When the foreign powers were nesting in Shanghai, the city became a commercial Babylon, a breeding ground of corruption. At the height of the exploitation, the Communist Party of China was founded in 1921 in a small rented house in Shanghai's French Concession. While the revolution worked the countryside, the city "that never sleeps" partied frenetically until, in May 1949, the lights of the nightclubs were doused for good.

Under Communist rule, Shanghai, like a reformed harlot, became the purest of revolutionaries, exemplified in the shrill rhetoric of its then favorite daughter, Jiang Qing, the actress who rose to become Madame Mao and leader of the Gang of Four. The Shanghai Four, as they were alternately known, made the city their political base and fired some of the opening salvos of the Cultural Revolution from there. When they were arrested, and "Modernization" became the rallying cry, Shanghai took up the banner.

In 1972, the Shanghai Communique ironed out between Zhou Enlai and Richard Nixon at the downtown Jinjiang Hotel began the thaw in Sino-U.S. relations. After 1976, people were allowed, even encouraged, to dump on Madame Mao. Shanghainese responded with particular fervor.

Although Jiang Qing was rabidly puritanical, there were "casting couch" stories circulating in Shanghai of her days as an actress. She ruthlessly tried to suppress them to the point of exiling or killing anyone who might have known about her then.