A new book tracing the history of Indians who lived and worked in Shanghai in the middle of the 19th century could rekindle interest in a mostly forgotten chapter of ties between India and China.
The bilingual book, ‘Stray Birds On The Huangpu: A History Of Indians In Shanghai’, will be released this month. An anthology of 25 write-ups by 21 authors mostly from India, China, the US and Taiwan, the book trains an eye on the lives a disparate group of Indians led in Shanghai from around the time of the first Opium War in 1839.
“The Huangpu is the river that flows through Shanghai, it is the reason for Shanghai, the city’s liquid heart. For centuries, the river is how people reached and left the city, and we thought it the perfect symbol,” said Mishi Saran, a Hong Kong-based Indian author who has lived in Shanghai and is the author of the book, ‘Chasing The Monk’s Shadow: A Journey In The Footsteps of Xuanzang’.
The number of Indians living in Shanghai was possibly at its peak in 1936, according to records of the city’s municipal authority, which put the number at around 3,000. They were a mix of burly Sikh policemen and busy businessmen mostly from the Sindhi, Parsi and Bohra communities.
The same records show 700 to 800 Sikh policemen were on duty in Shanghai at the time, said Zhang Ke, professor of history at Fudan University, who edited the book along with Saran. “Today there are two kinds of remains: gurdwaras and houses built by successful Parsi businessmen,” Zhang said.
The book project was floated by the Indian consulate in Shanghai and the city’s Indian association approached Zhang in July 2017 to be a part of it. It helped that Zhang was researching China-India cultural ties in modern times.
“Indians played a very active role in the city life of Shanghai,” he said, adding the Parsis and Jews from Mumbai and Gujarat were successful businessmen and were influential. The book covers nearly 180 years of India-China history from the Opium Wars to the present day.
“It showcases a select bouquet of Shanghai-centric stories, aiming for selective depth rather than all-encompassing breadth. My favourite way to know Shanghai is through the stories of the people who walked its streets. As the book reveals, there were plenty of people of all stripes who came from India and did just that,” said Saran.
For many, reading the book could become one way of knowing how some Indians lived and made Shanghai their home so many years ago.
First Published: Aug 02, 2018 07:44 IST