Collecting memories

Having lived in Shanghai for more than 16 years, I have seen tremendous changes in the city and the mentality of its inhabitants, in particular regarding the city’s past. The attitude has changed tremendously, with a new trend for collecting the past and old artefacts, as shown in a recent Sithtone article on the topic.

During my first trip in 1998, Shanghai was for from being the trade center it is today. The city was still pretty much emerging from it’s 40 years sleep, at least in terms of architecture. There was many cranes and construction, and I did not pay any attention to the past.

My first book about Shanghai history

It’s a few months after I came back in 2004, that I started to get interested in Old Shanghai. It must have been on a March or April walk on the former Rue Lafayette (today Fuxing Lu), that things started to piece together. There was very few books on the topic, and finding them in Shanghai was not always easy. I remember that the first real book I read about Shanghai history was 2000 Stella Dong’s “Shanghai, the rise and fall of a decadent city”. I started to collect items from the old Shanghai period from 2005 or 2006, going to antic and later book markets. This lead to the creation of this blog in July 2006 (original called Shanghai Old and New, see opening post) and was weird enough to attract the attention of a reporter from Shanghai Daily, and a number of others later.

Having told the story of Shanghai many times, I can see that a younger generation of Shanghainese is getting interested in their own city and its history. Some of my friends believe that Shanghai antics could become the new trend for people here. I am not sure about it, but I still enjoy researching this incredible period of Old Shanghai.

Béla Mátrai, Hungarian architect in Shanghai

Having lived for years in Budapest before coming to Shanghai, I still feel connected to Hungary after all those years (see post Budapest Old and New). As explained in post ” Looking for Hudec“, discovering about the Hungarian architect in 2008 was a big surprise and I could see the parallel with my own travel from Budapest to Shanghai, actually visiting Hudec alma mater during one of my trips there. At the same time, it was also an eye opener into the incredible vitality of Hungary’s architecture before and after WW1 (see post Budapest Art Deco for more details).

Thanks to the research of the Livia Szentmartoni Consul for Culture at Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai, it turns out that Hudec was not the only Hungarian architect in town. Her 2019 book as put Karoly Gonda’s work into light, and while both Hudec and Gonda came from Hungary, there was little connection beetween both. 2020 brought news of another Hungarian architect in Shanghai, Béla Mátrai.

Picture National Archives of Hungary / János Mátyás Balogh

Just like Hudec, Mátrai was a Hungarian trained architect, taken prisonner during WW1, sent to Siberia and finally arriving in Shanghai in the 1920s. It is unknown whether both men knew each other before Shanghai, but Mátrai worked a number of years for Lászlo Hudec firm. He is part of the team creating Park Hotel, a project that lasted from 1929 until completion of the building in 1934. Mátrai was listed as “field assistant to Laszlo Hudec” (source Poncellini 2007). Although unverified, it is very likely that he was also involved in other major Hudec projects before Park Hotel, including The Grand Theater and the Women College of Université Aurore.

In a similar way to Hudec a few years before, he left Hudec firm sometime in the early 1930s to create his own firm. One of his first design was the Modernist apartment building on 273 Route Culty (today Hunan Lu), completed in 1934. He had is office on 278 Route Culty, on the other side of the street.

273 Hunan Lu – Picture Livia Szentmartoni

Interestingly, I had recently visited an apartment in this building, while noticing the floor tile pattern (see post “More on tile pattern” for more details). Here is below a picture of the South garden side, that cannot be seen from the street.

The design of the apartment was very modern with 2 large bedrooms, a large combined dining and sitting room. Kitchen was very much in original condition, including the original wall mounted foldable ironing board. The apartments in this building also have an underground cellar, which is very rare in Shanghai.

The large South oriented windows gave a lot of light and a very modern feeling. I am not sure how it feels with the cold and damp Shanghai winter, though. It was definitely a modern apartment for a wealthy modern family in the 1930s.

According to official Hungarian sources, Mátrai married a Russian lady in 1924. They had 2 children, Margit & Jeno. They divorced in 1935 and Mátrai married Lucy (Ludmila) Dobrjansky. At the end of his time in Shanghai, he sent his children away in 1947 and left Shanghai on 13th March 1948. He settled with Lucy in Glen Ellen (Sonoma, California). Lászlo Hudec settled and died in Berkeley, California… about 80 km away. Somehow, Mátrai followed Hudec path for most of his life.

Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co

Smoking tobacco in China existed long before the establishment of foreign Concessions, but cigarettes were definitely brought by foreigners. Although they were probably invented in South America, Cigarettes get their name from French as the were first largely smoked and produced first in France in the 1830s. The tobacco product became more and more popular worldwide after the development of cigarette manufacturing machines in the 1880s. By the 1920s, cigarette was known in most part of the World and was strongly linked with the export of Holywood movies.

Shanghai was no exception and served as a base for selling cigarettes all over China. The largest companies were British American tobacco and Nanyang brothers which both had their China headquarters in Shanghai. Cigarette manufacturing and trading was a massive and very lucrative business. Many local and foreign companies tried to get a piece of the market, including Russian-China cigarettes company mentioned in a previous article.

I bought the box pictured above a long time ago in an antic market. The long shape of the box was unusual (I later learned that it was to contain 100 cigarettes) and company name “Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co” attracted by attention. Since I never heard about this company, I assumed it was a local company made by a Belgian in Shanghai with Chinese partners. It definitely looked like a foreign brand packaging.

At first, I only found little information about the Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co. Only a couple of boxes like this showed up on the internet, but I later got some better results: Sino-Belgian Tobacco Co (華比煙草公司), incorporated 1919 at 147 Seward Road, later relocated to 1176 Woosung Road. It was actually created by two Belgian people, but I don’t have their names. Both location were in Hongkou, the original industrial district of Shanghai that expanded later into today’s Yangpu district. The building on Wusong lu (pictured below) has disappeared, probably destroyed when the road was enlarged, if not before.

Like other cigarette brands, it published advertising posters. This one is probably from the late 1930s or 40s with it’s geometrical font and simple motives.

Picture MOFBA

I later bought the below smaller box from the same brand, and found the matching advertising.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Captain-Cigarettes-small-2.jpg
Picture MOFBA

Although I mostly mentioned Captain Cigarettes brand (船主 / 克浦), but they also had other brands including Young Lady (名妹) pictured below, Jockey (新骑师) and 大仙烏牌.

Picture MOFBA

Hazelwood Ice Cream

Brands of products in Old Shanghai have long been of interest to me (See post “Brands of Old Shanghai” for more details. After recently been interested in Coca-Cola and Aquarius drinks brands and advertising, I was sent the above ad by a friend. This probably a newspaper cut or a flyer. Although it displays numerous brands I got particularly interested in Hazelwood ice creams.

Hazelwood Ice Cream was made and sold in Shanghai by American merchant Henningsen Producing Company, Ltd. which was founded in 1889 by Danish businessman Fred Henningsen and his four sons. On April 6, 1919, a report stated that the American Haining Company sold imported milk in Shanghai. In 1926, Haining Yanghang’s ice cream products were launched in large numbers, with the English brand name “Hazelwood” and the Chinese name “Lotus” brand.

Hazelwood factory in Shanghai

Above sketch by German artist David L Bloch, shows the Hazelwood factory in Shanghai, with the brand written on the delivery trucks. Although it displays profiles Shanghai landmark such as The Great World, Grosvenor House, the Cathay Hotel and Bank of China on the Bund, it’s probably not a reliable indication of the factory location, that is unknown.

Hazelwood was distributing cooling equipment to ice cream resellers, just like today. The above machines were ready for distribution. (picture source for above and below pictures: Tong Bingxue Twitter account).

The introduction of a full set of cold beverage production equipment from the USA allowed to mass produce multi-price products, adopting new-style refrigeration equipment and popular marketing methods. The brand name was also changed to “Beauty” brand. The products quickly occupied the market and achieved an absolute monopoly in the ice cream industry in Shanghai. It was sold in Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and other places. In 1938, the North American Refrigeration Company also produced “Miracle” ice cream.

Henningsen Production company was later changed to Shanghai Yimin Food No. 1 Factory, 上海益民食品一厂 that is still active today.

Tasting Aquarius Orange Squash

In recent post “Aquarius then and now“, I wrote about water company Aquarius and it’s famous Orange Squash. I did not realize that the drink continued to be available in Shanghai for some many years.

In fact, the soda was popular in the 80s but seems to have disappeared since. The above ad is surely from later than the 30s and 40s, though it is difficult to know when. Fortunately, somebody decided to use the brand again. Although it’s still not widely available, I ran into a vending machine selling it… and could finally get a taste of it.

Just like croissants from Park Hotel (see post “Tasting Old Shanghai“) or going to Deda restaurant (see post “Deda Cafe“), this is a way to experience the taste of Old Shanghai, but also remained in Shanghai culture for decades. The nostalgia marketing campaign for Aquarius Orange Squash is targeting Shanghai people that used to drink in their youth during the 80s, decades later after they first came on the market. In that, they have become part of the new Shanghai culture, as much as the Old Shanghai one.

Silas Hardoon’s garden

Silas Hardoon’s story of moving from a poor employee of the Sassoon house to the richest man in Shanghai, maybe Asia, is one of those Old Shanghai legends. He was the man that owned most of the ground on both side of Nanjing Road, making a fortune with the Westward extension of the city.

Silas Hardoon

The real mystery as long been how his famous garden and houses, Aili Garden, looked like. Aili Garden was built on the plot where the Shanghai exhibition center (formerly Sino-Soviet friendship building) is now located. As seen in picture below, this block is absolutely massive, occupying a large section of Central Shanghai.

Hardoon’s garden former location

Although Silas Hardoon was already very rich when he built the place, the Bubbling Well Road area (today Nanjing Xi Lu) was still a far away suburb. This was the area for big mansion with large parks, just like the Hong Qiao area in the 1930s and today’s Qingpu district. Picture below gives a clear idea of the street view of the time.

Bubbling Well Road (today Nanjing Xi Lu) 1910.

The garden was mostly destroyed after Japanese invasion of the International Settlement in December 1941, freeing prime location space for the construction of the Shanghai exhibition Center in 1956. There was no picture available of the garden and its appearance was only described in a few books. Hardoon’s garden was lost in history.

This is until my good friends from Historic Shanghai found a source and published unseen original pictures from Hardoon’s family. These amazing pictures can be found at this link: http://www.historic-shanghai.com/inside-hardoons-garden/

Saint Therese Church

This church is hidden in the labyrinth of lanes from 370 Da Tian Lu, currently in Jing An district. When I first found out about it, it was really difficult to see from the outside as the whole are area was surrounded with blocks and block of lane. This area has now changed tremendously, with most of the blocks now transformed with tower blocks and sometimes a park. This picture from my friend Shi was a good opportunity to write a post about Saint Therese Church.

There is very little information about Saint-Therese of the Child Jesus (or Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus as it is known in French) to be found. The Catholic Church was built in 1931, on the spot of former Saint-Joseph Church damaged during 1927 fights. It is of neo-roman style, with double front columns. Construction started on 30th Octobre 1930 and the Church was consecrated on 3rd October 1931 by Mgr Auguste Haouisée, who later became the first bishop of Shanghai.

Saint Therese de Lisieux was a French Catholic Discalced Carmelite nun who became widely venerated in the 20th century. She was canonized in 1925, and named co-patron of the missions, with Francis Xavier by Pope Pius XI in 1927. As Saint-Therese was highly venerated at this period, the dedication to her was an obvious choice. Mentions of several Churches dedicated to her in Asia around the same period were found during the research for this post, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Hangzhou and Saint Theresa Cathedral in Changchun.

What makes this Church special in Shanghai is that it is a Catholic Church located in the International Settlement, where Christians missions where mostly seated. It is away from the French Concession, where Catholic Church was predominant, as well as away from Xu Jia Hui Jesuits area. It is also in a area that was mostly Lilongs, the local style of accommodation, away from the areas where most foreigners lived, so probably aimed and maybe financed by the local population.

More on Coca-Cola ads

Recent post Coca-Cola in Old Shanghai, was dedicated to a particular ad for Coca-Cola in Shanghai in 1938. This lead into researching it’s largest competitor in Old Shanghai, the Aquarius water company. This pushed me into more research about Coca-Cola advertising in Old Shanghai.

This is probably the most famous ad for Coca-Cola in the early 30s. The lady in the picture was top movie star Ryan Lingyu. This particular ad was used for marketing material again few years ago.

Ads in magazine was a major channel a the time, like the one above, from 1938.

Mural was also a major advertising channel. I am not exactly sure where below picture was taken, but surely in the business district behind the Bund.

Aquarius water, then and now

I recently wrote a post about Coca-Cola and its advertising in Shanghai. The soft drink was bottled in Shanghai by Watson’s Water, a brand that is still sold in Shanghai. Its main slogan was “every bottle is sterilized”, showing the need and attention to clean water then, like today. Its main competitor Aquarius, 正广和,a brand that is also still sold in Shanghai today.

Aquarius serving tray

Aquarius water was originally founded in 1893, producing “water both still and sparkling, for the table”, as noted in “Sketches in and around Shanghai”, published in Shanghai in 1894. The factory was located away from the city, at the cross of Broadway and Seward Road, meaning right behind the Astor House Hotel, in today’s Hong Kou district. Like it’s competitor, it became an essential supplier of water and drinks for foreigners and wealthy Chinese.

Aquarius advertising in the ” Le journal de Shanghai 19 th June 1935″

As displayed in above add, the “every drop is distilled” shows the attention for water purity and safety just like today. One of the main drink on offer in the Shanghai heat of mid June was Aquarius Grapefruit Squash, to be drink with Gin as a refresher.

Aquarius advertising in Shanghai 1930

Aquarius was advertising in Chinese newspaper as seen above, linking is sparkling water with the high life of the day, elite activities including horse riding, tennis, swimming and dancing. Since the ad is in Chinese, it was clearly aimed at the Shanghai bourgeoisie that was rapidly growing at the time. Orange squash was surely a soft drink competing with Coca-Cola.

Aquarius Orange Squash, 1946

Soft drinks brands had also a number of promotional objects to give out to customer. My favorite one is the serving tray (top picture) that was surely used in the restaurants, bars or hotels in Old Shanghai. Along with it came the bottle opener (see below), that it still very usable today. I even found a picture of the actual Aquarius water bottle, though I have never seen the bottle itself.

Aquarius bottle opener

The Aquarius brand is still in use in Shanghai, with one of the main depots in Min Hang district. Funny enough the current logo is still the same as the original and the Chinese name is still the same, though now in simplified characters.

Aquarius modern logo

For Coca-Cola advertising, follow the link to post “More on Coca-Cola ads”.

Coca-Cola in Old Shanghai

Coca-Cola is one of the ubiquitous brand in today’s Shanghai, but the famous soft drink was also very successful in Old Shanghai. It was first bottled in 1927, by the Watson’s Mineral Water Company. “In fact, Shanghai became the first city outside the US to order 10,000 gallons of syrup in a year during the 1930s,” said Ted Ryan Coca-Cola’s director of heritage communications in a 2015 China Daily interview. Like in other countries, Coca-Cola sales were supported by strong advertising.

1938 Old Shanghai Coca-Cola advertising

Above is the front cover of the 1938 Spring Summer Shanghai Dollar Directory, a yearbook including phone and business directory, as well a section on gardening in Shanghai. This ad was the biggest on both covers and must have been a great sale for the advertising section.

By 1938, Coca-Cola was bottled in 2 factories, one in Avenue Haig (today HuaShan lu) and the other one on Wayside (today HuoShan Lu in Hongkou district). Soft drink and sparkling water was a big market, as Watson’s was not the only one (Watson’s has been back in China for many years, but bottling Coke). Another producer of sparkling water and drink was Aquarius (more to come in a later post).

The ad was clearly aimed at both foreigners and Chinese writing. The characters for 可口可樂 (可口可乐 in simplified ) were displayed from right to left as it was usual then. The translation of the brand was the same as today, with characters being roughly translated as “good taste makes happy”, one of the best ever translation for a foreign brand name in Chinese.

Following the link for post “More on Coca-Cola ads” for more examples of Coca-Cola advertising in Old Shanghai.