Daily Archives: 28 June 2020

Gramophone in Shanghai, 1948

From Last Boat Out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia (Ballantine, 2019), Kindle pp. 215-216:

Her father’s spontaneous parties presented her biggest challenge. She disliked having to sit, prim and proper, sometimes forced to speak to adults who had no interest in her or what she might have to say, all under her father’s critical eye. Not only was she afraid that she’d irritate him, but she also couldn’t fathom why some of the women, as educated as her mother, spoke in little-girl voices like her ten-year-old sister’s. Or why so many of the men puffed themselves up as though they had the answers to everything. Annuo envied her sixteen-year-old brother, a boarder at his middle school, who didn’t have to endure these dinners. She couldn’t wait to be dismissed and sent upstairs to bed, where she could retreat with her books to a fantasy world far away.

BUT THANKS TO A STRANGE new contraption, Annuo’s attitude toward the parties shifted. On one visit, her father brought home a gramophone. After the adults had finished eating and talking, someone mentioned having “itchy feet.” The servants pushed the furniture aside in the parlor, rolled up the carpet, and talced the floor. Her father cranked up the gramophone and put on some popular band music. Then everyone danced. As if possessed by spirits, the properly formal men and women jumped up and moved about while touching one another. The first time Annuo saw the adults dance, her jaw dropped. Opposite sexes touching in public? Stunned to see even her parents embrace as they danced, she found this utterly contrary to everything she had been taught about acceptable Chinese behavior. To Annuo’s great surprise, her father decided that she and Li-Ning should learn to dance, since there were never enough female partners for his friends. Soon Annuo was dancing the fox-trot, tango, and swing to popular Shanghai band music. American tunes like “Tennessee Waltz” got everyone onto the dance floor. Annuo began looking forward to her father’s surprise visits, hoping for the music to start up after dinner. Her feet were itchy—and she was happier.

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Filed under China, migration, music, U.S.