In my book All Roads led to Shanghai I try to give my readers a glimpse of an environment so different from present times when, as a young girl during the 1930s and 1940s, I lived in the International Settlement of Shanghai. The scenes I witnessed were unique to this city; some scenes filled me with wonder and delight, but others with sadness and disquiet. I grew up in an era when the world was in turmoil as dynasties fell, revolutions erupted and two World Wars displaced millions of people from their homelands. Shanghai offered people a sanctuary. A thriving financial centre, governed by the British, the city was a community made up of many nationalities. Entry visas were not required and this allowed thousands of refugees to descend upon this city, amongst them Russians fleeing Bolshevik forces, as well as European Jews escaping Nazi persecution. These refugees, having lost their homes and most of their possessions, had to quickly learn to stand on their own feet at a time when there were hardly any governments or charities interested in their welfare. They persevered and created a society that was diverse, vibrant and colourful. As the city grew in financial dominance its inhabitants increased substantially over the years when rural Chinese left their farms and came to Shanghai to seek work in its factories.
I write of my family who were also impacted by these central events of history. My White Russian grandparents, who had to flee from Vladivostok with their two daughters, and had sought refuge in China; my Greek father, who had left Asia Minor just prior to the calamity that befell the Greeks in that region, where thousands perished in death marches, amongst them his parents.
Meanwhile, China was going through its own political upheavals. The fall of the Ch’ing Dynasty had brought about a phase of enormous transition and a growing awareness of China’s subjection to foreign demands. A republic was formed but struggles ensued between Right and Left factions of the Kuomintang. In 1937, a dominant Japan took advantage of China’s political instability, invaded China and occupied Shanghai and a great part of the country. World War II followed and it brought further suffering to China’s inhabitants. The end of WWII saw a re-emergence of hostilities between Left and Right factions ending in a Communist takeover of the country, when all foreign concerns and foreigners in general were no longer welcomed. All foreigners were forced to depart from Shanghai, a city they loved and had called home for many decades.
It is within the context of these events that my family’s story unfolded. We lived in dangerous but memorable times. I am grateful to my father for giving us a good and stable life in spite of the circumstances surrounding us. His positive outlook and good entrepreneurial skills managed to cushion our family from the many political and financial obstacles that constantly impacted on our lives.
About Clio Calodoukas
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Published June 19, 2013
by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel.