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Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  831 ratings  ·  113 reviews
Winner of over 20 awards including Rubery Award BOOK OF THE YEAR and Writer’s Digest GRAND PRIZE ... An 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
Paperback, 308 pages
Published May 1st 2018 by Plum Brook
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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
Nov 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Remembering Shanghai is such a beautiful book that is part memoir, part history book, one that reads like fiction, and one deserving of all the accolades. I found the story riveting and with the accompanying photographs making this an immersive, vivid, and propulsive read. I loved this! ⁣⁣
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
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
Sarina Soren
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
May 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nicki Chen
Mar 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Isabel Sun Chao and her daughter Claire Chao collaborated on this beautiful book. At the center of the story are Isabel’s memories of her life, a life that encompasses the dramatic history of China throughout the stormy Twentieth Century. It’s also the story of her family—sisters and brothers, parents, grandparents and great-grand parents, and their concubines, godfathers, schoolmates and servants—people we come to know and care about.

Isabel was born into a wealthy Shanghai family in 1931. As t
Elena L.
Mar 18, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
[4.5/5 stars]

REMEMBERING SHANGHAI is a memoir that centers around Isabel and Claire Chao. Growing up during 1930s and 40s Shanghai, Isabel had a glamorous and privileged life. When Mao comes to power, eighteen-year-old Isabel journeys to Hong Kong, not realizing that she would only returns to Shanghai fifty years later with her daughter, Claire.

From Japanese occupation, civil war and Communist revolution, this book spans five generations of Chao family. China has been recovering from the Opium w
Kaitlin  Hansen
Jun 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021
Wow - I learned so much about old Shanghai! Great way to learn more about the history of China during the 20th Century told through the lens of a family who has MANY unbelievable stories to share. We listened to the audiobook version and I want to give kudos to the narrator who had about 100 different voices for different characters.
Thanks to NetGalley and Girl Friday Books for providing an ARC!
Dec 22, 2021 rated it liked it
I had been wanting to read this for a long time and found it to be okay, but not ultimately page turning.

It is narrated by a mother and daughter team, covering mainly the times in Shanghai in the 30s/40s in a high classed family. It shows how the cultural Revolution of Mao changed the dynamics of this family, separating them, yet keeping the daughters in a tight connection to one another.

I enjoyed the story.
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
Tina Kanagaratnam
What a great read this is! "Remembering Shanghai" is the stuff of fiction that happens tells the multilayered, complex, story of Shanghai in an unputdown-able way. Authors Claire Chao and Isabel Sun Chao have a great story to tell - and are terrific storytellers.

This a classic old Shanghai tale, a story of the rise and fall of a great family, set against the dramatic, turbulent backdrop of 20th century China. Oh, but you can't make up these characters! The traitorous sons and their breathtaking
Heather Diamond
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Remembering Shangai sets the story of the author's family--as told through the author and her mother--against the dramatic backdrop of war and political upheaval in China. As the subtitle promises, Chao's family history is full of larger than life characters, from refined and moneyed literati collecting art to scoundrels who think nothing of squandering the family's fortune or reputation and socialites with in-house dressmakers. Shanghai is a cosmopolitan hub for international influence and cult ...more
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!
Many classical works have told the rise and fall of China’s great dynasties. There’s this famous concept called the Mandate of Heaven in which during turbulent times this mandate moved from one dynasty to the other. The Shanghai of the 1930s where Isabel Sun Chao grew up was such a place, with areas carved by the foreigners in the International Settlement and the French Concession where foreigners and several Chinese misfits could lead lives immune from the Chinese law. Yet it was also the forei ...more
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
~Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels by
Claire Chao & Isabel Sun Chao | Audio
~Narrated by: Rachel Yong, Claire Chao, Isabel Sun Chao

“Ours is a family of socialites, scholars and scoundrels.”

Synopsis: 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 mother shelter her from civil w
Oct 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
THis is a lyrical book that traces life in the tumultuous city of SHanghai, through 5 generations of Isabel Sun CHao's family. It takes in the ending of the Qing dynasty, the Japanese occupation, the rise of the Communist government till modern day. Shanghai is an incredibly interesting city, and I love the effort taken over the gorgeous illustrations and photos in the book. I didn't know that Shanghai was divided into areas governed practically as independent little colonies by the British, Fre ...more
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
Brian Aird
Mar 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely Enchanting

Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels by Claire Chao, Isabel Sun Chao is a most engaging and enchanting narrative that will almost certainly provide a rewarding and satisfying reading experience.

The journey of a "thousand miles" begins with the return of the third daughter, Isabel Sun Chao, and her daughter, Claire, as they stand together in front of the ancestral home of Isabel in Shanghai, China.

As the literal doors of the home are opened so
Tyr A.
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
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The settings and culture of 1930's and 1940's Shanghai covered so evocatively by various historians of pre-1949 Shanghai, like Andrew Field, Paul French, and Tess Johnston, form the world in which Isabel Sun was raised.

That milieu offered sophistication, modern architecture, rich social life, international influences, as well as a happening music and dance scene. "Remembering Shanghai" gives the reader Isabel Sun Chao's first-hand insights into what that life was like for a young girl and later
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
Stefan Gugler
May 02, 2021 rated it it was ok
The book is very well rate but I'm sorry, I really didn't like it that much.

What I found most disappointing is how superficial the whole account was. I understand that it is primarily a memoir of the Chao family but holy cow do they walk around with blinders. Most chapters are of the form "Our servants carried us down the street and we saw all these poor people but didn't really think about it and ate rich food for rich people and went home again. Our problems are a broken vase." I wish there we
Joe Rodeck
Feb 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing

*Remembering Shanghai* is a brilliant introduction to 20th Century China. It includes art, language, calligraphy, religion, philosophy, architecture . . . . and Isabel Chao’s favorite: Mah Jongg.

I didn’t realize how westernized big city China was before the revolution. Shanghai was an eclectically diversified and energized cosmopolitan city.

Historically, she covers the Japanese conquest/occupation, the loss of Korea, WWII, and the communist revolution from which she was fortunate enough to esca
Aug 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021, netgalley
Remembering Shanghai is a captivating memoir spanning five generations of the Sun family. The story is told mostly from the perspective of Isabel, who was born in 1931 in Shanghai in a well-respected and wealthy household. Isabel recalls growing up in the 30s and 40s and leaving for Hong Kong, unaware that what she thought was a three weeks trip was actually her new beginning. Even though memoir isn't always my favorite genre and tends to be pretty hit or miss, I was mesmerized by the pictures o ...more
RS Rook
Oct 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book was so good, I highly recommend this in audio. The narrator really captures Isabel's the buoyant optimism, you can practically hear her grinning through the happier reminiscences of the 90 year-old author (she also handles the languages and singing very well).

This book reminded me of sitting in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother, my grandmother drifting from fond memories of her childhood to ridiculous and wild events in our family history with my mother interjecting with corre
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