The Last Kings of Shanghai: The Rival Jewish Dynasties That Helped Create Modern China

Jonathan Kaufman. Viking, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2441-4
Journalist Kaufman (A Hole in the Heart of the World) documents the “profound” impact of two Baghdadi Jewish families on modern China’s economic development in this eloquent and well-sourced history. Participants in the 19th-century opium trade, the Sassoons (known as the “Rothschilds of Asia”) and the Kadoories built their fortunes “on low wages and unfair competition,” according to Kaufman. Yet patriarchs Victor Sassoon and Elly Kadoorie played key roles in wrenching China “from a sclerotic feudal society into a modern industrial one” in the first half of the 20th century by developing luxury hotels, banks, utilities, and other major economic projects in Shanghai, before losing “almost everything” in the 1949 communist revolution. Victor Sassoon provided food and vocational training for his Chinese employees, for example, while Elly’s son, Horace, advocated on behalf of refugee farmers after fleeing to Hong Kong during the communist takeover. Rivals more often than allies, the two families nevertheless joined forces during WWII to protect 18,000 European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. Kaufman writes with style and strikes a careful balance between holding the families accountable for their “colonial assumptions” and celebrating their accomplishments. This richly detailed account illuminates an underexamined overlap between modern Jewish and Chinese history. Agent: Michael Carlisle, InkWell Management. (June)
Reviewed on : 04/21/2020
Release date: 06/02/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 1 pages - 978-0-7352-2442-1
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-7352-2443-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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