Shy and bespectacled Matthew Granger, growing up as the child of missionary parents, becomes attached to China. This affection serves him well for many years. In contrast, Harley Fitch is far more cosmopolitan, preferring to put his allegiance in the marketplace, where greed for riches and lust for power are more important than any abstract loyalty.
Playing yin to the boys’ yang are Jordan and Tai-ling. Jordan, the debutante daughter of the British colony, is inextricably bound by fate and strong emotion to the young men, while Tai-ling is Harley’s unusual Eurasian muse.
After Mao Tse-tung, the Great Helmsman, expels the foreign “devils,” the boys find fame and fortune in the United States. Jordan remains in China and enlists with Mao’s cadres. The years melt away, and soon the next generation is introduced to carry on the family alliances and enmities. This they do, with extravagant activities that make their parents’ vivid escapades seem tame in comparison.
Monica Highland is really several people, whose previous LOTUS LAND was also a cooperative venture; Highland’s motley identity seems merely to add to the Oriental complexities in the novel, though it is possible that no one author could have kept up with the astonishing unpredictability of the action and characters.
In the Chinese idiom, 110 SHANGHAI ROAD is the euphemism for dens where opium dreams fill the mind and beautiful women sell favors for a few pieces of silver. Ignorant foreigners never find it, but Highland’s characters seem to be permanent residents in this state of mind where illusion and self-delusion nourish ambitions to live high on adventure and love.