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One of the greatest things about the internet (sometimes I think the only great thing) is that no matter what random thing I think I might want to listen to, I am only a few taps away from finding some other person who has dedicated all of their time and effort to it, saving me the trouble of going down a research rabbit hole.

One such thing I’ve run across recently is a site called Antique Shanghai Pop Music, which is exactly that: vintage Chinese pop recordings from the earlier part of the 20th century. There are a handful of translated Western standards thrown into the mix, but the vast majority are original songs.

From a description of the collection when it originally appeared on Mix Cloud: “This program reveals the world of Chinese Pop Music in the 1930’s and 40’s. Its brief yet unparalleled glamour has beaconed numerous artists that followed and illuminates the imagination that pursues the shimmering, gossamer remains of a lost paradise (that never fully existed). For many reasons and for many years, the glory of this genre was obscured, seldom mentioned and its legacy seemed irrelevant. Your host, Ling, organizes and presents some of the best recordings from this genre that were re-mastered and restored in recent years.”

The podcast host, Ling, sorts the songs thematically—atmospheric episode titles include “Nightingales and Dew” and “White Light and Fragrant Violets,” while others are more prosaic such as “Gentleman Singers of Shanghai” and “Duets.” Whatever the title of each episode, one thing is true of all: they’re exceedingly beautiful. Ling pops in now and again to provide some identification or context—and to occasionally correct the impulse to overly romanticize the time period—but he largely lets the songs just work their vintage magic.

In one of the later episodes, Ling mentions that this is a very narrow genre with limited appeal. His dedication to unearthing a lot of these recordings belies that, though: there are exactly 21 episodes, each close to two hours long … that’s a lot of Shanghai pop. Rescuing almost an entire genre from the dustbin is no mean feat: this project took twelve years and Ling mentions in the most recent, seemingly final, episode (from a year ago) that he’s got a book project. I sincerely hope it’s about this! 

Give Antique Shanghai Pop’s first episode “Glamour from an Erstwhile Era” a listen, and I think you’ll bookmark the site and return to hear the whole collection.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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13 Comments

  • One correction since I turned this in: the word “original” isn’t quite right to describe a big swath of the selections; a bunch of them are folk songs or poems or traditional Chinese songs re-set into pop arrangements of the time.

  • I just popped over to sample and I will definitely be back for the total experience. My first reaction is that I’ve heard this music in the background of old movies. Second, I’m off to find The Joy Luck Club to add to my watch list. One of my favorite book/movie combos. Classic mother/daughter story in rich, textured background. Thanks for my Saturday quick start, DG!

  • Love it! Thank you for sharing this. I especially like #20 .

  • Oh, I look forward to checking this out! I spent a few years living and working in Japan after I finished college, and taught a group of adult students on the side. We would go to karaoke together sometimes, and one of my older students sang this amazing song called Ginza Kankan Musume. I loved it, so I learned it and it became one of my go-to songs. I didn’t know at the time that it was from 1949. I surprised a lot of Japanese friends when I sang it – they couldn’t believe that an American girl knew such an old song. (It’s a really fun, delightful song – definitely recommend a listen!)

  • You are so right about one of the best things about the internet. Every time I get irritated with the commercials or disgusted by the “news” I just remind myself that I can decide to listen to Jerry Lee Lewis or Vivaldi with the touch of a finger. Just bookmarked Antique Shanghai Pop so when I finish waking up I can try it out. Thanks again for being such a great source of new things for me.

  • OK. So this is a rabbit hole I would never have found! Now I feel I really must go sit with it awhile! I’ll be back…

  • So I fired this up and let it play while I worked, and it is so mesmerizing. Cristina is right when she says that the fact that we can’t understand the words turns the singer’s voice into an instrument. Of course that’s always true of singers’ voices, but here, it’s especially noticeable. Cool site.

  • I was so happy to find out about this website. My parents lived in Shanghai in that time period before both their families escaped communism. They know a bunch of the songs and have been singing along. It’s a welcome distraction

  • I know never to doubt recommendations from DG, and after 20 minutes of listening I am hooked.

  • My grandparents listened to music like this. I hope Ling plays “Moon Represents My Heart” by Teresa Tang recorded it in the 1970s but it feels a lot like these classics

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv_cEeDlop0

    • I’ve listened to all of the episodes, and I don’t think he plays anything that late.

  • I’m listening to Li Li Hua and Bai Yun, because my Chinese name is Li Li Hua (first Li is the surname). Cool!

  • I’ve been obsessed with 80’s Tokyo city pop (it’s fun and energetic but since I don’t speak Japanese it’s not overly distracting, which was great for studying) and I can’t wait to get into this. Thanks for the suggestion DG! Always appreciate broadening my horizons.

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