Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

Shanghai Baby

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Shanghai Baby is the first novel written by Chinese writer Wei Hui, a feminist and a resident of Shanghai who was 26 years old at the time when the book was published. Perhaps the enormous similarity between of the age, gender and city of residence of the writer to those of the lead female character is the reason for the popular belief that the book is an autobiography instead of what it really is, i. e. a work of fiction. The novel was first released in China in 1999 and went on to be in the top selling 5 novels of the year in Shanghai.

Much to the chagrin of the liberated Western media, the top selling book was deemed pornographic in nature by Beijing Press and Publication and was banned all over China. The novel is a first person narrative about a twenty five year old woman, who lives in Shanghai, China, works as a waitress in a cafe to earn money, aspires to write a novel and become a writer and dreams about becoming rich and famous. Her real name is Nikki, but she is known among her friends as Coco, after her idol Coco Chanel.

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While working at the cafe, Coco meets Tian Tian, an artist, in addition to being a hedonist, a nihilist as well as being impotent. They fall into an intimate relationship and Coco although disappointed by his impotency, believes she can stay happy with the love of her life, until she meets Mark, a German business man who is everything that Tian Tian is not. Tian Tian is a sad pleasure seeker, haunted by a painful past, unnerved by a sinister future and is also in love with Coco. Mark is a rich, attractive male who can give Coco all that which she finds lacking in Tian Tian and more.

Coco is a self indulgent, narcissistic, often annoying woman who is unable to resist the lure of pure sexual lust in the face of true love for a less than capable lover and becomes sexually involved with Mark. At this point it seems that the book predictably becomes an expression of the author’s erotic fantasies as she explains in detail Coco’s relationship with Mark. The entire tale is spun against the backdrop of the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai, in the midst of drugs, alcohol, nightclubs and bars.

From one perspective, the book is a woman’s struggle between love and sexual pleasure. It is also, as proclaimed by many, an analysis of the darker side of the night life of Shanghai. However, most importantly, the book should be noted for its deep rooted symbolism: Tian Tian is the representation of typical Chinese men who are famous for their sexual incompetence and Mark is that of the stereotyped Caucasian male, sex starved and hungry for oriental females.

All this is ironically wrapped in the materiality of brand names and wealth as characters are defined more in terms of where they live, what they wear and how much they own. Superficial at first glance, but in fact dripping with literary symbolism, the book reflects the author’s lack of confidence in the male species of human beings, whether native or foreign as both men in Coco’s life become unavailable leaving her shattered by the end of the story. Works Cited Sheng, John. Afterthoughts on the Banning of "Shanghai Baby".

Retrieved on January 22, 2007 from: http://www. oycf. org/Perspectives/8_103100/afterthoughts_on_the_banning_of. htm Cole, S. (2001). A Non-Review With Current Events Tossed In. Retrieved on January 22, 2007 from: http://www. freewilliamsburg. com/november_2001/books. html Chloe E. , Slidell, LA. Book Review. Retrieved on January 22, 2007 from: http://teenink. com/Past/2003/October/17075. html CathCart, M. (2001). Shanghai Baby. Retrieved on January 22, 2007 from: http://www. abc. net. au/rn/arts/atoday/stories/s337449. htm

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