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China 1932, a tourist movie

September 17th, 2012 | 1 Comment

tourist movie 300x226 China 1932, a tourist movie

1932 tourist movie

Photographs of Old Shanghai rarely seen in the city a few years ago are now quite common again. Exhibited in collections, used to illustrate books or by marketing companies to create a nostalgia feeling, most of the one seen are always the same. The most well known show the Bund at different period of time, as well as Nanking Road (Nanjing Dong Lu today) and Foochow Road (today’s Fuzhou lu). Old movies of Shanghai are much rarer as not that many where made and conservation was always an issue, because of the process used them as well as historical events that lead to the destruction of many.

The movie that recently appeared on YouTube (sorry you’ll need a VPN to see it): China, the flowery Kindgom, dates from 1932 and is quite enjoyable for that matter. Altough the sequence about Shanghai is only a portion of the film, it is still nice to see how little arrival on the river has changed. It reminds me of taking the ferry to or from Pudong which is always a little voyage in the city.

The movie seems to have been made by American tourists, or seamen on a tour to China. The departure from Shanghai shows a floating American flag, and they were regularly at call in Shanghai port I guess the ones making the movie were military. The other part I like is the view of camels in the streets of Beijing, that it surely not seen anymore. The time is not so long when caravans of camels would cross China and central Asia along the silk road. Xian was the original departure when it was capital of China, but the road was extended all the way to Beijing when it became the capital. This reminded of Lao She‘s novel, Richshaw boy that describe similar scenes.

Abelardo Lafuente’s buildings map

September 3rd, 2012 | 3 Comments

lafuentemap fb 300x199 Abelardo Lafuentes buildings map

The Lafuente map

The rediscovery of Old Shanghai Spanish architect Abelardo Lafuente was a major event of last year for Old Shanghai enthusiats. The buzz about the Spanish architect culminated in the exhibition held in Bund 22 in December. (See post “Abelardo Lafuente, Shanghai Spanish architect” for more information).

The team behind the research and the exhibition has now published a map of remaining Lafuente’s buildings in Shanghai. Although only 6 remain, they are clearly visible in the city as 2 of them are located on Nanjing Xi Lu and 2 more are in the tourist area of Duo Lun Lu. The other ones are a major historical hotel and   a bar in the former French Concession that is an anchor of expatriates life in Shanghai.

With its short text and visual, the map is a great for beginners in Old Shanghai discovery and will surely be used many to explore. The current version is printed in Spanish and English, but the next one will also include Chinese text. In a similar way to Hungary’s Laszlo Hudec, Spain has cleverly used the remainings of one of his ancient citizens to enhance its in image in Shanghai. Hopefully some more countries will follow suit.

Lafuente’s map is available at Sasha’s (corner of HengShan lu and Dong Ping lu) and Restaurante CASA 700 (700 Huanpi Nan Lu). Cost is 30 RMB.

Shanghai scarlet

August 30th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Shanghai scarlet 192x300 Shanghai scarlet

Book cover

The Shanghai forgotten modernist writers, Mu ShiYing, Shi Zhecun, Du Heng, Liu Na’ou, Xu Chi have captured my attention since I first came across them in Lynn Pan’s excellent Shanghai Style. I also wrote a specific post about Mu ShiYing “Shanghai Foxtrot” a few years ago. The opportunity to read a novel focused on the author’s life was quite exciting, this is the story told by Shanghai Scarlet.

Author Margaret Blair spent her youth in the Shanghai International Settlement, and now lives in Canada. Like JG Ballard (surely the most famous), Liliane Willens and several others, she wrote a book about her life in Old Shanghai, Gudao, Lone Islet. Shanghai Scarlet, her second book, has received little review as self-published by the author in Canada.

Shanghai Scarlet is inspired by the life of Mu Shying, but it is told by 2 characters, Mu himself and his wife Qiu Peipei. The book is a novel based on historical facts on which the author has added her own vision and filled out the blanks. It is very clear that Margaret Blair has taken the forgotten Shanghai modernist writers to her heart and acquired an impressive knowledge about the topic. The Old Shanghai decor feels really right and the fast changing background of the Chinese politics of the time really shows the hard choices those artists had to make. Mu XiYing’s career started in the early 20′s as a Ningbo student who discovers life in Shanghai, China’s center of modernity. He became part of the group of modernist writers that tried to reform Chinese litterature, in the wave of the changes of the time. With the civil war going on in China in the 1930′s and the Japanese invasion, artists became under pressure to choose a side between Nationalists, Communists and collaboration with the Japanese occupant. Each of them made his own choice, turning long life friends into enemies. Mu XiYing ends up siding with the puppet government of Wang Jingwei, collaborating with the Japanese. Although there are not many information about the topic, the book analyses the thoughts and motivations of the various choices in a very credible manner.

The narrator’s voice is alternatively Mu Shying and Qiu Peipei, keeping the story together and showing the adventurous life of this couple through different angles. Very little is known about Mu Shying’s wife and Margaret has chosen a very strong and (nearly) feminist tone and personality for her. That is probably a little odd in regards to the actual period but matches the story. Despite the heavy research, I noticed a few anachronisms (Margaret, the name Art Deco was coined in the 1960’s so I don’t see how Mu Shying could be thinking about “Art Deco” buildings, for him they were probably simply “modern” I guess).  The writing style itself is a little slow sometimes and the same story to be made shorter at some point, particularly toward the end. However, the book all in all  is quite an entertaining read, as well as a good source of information.

I had never heard about the book nor the author before she contacted on this blog, however the book is also available on amazon. This is not really a mainstream book, but people interested in the topic will enjoy it. The author’s website is www.margaretblair.com

From Boulogne to Nanjing

August 20th, 2012 | No Comments

Passion for Shanghai and its Art Deco heritage (see post World Art Deco Congress Shanghai 2015) has pushed me to try and understand history and art history of the early part of the 20th century. Pursuing Art Deco and 1920-30′s anywhere I can (see posts about Antwerp, Paris, Lyon, Napier and many more to come), I only could end up in the Paris’ Museum of the 1930′s. Although as was attracted by the general topic, I found there a number of points related (often indirectly) to Shanghai.

Landozski 04 150x150 From Boulogne to Nanjing

Art Deco door of Boulogne Post Office

Located in Boulogne-Billancourt (a close suburb to Paris) the museum current area was one of the points where Art Deco started. Many of the artists, workshop and factories that created Art Nouveau in 1900′s Paris moved to this (then) cheap location for expension in the beginning of the 20th century. As fashion in decorative art moved to Art Deco style, this is also where Art Deco emerged in France. The town was also developed by its mayor André Morizet after World War I. Calling for major architects of the time, including Tony Garnier, he organised the construction of the city center in a modern and urbanistic way, with a mix of Art Deco and modernist style. Some of the famous buildings of the area include the City Hall, the Main Post office (see picture) and the Central Police Station. Many more Art Deco and modernist building were constructed in the city at that time and a section of the museum is devoted to it.

Landozski 05 218x300 From Boulogne to Nanjing

Art Deco furniture in the museum

The museum itself contains a large collection of furniture designed in the 30′s and it is striking to see the similarities to the ones made in Shanghai. Similar material were also used like wrought iron, although the woods used in Europe where often precious woods like palissandre and ebony, as opposed to the much more common woods used in Shanghai. As discussed in post Shanghai Art Deco furniture, Art Deco furniture in Europe were often the ones of the rich and priviledged, when in Shanghai it became much more common and available. Besides these differences, visiting the museum makes clear that the Art Deco in Shanghai came from Art Deco in Europe and the USA. Globalization of styles was truly started at that time… way before most people think.

Landozski 01 225x300 From Boulogne to Nanjing

Sun Yat Sen sculpture, by Paul Landowski

The Museum is part of a building called “Espace Landowski” and Paul Landowski left me with a big suprise. The French sculpture artist was obviously based in Boulogne-Billancourt. He became really famous in winning the 1928 olympic medal of… sculpture. That fame and links with the olympic movement will surely bring him a lot of attention again as his most wellknown piece is the Christ statue in Rio de Janero, an Art Deco wonder created in 1931. However, he is also the author of another major work mostly well known in China, the statue of Sun Yat Sen in the Nanjing Mausoleum (a copy of it was made for the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei). Paul Landowski’s fame became large enough for China to order this major achievement of Republican China from a French man, another example of globalization before its time.

Antwerp Art Deco

August 1st, 2012 | No Comments

antwerpen 012 224x300 Antwerp Art Deco

Boerentoren, Antwerp

Belgium cities are mostly famous for their Art Nouveau architecture, built before WWI. While visiting Belgium I was on the hunt for Art Deco buildings, expecting very little apart from enjoying Art Nouveau. This was true in Brussels where Art Deco buildings are very few, but Antwerpen offered a nice surprise. The main Art Deco feature of the city is the 1932 Boerentoren (today known as KBC tower). First Art Deco tower in Europe, it was also the tallest when it was built and was renovated in the 1970’s after being considered for demolition.

Antwerpen 05 300x194 Antwerp Art Deco

1930′s view

The Boerentoren is an Art Deco wonder with the sculptures ornamenting the façade, in particular the cover for the main entrance. The building originally hosted offices and apartments, as well as a restaurant and a beer bar (this is Belgium after all) at the 10th floor, on the top of both wings (as seen on the 1930’s picture). It’s shape is quite similar to Shanghai’s Grosvenor house.

Antwerpen 04 300x275 Antwerp Art Deco

Art Deco door, on the river front

Another Art Deco wonder is located on the riverside. The décor of the building and the location makes it clearly linked to the shipping industry. I guess it was the headquarters of a shipping line or a marine insurance. Since many many buildings on the waterfront were destroyed during WWII, it is quite miraculous that this one has survived. I particularly liked the door in the picture.

Antwerpen 03 225x300 Antwerp Art Deco

Century building, Antwerp

The last area with Art Deco was around the central station. Although the station and the zoo next to it are Art Nouveau treasures, several buildings on the boulevard away from the station are of Art Deco design. The most spectacular is probably the Century building (picture left), now a hotel. The main features are the geometrical sculpture on the top of each column, the iron balconies and the staircase shape of the building itself.Antwerpen 02 150x150 Antwerp Art Deco We continued walking in the city with a short visit in the shop of a famous retailer, established in nice Art Deco piece, just like one of the Shanghai branch on Nanjing Xi Lu. In Antwerp, not only the outside is Art Deco, but the inside of the shop as also been kept in its original state. I wish it was the case also for Shanghai Art Deco buildings turned into shops.

Old Shanghai hotels luggage labels

June 4th, 2012 | 2 Comments

b luggage label Palace hotel1 300x294 Old Shanghai hotels luggage labelsThe mid 19th Century saw the emergence of tourism and palace hotels. Tourism then was not for the masses, but reserved to a happy few. Starting in places like Switzerland, Italy and the French Riviera, the new establishments spread all over the world. They were massively popular in the colonies, offering an oasis of “civilisation” and comfort, far away from “the locals”. In Shanghai, the major hotels were the Astor House, the Palace Hotel (today Swatch Peace Hotel), The Yantgze hotel (Today Langham Yangtse hotel), the Park Hotel and the most famous, the Cathay Hotel (today Fairmont Peace Hotel). Some of them raised to the top and then disappeared like the Majestic Hotel and the Hotel des Colonies in the French Concession.

b luggage label cathay metropole1 247x300 Old Shanghai hotels luggage labelsAdvertising for hotels and holiday destination, not yet called “Tourism marketing” became very active. In order to attract people’s attention, hotels started to produce labels that were sticked on the traveler’s luggages. In those time, suitcases and luggages were carefully handled for those high level guests who could afford them, very different from today’s airport luggage handling. The tourists of the time would compare their destination and show off their tours of the world using the labels. Those were also often used in scrap books made during or after trips. Those are extract from my own collection. For more information about the history of hotel labels, please refer to the excellent article on the topic: http://www.historia.com.pt/labels/general/history1/history1.htm

b luggage label cathay1 298x300 Old Shanghai hotels luggage labelsIn one of the most modern cities of the time, Shanghai hotels created their own luggage labels. They followed the style evolution, the earliest probably being the above Palace Hotel (1908) label, which style matches the early German and Swiss hotel labels.

The Cathay Hotels Ltd label featuring the Cathay Hotel (1929) and the Metropole hotel (1934) is probably the most famous, having being reproduced in several books. There is definitely an oriental theme to this label with the dragons and the lettering used. The Cathay was the most upmarket of both, which is still the case today. The below label is a more detailed version of the Cathay Hotel symbol that was used in the decoration all over the hotel. I guess it is an earlier version of the label, prior to the opening of the Metropole hotel.

b luggage label park hotel2 292x300 Old Shanghai hotels luggage labelsWith art deco coming to the city in the late 1920′s and 1930′s, hotel labels followed the fashion. This modern style called for simplified design and highly geometrical designs were introduced, like on luggage label for the Yangtze hotel (see post “Yangtze Hotel, Shanghai”). One of the rare but highly representative of the genre is left label from Park Hotel. The establishment itself was a symbol of Art Deco, designed by Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec. The location is highly recognizable on the label, underlining the high of the hotel, the tallest building in Shanghai (and Asia) at the time. It also shows the main feature of the hotel, the panoramic view on Shanghai race course, making it the perfect place to attend (and bet on) the races, without mixing with the plebe.

Finally, no article on Shanghai luggage label would be complete without mentioning the work of Daniel C. Sweeney for the HongKong & Shanghai hotels. His style was very personal and highly evocative of the Orient and the hotel locations. His worked is still among the most famous for hotel labels in Asia.

Return to Hankou

May 28th, 2012 | 1 Comment

I had not been back to Wuhan since 3 years ago when I wrote the post “Upriver, Hankou’s foreign concessions“. A recent business trip, gave me the opportunity to spend a few hours in that area again. Always a nice way to relax between meetings.

Hankou2 01 300x225 Return to Hankou

Wuhan TianDi

The first major change I noticed was WuhanTiandi. Just like in Shanghai XinTianDi (developped by the same company), a few old houses have been kept and totally renewed. Not much of the old remains, but the design has made it a nice area with many shops and restaurant. Just like in Shanghai a few years ago, Wuhan TianDi is an island of new and fashionable in an area of faded glory, but the builders are just waiting and soon the whole place will be a celebration of brand new apartment towers and shopping malls. Fortunately, Wuhan TianDi was built mostly outside the central historic areas, this makes it a great stop after strolling through the small streets of the former concessions.

hankou2 022 300x225 Return to Hankou

Former housing building

Going up through the former Japanese and German concessions, I ran into this old apartment building from 1910. The style are archways are similar to buildings of the same style in Shanghai, like on Feng Yan lu. Wooden doors with glass are quite similar, as well as the later closure of the archways with windows to increase the usable space.This was probably residence for middle class, not quite a villa but a modern and comfortable housing building.

Hankou2 03 150x150 Return to Hankou

British Crown long gone

Looking at it in details, one can find a British Crown engraved on the wall. Although it has clearly been hammered down it is still visible and reminded me of the one I saw on a building in Salay in Burma (Click here to see the picture). This building was probably built for housing civil servants working for the British administration like the police.

I continued walking along the Bund, passing by the former German consulate that is now the town hall of Hankou and by the former Banque de L’Indochine and the former American consulate, which architecture is very similar to the long gone American consulate on the Shanghai Bund. Further up is located the only Secession style building I ever saw in China (see former post about Hangkou), that is currently under renovation. Hopefully this will turn out for the better, though I would not hold my breath on it.

Hankou2 04 234x300 Return to Hankou

Red building on Poyang Jie

Finally, I dived in the small streets behing Marco Polo hotel, looking for what is probably my prefered building in Hankou. One of my Shanghai friend referred to it as the “building looking like the Normandy building in Shanghai”. They surely have a similar look, both being red brick triangular buildings, but the Hankou one is much older and much smaller as well. The building unique shape can be well seen on the map in the former Russian concession. I heard that the Wuhan government is about to move inhabitants away and renovate it. Hopefully the renovation will not destroy it’s unique cachet.

At the end of the day, although Hankou former concession are way smaller than the Shanghai ones, they are still very nice, worth a few hours strolling along the tree lined streets.

Inside the Cercle Sportif Francais

May 20th, 2012 | 6 Comments

cercle sportif francais 300x112 Inside the Cercle Sportif FrancaisThe Cercle Sportif Francais on Route Cardinal Mercier (today the Okura Garden hotel) was the center of life for the cream of the French Concession. Built by the French architect firm Vesseyre & Leonard it opened in 1926 was certainly the largest design of the firm in Shanghai. In a effort to compete with Britain it was partly paid by French state money in order to project French colonial power in the city. The Cercle Sportif moved in the new building from what later became the College Municipal Francais. Construction took the best materials both for the inside and the outside. Outside architecture is of neoclassique style, somewhat similar to the one used on the Bund, however the inside was heavily influenced by Art Deco, the upcoming artistic movement of the time. Although the building has been modified to accommodate the hotel, a large part of the hotel was very well renovated. This post is focused on displaying old pictures of the interior of the Cercle Sportif Francais. Click on the picture to see an increased version.

cfs entrance1 300x191 Inside the Cercle Sportif Francais

Entrance of the Cercle

As opposed to the current hotel entrance at the front of the building, the CFS entrance was on the side of the building, on what is now Maoming Lu (the current hotel entrance was one of the restaurants). The original entrance has been delicately renovated by the Japanese owner and comparison of the old and the new is striking for their similarities.

CFS entrance new 300x170 Inside the Cercle Sportif Francais

The entrance today

Although the statue is a recent addition, the rest of the room has been renovated with care so that it is very difficult to actually see what was to original and what is new. One of the patterns that can be found all over the interior of the building in a typical Art Deco fashion is the little fan shape, present here in the corners of squares on the sides of the doors.

CFS cardroom 300x188 Inside the Cercle Sportif Francais


The following picture is of the former card room. This room is located on the upper floor of the building and now used as a meeting room. The wonderful Art Deco frescoes have disappeared a long time ago as well as the original wood floor and furniture, but the lighting and door frames are still in the same stye (though probably not the originals). The general feel of the room has not changed, neither has the great view of the garden that is not seen here but can be guessed from the light flowing through the picture.
CFS pool 300x191 Inside the Cercle Sportif Francais

Swimming pool

The final picture is the swimming pool. It was supposed to be the best in Shanghai, 54m long. The hotel today has a swimming pool, but the one on the picture was destroyed during renovation.

A true old Shanghai party

May 6th, 2012 | 2 Comments

Hugues 40th Birthday party invitation 300x225 A true old Shanghai party

Hugues 40th Birthday party

Be interested in old Shanghai books and pictures is nice, but making it happen again just for a few hours was an even greater enjoyment. This year’s big celebration (my 40th birthday and 20 years of living abroad) was the perfect opportunity. I have been passing in front of the house we celebrated at for many years, and although I am still far from ever own something like this (estimate price of the estate would probably be over USD 10m today), it was possible to rent it for a day. Thanks to an unexpected meeting with manager Leonardo, who took this party so much to his heart, to Patisserie de France for supplying a wonderful cake and to Matthieu the boss of YangJiu.com to fish out the last bottles of Champagne he supplied us from his own personal fridge.

20120505 145509 225x300 A true old Shanghai partyIt took a great set and tens of friends dressed up to the theme to make it a great party. Chinese girls all in Qipaos, men wearing suits and hats, the only think missing would be a 1930′s limousine to make it the perfect illusion of returning to Old Shanghai. Even the weather was perfect, warm and dry after weeks of rain. The Latino band played light jazz music, transforming the afternoon drink in an old Shanghai dancing tea, ending with a great “happy birthday song” and all of us drinking Champagne.

Shanghai girls 300x297 A true old Shanghai party

Inspiration for the party

This really felt like an instant trip to a Garden Party in Old Shanghai, just like watching the cover of Beverly Jackson, “Shanghai Girl gets all dressed up”. Thanks for all friend for coming and making it great celebration, a great Old Shanghai party.

Pictures from the party can be viewed at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24266052@N00/sets/72157629605774432/

Spanish Revival Architecture in Shanghai

May 1st, 2012 | 1 Comment

spanishrev1 225x300 Spanish Revival Architecture in Shanghai

Spanish revival in Shanghai

I have previously written about Shanghai Art Deco architecture, this post is focused on a different style also popular in Old Shanghai, the Spanish revival Style. A bit like Art Deco was inspired by the 1925 Paris exhibition, Spanish Revival was inspired by the Panama-California exhibition in San Diego in 1915. It was very popular in California from 1915 until 1931. Inspired by colonial Spanish architecture in Mexico and Latin America, Spanish Revival Architecture was using it as a base and adapting it more modern materials and techniques. Many of these houses were built in Los Angeles and became the homes of Hollywood stars like the 1928 El Cabrillo built by Cecil B DeMille ( made famous by the movie “The ten commandments”) and the 1929 El Greco Apartments once  home of stars like Michael Curtis. At period, going to the movie was a major form of entertainment in Shanghai with movies being shown in many theaters and many dedicated movie theater being built. The life of Chinese and American movie stars was reported in many dedicated magazines just like today. It is only natural that Shanghainese of the time wanted to have houses built in a similar style to the ones of the stars of the time. Many turned to Spanish Revival style for the design (the author actually lives in one of those).

Just like Art Deco took a few years to come from USA and Europe to Shanghai, Spanish Revival was really popular in Shanghai when it was already less fashionable in California. Major buildings in the USA were built in the late 1920′s, but the one in Shanghai were often built in the mid to late 1930′s. Most of them are actually located in the south west of the former French concession on streets like Yong Jia lu near Heng Shan Lu, as well Fuxing lu and the surrounding streets past Huai Hai lu as houses in this part of town were mostly built in the mid to late 30′s. Some can also be found around Yu Yuan Lu. Like in California, they were mostly villas. One of the few examples I of apartments building is Haig Court on Avenue Haig (to day Hua Shan hotel on Hua Shan Lu).

spanishrev22 300x225 Spanish Revival Architecture in Shanghai

Round windows and white columns

The main characteristics are the round tiles used for the roof and the roofside decoration, as well as large windows often with a round top, separated by white fake columns. Spanish revival buildings have a very distinctive style and bring a bit of latin experience to Shanghai. From what I gathered, there was not famous foreign architect firm specialising in Spanish revival. The style was mostly developed by local architect with the help of architecture magazines such as “The Chinese architect” and “The builder”. It also seems that Abelardo Lafuente designed of few Spanish revival buildings, although it is not totally confirmed and this was not the style he is famous for.