About This Blog

Shanghai Cinema Studio

December 9th, 2012 | 4 Comments

Cinema studio 225x300 Shanghai Cinema Studio

The fake Nanking Road

Shanghai Cinema studio had been on my visit list since a long time. The studio is famous to host a rebuilt version of Old Shanghai. It quite famous has it was for period movies and TV series, including “Lust, caution” and “Shanghai Shanghai“. It takes a long drive to reach the location in SongJiang but the trip is well worth it.

The most impressive sight is surely the small strech of rebuilt 1930’s Nanking Road. Centered around the corner of Nanjing Dong Lu and Zhejiang Lu, the side includes the Wing On store, the Sincere store and the Sun Sun Store. Picture perfect with period signs and tramway karts driving around, it really gives the atmosphere of time travel. The ground floor of the buildings is well replicated, with the higher floor being rebuilt on a smaller scale, a normal feature of movie sets and backgrounds. Walking around there feels very much like walking in an Old Shanghai postcard. Only missing would be the hundreds of people that normally go around this very busy part of the city.

DSC 0654 300x201 Shanghai Cinema Studio

Tram in Old Shanghai

The picture would not be complete with the tramway, with the short ride being the only way to ever experience tramways in Old Shanghai. The tramway shakes and feels just like a real ride in the city, with the noises and motions I used to experience on the oldest lines of Budapest network. Watching the tramway going up this fake Nanking Road really adds up to the atmosphere.


DSC 0666 300x201 Shanghai Cinema Studio

Shanghai other iron bridge

The rest of the cinema studio is also made of various buildings mostly copied from Old Shanghai. They include a copy of the Moller Villa on Shaanxi Nan Lu, one of the building that is now Ambrosia restaurant on Feng Yang Lu and one of the Wing On Extension on Nanjing Dong Lu. There is also a copy of the New World Building that used to be at the end of Nanking Road, now replaced by the (not so nice) New World Shopping center. I was expecting to find a copy of Shanghai’s iconic Garden Bridge, but only found a copy of the other iron bridge that is further up the river. Most of the other buildings are not actual copies, but they fit the general style of the period including the church. It seems very popular for wedding pictures though I don’t think such a church was actualy ever built in Shanghai.

Night on GuLangYu

November 11th, 2012 | 4 Comments

night gulanyu 01 300x225 Night on GuLangYu

A nice atmosphere

GuLangYu island (鼓浪屿), off Xiamen in Fujian province, has always been one of my preferred place in China and I went there already 4 times. The yearly trip to the  island were mostly in the winter, an easy escape from Shanghai fog and humidity, but this time I went in September, a different time with a different weather but the magic is still there.

At our first trip to GuLangYu in 2007, not many people (at least from Shanghai) stayed overnight in the island. Accommodation was very limited and the only place open after 9pm was the Mc Donald’s at the ferry port, where we ended up one night. We found the one cafe on the hillside, enjoying  coffee and 20C in the sunshine with the only company of the owners. I think this coffee house has disappeared since. Winter in GuLanYu is the low season and we felt at that time that the island belonged to us. The following year, we stayed at a small home hotel but the weather got so cold that we spent most time in Nana Cafe drinking hot chocolate and eating warm food. We even ended up escaping the cold and the island, spending the last night in a big hotel on the Xiamen side. As written in post “The revival on GuLangYu“, by the third time we went the island had already transformed and a few more hotels had opened. Three years have passed since and many many more hotels have now opened. From the experience in Chinese mass tourism, I was afraid that the island atmosphere would not survive.

night gulanyu 02 300x225 Night on GuLangYu

Piano festival concert

Luckily, we arrived on the last night of the GuLangYu piano festival. Concerts are free and we could enjoy an unexpected but small and intimate concert from American/Uzbek piano master Stanislas Ioudenitch. The crowd attending the concert was really attentive and silent, a change from noisy and often uninterested crowds in Shanghai classical music concert. The festival attracted many people and I was really surprised of the crowd remaining on the island even after the concert. Not that many tourists used to stay on the island, this has definitely changed. It is now even possible to get a beer in a bar with music at 10:00pm, something unthinkable a few years ago. At the same time, the atmosphere has lost a bit from what I was used to. It’s only by walking around the small streets on the hills, away from the main street that I could find back the old tranquility of GuLangYu. Walking down the empty streets of the island, it felt again like being out of time, like being back again in the 1930’s when GuLangYu was a foreign concession off Xiamen.

The next day saw one of the best weather I have ever seen on the Island. We climbed up the rock, giving a splendid view up to Xiamen Bund. Just like in some parts of Shanghai, the contrast between the old houses from the concessions and the skyscrapers on the other side of the straight is stunning. As the piano festival was already finished, there was already less crowd on the island, but still quite many. Nights on GuLanYu are still magical and quite, but the days are now the one of main tourist attraction. Best go there in the winter, as there will should be much less people. This trip took place just before the October holidays, I later heard than one week later (during the actual holidays), the number of visitors increased tremendously, way over the existing records. I’m not sure how quite nights on GuLangYu were then, but fortunately I had already left.

Xiamen 201209 181 1024x256 Night on GuLangYu

Shanghai Exodus

October 6th, 2012 | 6 Comments

Shanghai exodus Shanghai Exodus

DVD cover – Shanghai Exodus

As the reach of this blog grows year after year (Shanghailander.net is now more than 6 years old), so does the number of readers. Through it I have received a few mails from researchers and met a few  people who actually lived in Old Shanghai, including (among others) Liliane Willens, Lynn Pan, Isabelle and Raymond Chao (who died this year) and  Rena Krasno (who died in 2009). Many of them have a passion for the city they call their home, although many had not been back since the late 40’s and quite a number have written books about their experience, their life in Shanghai and their families. Shanghai Exodus came to me through this blog and I don’t think I would have known it otherwise.

This documentary movie was made with the collaboration of many old Shanghailanders. It is their story and their link to the city they grew up in and that they love so much still. The 2009 movie includes a brief history of Shanghai, but is mostly interesting in the many snips of interviews of Old Shanghailanders. Many of them now live in the USA, but they and their family came from various countries including the UK, Russia and other European countries. Being from various level of society, they did not all live in the privileged world that is often associated with foreigners in old Shanghai but they all kept a very strong link to the city that can be felt throughout the movie. The movie also tells the fate of these people during WWII and how they managed to leave Shanghai in the laste 1940’s.

Although Shanghai Exodus is mostly about their life in Old Shanghai, one of the most moving part is seeing these people, coming back to their home city. The Shanghai they left has little to do with the Shanghai they come back to but some manage to find their root back to the city that they left so long ago. It is also very clear that many of them kept in touch in their new homes and feel that they lived in a very special place at a very special time. Growing in Old Shanghai is an extremely important part of their life and having to leave Shanghai left a scar in them. It is then really nice to see them closing the loop and finding back their roots. In a way, this is also the story of Shanghai and the rediscovery of its past by both Chinese and foreigners coming back to it.

About 15 minutes is available on www.shanghaiexodus.com as a trailer.

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.