Shanghai advertising poster, c1930s.

Sex Sells in 1930s Shanghai

These vintage advertising posters offer a glimpse of life in the old "Paris of the East."

In 1842, China’s defeat in the First Opium War forcibly opened Shanghai as a trading port, allowing the British, French, and Americans to set up settlements. A small village with a few thousand inhabitants, Shanghai quickly grew to become one of the most international metropolises in Asia in the 1920s and '30s.


With that came Western influence on the city’s culture and lifestyle. Commerce boomed, and advertising posters selling everything from cigarettes to batteries lined the streets. But the products almost didn't matter in these ads. The one thing they all had in common: beautiful women, either dressed in the traditional Qipao (a body-hugging dress), or in western fashion influenced by Art Nouveau and Art Deco. These posters, some considered quite racy at that time, captured the glamor of old Shanghai right on the brink of the second World War. (Pictured: a cigarette advertisement for China Southeastern Tobacco Company)

Great Eastern Dispensary Ltd. Print Collector/Getty Images Great Eastern Dispensary Ltd. Golden Valley Brandy Print Collector/Getty Images Golden Valley Brandy Government Cigarettes Print Collector/Getty Images Government Cigarettes Shanghai New Gallery Print Collector/Getty Images Shanghai New Gallery China Eastern Tobacco Company Print Collector/Getty Images China Eastern Tobacco Company Always Prepared Battery Print Collector/Getty Images Always Prepared Battery Shanghai China Eastern Tobacco Company Print Collector/Getty Images Shanghai China Eastern Tobacco Company Ewo Lager Print Collector/Getty Images Ewo Lager Swan Cigarettes Print Collector/Getty Images Swan Cigarettes Three Towers Cosmetics Print Collector/Getty Images Three Towers Cosmetics A cigarette ad featuring two women playing golf Print Collector/Getty Images A cigarette ad featuring two women playing golf Yuxing Clothing Store Print Collector/Getty Images Yuxing Clothing Store