While the rest of the world faded into black and white during the Great Depression, Shanghai in the 1930s was a glittering metropolis of 3 million people studded with cabarets, nightclubs, and legendary bordellos. Known as the "Paris of the Orient," Shanghai developed a high-flying social scene for the city's elites and expatriates, and it became famous for hosting all manner of vices, not limited to gambling on horse and dog races or a thriving opium scene. Legend has it that Christian missionaries in the city would shake their heads and muse, "If God allowed Shanghai to endure, he owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology."
Here's a look at China's sin city before it became the stainless-steel jungle of the 21st century.
Fuzhou Road, above, was a prime thoroughfare for Shanghai's night life in the 1930s. Carl Crow, an American journalist who moved to Shanghai in 1911 and detailed the city in his guide Handbook for China, wrote of Fuzhou Road:
Each side of the street for many blocks is lined with gorgeous Chinese restaurants, whose proprietors vie with each other in making the gaudiest showing possible with gilt, mirrors, paint and lacquer. At 8 o'clock at night the street is lit up with a brilliancy that has given it the name of "The Great White Way of China," and from that hour until midnight, the restaurants will be thronged with Chinese at dinner parties, which often extend over 60 or 70 courses.
Of course, Fuzhou Road was famous -- or infamous -- for the establishments on Hui Le Li (The Lane of Lingering Happiness), which branched off the road. There, 151 "singsong" houses provided nighttime entertainment for Shanghai's gentlemen.
Virtual Cities Project/Institut d'Asie Orientale