When the Harlem Renaissance briefly flourished in Shanghai
Amid the swirl of people, carts, and humidity on Shanghai’s Bund, American poet Langston Hughes scanned the streets for a free rickshaw. But no sooner had he secured a ride than he stood up in his seat and yelled out at a passing vehicle, “Hey, man!”
“What ya sayin’?” the passenger in the other rickshaw shouted back. Across the world from his home in New York City, Hughes had recognized a fellow African American, and more precisely, another resident of the neighborhood of Harlem making their way through one of Asia’s most exciting and vibrant cities on this sweltering July day in 1933.
In the 1930s, Shanghai was the fifth largest city in the world. Thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe and Russians escaping the Soviet Union arrived by boat and train, often without passports or much money. Thousands more Chinese came escaping the poverty and instability of a country suffering from the global economic depression and the encroaching Japanese imperial armies.
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The Jazz Age is a story from our issue, “Disaster Warning.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.