Paul French's great-grandfather was stationed in Shanghai when it was
a British Royal Navy town in the years after World War I. The man was a
stoker—a sailor who shoveled coal into a ship's furnaces and developed
massive forearms as a result. French recalled his relative sporting
incredible snakes tattooed up each arm, with the heads of the snakes
intertwined down between his shoulder blades. It might be hard to
imagine in the era of chart-topping rappers with face ink, a time when
seemingly everyone has a tattoo somewhere or other, but to see this kind
of body art during French's boyhood was a revelation. To get more shanghai 1930s, you can visit shine news official website.
In his new book, City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai, French explores the appeal of the city to outlaws by telling the stories of the life and times of "Lucky" Jack Riley, an American who escaped prison, and "Dapper" Joe Farren, a Jewish nightclub impresario. The two men joined forces to lead a sort of Orientalist mini crime empire in 1930s Shanghai, serving up as much gambling, drugs and sex work as fellow foreigners could handle. We talked to the author to find out why the city was so welcoming of rogue outsiders, whether these guys were more sordid predators than hapless party boys, and how World War II ended their reign, changing Shanghai forever.
VICE: How did Shanghai come to enjoy such a unique reputation in the 1930s?
"Lucky" Jack Riley seems to epitomize the strange—and sometimes
strangely forgiving—culture of the place, given that he was able to set
himself up there. But it's not like he chose that life, right?
He was involved in a kidnapping of a card game at a speakeasy. It was the time of Dillinger and the start of the FBI crackdown, and he got like 35 years in Oklahoma State Penitentiary. But he was a good baseball player and on the prison baseball team. They went out to play baseball against a civilian team, and he escaped. Got to San Francisco, where he rolled a drunk called Jack Riley and took his name. He burnt his fingerprints off with acid, got to Shanghai, and was Jack Riley with no fingerprints. He thought: I can never be busted for anything now.
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