The Painter from Shanghai, published in 2008, is Jennifer Cody Epstein's debut novel. It is a fictionalized biography of the Real Life Chinese painter Pan Yuliang. Orphaned at a young age, she was taken in by her uncle who, in order to sustain his opium habit, sold her into prostitution at age 13.
After a a few years as a teenage prostitute, she was rescued from a predictably grim fate by a city official named Pan Zanhua who bought her from her madam and took her up as a concubine. She signed up for arts classes in Shanghai, and eventually developed enough talent to start out as a painter. However, she courted scandal by painting nudes, something even more offensive in interwar China than in Europe; with nobody volunteering to model for her, she would sneak in the public baths to draw sketches of women bathers, and eventually settled for nude self portraits.
She won a coveted prize that enabled her to study further in Paris, then Rome, and she won several awards in both cities. Returning to China after several years, she found herself targeted by the Blue Shirts, a right wing paramilitary organization with ties to the Nationalist regime. She left again for good just before the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War and lived out her days in France.
Contains examples of:
- Arranged Marriage: Pan Zanhua's first marriage was arranged by his family, hence his taking up Yuliang as his concubine.
- Band of Brothels: Yuliang spends her teenage years as a brothel whore.
- Bittersweet Ending
- Break the Cutie
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. Yuliang has one, arranged by her husband.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Jinling, who initiates Yuliang to the world of prostitution and becomes her lover.
- Paparazzi: Yuliang is slandered by the gutter press on several occasions, and an indiscreet photograph taken of her with Zhou Enlai ends up costing her husband his job.
- Platonic Prostitution: How the relationship between Yuliang and Pan Zanhua starts out.
- Unconfessed Unemployment: Pan Zanhua loses his job because of his wife's association with Communists, but never tells her. She finds out by complete chance.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue