Shanghai Swings!

When Alphonso Zhu sauntered into the Paramount ballroom—suit pressed, hair smoothed back with Yardley's Brilliantine—the scion of one of Shanghai's richest families would often be greeted with a welcome fanfare from the band's trumpet section. One of the most eligible bachelors in town in the 1930s, Zhu courted Chinese, European and Eurasian girls with multilingual ease. In his spare time—and playboys in swinging Shanghai had plenty of it—he started up a jazz band with the sons of the Swedish consul general. The music stopped in 1949.

Under communism, Zhu's family home was confiscated, and he was assigned a...

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