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Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  430 ratings  ·  53 reviews
WINNER - 2019 Rubery Book Award BOOK OF THE YEAR and over 20 other literary awards ... An Engaging and Extraordinary Multigenerational Saga

A high position bestowed by China's empress dowager grants power and wealth to the Sun family. For Isabel, growing up in glamorous 1930s and '40s Shanghai, it is a life of utmost privilege. But while her scholar father and fashionable m
Paperback, 308 pages
Published May 1st 2018 by Plum Brook (first published April 30th 2018)
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Average rating 4.34  · 
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Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Riveting! This debut is an engrossing and unique look Chinese twentieth century history from the cultural revolution to modern times told through five generations of an elite (and colorful!) family. Told from the perspective of Isabel Chao who was raised in glamorous Old Shanghai by her daughter Claire Chao, this intimate portrait offers a first hand look at the untold story of China - ranging from glamour, cruelty, heartbreak, betrayal to triumphs and resilience. This unique and beautiful famil ...more
Dick Reynolds
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Although it’s called a memoir, this book is also a work of art and a fascinating bit of history. The authors are mother and daughter, Isabel being the mother who was born in Shanghai in 1931. Claire was born in 1961 when the family lived in Hong Kong.
Isabel’s father moved to Shanghai in 1913 when she was an infant, the only child of prosperous parents. During Isabel’s younger years, Shanghai was a haven for the displaced: Russians fleeing Bolsheviks, Jews fleeing Nazis, Communists in hiding a
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There are so many ways to tell a family story, and so many ways to tell history, and yet Claire and Isabel Sun Chao have somehow discovered a refreshingly new way to narrate the past. The five generations of relatives, friends, lovers, business partners, and everything between depicted here together form a chorus of voices that breathe music into a side of Chinese history I never knew about. Full of glamour and suffering, artistic flourish and squandered dreams, Remembering Shanghai is a story w ...more
Rachel Y
Full disclosure: I am narrating the audiobook for this, so get excited!

This memoir strikes a personal register. I realize, sitting here at the end of it, that I've never actually read a Chinese memoir of any kind, male, female, American, Chinese, present, past, nothing. So it's hard to describe the feelings that begin to stir as you reach back into your own under-investigated heritage, when you're looking at images of stunning young women that could be your own mom or grandmom, when you read abo
Joanne L Pating
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was easy to read and I learned a lot about old Shanghai. I can definitely recommend!
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Through no fault of its own, Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels wasn’t my cup of tea. I liked it best when Isabel recounted her memories. Unfortunately for me, Isabel’s narrative was often interrupted by general information pages and information of her ancestral history. I say “interrupted” because it took me out of the memoir experience.

This book is best for people who know close to nothing about Chinese culture. Someone who is familiar with the culture may
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Claire and Isabel (daughter and mother) traveled to Shanghai, China to visit the original family home in 2008. Afterwards, Claire began to write about the four generations of her mother’s family. Included is historical information about the culture and history during each generation. The main part of the book is Isabel’s life.

My Thoughts:
When the mother first saw the family home after an absence of sixty years, I was awestruck at her humility and ability to remain calm despite an awkward
Reader Views
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reviewed by Kimberly Luyckx for Reader Views (2/19)

“Remembering Shanghai” is a collection of stories written by mother and daughter, Isabel Sun Chao and Claire Chao. It describes the time leading up to the Communist take-over of China and its subsequent years. Based on Isabel’s young life growing up in the coastal city of Shanghai, the compilation is both personal and historic. While the country’s rebellious changes swirled all around her, the wealth of Isabel’s family and the fortified enclave
Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I will admit that when I first started this book, I was slightly skeptical. There are millions of Chinese families that lived through the Cultural Revolution (including my own grandparents and parents), and everyone thinks they have an interesting story to tell. I didn't expect their stories to be interesting or outside the norm of what so many families lived through. But Isabel and Claire proved me wrong over and over again, each of their stories was more remarkable than the last. They told sto ...more
Tyr Astaroth
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
After the hullabaloo that the novel Crazy Rich Asians forged around the unattainable and glamorous ways that the wealthy lived and breathed, I had some initial apprehensions about reading a memoir that espoused the lifestyle of the rich and fabulous in Old Shanghai. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Remembering Shanghai was not a book that bragged about the origins of the family or how they had liberally spent their wealth, but rather, a modest disposition of the turbulence of times an ...more
Nianci Li
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I particularly appreciate the two distinct voices in the book, Claire's voice as a researcher and Isabel’s coming-of-age narrative. They are independent yet strengthen each other in this co-authorship.

I'm fond of the gentle and authentic perspective into the history. I enjoy the family saga via the lens of an innocent girl so much that I almost forget it is after all set against the wartime, a disturbing age when the family is disunited. This challenges my usual perception of any unrest in histo
Rubery Book Award
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-winners
Rubery BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019

This book relates the family history of Isabel Chao and her life growing up in Shanghai before the second world war, during Japanese occupation and the civil war. It presents a fascinating family history, which includes many colourful incidents and a whole range of intriguing characters. It was written jointly with her daughter, Claire, who provides much of the broader historical context for her mother's experiences: what emerges is a vivid portrait of decadent Shangh
Liz Lem
Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! I found it by chance in my local on-line library. Maybe it was the cover photo that caught my attention. Or, likely it was the title that included “Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels.”
At first I decided I would just look at all the old photos. And I did and they captured the essence of these people so well I wanted to know more about them. The book is divided up very nicely between stories told by Isabel and then often a Chinese history lesson by Claire.
What’s nice is th
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating read, full of colorful details into the lifestyle of the wealthy privileged few in Old Shanghai. Although the authorship kept bouncing back and forth between Claire (who knew only of Old Shanghai via her mother and others) and her mother (Isabel Sun Chao, who actually grew up during the wealthy Shanghai years) this book was riveting and I could scarcely put it down! In addition to the vividly descriptive narrative, the pages are full of beautiful old photos and wonderfully ...more
Reading Harbor
Sep 20, 2020 rated it did not like it
I got this book because I was curious by all the high ratings and awards it received. The first page looked interesting. However, I soon found the book to be just a giant picture book of this family. It really is just a memoir. It was hard to follow in terms of story-telling, as it seemed to be more of a textbook or history of what this family went through. I found it to be very fact filled and with lots of drawings and diagrams. It was not really something traditional you read in a story format ...more
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it

I received a free copy of "Remembering Shanghai, by Isabel Sun and Claire Chao through the "Good Reads First Reads Giveaway."

This is a beautifully illustrated, sincere and revealing autobiography of an attractive and well off family in Shanghai. Although not its main theme, there is considerable information about that country and its culture. These are intelligent and fascinating individuals responding to dramatic political changes.

This talented author teases us into wanting to know more about
Lea McKenna
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I received a copy of Remembering Shanghai by Isabel Sun Chao and Claire Chao as a giveaway in return for an honest review. I enjoyed the book! It gives a look into the lives of several generations of a family in Shanghai, with the focus on the 1930's and 1940's. In addition to the descriptions, there are photographs and hand-drawn illustrations that add to presentation of information. The books consists of chapters that relate individual snippets that look at the life and culture of the time. I ...more
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I loved learning so much about Asian and Shanghai culture, foods, places, customs, history and especially the Sun family. I can see why it would take so long to write this first-hand account of someone who lived through it all.
The only negative I have to mention is that it was a little hard to keep up with the dates when the experiences were happening. Seemed like it jumped all around. (Maybe it was just me.)
I have lived through many of the time frames of the book and remember reading a
Jun 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An absorbing, beautifully-written story. Each scene is brought to life with well-wrought details. This time period is personally meaningful for me, as my grandparents were a well-off family in Shanghai who left everything behind to forge a new life in the US.

Impressively, Claire Chao strikes the perfect balance between keeping the authenticity of the Chinese names and vernacular while making the storyline clear for an English-speaking audience. I loved being transported to this long-ago world,
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having been interested in modern Chinese history since my Junior year of high school, I was intrigued when I saw the title of this book while browsing through Goodreads giveaways. I recognized the big-picture historical events from school: Opium Wars, Kuomintang, Cultural Revolution. The family history of Remembering Shanghai allowed me to see how these events affected people on a personal level. If I had to give one critique it would be that the vocabulary used to tell the story was often peppe ...more
evelyn lindblad
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites and Scoundrels

I really enjoyed the history of authors’ family story. Their family’s history span centuries predating great wars and world wars not to mention dynasties. East meets West , communism and capitalism , betrayals and heartbreak are all here. There is beauty in China’s cultural arts and joy in the many traditions. It’s takes years for somethings to change and
Fortunately the practice of foot binding fell out of favor.

Truly a remarkable fam
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-books
A very well written book not only telling an amazing family story but also an illustration of a modern China/ Shanghai history. There were so many touching stories one can relate your own emotion with. The family misery due to the unfortunate political turbulence in China brings up a pair of tearful eyes, yet the humanity demonstrated throughout the entire book gives readers hope with mankind. For those who are not familiar with Chinese culture, this book provides them with some useful beginners ...more
Sophie Picquot
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Claire and Isabel have written a beautiful memoire of a life that was so rich in history, culture and family. The illustrations are gorgeous. What a priviledge to open and share such poignant memories of the history of a family. Such an enjoyable read that transports to another time, another way of life.
I had the priviledge myself of growing up in Hong Kong and went to school with Claire and her brothers. Bravo Claire on this most enjoyable book and to Isabel in sharing your history. A very wort
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
*I won this book in a GoodReads Giveaway*

I really enjoyed this book. If I had to pick a family solely on the level of interest they'd generate if I ever wrote a memoir, the Sun family with their colorful past and array of interesting characters would certainly be high up on my list. I thought Claire (and Isabel) did a wonderful job capturing both the beauty and ugliness that was living of Shanghai.

The illustrations were beautiful. And while I'm sure they won't be to everyone's liking because the
Debbie Funakawa
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Exquisitely written and illustrated, Claire Chao's book draws the reader into a culture and time rich in its history yet honest in its reflection of her family's trials and tribulations. It is captivating with its real life narrative that reads like a drama. I highly recommended the book to anyone who enjoys reading about the Asian culture. The book is a piece of art--a wonderful gift for family and friends.
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Claire Chao and her mother tell the tale of her mother’s life in Shanghai and subsequently Hong Kong. I like how I feel as though I am in Old Shanghai when hearing about Isabel’s life as a child. Shanghai is a vibrant Chinese city with an international flair and when she goes back as an old woman with Claire you can really feel how much it has changed. While the artwork is charming and the “info” pages may be helpful to many, I found them a bit pedantic. Granted, I have lived in Asia for eightee ...more
Jeffrey Shia
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book! Extremely interesting, informative and engaging!
It’s a must-read for Chinese of Shanghainese ancestry like myself not born and raised in Shanghai. I heard my grandparents and parents talk about old Shanghai in their conversations but they never provide me a complete picture of old Shanghai. This book fills in all the blanks. With now and then street names, it also enables people like me to look for our roots in Shanghai and to find our identity and heritage. Bravo!
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Contrary to other memoirs that I was completely engrossed in, this one fell flat for me. It felt like a series of reminiscences that were choppy and did not flow smoothly. There were interludes that gave historical perspectives but I wish they had been included in the story. In the beginning I was caught off guard by the language that was attributed to young Isabelle as it was too sophisticated to be spoken by a child. It was an interesting story but ho hum for me.
Jun 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I’ve read in years! And I don’t just say that because I was privileged to teach Claire Chao when she was a student at the Hong Kong International School. The writing is exquisite. The illustrations and photos bring the story to life. It will touch anyone who has wished to understand the lives of their ancestors.
Gwen Char
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a third generation American-Asian living in Hawaii, this book was completely fascinating. Their stories of the old China (mansions, servants, abundance) through the new China (communism, "equality", starving and deprivation) is supported by beautiful illustrations and old photos. My only criticism? I was sorry to reach the end of the book. Go read it!!!
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Claire Chao was born and raised in Hong Kong. Although unaware of it at the time, as a youth she continually sought connections to her parents' Shanghai homeland. She spent a decade creating Remembering Shanghai after thirty years in luxury brand management. While researching her family stories, she uncovered an uncanny link with the grandfather she'd never met. She graduated with highest honors f ...more

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