“City Scenes” and Musical Comedy in ’30s Shanghai: Thin slate

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But of greater interest still is the strange peepshow barker’s song, called “song of the foreign mirror” (meaning something like nickelodeon), which frames the narrative as a kind of nickelodeon “short” which outsiders bound for Shanghai but innocent of its ways might consult to find out what they should expect (or dread).

As originally worded by leftist lyricist 孙师毅 Sun Shiyi, the song is caustically worded as a prophecy or cautionary ditty, speaking not so much in the titillating manner of a penny arcade show but as a leftist inspired review of the already evident frailty of a metropolis caving in on itself, much the same notion as Mao Dun presents in his slightly earlier “Midnight”.

Here is a full translation, including all six verses, some of which seem to have been edited out of the film itself.

Song of the Diaorama 西洋镜歌

1. 望里头看来望里张

1. Peek inside, see the sights
All you’ll see is filled streets illumined (by night)
Such bright lights, come hither and see
Come hither and see the picture(s) inside

2. 十里洋场有九里荒

2. The great harbor (Bund) nine tenths empty
Nine of ten young grads have lost their way
Even the coolies still strong enough (to work) have no takers
Wander there and where will you go?

3, 望里头看来 望里瞧
过来望里看 嘿

3. Look inside, gaze inside
All you’ll hear is the blaring of the automobile horns
Come up and take a gander, come hither and look inside

4. 十个大姑娘有九个俏

4. The young maidens, nine of ten beauties
But the shops and markets, nine of ten empty
The rich have no place to spend their fortunes
The poor drift in the wind and rain

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