What was it like to be an American in Shanghai in the 1930s?

Riding in Shanghai (1930s)

When I was young, my parents told me about my Uncle Chuck’s magnificent house in Shanghai: a mansion built in the 1920s on nineteen acres of land in the center of the city. The house was so large that the Japanese turned it into a hospital during World War II.
I always wondered what happened to Uncle Chuck’s house. I started going to China myself in 1985, but before I could ask him for the address, he had passed away. Over the years, street names changed and the address was lost. Nobody in the family even knew where to look. Only memories and mythologies remained.
A few years ago, I decided to track down Uncle Chuck’s house. What I found were strange and interesting things about my family and about the life of “Shanghailanders,” which is what foreigners called themselves in the 1930s.
An American in Shanghai (2016, 22min) traces the personal history of my uncle in Shanghai from 1924 to 1949 to illuminate new views of China’s modern history of imperialism, war, revolution, and now, rejuvenation. It shows how people like Chuck used the advantages of imperial system, such as extraterritorial protection, to build a fabulous life—often at the expense of their Chinese competitors.

Chuck at the Summer Palace, Beijing (1925)

An American in Shanghai is also an experiment in different ways of doing and presenting academic research. Rather than just search for the “facts,” it traces the experiences and feelings of Americans in Shanghai in the 1930s – and the 2010s. Inspired by the work of Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, it mixes personal stories and professional analysis, with the goal of creatively “thinking visually,” and “feeling visually.”
But the film is more than an exploration of imperial history, US-China relations, and new research methods.
It is a mystery story: Is Chuck’s house still there?
If I find it, will the new owners let me in to take a look?
Bill Callahan: Director, Producer, Editor, Camera
Andy Lawrence: Consultant
Festival appearances
The China Story website, ANU, September 2016
Crossover Videos: Westerners in China and Chinese in the West workshop (sponsored by AHRC), LSE, 2014
Columbia Gorge International Film Festival, Fort Vancouver, USA, 2013
China and the West, History module, University of Manchester, 2013
Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore, 2012
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 2012
International Studies Program and Asian Studies Institute, Portland State University, USA, 2012
Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Manchester, 2012

Other Films of Americans in Shanghai in the 1930s

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