Gangs of Old Shanghai: The Pai Loh Gang

By Paul French, September 19, 2019

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Following on from New York Times bestseller Midnight in PekingPaul French released City of Devils, a delve into the murky underworld of Old Shanghai. There were plenty of wrong'uns about, and a whole lot of bad blood between them. In this 'Gangs of Old Shanghai' series, French presents us with a who's who of old time organized crime, and quite the rogues gallery it is too.

The Pai Loh Gang

Boss: Unknown
Base: The Pai-Loh Casino, down a small lane just off of Avenue Haig (Huashan Lu)

If any Shanghai casino ever looked like the famous Madame Gin-Sling’s place in Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture, it was the Pai Loh, a legendary Badlands casino and opium den (take a tour of the Shanghai Badlands here) run by Eurasian Macanese gambling and crime interests in Shanghai. They flouted their Portuguese neutrality (Macao was a Portuguese colony) and ran high stakes games of fan tan, Chinese dice games and roulette with a reported 200 croupiers.

A very Chinese-style casino, the Pai Loh had private balconies from where gamblers lowered Mexican silver dollars in small baskets on strings to the pit bosses below, who bit them with their teeth to test the authenticity. A veritable stream of loaded baskets were constantly moving up and down due to an elaborate pulley system across the ceiling – of course, more silver went down than up!

Eventually the criminal syndicate behind the Pai Loh went too far and cheated an off-duty police commander out of his winnings; the Riot Squad shuttered the Pai Loh, smashed up the roulette tables and slashed the sumptuous velvet opium smoking divans. The bust came on New Year’s Eve of 1940 – one of the biggest gambling nights of the year – and a massive amount of money and opium was confiscated. Which went… who knows where?

To read about more Gangs of Old Shanghai, click hereFor more history stories, click here.

[Images courtesy of Paul French]

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