The White Russians
Nearly 20,000 Russians fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution and Russian Civil War wound up in Shanghai. They were exiled (therefore stateless), passportless, flat broke and didn’t speak the language.
Despite these difficulties by 1930 the community is beginning to thrive. “Little Russia” is dotted with restaurants. The refugees have cleverly leveraged Russia’s cultural heritage — many of them teach ballet, dance, opera and theater. Unlike the other Shanghailanders, they will associate with the native Chinese on an equal level.
Unfortunately, a quarter of the families are still supported by the wives and daughter, who have found work in textiles or, more commonly, “taxi dancing” at the local clubs. Many of the men are ex-soldiers, taking work as bodyguards and mercenaries.
The Communist Russians: Have a dual mission — support the Chinese Communists and spy against Japan, their traditional enemy. They’re generally working through German proxies such as Richard Sorge, infiltrating the press and political scene. There are a few agents watching the White Russians, but that group is no longer considered a viable threat to the Communist Government.
They do maintain the Trans-Siberian Railroad in an uneasy partnership with Japan.
The Germans: Hitler’s just about to take power, the SS is measuring for new uniforms. Half the Germans in Shanghai are industrialists; the other half are Jews, intellectuals and homosexuals who see the writing on the wall. There is no Jewish Ghetto yet in the true sense of the word, but the Jewish refugees tend to be clustered in the high-crime row houses along with the White Russians.
The Green Gang: Emerging triumphant from the endless gang wars of the 20’s, the Green Gang is the de facto Chinese government of Shanghai. The leader Du Yuesheng took over for Pock-marked Po about five years ago. He’s ruthlessly transformed the Gang into the premiere power-brokers on the East Coast. Everyone — everyone — answers Du Yueshang’s invitation.
The British: This city’s been theirs for over a hundred years. It’s commonly accepted that either Britain or Japan will eventually take China over as a client state, as England did with India. No one takes the idea of Chinese self-government seriously. The British presence here is directed by the merchant princes; they allow the British government proper to operate in Shanghai on their sufferance.
British Secret Service uses Shanghai as a staging ground for operations all over Asia. British gunboats patrol the Whangpu and hundreds of miles inland up the Yangtze.
The Americans: They came late to the party to find the British had very much sewn up the import/export business. So they moved into manufacturing and made their millions off the sweatshops. The American presence is much more military than spycraft; gangs of American Marines are notorious troublemakers. They’re in Shanghai serving on gunboats patrolling the coast and deep into the Yangtze.
These gunboat tours are not just for show. Pirates terrorized both the river and coastline up until the Japanese invaded in 1937.
The French: The French Concession was originally built like New Orleans — wide leafy streets, wrought-iron fences around three-story mansions. Recently those mansions have morphed into nightclubs, and the side streets are packed with bars. Just like New Orleans, actually.
The Japanese: The Japanese have been invading China off and on for the last fifty years. Their modus operandi is to create a small crisis — a missing soldier, a murdered Japanese businessman — and use this as a pretense to invade. After each conflict they retreat, but they take control of just a little bit more of the mainland each time they do. Recently they fought a proxy war against the Chinese Nationalists using a Chinese Warlord. They are months away from inciting another incident and invading Manchuria.
The Anti-Imperialists: Chinese government was ineffective until 1911, and after the Empire fell, non-existent. Let that sink in — no one is running 500 million square miles of the planet Earth. It’s the Wild West out there in the mountains, in the Yangtze swamps, in the endless badlands.
In 1927 Chiang Kai-Shek managed to unite various warlord factions against the Communists, primarily by cutting a deal with the Green Gang. Chiang is torn between preparing for the war with Japan he knows is coming and wiping out his only real rival power for unification, the Communists.
There are many independent cults and organizations dedicated to eliminating the last vestiges of the Qing Dynasty. The cult of martial artists that’s formed around Qui Jin is the most mystically inclined.
The Qing Dynasty: Agents of the deposed Last Emperor — Puyi — still work in the shadows accumulating power and undermining the budding republic. Some say they have turned to dark, ancient paths to reclaim the throne.
L’Heurtasse: The symbol of “the Hourglass” has been discovered on the bodies of several freelance agents. L’Heurtasse appears to be some mercenary intelligence group with an unclear agenda. The French government claims neither knowledge or nor affiliation with the shadowy group.