General Post Office, Sichuan Bei Lu

Shanghai General Post Office
Shanghai General Post Office

It must come from having sent many letters, or from having a father who worked many years for the French post. In any case, postal services always interested me. I already wrote a post about addresses (or lack of) in the 1890’s Shanghai (click here to see post “Hotel des Colonies”), this post is about postal services when Shanghai really became a metropolis. In the late 19th century each country of the international settlement had its own postal services, postmen and its own post office. Each of country was creating its own stamps for sending letters to the home country or dependencies. The most well known national post office is probably the German one, that is today LAN Club on Gangdong Lu (picture right).

Old German Post Office
Old German Post Office

As China was not member of the international postal system, stamps from the foreign post offices where not valid for traffic within the country. China entered the General Postal Union treaty in 1914 becoming part of the world postal systems. Although many wars and events disturbed the traffic, it became possible to send a letter from abroad to somewhere in China relatively simply. National post offices were dismantled and the Main post office for Shanghai opened on #9 Beijing Road in 1919 (this building has now disappeared).

As postal traffic constantly increased, it became necessary to open a new a larger postal center for Shanghai. Ideal location was between the central business district of the Bund and the North Railway station with easy access to the Hangpu where big ships arrived as international letters where mostly transported by boat. Land was acquired in the cheaper HongKow district along the Suzhou river, at the corner of Sichuan Bei Lu. The area was an industrial and warehouse zone with a few of these buildings remaining today and the general hospital a little further down the river. The postal administration and main postal sorting center remained in this building until 2003, before moving to a modern location in Pudong. The building still hosts a working post office and the China postal museum.

post office sculpture
post office tower with Greek Gods sculptures

The postal museum building was designed by architect firm Stewardson & Spence in beaux arts style. It was built in 1924. It is often surprising for visitors that a Chinese administration building was designed in a western fashion. Although this was a Chinese administration, it was run by foreigners just like the customs. Furthermore, classical style at that time was the symbol of modernity and the building was surely designed to compete with the foreign banks on the Bund. Like buildings of that time the flat roof is ornamented by a tower, with statues of Greek God Hermes (Messenger god, thus patron of the postal services) surrounded by Eros and Aphrodite, Greek God and Goddess of love. The top picture is probably from 1930-31 as one can see the side of the Embankment building under construction (the Embankment building was opened in 1932). The landscape has changed a lot since with many towers built around, but the post office itself has not changed much since, apart from an extension along the Suzhou river. Behind the general post office stand the New Asia Hotel opened in 1934.

6 thoughts on “General Post Office, Sichuan Bei Lu”

  1. This is interesting. I thought it was built at the same time with the bund by British ppl, never knew it was Chinese architect who made it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What is the name of the five-story building to the right across the street from the postal museum?

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