Shanghai in the 1920s was undergoing massive amounts of change. With a flourishing opium trade, communism gaining a foothold and the turmoil between the foreigners, Chinese and gangsters overrunning the city, few would have considered it an appropriate time to build a landmark hotel.
In The Peace Hotel: A Non-Fiction Novel, author Chen Danyan traces the history of this iconic Shanghai luxury hotel. Built by Victor Sassoon, a Jewish business tycoon whose inherited wealth came from the opium trade, the Peace Hotel came to life on a prime waterfront lot in Shanghai in 1929. Originally called the Cathay, it was the toast of Asia until WWII and the Japanese Occupation. Chen Danyan's remarkable account of the Peace Hotel covers seven tumultuous decades as this grand building, the most luxurious hotel on the Bund, witnessed the changing fortunes of families and business dynasties.
From the nearly overnight loss of riches of the "indigenous capitalists" in the 1950s to the post-revolutionary times of hardship and austerity, the Peace Hotel managed to survive it all. After multiple name changes and various owners, this heritage hotel has finally become a magnificent local icon and inspiration for inquisitive scholars. Like a sleeping beauty, in 2010 the Peace Hotel was roused from slumber and modernized while remaining true to its history. From its birth in 1929 to its reincarnation as a modern hotel, The Peace Hotel: A Non-Fiction Novel tells the remarkable story of a remarkable building.
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Chen Danyan is a well-known Chinese author whose writings about Chinese youth focus on the conflicts between parents and children; the tremendous changes in the life of youth in a single-child society, the impact of the Cultural Revolution and the trials of growing up in times of great social upheaval and turbulence. Her novel, About a Girl, was published in 1993 and its German edition, entitled Nine Lives, was published in Switzerland in 1995. In 1996, Nine Lives was awarded a gold prize for best children's books from the Austrian government, as well as a silver prize for best children's books from the German government.Review:
"It seems more like a modernist painting, than a novel, with chapters dotted with metaphors like countless color spots on a canvas, each unique, forming a colorful whole. The crisscrossing, overlaying, dislocated and zapping-through-time narratives: the seemingly disjointed patches are rendered with verve. The developments, divergent as they first appear, are but a harbinger of the eventual convergence taut with tension." —Zhao Changping, Secretary General of the Publishers Association of Shanghai
"The solid details recounted in The Peace Hotel are potent with meaning, reaching into the recesses of time. They remind the reader of Chen Danyan's knack at creating characters of psychological depth with intricate details. Inevitably, the reader is able to conjure Shanghai with all its cultural significance as the author captures the nonfictional dimensions of the city with her adroit sense of place. As is told in The Peace Hotel, the history of the hotel is also the history of people—their recollections forming part of the hotel's past." —Zhang Li, literary critic
"Chen Danyan was like a cultural archeologist at work, uncovering intangible cultural heritage of Shanghai with the acuity of a historian and sensitivity of a female writer. Such cultural heritage is embodied in and supported by intricate details that are often too easily neglected, hence can only be made evident by finding expression in such details." —Yi Zhongtian, writer
"Chen Danyan is the most important writer in non-fiction writing about Shanghai. She manages to uncover the jewels that lay in the depths of history and that are blunted by time. Her recounting of the forgotten tales gives them their sparkle. Many have come to appreciate a pulsating history of Shanghai written by her with elan." —Shen Qilan, book critic
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