The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai

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For the film adapted from the novel, see Flowers of Shanghai.
The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai
Traditional Chinese 海上花列傳
Simplified Chinese 海上花列传

The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai, also translated as Shanghai Flowers,[1] or Biographies of Flowers by the Seashore,[2] is an 1892 novel by Han Bangqing.[2]

The novel, the first such novel to be serially published,[2] chronicles lives of courtesans in Shanghai in the late 19th Century.[1] Unlike most prostitution-oriented novels with the Wu dialect, all dialog in this novel is in Wu.[3]

The acclaimed writer Eileen Chang translated the book into Mandarin under the title 上海花 Shànghǎi Huā (lit. Shanghai Flowers). She also translated the book into English, which was not discovered until after her death.[4]

W. L. Idema, who wrote a book review of The Chinese Novel at the Turn of the Century in T'oung Pao, wrote that the novel Shanghai Flowers included the use of Wu dialect in dialogs, a "doomed to failure" protagonist, and a consciously crafted plot, therefore the book "already showed many of the characteristics of a typical Late Ch'ing novel".[2]


Hu Shih, Lu Xun, and other Chinese literary figures critically acclaimed Shanghai Flowers. However, the novel did not sell very well. Hu Shih's thesis is that because the novel had such a strong usage of Wu dialect, readers had difficulty understanding it.[3] Donald B. Snow, author of Cantonese as Written Language: The Growth of a Written Chinese Vernacular, wrote that generally the sales of other novels outperformed Shanghai Flowers because their limited usage of the Wu dialect made them easier to read.[3]

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  1. ^ a b Forbes, p. 240.
  2. ^ a b c d p. 355
  3. ^ a b c Snow, p. 34.
  4. ^ Han Bangqing (2005). The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231122689. 

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