6 essentials for your Shanghai bookshelf

From gripping novels to hard history, read all about the city you call home

Photographs: courtesy publishers; artwork: Janelle Chew
Whether you’re looking for an intimate memoir, a solid historical atlas, a gritty crime novel, or all of the above, there's a Shanghai book for everyone. From the seismic events that shaped the city's history to the personalities who keep it thriving today, get a deeper understanding of Shanghai's rich culture with these bookshelf essentials.

Street of Eternal Happiness

Street of Eternal Happiness

By Rob Schmitz

An intimate portrait of everyday life along Changle Lu, Shanghai-based correspondent Rob Schmitz weaves together a collection of real-life stories from ordinary people forging their lives along this one road in pursuit of big city dreams. Set against the backdrop of rapid development, mass migration and political twists, Street of Eternal Happiness offers up a penetrating look into the human faces of 21st-century Shanghai and modern China beyond. 

Find it 160RMB at Garden Books.

City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir

City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir

By Paul French

Gambling, drugs, blackmail… Enter the underbelly of 1930s Shanghai in author and historian Paul French’s dark tour of the International Settlement. Following the real lives of two of the era's most notorious criminals – slots king 'Lucky' Jack Riley and nightclub mogul 'Dapper' Joe Farren – French’s non-fiction narrative delves into the stories of gangsters, scandals, casinos and cabarets that ruled the Shanghai Badlands almost a century ago. 

Find it 220RMB at Garden Books.

Land of Fish and Rice

Land of Fish and Rice

By Fuchsia Dunlop

A city obsessed with what’s on its plate, there’s arguably no more telling insight into its culture than the food. British food writer and cook Fuchsia Dunlop has spent years exploring regional cuisines and is an authority on Chinese fare. In her latest cookbook, Land of Fish and Rice, Dunlop sinks her teeth into Jiangnan cuisine including a collection of beautifully crafted recipes from the region’s modern capital, Shanghai (think Shanghai red-braised pork with egg and scallion oil noodles). Alongside the recipes, Dunlop shares her insights on ‘the culinary heart of China’, from its history to key ingredients to menu planning. 

Find it 200RMB via Book Depository.

Shanghai Old Town: Topography of a Phantom City (Volumes I and II)

Shanghai Old Town: Topography of a Phantom City (Volumes I and II)

By Katya Knyazeva and Adam Sinykin

History buffs, dip in and out of these beautiful coffee table tomes from Shanghai Old Town expert Katya Knyazeva and Adam Sinykin. The two volumes revive the all-but disappeared old walled city on the page via stunning photography and meticulous research into its history. Volume I, The Old Docks, tours the historic port neighbourhood of Dongjiadu that helped establish Shanghai as a trading haven long before the International Treaty Port built by Western powers. Volume II, The Walled City, goes inside the Old City walls to unearth not only the sights but the colourful lives and local customs of the families who lived there for centuries.

Find it 668RMB at Madame Mao's Dowry.

Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels

Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels

By Isabel Sun Chao and Claire Chao

Co-authored by mother-daughter duo Isabel Sun Chao and Claire Chao, Remembering Shanghai spans five generations of a Shanghai family from the cusp of the 20th Century through the ’70s. Largely told from the perspective of Isabel Sun Chao – who grew up in Shanghai in the ’30s and ’40s – the gripping memoir and its accompanying illustrations and photos offer an insight into the lives and the city irreversibly altered by a nation in turmoil.

Find it 200RMB at Madame Mao's Dowry

Inspector Chen Cao series

Inspector Chen Cao series

By Qiu Xiaolong

For a more subtle injection of Shanghai culture, crime writer Qiu Xiaolong’s long-running series of thrillers are as much about the city as the trials and tribulations of their Shanghai-based hero, detective Chen Cao – ‘China’s Morse’. Familiar Shanghai sights (from Jingan Temple to xiaolongbao) play supporting roles as Chen navigates the murky waters of difficult cases that often find their roots in real happenings across the country. 

Shanghai Redemption (book nine, 2016) finds the honourable cop caught up in a corruption scandal involving a high-profile official – however, Chen still finds time for Shanghainese cuisine, quoting Chinese poetry and pondering over a rapidly changing China.

Find it From 75RMB via Book Depository.

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