Old Shanghai has been back in fashion in the city for many years now, but so far it was mostly about architecture and famous people from the past. What was missing was a true popular event involving the Chinese public interested in the topic, just like the annual Napier Art Deco Festival in New Zealand that I attended in 2010. The Shanghai Style Fashion Festival that took place from 15th to 18th June is definitely along the same line and was great fun to attend.
Taking place in the former “Cercle Sportif Français“, today’s Okura garden hotel it merged an exhibition of Old Shanghai furniture and interiors, talks about the topic and evening events gala style events. Most of the participants followed the 1920-30’s dress code, adding to the atmosphere of the location.
The event combined several rooms exhibiting Old Shanghai furniture and interior, talks about the topic and daily evening parties including small scenes about Shanghai daily life, and Old Shanghai inspired fashion shows.
A unique feature was the presence of a live big band, a rare occasion in Shanghai, that also helped creating the right atmosphere. That is particularly true on 16th June, the Swing dance evening.
With the enthusiasm of the real Swing dance club supporting the event, people dressed up and an original ballroom from the 1920’s, it really felt like a time travel to Old Shanghai. This is very much how a night out in the Canidrome Ballroom, or the Paramount must have felt like. Congrats to the organisers for the event and looking forward to the next edition.
One of my recent post was focused on a market garden supplier to Park Hotel, Jardin Français. As mentioned in a comment, getting safe vegetables in Old Shanghai was not such an easy task. “Honey pots”, i.e. human defecation was collected all over Shanghai and used as fertilizer. The daily morning collection was still going on for years when I lived in the Former French Concession, until around 2010. The modern version of the collectors were riding bikes but I am sure the Old Shanghai version were just walking with a stick over the should supporting two buckets on each ends.
This recycling of human manure was causing vast hygiene issues including epidemics. One solution was to buy vegetables from a safe place, such as Jardin Français that is the topic of an earlier post. Another one was to eat imported canned vegetables.
The idea of cooking food in a seal container was invented by French man Nicolas Appert to feed troops for the Napelonic wars. It was massively used for preserving fishes with many factories located in Britany. Food was preserved in glass jars and later in metal boxes, but canned food remained a luxury items. The process of “double seams” lead to the creation of the modern tin in the beginning of the 20th Century and was largely used during World War I. After the war, canned food companies turn to the civilian market, expanding their range of products to satisfy new customers.
Canned food was available in Old Shanghai, as shown in ads below from the “Journal de Shanghai” 21st March 1928. Although Cassegrain is still famous today for it’s canned vegetables, the Nantes based company definitely had a much larger range then. Advertised products are mostly canned fish, as well as staple of French Cuisine including Tripes, Cassoulet and Choucroute. Cassegrain was available in China much earlier, as the company website shows Cassegrain canned food was used to supply Russian Troops during Port-Arthur siege in the Japano-Russian War in 1904-05 (Port-Arthur was located close to Dalian in Liaoning province of China).
Another famous French brand of canned food was Rödel from Bordeaux. The company still exists with its main factories also in Britany. This brand must have been of very high level, as below ad was found in Feb 1932 magazine of the Cathay Hotel. The list of canned products is mostly fish, French “Plats cuisinés” (ready made French dishes) and “patés & truffles” (I am sure this also meant fois gras). Vegetables were peas (still one of main canned vegetables) and “Autres légumes”, i.e. other vegetables.
Also much less mainstream as Cassegrain, Rödel still exists today focusing on high quality canned Sardines. None of the ads mentioned canned milk or dairy products that seem to have been the speciality of Dutch companies as well as Australia & New Zealand companies. This was the focused on an older article, “Milk and Butter“.
A recent post on this blog was focused analyzing a day of Park Hotel accounting. One the pages in the booklet particularly attracted my attention, a receipt from “Jardin Français”.
As the subtitle states it, Jardin Français or French Farm, was a market garden in the West part of the French concession. It offered “sanitary own grown vegetables, asparagus, fruits and special lettuces at any seasons and times”. This actual voucher was for chicory salad, and another one was for eggs. This was probably a premium place to get quality western vegetables, serving the hotels and the high level residents, something like today’s organic farming.
19B Route de Say Zoong is now located on Changshu lu. Above map shows that 19 was just South from the Route Ratard / Route de Say Zoong corner, today Julu Lu / Changshu Lu. It is located on below map from 1939. This was definitely a shop, but not the garden itself, which was probably a few miles away, in the countryside.
After writing the original post on this topic, friends from MOFBA came with a advertising for Jardin Français at a different address, published in “The China Press” from 9th March 1934.
The earlier incarnation of Jardin Français was closer to the center, and probably moved West along with the development of the city, and maybe (just like today) rents increase. I like the “prices reasonable”, which sound to me like a literal translation of “Prix raisonnables” in French but sounds kind of funny in English.
This is the exact same corner, today Julu lu / Changshu lu. On my back it the other side of Julu, Changshu lu 17, i.e. 17 Route de Say Zoong. Numbers on that street have not been changed. The large building is numbered 55 but covers a large area, so it surely encompasses 19, and 19B. This was the location of the Jardin Français shop in 1938. The actual building was probably a 2 story long building with many shops, that is common in Shanghai even today.
I have encountered another newspaper cut with advertising for Aquarius recently. With it design depicting a modern Shanghai women sipping a soda, it is probably from Old Shanghai time. The theme of modernity and luxury through drinking Aquarius is very similar to the other ads I found.
However the design seems very late in the period, probably more 1940s that earlier. Thus, I would guess the ads was designed in the 1945-1949 period, but I have no further information so far.
Park Hotel was the most modern hotel of Old Shanghai. The iconic building from Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec, overlooked the race course on a prime location and was the closest competition to the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel). I got a unique inside view of how the business worked through a rare find.
Employing a large number of people and keeping the operation running to please guests was, and still is, a massive task for hoteliers. Long before computers, hotels had to keep a daily clear and detailed accounting system, this is exactly what I found in an antic market. The stack of papers in above picture is the full account of Park Hotel activity for 22 Oct 1938.
1938 was a dark time in Old Shanghai, as the Japanese army had already landed in Shanghai in August 1937 and surrounded both the International Settlement and the French Concession. Crossing out was difficult and dangerous for most Chinese people. Business for the hotel, was probably much down, at least for short term accommodation as there was little visitors from abroad already and not so much travel in China. Still the accounting file gives out a lot of information.
First columns on both pages details the spending of the hotel in terms of food (vegetable, meat, eggs, poultry) on first page. Second page is dedicated to beverages (water, wine, beer), as well as other expenditure. Details of fresh products bought by the kitchen are displayed below.
Second column includes supplier names including a few famous brand like EWO Brewery (EWO is the Chinese name of Jardine & Matheson). Dairy farms include Laiterie Delicate, Scotch dairies and Standard milk Co. Bread supplier was Paul Tchakalian (one of the famous Russian bakery in Shanghai). The hotel also purchased items from the famous Sincere department store.
The above sheet details the purchase from the kitchen. When comparing with the above one, it is clear this is not by far the only purchase from the hotel. I would assume this one was cash purchase from markets or local vendors.
The Park Hotel shopping list was still large, with 29.5 lbs (more than 13 kgs) of beef fillet, 38.5 lbs (17 kgs) of veal leg, and 39 lbs of chicken (about 5 to 7 chickens). Sea fish consumption must have been high as the hotel also bought 45 lbs (20.5 kgs) of Sole fish and 42 lbs of Cod fish (19kgs).
Since I am not a specialist on hotels or F&B, comments and comparison with today’s hotel purchase are more than welcome.
In post Shanghai Milkman, I wrote about milk delivery in Old Shanghai, and Culty Dairy, a farm located in the former French Concession. Culty dairy was advertising its products in the “Journal de Shanghai”, the French newspaper in Old Shanghai. Below ad is from 8th December 1928. “Culty milk. Drink it daily brings good health”. Simple but effective!
Shanghai 2015 World Congress on Art Deco was a major event for the Old Shanghai lover community. Bringing dozens of delegates US, the Americas, Europe and Asia, it focused the Art Deco World’s attention to Shanghai heritage, thanks to organizer Historic Shanghai. It was also a great meeting place for Art Deco people and an introduction to the very few Art Deco societies in France and other European countries to ICADS (now Art Deco International). As explained to post “Art Deco in France” from 2014, Art Deco was not really well recognized in Europe then, particularly in France.
French speakers taking part to the Shanghai 2015 World Art Deco congress gathered for an informal meeting after one of the Congress diners at the former Cercle Sportif Français (today the Okura Garden Hotel). The conversation moved to the plan of having the World Congress on Art Deco in Paris in 2025, that seemed like a distant dream.
The best part is that the 2025 World Art Deco Congress in Paris has been confirmed, starting on 28th April 2025. An early version of the project has already been presented. This event will mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the original exhibition and will be a great boost for Art Deco in France. The dream from Paris is now becoming reality. Surely a Shanghai delegation will join!
“La Concession Française de Changhaï”, the Shanghai French Concession was officially created by the Whampoa treaty in 1844. It became much real at the arrival of the first French Consul Général, Charles de Montigny in 1847. One of the main task of the Consul was to open a Consulate General, and later to build an actual building to host the Consulate.
As seen on above map, the original French Consulate building was not on the Bund, a little behind, within the plot of the Catholic missions. This plot is where the current Saint-Joseph Church is, on Sichuan Nan Lu. The Consulate moved a few years later to a location on the “Quai de France”, the French Bund.
The new consulate building of classic style, was probably built in the mid 1860s as the French Concession was extended on the river side in 1861. From that point, Quai de France, or French Bund, became much longer and with more traffic. The street on the left side of the Consulate became “Rue du Consulat” (today Jingling Dong Lu). Although I could not find the actual date of construction of this building, it did not last very long as a new Consulate was built on the same plot but closer to the river and the French Bund, opening in 1896, when Paul Claudel was the French Consul in Shanghai.
The new building was of neo-classical style, matching buildings on the Bund, a few hundred meters away. It was asymmetrical with a round extension on the side on Rue du Consulat. Actual French people were only a few hundreds in the French concession at that time.
This version of the French Consulate lasted the longest, and the building continued to be used long after the Consulate closed in 1950. A French friend told me the story of the destruction of the building in 1982, when he tried to keep a few pieces of the original building. Unfortunately, those remaining pieces have been lost over the years. The former French Consulate building was replaced by an unimaginative office building.
Fortunately, this building was renovated and a neo-art deco style top was added in 2006, occupied by ICBC bank. The ground level of the building reminds of the style of the former Consulate building, including the metal fence around the plot. Maybe it is an hommage to the former building in the same spot. The neighbouring building, the former office of the Messageries Maritimes still stands, being now the seat of the Shanghai archives.
Although the French translation of “400 million customers” seems to have been a strong success Carl Crown did not gain long term fame in France. I never heard about him before coming to Shanghai. The discovery came while listening to Paul French, author of his biography, Paul French, during the 2007 Shanghai literary festival. Having heard about the famous Carl Crow map of Shanghai before I bought the book after French’s speech at Glamour bar.
Carl Crow was a very important figure of the old Shanghai, where he spent two periods of his life. He first started the China Press in Shanghai, a newspaper that was bringing an American voice to a scene dominated by the British North China Daily News. After moving to Japan, he became famous for being the first journalist to publish the “21 demands” from Japan to China in 1915.
Coming back to Shanghai in 1918 he created what became one of the main foreign advertising firm in Shanghai, helping foreign companies to sell their products throughout China. Carl Crow Inc also maintained the first and largest advertising network in Eastern China, importing the concept of advertising and creating the famous Shanghai advertising posters with Chinese girls in QiPao. These posters have since become one of icon of old Shanghai. He also founded the Shanghai Evening Post in 1929, the Shanghai newspaper that mostly supported the Nationalist cause and the development of China. He finally left Shanghai on the last American refugee boat after the Japanese invasion of the settlement in 1937 and finished his life in the US as a writer and adviser on Asian politics. MOFBA recently published a great article about the different locations of the Carl Crow Inc in Shanghai.
Carl Crow is the author of many books including “400 Million Customers“, “The Chinese are like that” and “Foreign Devils in the Flowery kingdom”. He crossed the path of Sun Ya Tsen, Chiang Kai Chek and his wife, Zhu En Lai, various Chinese warlords and many Shanghai known figures. He was part of the Shanghai publishing scene along with fellow Missourians such a Tom Millard and JP Powell.
It took me while to finish the book, not by lack of interest but by lack of time. Paul French definitely spent an enormous amount of time to research it. He travelled extensively to the US, HongKong and other locations to pull together information, and the book really feels like a great study. As an Old Shanghai fanatic, I found in it many information that I missed, many cross references to things I had heard of and many points of high interest. Carl Crow’s life takes us to the tumultous Chinese’s history from the 30’s. At the same time, I sometimes felt that without all my previous knowledge of these events and characters, I would probably have been a bit lost. “A tough Old China Hand” is a highly interesting book, but not one for the freshers in the Old Shanghai.
The weather was really nice last week, I spent time walking up the Western stretch of Nanjing Dong Lu, the former Nanking Road. Going from the Bund to the Race course, Nanking Road was the main road of Old Shanghai and its main shopping street. It is still very busy nowadays, although it mostly caters for tourists. Walking down Nanjing the newly pedestrian street all the way to the Bund is a must for a Shanghai visit.
Although many of the old buildings of the Nanking Road have been destroyed, the above section (corner of Nanking road and Hoopei road / Nanjing Dong Lu and Hubei Lu) has not changed so much, as seen on above picture. The four main modern department stores of Old Shanghai were built on this stretch and those buildings are still here.
Some of the buildings on the left side have been teared down, but Wing On department store (1918) is still visible. The façade has been renovate and looks very nice. Unfortunately, the interior been ruinovated several times in the last decades.
On the right side, Sincere department store building (1917) is also still visible. Although it has been renovated, the building is in less good shape than the Wing On. The façade is half covered by an ugly advertising. The ground floor is occupied by cloth shops. The hotel in the back of the building has been expended to occupy a large share of what was the department store.
Finally, the middle spire of has disappeared but the building supporting it has not. The former Sun Sun Department store (1935), designed by Hungarian architect C.H. Gonda is still there, although it is less visible. Sincere spire can be seen in the background of above picture left. Further down is the location the fourth department store of Nanking Road, the Da Sun, now Shanghai N1 department store.
Modern skyscrapers in the background seem just behind the Sun Sun, although they are much further, located on the side of people square. The lowest dome is the New World shopping mall, located at the spot of the New World entertainment centre and hotel.