All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

Irving Berlin’s From Here to Shanghai & Ching Ling Foo

Posted: November 16th, 2013 | No Comments »

Among the numerous Chinese magicians (both real Chinese and fake with yellow greasepaint, black wigs and meaningless imitation pidgin English) to impress European and American audiences over the centuries, none was more popular than Ching Ling Foo (1854-1922), real name Chee Ling Qua, who had been born in Peking and was a respected performer in China before bringing his show to America in 1898. Dressed in typical late Qing-era garb he breathed smoke and fire over audiences, producing ribbons and a fifteen foot long pole from his mouth to their amazement and beheaded a boy who then, to the amazement of the audience, walked off the stage sans head. His show stopper involved producing a huge bowl, full to the brim with water, from out of an empty cloth. He would then pull a small child from the bowl. Other magicians were in awe of Ching Ling Foo. He travelled the States with his bound footed wife and a retinue of Chinese women who were as much an attraction as his magic. His fame was such that he got a mention in Irving Berlin s 1917 song From Here to Shanghai. He had a host of imitators, not least Chung Ling Soo, who I’ve blogged about repeatedly here and  here.

And so here’s Irving Berlin’s lyrics immortalising Ching Ling Foo….

1917-berlin-irving-from-here-to-shanghai-1-d10s1The sheet music cover


And the “78” itself


“From Here To Shanghai”

I’ve often wandered down
To dreamy Chinatown
The home of Ching-a-ling
It’s fine! I must declare
But now I’m going where
I can see the real, real thing

I’ll soon be there
In a bamboo chair
For I’ve got my fare
From here to Shanghai

Just picture me
Sipping Oo-long tea
Served by a Chinaman
Who speaks a-way up high
(“Hock-a-my, Hock-a-my”)

I’ll eat the way they do
With a pair of wooden sticks
And I’ll have Ching Ling Foo
Doing all his magic tricks

I’ll get my mail
From a pale pig-tail
For I mean to sail
From here to Shanghai

I’ll have them teaching me
To speak their language, gee!
When I can talk Chinese
I’ll come home on the run
Then have a barr’ll of fun
Calling people what I please

(you can hear it here on a rather charming youtube clip)


Ching Ling Foo himself

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