Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World

Shanghai Grand, a timeless story about love crossing cultural boundaries, would make a grand movie or series. It was optioned by a Chinese - Australian - American production company, and a two-season limited series was planned, but production was stalled, and the option has lapsed.

Contact for movie, television, and streaming rights for this and Taras's other books: Joe Veltre.

About the Book

To understand what the world's going to be like tomorrow, you have to understand China today. And to understand today's China, you have to know what her greatest city—Shanghai—was like yesterday.

Shanghai Grand is a passport to the International Settlement of the 1930s, a time when the foreign-controlled city was the crucible for all the ideologies—western colonialism and Chinese communism, authoritarianism and nationalism, free-market capitalism and globalization—that forged Asian history in the twentieth century, and whose legacy is making history in the twenty-first.

Shanghai Grand Named One of Four Finalists for National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction (2017)

Shortlisted for the Quebec Writers' Federation Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction (2016)


"A love song to 1930s Shanghai. Taras Grescoe has fallen hard for the 'the wicked old Paris of the Orient,' its barrooms thick with gangsters and newsmen, its alleys 'scented with sweet almond broth, opium smoke and the chemical bite of Flit insecticide'....'Shanghai Grand' is a headlong swoon for old Shanghai. The feeling is easy to catch." —Sunday New York Times Book Review.

"With its surplus of romance, it's not hard to imagine the movie version of Shanghai Grand, a lush period spectacle starring, say, Michelle Williams as Hahn, Chang Chen as Zau and, might I suggest, Ralph Fiennes as Sassoon... Grescoe does a remarkable job of structuring his material, shifting his gaze across a broad canvas with grace and an amiable predilection for teasing chapter endings. One walks away from Shanghai Grand with a sturdy basic understanding of the factors that led the Shanghai of the mid-1930s to its precipice, but one walks away with a truly vivid, nuanced sense of the complicated relationship between Hahn and Zau, charismatic, articulate, worldly lovers in a dangerous time."—The Globe and Mail, Canada.

"Shanghai in the late 1930s perhaps comes closest to the sci-fi dystopias beloved of Hollywood, full of gilded, sophisticated inhabitants cut off from wasted badlands, served by an abject underclass living as far from the light of day as it does from the consciousness of its masters.... This is the world vividly conjured up by Canadian journalist and writer Taras Grescoe in his new book Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World. Grescoe's subtitle is somewhat misleading, as his book is, in fact, a quadruple biography. According to Harold Acton, "everywhere in Shanghai one jostled adventures and rubbed shoulders with people who had no idea how extraordinary they were; the extraordinary had become ordinary; the freakish commonplace." Grescoe proves him right by focusing a spotlight upon three of the most extraordinary of the city's denizens. His fourth subject is Shanghai itself, a city he clearly loves and knows deeply."— Nigel Collett, South China Morning Post.

"There's nothing quite like an author madly enthusiastic about his subject to energize a book. Journalist Taras Grescoe telegraphs that quality early on when he tells us: "I fell for Shanghai - the city of legend and the city it is today" on his first visit nearly a decade ago. The heart of the book is about that vanished cosmopolitan crossroads and its amazing cast of characters, some legendary, others little remembered today, which he sees all around him in today's 21st century cutting-edge hub."—Washington Times

"Mr. Grescoe's book is filled with excellent short character sketches and keeps the reader turning pages to find out what will happen next... The author's goal is not to make theoretical points but simply to tell an engaging story that brings to life a special time and a special place that was a 'Paris of the East'... he draws on wide reading in the scholarly and popular secondary literature on interwar Shanghai, adding in vignettes from his visits to the very different contemporary metropolis that stands in the same place. He has a good feel for both the allure and dark side of the storied city in which Shao spent most of his life and in which Hahn spent the years 1935 through 1941. ...there is a considerable escapist pleasure to be found in his evocations of the memorable mix of con men, capitalists, revolutionaries, ruffians and romantics encountered by Hahn during her Shanghai sojourn."—Jerry Wasserstrom in Sunday Wall Street Journal.

"Here's the Mandarin for ooh-la-la! As Taras Grescoe, a respected Canadian writer of nonfiction, shows in this marvellous, microscopically descriptive history of what is now one of the most populous and smoggiest megalopolises on earth, Shanghai in the 1930s was internationally notorious as 'the wicked old Paris of the Orient', with 'as vivid a cast of chancers, schemers, exhibitionists, double-dealers and self-made villains as had ever been assembled in one place'." —The Spectator, UK.

"Superbly written, this well-researched history brings into focus the dissolute hedonism, intrigue and out-there craziness of a world on the brink of extinction. A faithful record of a life lived in momentous times." —Qantas Magazine, Australia.

"A keenly observant, sometimes soulful portrait of Emily "Mickey" Hahn, an American writer who lived in Shanghai from 1935 to 1943, and of China's political and social realities during that tumultuous period in its history: war with Japan, encroaching communism, and widespread squalor and opium addiction... a wonderful book." —Publishers Weekly, US.

"Dans les années 20 et 30, Shanghai vivait des heures de gloire. Écrivains, hommes d'affaires, vedettes de Hollywood, fumeurs d'opium, criminels : dans les rues de Shanghai, encore aujourd'hui la ville la plus populeuse de Chine, se côtoyaient des univers éclectiques comme nulle part ailleurs sur la planète.
« Shanghai était l'endroit où tout le monde finissait par se poser : les bons, les méchants, les gens glamour, les gens pas très glamour, explique Taras Grescoe, qui raconte avec brio cette période de la ville dans son plus récent livre, Shanghai Grand." —Nicolas Bérubé, La Presse, Montreal.

Grescoe vividly portrays the Shanghai that was lost forever with the advent of the World War II, the Japanese occupation, and, later, the Communist Revolution... This is a superb account of that almost mythical time.—The Adelaide Advertiser.

An intriguing account of a fascinating time and place, which often reads like fiction. It exposes a lost world, before war and revolution changed the country beyond recognition... Grescoe reminds us that all that glitters is not gold.—The Lady, UK

The three main characters Grescoe brings to life all lived lives filled with adventure, sensuality and money…Shanghai Grand is a roller-coaster ride in a time and place of unbelievable wealth and unbelievable poverty. —Winnipeg Free Press.

Based on true events and meticulously researched, [this is] a glittering exploration of two lives in the pre-war era of Shanghai's roaring 1930s; Sir Victor Sassoon and Emily 'Mickey' Hahn. —Time Out Shanghai.

"Captures the rollicking spirit of Shanghai on the verge of history…Shanghai Grand is an anecdote rich, guided tour of a time and place that is at risk of being forgotten." —The National Post , Canada.

"Grescoe draws on archival sources rarely touched by other historians, and his treatmentof his subjects is balanced and empathetic... Time diminishes even the grandest monuments, and we are fortunate when a talented storyteller takes the trouble to reconstruct them in such meticulous and compelling detail." —Christopher Rea, Literary Review of Canada .

"Engagingly told story of Emily Hahn, a remarkable young traveler who arrived in Shanghai in the mid-1930s and stayed for eight years ...when you visit, Shanghai Grand is the perfect book to pack." —Afar Magazine, US.

"Grescoe interweaves a cast of intriguing international characters into this seductive biography of a time, a place, a poet, and a girl." —Booklist, US.

"In this lively biography of a city and some of its colorful inhabitants…Grescoe exuberantly captures the glamour and intrigue of a lost world."—Kirkus Reviews , US.

"Long before the city seemed custom-built to impress and intimidate, Shanghai was most notable for its people—a remarkable mix of refugees and adventurers, poets and fabulists, natives and outsiders. In Shanghai Grand, Taras Grescoe captures this lost world in all its richness." —Peter Hessler, New York Times bestselling author of Oracle Bones .

"A doomed world of glamour and decadence, a clash of cultures, a cast of larger-than-life characters – Shanghai Grand has it all. Taras Grescoe tells a riveting tale of lost innocence and lost love, set against the backdrop of China on the brink of war and revolution. Prepare to be transported to another place and time."—Dean Jobb, author of Empire of Deception.