We Talked to The Great-Grandson of Shanghai's Baddest Gangster

By Emily Wetzki, October 27, 2016

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Throwback Thursday is when we trawl through the That's archives for a work of dazzling genius written at some point in our past. We then republish it. On a Thursday.

Your great-grandfather ‘Big-Eared’ Du Yuesheng has passed into Shanghai legend as a romanticized figure. How do you think he would feel about that?
I don’t think it would be his intention to be a romanticized figure but I think people in general would like to be recognized for their achievements through history.

How is he regarded in the wider Du family? Is the family embarrassed by his criminal past, or is it embraced?
Personally I am an advocate for ‘innocent until proven guilty’. We as a family embrace him for our Shanghainese heritage, his philanthropy during China’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in Shanghai and his patriotism. Did I mention he was a Councilor of the French Concession's Municipal Council and also Vice President of Red Cross China?


Who would win in a fight - Big Eared Du or Al Capone?
As the writer Han Suyin puts it Shanghai in the 1930s made “the Chicago of Al Capone appear a staid, almost, provincial town” and Edgar Snow wrote “racketeering flourishes with a velvety smoothness that makes Chicago gangsters seem like noisy playboys”.

What’s the most dramatic story you’ve heard about him?
“Yi ju hua”

Any stories you can tell us that aren’t already in the public domain?
He never wore dark sun glasses as often depicted in movies.

Do you think historians romanticize Old Shanghai, and Du Yue-Sheng’s era too much? And glamorize the gangster element of it?
Shanghai is considered as one of the most notoriously decadent city in modern history and in many ways Du Yue Sheng represented that Shanghai. 

Do you have any of his traits? Physical or character-wise?
I assume you are referring to “The Big Ears”. My grandfather, brother and my son has it but not myself.

Where would you say his legacy is strongest today in Shanghai?
His appreciation for good architecture and prime property... just kidding.

How do you think in hindsight Du Yue-Sheng changed Shanghai, for good or bad?
I do not believe my great grandfather changed Shanghai, but rather that the energy of Shanghai helped him be the best he could be in his chosen profession. In the same way this crazy city continues to let entrepreneurs create their own opportunities by embracing the liveliness of the city and the openness of its people.

This article first appeared in the June 2009 issue of That's Shanghai. To see more Throwback Thursday posts, click here.

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