Kings of Shanghai tells the story of two Jewish families – the Sassoons and the Kadoories – who immigrated to China in the mid nineteenth century and became dynasties of a sort, standing astride Chinese business and politics for more than 175 years.
The Kadoories were aristocrats while the Sassoons were essentially royalty, overseeing and governing the Jewish community in Baghdad across many generations. Forced to flee in the nineteenth century, the Sassoons spread out over central Asia, with two sons going to Shanghai following the Opium Wars to establish a business empire that would launch them into the upper echelons of the British establishment. The Kadoories followed soon after, their patriarch Elly first working for the Sassoons and then, after being fired, establishing a rival and equally successful trading company of his own. Jonathan Kaufman traces the intersecting stories of the two families over the course of the next century as they gathered strength and influence through the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, weathered the fall of the emperor, blossomed during the Jazz Age and civil war, and resisted Japan’s brutal occupation and the ensuing Communist takeover.
Kings of Shanghai is at once the intimate story of two families and a sweeping account of how modern Shanghai was born.