Shanghai Daily news
The former residences(above)of American
author Emily Hahn(below left) and her Chinese poet lover
Shao Xunmei(below right) were typical
Spanish-style villas at 1754 Huaihai Road. Four years ago, a property developer
converted the villas into new, creamy-yellow houses(top) nd
they were sold to Taiwanese businessmen.(Photo: Shanghai Daily)
A book published in China last month entitled "Xiang Meili" - American author
Emily Hahn's Chinese name - looks back at the life and loves of this remarkable
journalist and writer in the Shanghai of the 1930s.
Xiang Meili was the name
given to Hahn by her Chinese poet-lover, Shao Xunmei (Sinmay Zau). Although
their movie-like affair is a highlight of the new book, their former homes at
1754 Huaihai Road are gone and it's hard to find traces of their lives there
The book, along with a biography of Shao and an autobiography by
Shao's wife, Sheng Peiyu, share the same shelf in local book stores. More than
half a century ago, the three avant-garde young people also shared their lives
According to Sheng's autobiography - "The Sheng Family: Shao Xunmei
and I" - Hahn used to live in building No. 6 at 1754 Huaihai Road. When the
invading Japanese occupied the Shaos' luxurious villa in Yangshupu, Hahn helped
the family move into building No. 17 at 1754 Huaihai Road.
12,000-square-meter block of land at the address housed 30 Spanish-style
"According to our archives the houses were painted grayish-white and
were built in the 1930s," says Jin Yumin, an official from Shanghai's Xuhui
District Cultural Bureau.
"The former residents were mostly middle to
high-level employees of foreign banks. The two-story buildings all looked alike
but each had its own individual character. They all had a simple decor without
much ornamentation. They had gray tiles on the roofs shaped like fish scales and
the houses were concealed behind tall camphor-laurel trees."
villas - including the ones where Shao and Hahn lived - have been turned into a
cluster of creamy-yellow modern-looking houses. Four years ago, property
developers moved out the 140 families who were living in the compound,
demolished the original houses and built the spacious garden villas that are now
there. The developer claims the new villas were constructed "according to the
original look" of the ones demolished. The villas were sold a few years ago to
Taiwanese merchants for what were said to be amazing prices.
autobiography, Sheng says her home was "a Spanish-style house and very small.
Our children and babysitter lived in the three rooms on the second floor. My
husband and I lived on the first."
Sheng says the family tried to retrieve
some of furniture and belongings from the house then occupied by the Japanese -
including a set of Western tableware and a sketch by Ingres - to put in their
"This was our last home but I did not imagine that we would live in
the house for 30 years," she says in the book.
It seems incredible that Sheng
would mention her husband's lover, Hahn, several times in her book. Sheng was a
bit jealous of Hahn but not too much. Reading Sheng's own account of her life,
it seems she was content to share her husband with the bohemian American
"Mickey (Hahn's nickname) is a tall woman with short-cut black hair
and delicate facial features," Sheng says, describing her rival in her book.
"But she is not blue-eyed. She is a quiet woman who never speaks loudly. She is
neither fat nor slim. But her curves are not so nice since she has a big
Born in St Louis, Missouri in 1905, Hahn had a rebellious streak
all her life. She resolved to obtain a degree in the male-dominated Mining
Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin and after graduating, she
traveled across the United States by car with a woman friend, both disguised as
men. She later went to the Belgian Congo to work for the Red Cross.
most breathtaking journey was through China where she fell in love with Shao, a
handsome, dandy poet-publisher, and became his mistress. Shao gave her the
Chinese name "Xiang Meili" - which sounds a little like her Christian name - and
which means "beautiful."
Shao had inherited a considerable amount of property
from his grandfather, an official of the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Shao was
a talented poet who studied English literature at Cambridge University in the
His marriage made him more wealthy. His wife was his cousin, Sheng
Peiyu, a granddaughter of Sheng Xuanhuai, another senior Qing official.
began his publishing career by printing a dozen magazines including two
political journals - "Candid Comment" in English and "Liberal Comment" in
Chinese - during World War II.
He also translated one of the late Chairman
Mao Zedong's important works, "On War of Persistence," which was published for
the first time in "Candid Comment."
As a representative of the "alternative
literature" movement, he was much influenced by English aestheticism. Some of
his works are soaked in an aura of decadence and feature stories about women and
There are different versions of the affair between the handsome Chinese
poet and the unconventional American writer. In articles by Chinese writers,
Shao's white skin, Greek nose and wealth were what attracted Hahn to him and led
her to become his mistress. Reading Hahn's autobiography, her relationship with
Shao seems more like one of tender friendship than hot passion.
was able to help the other. Shao assisted Hahn by arranging interviews with many
Chinese celebrities and also translated Chinese material for inclusion in her
books. Hahn's American passport helped Shao retrieve some of his property that
had been confiscated during the war, including an expensive printing
Hahn finally left Shao when she quit Shanghai in 1939 for Chongqing to
cover the war against the Japanese. She later fell in love with Charles Boxer,
the head of the British Secret Service in Hong Kong, and bore him a daughter out
of wedlock. This was a big scandal at the time because Boxer was married. Boxer
was interned by the Japanese and the reunion of the two lovers after the war
made headlines across the United States. He then divorced his wife, married Hahn
and they had a second child.
All of Hahn's best-selling books are about China
and include "The Soong Sisters," "China to Me" and "China Only
Shao spent some time in jail in the 1960s and died poor in 1968,
aged 62. After writing her autobiography in her daughter's home in neighboring
Zhejiang Province, his wife Sheng died in 1989, aged 84. Hahn died in 1997, aged
Their homes at 1754 Huaihai Road were demolished in 2000. Life and story
seem to be over.
It is said Hahn left Shanghai on a cold, overcast morning in
November 1939 to begin her new adventure and from that moment on, she was no
longer Shao's beloved Xiang Meili. However, it is also said that for the rest of
her life she was homesick for Shanghai and her longing for the city of love and
lust must have had something to do with her long lost Chinese