Shanghai Girls

Lisa See

Character Analysis

Pearl Chin, the main character of Shanghai Girls, whose point of view the story is told by, is a very amiable character. Growing up in her younger sister, May’s, shadow was nothing she was oblivious to. This was mainly due to her father’s overwhelming praise of May’s beauty. Yet, Pearl is not remotely spiteful of her sister’s spoiled treatment and continues to be a outstanding, attentive older sister to May. Pearl’s character is inspiring because of her selflessness and courage. Throughout the novel, Pearl is covering other people’s tracks. When Pearls discovers that May is pregnant, she is the one to take claim of the baby. This displays Pearls empathetic, yet, strong personality.


Pearl and May seemed to be accustom to living an elegant, comfortable lifestyle in their fully staffed, Shanghai, home. They were able to enjoy modeling as Beautiful Girls as well as exploring nightlife to their hearts content. The setting advances the plot as the girls enter times of conflict. The amenities they once had disappear along with their father, Baba’s, money. When the financial struggles surface, the girls take a trip through the slums of Shanghai where they witness horrific poverty and misfortune. The setting give a sense of suspicion to the reader, by foreshadowing the possible lifestyle Pearl and May might face.

May’s growth and diversity as a character is enhanced as the plot goes on. Early in the novel, May is reliant on Pearl. She is much less educated than her sister and depends on her to keep her on track and safe. As time goes on May shows her abilities and that she is stronger than she once led on. As the plot thickens, she becomes more independent and competent. For example, after finding her mother dead in a shack and Pearl in horrible condition, she gathers the strength need to take care of her sister and keep alive.


Chinese society in the early 1900’s ranged from prosperous, wealthy people, to those so poverty stricken that they would abandon their infants on the street to die. Shanghai Girls, passionately written by Lisa See, exemplifies the wildly contrasting lifestyles through the hardship of two young women. See divulges and exposes the deepest bond of sisterhood; allowing the reader to connect emotionally to the characters and their journey.

Shanghai Girls inteview with New York Times Bestselling author Lisa See
History of Shanghai and Chinatown as well as some of Lisa See's inspiration for writing.