’s foreign settlements. During its heyday in the 1930s, Shanghai was known worldwide for its jazz cabarets that fused Chinese and Western cultures. The 1990s have seen the proliferation of a drinking, music, and sexual culture collectively constructed to create new contact zones between the local and tourist populations. Today’s Shanghai night scenes are simultaneously spaces of inequality and friction, where men and women from many different walks of life compete for status and attention, and spaces of sociability, in which intercultural communities are formed. Shanghai Nightscapes highlights the continuities in the city’s nightlife across a turbulent century, as well as the importance of the multicultural agents of nightlife in shaping cosmopolitan urban culture in China’s greatest global city.

To listen to an audio diary of a night out in Shanghai with Farrer and Field, click here:

280 pages | 18 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Gender and Sexuality

History: Asian History, Urban History

Sociology: Urban and Rural Sociology


“In Shanghai Nightscapes, Farrer and Field use historical and ethnographic methods to shed new light on a question that has intrigued many scholars, novelists, journalists, and travel writers. Namely, to what extent have patterns from Shanghai’s celebrated and notorious jazz age past reemerged in the contemporary era, as the protean city has become once again a hub for flows into China of foreign ideas, fashions, and lifestyles. Drawing on fiction, archival documents, interviews, and personal observations, they provide a vivid account of nocturnal life in two eras. They also demonstrate how much can be learned about continuity and change in a cosmopolitan metropolis by zeroing in on how residents of different nationalities disport themselves in dance halls, discos, clubs, and bars.”

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of Global Shanghai and China in the 21st Century

“Farrer and Field, two long-time observers of Shanghai’s cultural scene, have written a compelling new book on the history of the nightlife in Shanghai from the Jazz Age to the market reform. With intimate knowledge on Shanghai’s clubbing scenes, the book tells a story of both continuity and change in the sexual culture and nightlife of China’s most cosmopolitan city. Shanghai emerges in the book as a nodal ‘global city’ at the crossroad of the transnational nightclub cultures. It’s a must-read for students interested in urban China, cultural studies, sexuality, and globalization.”

Xuefei Ren, author of Building Globalization and Urban China

“A  unique exploration of Shanghai’s clubs, bars, and dance halls that explains how and why Shanghai has once again become an epicenter of cosmopolitan nightlife. Drawing on a rich array of magazines, films, and many nights interviewing Shanghai entrepreneurs, performers, and club hoppers , Farrer and Field expertly ground their brilliant introduction to contemporary night life in a superb social history of Shanghai in the Jazz Age.”

Deborah Davis | coeditor, Wives, Husbands, and Lovers: Marriage and Sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Urban China

“Coauthored by sociologist Farrer and independent historian Field, who have decades of experience observing and writing in and about the metropolis, this book traces the vicissitudes of Shanghai’s nightlife industry from the early 1920s to the 2010s and provides an in-depth tour of the city’s night scenes. The authors focus on the city’s dance halls, bars, and clubs—urban spaces that speak a global language and facilitate exchanges between Chinese and non-Chinese men and women in artistic tastes, sexual and gender norms, and a sense of cosmopolitanism beyond one’s local identity. Through the dialogue between interwar Shanghai and its contemporary night self, the authors convincingly demonstrate the resilience of cultural and spatial memories that overcome setbacks and renew the character of the city at play. The authors recognize that nightlife in Shanghai, as elsewhere, did not and does not serve as a haven immune to the power politics of day life. Nuanced discussions on the hierarchies and norms that nightlife challenges, perpetuates, and produces will interest students of urban China, sexuality, cultural studies, and globalization. Recommended.”


Table of Contents

1          Scenes and Nightscapes          
2          The Golden Age of the Jazz Cabaret
3          The Fall and Rise of Social Dance
4          Transnational Club Cultures
5          Imbibing Cosmopolitanism
6          Jazz Metropolis
7          Nightlife Sexual Scenes
8          From Interzones to Transzones
9          Nightlife Neighborhoods

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