63 minutes | Sep 23rd 2020

James Carter, "Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai" (Norton, 2020)

Shanghai’s status as a bustling, international place both now and in the past hardly needs much introduction, although the centrality of horse racing to the earlier incarnation of the city’s cosmopolitanism is less known. Taking activities at the erstwhile Shanghai Race Club as a lens through which to examine life in the city, Jay Carter’s Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai (W W Norton) offers a rich and revealing portrait of multiple colourful lives lived in ‘Old Shanghai’, and their demises.

Carter’s narrative moves elegantly between trackside life and events and characters in the wider city, depicting the colourful lives of Shanghai’s colonial settlers, Chinese residents and the dynamics of racism and exclusion as well as hybridisation which existed between them.

The Champions Day races, it turns out are also not the only landmark event to transport us into worlds of these people, and by focusing our attention on a single day –12 November 1941 – Carter also gleans a wealth of detail from a posthumous birthday celebration for the founding father of Chinese nationalism, and a funeral procession for china’s wealthiest woman. Occurring on the same day as the marquee races, all these events in the author’s deft hands are windows into a world soon to disappear in a maelstrom of global events.

James Carter, professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University, is the author of two previous books on Chinese history and is a Fellow of the National Committee on US-China Relations.

Ed Pulford is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.

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