Sunday, 26 February 2017

Weimar Shanghai - who was McGinty ?

Who was McGinty ? A postcard from Shanghai 100 years ago. Shanghai was a boom town, a thriving metropolis rivalling New York, London and Berlin.  Yet only 50 years previously, it had been a fishing village on  a riverbank.  Shanghai came into existence, after the Second Opium War. It was never a colony, though foreign nationals enjoyed extra-territorial rights.  Rumours had it that there were signs in parks that read "No Chinese and no dogs!".  Yet Shanghai was the first "world city" of the 20th century, with booming industries, a gateway between the vast interior of China and the world.  The city thrived from the influx of cheap immigrant labour and local adaptation to modern industrial methods.  Extremes of wealth and of poverty, of sophistication and feudal tradition, albeit for peasants dispossessed and dislocated from traditional social networks.  Weimar Shanghai !

So who was McGinty ?  His name's generic, bestowed with irony by foreigners, and somewhat deprecating, since Irish people weren't given much respect either, in those days.  There he stands in evening dress, with top hat, tails and cigar.  But is he a worldly, privileged man about town ?  Or was he some poor peasant orphan, dressed up to amuse  night club patrons, whose experience of "real" Chinese people was strictly limited.  The McGinty's of this world have ever existed, as dwarves in royal courts, or freaks in circus shows, mocked and patronized, like performing pets. Yet what characters they must have been, to stand up to prejudice and often cruelty, to make some sort of livelihood despite the odds being stacked against them.  So when I found McGinty, I wanted to honour him, whoever he might have been, however he might have ended up.  Not forgotten by me !

Please also see my piece on Franz Schreker's Die Gezeichneten. Alviano Salvago is a nobleman, rich, talented and intelligent, yet gets screwed by the world around him, because he's different. McGinty would have understood. 

Original Content: Weimar Shanghai - who was McGinty ?

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