Not only is Crazy Rich Asians featuring a full Asian cast for the first time in 25 years, it is also bringing back the jazzy tunes of Shidaiqu. From Yao Li’s “Ren Sheng Jiu Shi Xi” to Grace Chang’s “Wo Yao Ni De Ai” to the remake of “Waiting for Your Return” by Jasmine Chen, the soundtrack of Crazy Rich Asians brings shidaiqu back from 1930s Shanghai to the 21st-century audience.
Shanghai was a small agricultural village until officials from the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) decided to develop it into a trading post due to its location. By 1820, China’s economy was the largest in the world according to British economist Angus Maddison. However, the military of the Qing dynasty was of no competition with the British during the Opium Wars. After the Opium Wars, Shanghai fell victim to the Treaty of Nanking to be one of the five Chinese cities to be opened up to British consults, merchants, and their families. Soon after the Treaty of Nanking, merchants from France, Germany, and the United States moved into Shanghai to carve out territories as International Concessions.
In 1912, Qing Dynasty fell but Shanghai remained a metropolitan city with the birth of modern China founded by Sun Yet Sen. With many different cultures being in Shanghai, it was covered in buildings designed by European architects, and its inhabitants were fashionable. In fact, qipao was invented in 1920s Shanghai as a fusion of the west and the east fashion. The city was lined with casinos, fine restaurants, movie theaters, and nightclubs. It was known as the Paris of the Orient.
Jazz was brought in by Americans into nightclubs. It was an unfamiliar tune to many Chinese people at the time, but like everything else in Shanghai at the time, it was quickly adapted into the eastern culture. Shidaiqu was then born in the 1920s, combining jazz music with Chinese folk music, which is consisted by pentatonic folk melody. Early shidaiqu had vocals that were high pitched and sounded like a cat being strangled. As time progresses, vocal performances were filled with more sophisticated singers.
Yao Li, the singer of “Ren Sheng Jiu Shi Xi” as heard in Crazy Rich Asians, was one of the seven great singing stars of shidaiqu in Shanghai in the 1940s during the occupation by the Japanese Army. The list of the 7 great singers includes Bai Guang, Bai Hong, Gong Qiuxia, Li Xianglan, Wu Yingyin, Yao Li, and Zhou Xuan. Li Xianglan was a Chinese-born Japanese actress and singer, but her agency, Manchukuo Film Association, wanted to conceal her identity and gave her the name of Li Xianglan. Her real name was actually Yamaguchi Yoshiko. During the time of occupation, she was paid 10 times more than the Chinese performers and Chinese people suspected that she was at least half Japanese. She performed propaganda for the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese War period. After the war, she returned to Japan as an actress. In the 1970s, she was elected into the Japanese parliament and served for 18 years.
Meanwhile, Yao Li and other shidaiqu singers including Grace Chang had to flee to Hong Kong as the Communist government took over China in 1952. Communist China banned all nightclub activities. Shidaiqu then lived in Hong Kong and Taiwan after the war and became the predecessor of Mandopop. Now, it is being played in the theaters of the world thanks to Jon Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians.