Cosmopolitan Colonialism

In the summer of 1945, during the final months of World War II, a concert at the Grand Theater in Shanghai hosted a jazz symphony inspired by American composer George Gershwin, played by an orchestra founded by the British consisting of Chinese musicians as well as Russian and Western European Jewish refugees. The music was contemporary, with a boogie-woogie beat, performed in a modernist hall designed by a Hungarian architect. The principal vocalist was Li Xianglan, a famous singer born Yoshiko Yamaguchi to parents who had settled in Manchuria from Japan. Such an improbable mashup is a fitting tableau in Robert Bickers’ new book Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination.