That’s the way it was back in the 1930s and 40s. They even had a board game to that effect — it was called “Shanghai Millionaire” (pictured). We learned about this Monopoly clone via the weekly newsletter of market intelligence firm Access Asia. You can read the current newsletter here, but be warned that it will switch to the next newsletter at the end of the week (how about an archive, guys?).
We found a good essay on Shanghai Millionaire by Ralph Harpuder, a “Shanghailander” who, like thousands of Jewish refugees in the first half of the 20th century, spent part of his youth in Hongkou District’s Shanghai ghetto. Here’s a snippet:
We now turn our attention to a very popular, and at the time, upscale board game called “Shanghai Millionaire,” known in many countries as “Monopoly.” The streets shown on the 48.5 x 48.5 cm Game board, illustrated in figure two, courtesy, “Old China Hands Archive,” are named the way we Shanghailanders remember them, being from “GO” onward*. The property cards belonging to the game are illustrated in figure three thru figure six. It was a game that most parents could not afford to buy for us for the same reason stated above. Yours truly remembers playing “Shanghai Millionaire” every Sunday afternoon at a friend’s house (flat) on Wayside Road that was lucky to own this exciting game.
The “Shanghai Millionaire” game was likely manufactured in Shanghai around the late 30‘s or early 40‘s as a pirated edition, and sold in major department stores like Wing On. Invented in the USA by Charles Darrow in 1933, it arrived in the United Kingdom in 1935. While most emigrants living in Shanghai came from Europe, it stands to reason that the game was designed in English, and most likely was a copy of the English Waddington‘s London edition. It is interesting to note that all European issues of the game were based on that design rather than on the American Parker Bros. Design.
Today it is the best selling board game in the world, licensed or sold in 80 countries and produced in 26 languages.
While most Jewish refugee children that came from Europe and were living in Shanghai did not have the toys and games found in homes during normal times, they had to use their own imagination to invent things to play with, with few, if any, resources available to them.
It is this writer‘s opinion that the scarcity of food and accessories in the Ghetto, combined with our total Shanghai experience during our formative years, taught us to be more appreciative of things in life, and made many of us later, where we immigrated, high achievers in schools and colleges, and an important asset to our community.
You can read more of Harpuder’s Shanghailander essays here. Wikipedia has a good page on the history of Jews in China. The Shanghai Jewish Center also has a website. And you can learn how you can take a tour of the old Jewish Shanghai here.
View more images of the Shanghai Millionaire board game here.