Putting on the Glitz

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During the 1930s, Shanghai — a.k.a. the Paris of the Orient — was both swank apex and sin sinkhole. At the Great World entertainment complex, the vices became more outlandish as you climbed up six floors, past acrobats, dwarves, singsong girls and stripteasers. This was the city immortalized in the movie Shanghai Express when Marlene Dietrich purred: "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily."

But after 1949, the communists brought their monochromatic palette to China and Shanghai was straitjacketed as punishment for its formerly outré ways. Only now, after years of repression,...

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