Friday, June 10, 2016

Hardly Remembered: Shanghai's Jazz Era In The 1920s

What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase, jazz music? For most people, images of saxophones and nightclubs come into mind – and gently, ever so sweetly, my favorite city of New Orleans. What does not come into mind is Shanghai. There was a brief period however, when the Chinese embraced jazz music as their own. Lasting only a decade, and beginning in the 1920s, people in Shanghai were fascinated by the rhythmic sounds of jazz. The citizens decided to incorporate the sultry African beats with their own beautiful Oriental sounds.
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Jazz was introduced in China at the start of the 20th century due to the influx of foreign tourists who decided to come. At the time, Shanghai was considered the glowing jewel of the country – most tourists decided to stay there. It wasn’t a surprise then that foreign influences were brought in as well. Jazz came in at an opportune time as China was adamant about becoming more Western. It was during this time that Shanghai’s film industry was booming. Many Chinese actors were embracing Western traditions quite easily and were asking directors to put them on film. 

As in the West, jazz’s introduction to the silver screen was not initially accepted. Many people found the music too garish and claimed that it would affect Chinese morals. Parents were particularly worried about jazz’s influence on their children – what with the concept of men and women dancing with each other in a provocative manner. It didn’t help that jazz music also spread among the lower-class areas, being played in cabarets and clubs, where prostitution was rampant.
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In the end, many Chinese believed that jazz music was not meant for them and eventually the trend faded away. 

My name is Christopher Keehner and I am a passionate jazz enthusiast and historian. I spend my time learning new things about jazz and posting them on this Facebook page.

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