Vortex|Payne Zhu: The Financial Ghosts in The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai

2022.09.03 Saturday 19:00


2F, The Cloister Apartments, 62 West Fuxing Road, Shanghai

Performer:Payne Zhu

Time:9.3 19:00-20:30

In 1891, Han Bangqing went to Beijing for the imperial examination for the last time. There, he met Sun Yusheng, the author of a Dream of Prosperity in Shanghai. The two novelists read each other’s manuscripts. According to Sun, at that time Han had already drafted the titles for twenty-four chapters of his novel, among which “half were completed.” The book was initially titled Chronicles of the Flower Kingdom, though Han was not satisfied and wanted to change it to The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai.

In order to publish his works independently, Han founded the magazine Peculiar Tales of Shanghai, affiliated to with Shanghai News, taking advantage of the newspaper’s printing and distribution channels. Legend of Flowers of Shanghai became the first original, local novel ever published as a serial by periodicals in China. Before the official publication of Peculiar Tales of Shanghai, Han placed a prominent advertisement in Shanghai News for eleven consecutive days, and then forty-five times for the following year to build momentum for the novel. These methods of publication, distribution, and promotion were groundbreaking at the time. Han had the mind of a modern businessman.

The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai is in fact the epitome of novels of the old times, although the structure, in which the author took the most pride, bears resemblance to that of Western novels. Characterized by extremely economic writing, it reads like a script, with only dialogues and a few actions. It’s full of innuendos and matter-of-fact accounts, yet they are light and unobtrusive, woven into the texture of ordinary human life, sparse and gray, with many things ‘escaping our notice at the time’” (Eileen Chang’s review).

Han’s pioneer spirit does not stop here. When I first read The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, I saw a strong spirit of finance flowing through the novel. It is not only reflected in the financial instruments used by guests in the novel (insurance, securities, commercial papers), business models of high-class brothels (issuing coins, shareholding, financial fraud), and the mentality of guests and courtesans who tradeoff in various situations, but the novel is also a prophecy of Shanghai, where, even a century later, life still seems trapped in such circumstances.

I will play the role of a courtesan who will host a tea party at the house of pleasure, to which you are all invited. Referencing my own experience in Shanghai, I shall call for the financial ghosts in The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai.

About the Performer

Payne Zhu, (1990, Shanghai), graduated from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics.

PNZ critically investigates the control systems that lead the rheology of finance, body, image, and becomes an exile or a rule-breaker, revealing or creating conflicts that are often hidden behind these systems.

About the Guest in the Post-Performance Talk: Tang Weijie

Associate Professor at the School of Humanities at Tongji University, Advisor to MA Students.

Vice-President of Shanghai Film Critics’ Society, Programmer of Shanghai International Film Festival, Member of Shanghai Writers’ Association.

Research Interests: Comparative Literature, Modern Literature, Urban Culture and History, Visual Culture and Film History.

About the Vortex

Vortex is a long-term project. We will update the content of performance lectures by artists and talks by experts both on- and offline. Following the fundamental approach of connecting local practice, theories, and context, we hope that this nonstandard art venue will become a place of torrents, flux, and confluence.


The Macalline Center of Art (MACA) is a non-profit art institution located in the 798 Art District of Beijing and officially inaugurated its space on January 15, 2022. Occupying a two-story building with a total area of 900 square meters, MACA unites artists, curators, and other art and cultural practitioners from around the world. Through its diverse, ongoing, and collaborative approaches, the Center establishes a new site on the contemporary art scene. Guided by the “work of artists” and backed by interdisciplinary research, the Center aims to bring together a community passionate about art and devoted to the “contemporary” moment so as to respond proactively to our rapidly evolving times.