Shanghai Great World Entertainment Centre
Artist: Zhang Yuqing
Publisher: Shanghai People's Fine Art Publishing House
Size (mm): 529x770
Condition: Excellent, small tears to margins, creasing to margins
Opened in 1917 by the Shanghai businessman Huang Chujiu, the Great World Amusement Centre was the largest and most well-known entertainment complex of old Shanghai, earning the nickname the 'No.1 club of the East'. Originally offering attractions such as variety shows, fortune telling, Chinese opera, music hall and parlour games, Great World was rebuilt in 1928 in a European style featuring the distinctive four-storey tower. In 1930 the venue was reputedly taken over by Huang Jinrong, or 'Pockmarked Huang', a senior officer in the French gendarmerie of the 1920s and 1930s with links to organised crime and the opium trade. During this period the park was expanded to include dining, shopping malls, children's rides and the new attraction of distorting funhouse mirrors installed from the Netherlands. The Austrian-American film director of Hollywood movies, Joseph von Sternberg, described the venue of the mid-1930s in fascinating detail:
"On the first floor were gambling tables, sing-song girls, magicians, pick-pockets, slot machines, fireworks, bird cages, fans, stick incense, acrobats and ginger. One flight up were the restaurants, a dozen different groups of actors, crickets in cages, pimps, mid-wives, barbers and earwax extractors. The third floor had jugglers, herb medicines, ice cream parlours, photographers, a new bevy of girls their high-collared gowns slit to reveal their hips, in case one had passed up the more modest ones below who merely flashed their thighs. The fourth floor was crowded with shooting galleries, fantan tables, massage benches...the fifth floor featured girls whose dresses were slit to the armpits, a stuffed whale, story tellers, balloons, peep shows, a mirror maze, two love-letter booths with scribes who guaranteed results, 'rubber goods' and a temple filled with ferocious gods and joss sticks. On the top floor and roof of that house of multiple joys a jumble of tight-rope walkers slithered back and forth, and there were seesaws, lottery tickets, and marriage brokers."
The early days of Great World's associations with gambling, drugs and prostitution were brought to an end by the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. On 14 August 1937 during the Battle of Shanghai, a damaged Republic of China bomber was forced to release its payload before crash-landing, intending to drop the bombs on the uninhabited Shanghai Race Course. Unfortunately the munitions were released off-target and fell on the crowds gathered in the relative safety of the Great World area (see image) - located in the Shanghai International Settlement - killing many hundreds. After the communist victory in 1949 the Dashijie (Great World) was renamed Shanghai Renmin Youlechang (Shanghai People's Amusement Park), reopening in 1954. It reverted to the old name of Dashijie in 1958. The centre was closed for the majority of the Cultural Revolution, only reopening during the 1980s. Great World remains an attraction of Shanghai, with opera, dancing, arcades, discos and bars.
This 1966 poster by Zhang Yuqing presents an idealised version of the Great World, in-line with the political aspirations of the Cultural Revolution that was to commence in the same year. The banner behind the main audience, wenyi wei gongnongbing fuwu (literature and art serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers) is one version of the broader declaration that 'literature and art serve politics'. In the 1930s the Marxist theory of literature and art being subordinate to politics arrived in China from the Soviet Union and was developed by Mao Zedong into the thesis that literature and art were to serve politics - subsequently proclaimed by Mao during the 1942 Yan'an Talks. This extreme-Left political stance on the function of the arts in society had been decided at the highest levels of the party leadership and remained dominant throughout the Cultural Revolution, with changes only brought about by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, after the ousting of the Gang of Four.
Zhang Yuqing (1909-1993), from Cixi in Zhejiang, joined Shanghai World Publishing House in 1925 to study art and join the design team. In 1956 he moved to the Shanghai Print Publishing House as a nianhua (New Year print) designer, later moving to the distinguished Shanghai People's Fine Art Publishing House. Active in poster design through several decades, many of his posters have garnered national awards, including his 1988 representation of Shanghai Great World.
A short 1929 clip of Great World can be seen in the BFI's film Around China with a Movie Camera: a Journey from Beijing to Shanghai.