Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Shanghai and get you in the mood for travel


Everlasting Regret (Changhen Ge) (2005)
This film by Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan follows the life of a Shanghai girl from the glamorous 1930s to the less glamorous 1980s.

Flowers of Shanghai (Hai Shang Hua) (1998)
Chinese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien reaches a pinnacle of lyricism in this achingly beautiful tale woven around a quartet of late 19th-century brothels in Shanghai.

Mission Impossible III (2006)
Although secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) chases the action all around the world, his stunt jump from one glittering Shanghai skyscraper to another—shot on location in Pudong—is particularly memorable, as are the city panoramas.

Painted Veil (2006)
Ingenious casting places Naomi Watts alongside Edward Norton first in Shanghai during the Roaring Twenties, then in a remote Chinese town stricken by cholera.

Suzhou River (Suzhou He) (2000)
A thriller in which a young motorcycle courier just out of jail meets a dead ringer for the girl responsible for putting him behind bars. Set along the Suzhou River, a gritty section of Shanghai more urban than urbane.


Life and Death in Shanghai, by Nien Cheng (1995)
A harrowing but matter-of-fact account of the author’s torture and solitary confinement during the Cultural Revolution.

Shanghai Baby, by Zhou Wei Hui (2003)
This saucy tell-all, in which the heroine, twenty something Coco, searches hedonistically for her identity, was predictably banned in China, leading to increased sales and author notoriety.

The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, by Han Bangqing (1892)
This novel about the opium dens and late 19th-century brothels in Shanghai has been called China’s Ulysses.

When Red is Black, by Qiu Xiaolong (2005)
The third novel in Qiu’s Inspector Chen mystery series captures disappearing communist principles against the rapidly changing backdrop of modern Shanghai.



China Girl—the Classical Album 2, Vanessa-Mae
Born in Singapore, violinist Vanessa-Mae’s 1997 album features the unabashedly romantic, flute-centric “Butterfly Lovers” Violin Concerto, and a lovely, lively piece called “Happy Valley,” featured in our playlist.

Chinese Traditional Zheng Music, Hong Ting
This relaxing collection showcases musician Hong Ting’s technique with the zheng, a harp-like classical instrument.

Shanghai, 12 Girls Band
The wildly popular 12 Girls Band plays pop and traditional Western and Chinese songs on traditional Chinese instruments.

The Shanghai Restoration Project: Special Edition, The Shanghai Restoration Project
Compelling 2007 album fuses traditional Chinese instruments with hip-hop and jazz to form original music. Songs are aptly named after Shanghai sights such as The Bund and Nanking Road.

Who is Cui Jian, Various artists
China’s top rock bands pay tribute to Cui Jian, the “Father of Chinese Rock.” CMCB’s rap-like “Nothing Do I Have” (yi wu suo you), the song that is essentially China’s national rock anthem, is a revelation.

Classic Songs:

These ten songs run the gamut from traditional to classical to rock to pop to a blend of all of the above.

1. “Jasmine Flower” by Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
2. “Nothing Do I Have” (yi wu suo you) by Cui Jian
3. “Introduction (1936)” by Shanghai Restoration Project
4. “Bubbling Well Road” by Shanghai Restoration Project
5. “Don’t Break My Heart” by Hei Bao
6. “Mice Love Rice” (lao shu ai da mi) by Yang Chen Gang
7. “Bach Tribute: Violin Concerto” by 12 Girls Band
8. “Flowers of Shanghai Theme Song” by Karen Mok
9. “Happy Valley: the 1997 Re-Unification Overture” by Vanessa-Mae
10. “Prelude to the Spring Festival” by Xiao-Peng Jiang and the Chinese Orchestra of Shanghai


About Shanghai and China

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    Get travel tips, see photos, take a quiz and more with National Geographic's Ultimate Guide to Shanghai.

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    Explore China through facts and photos, related features, a country map, and more.

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