Born in Seattle, WA; daughter of Jack Dong (a chef). Education: Wellesley College, B.A. (magna cum laude; English and political science); Columbia School of Journalism, M.A.; also attended Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course at Harvard University.
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Journalist, editor, and author. Former editor and columnist for Publishers Weekly.
Shanghai 1842-1949: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Contributor to periodicals, including Publishers Weekly, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, the South China Morning Post, Harper's Bazaar, Redbook, and People. Former bimonthly columnist for London-based Publishing News.
Journalist and author Stella Dong was born in Seattle, Washington, to Chinese parents and grew up in a primarily Cantonese-speaking community. After graduating from college, she became a journalist while spending ten years researching and writing her book first book, Shanghai 1842-1949: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City. The work recounts the history of the infamous city, known as "the Paris of the Orient," from Britain's entrance into the opium trade through the fall of Shanghai to the Communists. Dong focuses on the colorful characters that populated the city during this period, including stories of Chiang Kai-shek, the police gangster Pockmarked Huang, drug trafficking, prostitution, and the Great World Amusement Center—a six-floor pagoda in the middle of Shanghai that housed all manner of entertainment, illicit and otherwise. As part of her research, Dong interviewed numerous luminaries, such as Emily Hahn, Irene Kuhn, and Helen Foster Snow, and traveled to Shanghai, Hong Kong, London, California, and New York. The result, according to former U.S. Ambassador to China James R. Lilley in a review for the Washington Post, is "a very readable, provocative and exciting story, producing a series of engaging vignettes of 19th-and early 20th-century Shanghai—a place of foreign buccaneers, entrepreneurs … the shadowy Chinese underworld and the glitzy ostentatious life of wealth and pleasure." In a piece for the New York Times Book Review Sheryl WuDunn noted that Dong "has doggedly uncovered some delightfully colorful details about the old residents of Shanghai."
Beyond entertainment value, some critics have questioned the depth of Dong's analysis into the history of Shanghai. A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, for one, commented that "her attempts at broadening the scope of the history … fail miserably, and she does little to place the events in Chinese history into any sort of global perspective." Shanghai writer Lisa Movius stated in an online review that Dong's book "offers neither penetrating new insights nor useful synthesis of existing studies." However, Dong herself, in an interview with Kimberly Chun for Asian Week, voiced her reasons for choosing to write about Shanghai: "I felt that period from 1840 to 1949 is so interesting, so eventful, so full of drama and also so critical to China's development. But I didn't want to write a boring history.… Shanghai was the place where everything important—every important event in Chinese history in the last 150 years—seemed to begin." These comments suggest that Dong's goal was more to entertain, and less to delve into the wide-reaching historical ramifications of the city's development. Movius went on to note that the book "is generally aimed to entertain an audience that has never before read anything about Shanghai."
As a Chinese American, Dong felt compelled to add to the existing works on Shanghai, many of which were written from the Western viewpoint. In her Asian Week interview, she pointed out that "because Shanghai is part Eastern, part Western, I felt that writing about Shanghai was a way of getting in touch with the Chinese side of myself."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scholar, spring, 2000, Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, review of Shanghai 1842-1949: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City, p. 147.
Asian Reporter, September 18, 2000, Douglas Spangle, "Shanghaied from Intrigue into History," p. 13.
Asian Week, July 26, 2000, Kimberly Chun, "The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City: Author Stella Dong Talks about Shanghai," p. 19.
Booklist, March 15, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of Shanghai 1842-1949, p. 1323.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2000, review of Shanghai 1842-1949, p. 223.
Library Journal, April 15, 2000, Charles W. Hayford, review of Shanghai 1842-1949, p. 106.
New York Times Book Review, April 30, 2000, Sheryl WuDunn, "Sin City," p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, February 7, 2000, review of Shanghai 1842-1949, p. 75.
Washington Post, March 19, 2000, James R. Lilley, "Sin City," p. X15.
HarperCollins Australia,http://www.harpercollins.com.au/ (July 15, 2004).
Lisa Movius Home Page,http://www.movius.us/ (July 15, 2004), review of Shanghai 1842-1949.*