Friday, June 13, 2008

The Painter from Shanghai - Book Review

The Painter From Shanghai
Jennifer Cody epstein
W W Norton Publishing 2008
Author's Website

This is a fictional biography of a real person. Pan Yuliang (1895-1977) was a real painter in China and in France during the last century. Not only that, she was also a prostitute - sold to a brothel at the age of 14 by her uncle (her parents had already died) who needed money for an opium addiction.

Yuliang (Good Jade) is trained by Jingling, the top girl at the brothel. Eventually Yuliang begins to collect her own clients. One day she meets a local politician - Pan Zanhua. He likes poetry and intellectual people. Yuliang was taught a lot of poetry by her uncle. So they fall in love. Well he does with her anyway. He buys her freedom for 1500 yuan and at age 21 Yuliang becomes Pan Zanhua's second wife. His first marriage was an arranged marriage. Pan Zanhua sets her up in a house in Shanghai where he teaches her how to read and write, and she also starts to dream of painting.

One day Yuliang meets an artist who eventually teaches her the basics of painting and then suggests that she enroll at the Shanghai Art Academy. Yuliang does so, and after two years she wins a scholarship to the Beaux Arts Academy in Paris, France. Yuliang spends two years in France and another two years in Italy before returning to China. In 1937 Yuliang is forced to return to France because her nude paintings are no longer accepted as art, but instead they are denounced as pornography.

She held several exhibitions in Paris during and after the second world war. In Paris she was known as the Lady of the 3 Nos - no art dealers, no lovers and no taking out French citizenship.

I really enjoyed this book. The first half of this novel (When Yuliang is in the brothel) is reminiscent of the book Memoirs of a Geisha. But once Yuliang is freed from the brothel by Zanhua, the rest of the book is totally different.

Another recent blog review
Reading Group Guide
NYT review
Interview with Jennifer Cody Epstein
The Painter's Gallery


heather (errantdreams) said...

She sounds like a fascinating person to read about!

Marg said...

I;ve added this to my TBR list recently!

Anonymous said...

I like books about Chinese life. I am adding this one to my reading list.

Historia said...

I recived an email from the author today.

Hi there--
I just wanted to thank you again for the kind attention you gave to my novel The Painter from Shanghai, and to let you know (in case you or any of your readers are interested) that the book is finally out in inexpensive-but-elegant, reading-group friendly paperback! You can read about it in the New York Times Book Review "Paperback Row" roundup this Sunday, buy it on Amazon (at, and at Barnes and Noble, where it will be on the Discover Great New Writers bay at the end of the month.
Thanks again for your interest and support in the past; and best wishes in future blogging!