(Ming Pao) The Shanghainese in Hong Kong: As Told by the Second Generation of the Shanghai Gang. By Helen Lai. October 1, 2006.
When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the son of a rich Shanghainese merchant became the Chief Executive. At that time, the government statistics bureau no longer asked, "Where did you come from?" We are all Chinese citizens and one big family. In the statistical data bank, there is no longer the proportion of Hong Kong residents who came from Shanghai and there is only the proportion of Hong Kong residents who spoke the Shanghainese dialect.
When the Jiang Zemin-led Shanghai gang fell in their power base last month, everybody was buzzing. In Hong Kong, the Chief Executive was replaced last march, and this became an episode in Hong Kong history. But the fading of the Shanghai gang in Hong Kong took place even earlier, perhaps ...
The following is the story of one second-generation Shanghai gang member.
Roland Soong, 57 years old, was born in Shanghai in 1949, the year when the new China was established.
His father was one of the leaders of the Mandarin-language motion picture era in Hong Kong, Stephen Soong (宋淇). Stephen Soong wrote the script for The Greatest Civil War on Earth (南北和), a comedy about the natural and learned prejudices between southerners and northerners in Hong Kong. He was also one of the seven experts on Dream Of The Red Chamber. All these things happened after he arrived in Hong Kong from Shanghai.
Four weeks after Roland Soong was born in Shanghai, his family left for Hong Kong before the People's Liberation Army arrived. His mother held him in her arms, a maid held his sister in her arms and his dad carried the diapers, and they took an airplane for Hong Kong. From age 0 to age 5, he heard only Shanghainese dialect. The little friends at birthday parties were all from the Shanghai gang, including people such as his sister's friend Josephine Siao. The first time that he went to kindergarten, he could not understand a single word of Cantonese.
Stephen Soong studied comparative literature at Yenching University in Beijing while his future wife Mae Soong studied literature at St. John's University in Shanghai. In Shanghai, Stephen Soong sold pharmaceuticals, ran imports/exports, and the family held entire streets of real estate properties. When they first arrived in Hong Kong, they brought quite a bit of money. They thought that Shanghai people can trust other Shanghai people and so they deposited their money into the Four Seas Bank run by some Shanghai people. At the time, they lived at Bowen Road and they had a "huge" car. But the Shanghainese bankers ran away with the funds and the family went from very rich to very poor. Both parents were forced to find work, such as translating novels from English into Chinese. That was in the mid-1950's.
During this period, Stephen Soong got to know people such as Raymond Chow and King Hu. Shanghai people trusted Shanghai people, and they all went into the motion picture business. During the next ten years or so, he worked for Cathay Motion Pictures, Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest. At the time, the population of Hong Kong was small and therefore it was not a prime market. "In those days, Cantonese-language motives were 'seven day jobs' and therefore of poor quality. It was Run Run Shaw who came up with the idea of selling overseas. Run Run Shaw was the sixth son of the family, and the fifth son Run Me Shaw managed several hundred movie houses across southeast Asia. The Chinese over there worked very hard and what did they do on weekends? Go to the movies! Run Me Shaw was concerned about now having enough movies to exhibit, or being forced to pay exorbitant prices by film producers. Therefore, Run Run Shaw went into motion picture production. At the time, the schedule and budget for film-making were precisely calculated so that a film could be completed in three weeks."
As executive producer, Stephen Soong had to find people to write scripts. He found his "one of his own kind" in Eileen Chang. At the time, Eileen Chang had just immigrated to the United States and needed money. "The stories were all based upon American or European novels, such as those by Jane Austen. The stories were translated over with the characters changed to Chinese." The motion picture industry was thoroughly dominated by the Shanghai gang. In conference rooms and film studios, the actors, directors and bosses spoke Shanghainese. When new actors and actresses started their careers and had no money to do anything, they might go to the Soong home to have meals.
The demise of the Shanghai gang occurred in the 1970's. The business got bigger and bigger. In order to expand the Taiwan market, they knew that they had to recruit people from Taiwan and thus came people like Bridget Lin (林青霞) and Joan Lin (林鳳嬌). So the power of the Shanghai gang decreased and they cannot use "their own kind" in everything.
Roland Soong lived in Hong Kong until 1967, when the riots started. His dad was worried that his children might be hurt by his own status as an intellectual and so sent them overseas. Roland Soong lived in the United States for thirty years and returned to Hong Kong in 2003. From start to now, he did not have much of an impression about Shanghai. The Shanghainese people that he knew all came from his childhood. He remembered that when The Greatest Civil War on Earth was being made, he was around 11 or 12 and he was wandering around the movie studio. That movie portrayed the Hong Kong perception of the Shanghainese people: wily, with business savvy, wants to cheat you of all your money. Meanwhile, the Shanghainese looked at the Cantonese people: lazy, rigidly following previous rules, only knowing to follow what their forebears did. "This is what my father kept hearing people say, and that might be what people thought in that era."
Yet, from his father's career, here was a man who went into diverse businesses in Shanghai and when he arrived in Hong Kong, he went into translation, motion pictures, magazine publishing, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and even stock investments. If you ask him what the Shanghainese are like, Roland Soong might say: "Plenty of ideas, quick minds." "If you don't have money today, you can't just sit there and complain non-stop. There will always be a way. These types of people are harder to find nowadays." This generation of Shanghainese are home-grown and home-bred and thoroughly integrated. Having been away for so many years, Roland Soong does not regard himself as Shanghainese unless the subject was brought up in a discussion. But he still likes to patronize traditional Shanghai barber shops. The one that he patronized ever since he was a child near Prince Edward Road just closed down this August because it could not afford the increased rent demanded by the landlord.
Eileen Chang: "In 1954, Stephen
Soong's wife Mae accompanied
me to the photographic studio
at the corner of King's Road in
Hong Kong to take this photo."
Roland and Mae Soong. 1950.
The Greatest Civil War on Earth (1961)
Wedding photo of Stephen and Mae Soong
(Ming Pao) 上海人在香港﹕上海幫第二代的告白. 黎佩芬. October 1, 2006.