Gangs of Old Shanghai: The Giraldi Gang

By Paul French, September 24, 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 Giraldi Gang

Boss: Alexander ‘Shura’ Giraldi
Base: An unknown location in Frenchtown

Alexander Mikhailovitch (aka Ivan, Vania and Vanushka) Sosnitsky (aka Giraldi), and also known as Shura, was the White Russian King of the Peking Badlands. Originally from Siberia, he moved to Harbin after the Bolshevik Revolution, before ending up in Peking. There he ran a dance troupe, the Kavkaz Bar, several nightclubs and a large brothel next to the city’s Legation Quarter.

Shura was also a hermaphrodite, and appeared sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman. In addition to cat burglaries and jewel thefts, he was believed to be the behind the December 1937 Bank of Peking robbery, which remains the biggest bank heist in Chinese history – not a single penny was ever recovered.

He made a fortune, but lived safely among the poor White Russian community around Yang-I Hutong. But after the Japanese occupation of Peking he needed to get out of the city. He also needed to turn his stolen loot into cash. 

After arriving in Shanghai, he bought a house in Frenchtown, fenced the stolen gems through White Russian gangs in the city, and hid out the occupation as a brothel madam. 

Shura had a loyal gang of Russian boys who would do anything for him, and had arrangements with everyone in Shanghai who needed anything in Peking. He was a gossip and loved to wear the latest women’s fashion items from Paris, yet would move around the city dressed as a humble workman.

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

[Images courtesy of Paul French]

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