“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Everyday Old Shanghai – a dollar for your cushion

Posted: October 5th, 2017 | No Comments »

An old Shanghai anecdote I came across the other day that I didn’t know previously. It’s from Danish journalist Karl Eskelund’s memoir of his trip back to China in 1957, The Red Mandarins (1959). Eskelund’s an interesting character himself – a journalist in China in the 1930s, married a Chinese woman, his father had been the King of Siam’s dentist.

Anyway, here’s the anecdote – Eskelund is recalling an incident on the Shanghai Bund around 1936. He got into an altercation with a Chinese rickshaw puller over the fare. A small matter but the inevitable crowd of curious onlookers gathered round blocking the street. A Sikh Shanghai Municipal Policeman came over to sort out the incident. Of course he had little interest in the Chinese puller’s side of the argument – even though Eskelund thought the puller’s argument was valid in hindsight. The policeman told the puller to stop arguing and go about his business or he’d ‘confiscate your cushion’, meaning  the cushion the rickshawmen provided the passenger to give their rear end some comfort on the journey. Without it nobody would hire their rickshaw.

Eskelund recalls that this was the usual punishment for a rickshaw puller and they would then have to go to the police station to redeem their confiscated cushion for the price of a dollar (Chinese). Obviously a major hassle and so to be avoided. How much the SMP made out of this system I’ve no idea!


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