Arts and Culture
According to some film historians, "Shanghai Express" (Josef von Sternberg, 1932) is a seminal film for Hollywood’s vision of Shanghai. It codified the elements one will find in a story set in Shanghai: high-class prostitution in particular will be for a long time associated with the city in Hollywood production.
How, then, was this film received by the Shanghainese? Screened in June 1932, in a city still suffering from the trauma of the Japanese attack, the film was censored in Shanghai, while it was shown in other cities of China. Newspapers and magazines published numerous articles about a film considered to be a treacherous blow on China’s pride. They debated thoroughly about the decisions of the censorship board and more broadly about the numerous other foreign films that have shown a degraded image of the country, such as "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924) and "Welcome Danger" (1929). We will explore the debates about Shanghai Express keeping this in mind. What, in this film specifically, raised Chinese people’s anger? Was it the fact that it was based on a more or less true event? Was it the fact that the film was well received by the Japanese audience? We will also explore the contradictions of the Chinese medias: while they welcomed the ban, they also wrote several articles about the famous movie star Marlene Dietrich, and about the presence on her side of another famous Hollywood actress, Anna May Wong, who also happened to be Chinese.