Winter Sports on the Racecourse

Shanghai Recreation Ground
Shanghai Recreation Ground

The former Shanghai race track (today’s People Square) remains an open space in the middle of the city. Horses racing around the horse track are long gone, but pictures of the race are a common sight nowadays. Although the Shanghai Race Club is also long forgotten, people are once again enjoying the view from the top of the building that is now the Shanghai Art Museum,  having a drink or a bite at (now gone) Kathleen’s 5 restaurant. What is much less known is what the inner space of the race track was used for.

The Shanghai Recreation ground, as it was known then, was a massive sport center. The large open space was divided in a number of fields accommodating various sports and activities. The Race track was used only periodically, but the recreation ground was clearly an everyday feature of Shanghai’s life. Like in many other places, British colonists brought there love of sports and horse racing with them, and they combined them in one location. A similar feature is still in used today in Hong Kong’s Happy Valley sport ground that is enclosed within the horse race track.

Winter sport fields on Shanghai race course

The Shanghai recreation ground was remodeled twice a year to accommodate a winter and a summer layout. Winter layout for 1938 (pictured) included 4 “soccer” grounds, 5 hockey grounds and 2 rugby grounds. Just like today’s expat, foreigners in old Shanghai would spend their winter weekends enjoying some fresh air while practicing team sports, all of it followed by a sizable amount of drinking. Having been a rugby player for a few years, I get a good picture of the “after matches atmosphere”. The summer layout included a baseball ground and a polo ground, another sport that is again practiced in Shanghai though in a far more remote location nowadays.

Similarly to Singapore’s cricket club, there were two pieces of ground reserved for the “Shanghai cricket club” and the “Shanghai recreation club”, both for cricket and tennis. The Shanghai cricket club also had a club house or a “pavilion” built on the side of its dedicated plot, it was roughly where Baraborossa restaurant is nowadays. The pavilion, a mock Tudor style building can be seen on the top left hand side on the picture above. The map also displays the SLBC (Shanghai Lawn Bowls Club) pavilion, as well as a few bowling greens. The most surprising feature was a 9 holes golf course with the tees spread over the whole field. The first tee and the 9th green were conveniently located near the golf pavilion, perfect for a drink before or after a game of golf. At some point, the Shanghai recreation ground was also used as a military airfield. At that time there was probably no time to play golf anymore.

8 thoughts on “Winter Sports on the Racecourse”

  1. The Racecourse was run by the Recreation Fund Trustees and was functioning I believe until mid-1951 when it was turned over to the PRC. It was managed by the chairman of the Recreation Fund Trustees – Committee of Management – Shanghai Recreation Club. I worked as a clerk for the chairman from 1947 to March 1951. I am emailing to you the letterhead of the Shanghai Fund Trustees. (I don’t know how to attach to this blog). I mention this in my book “Stateless in Shanghai” at the end of the chapter 23.

  2. Hi
    Where did you get the image of the winter layout of the racecourse from? I assume it is the 1925 edition of Gardening in Shanghai by Frederick Bourne.

    I can’t find this at Xujiahui Library. It could be useful to my research.


  3. Thanks for this interesting piece. I am doing some research into my father’s old home town. He lived at No. 15, Lane 49, Qinghai Rd. or Qinghai Lu. The current Google map doesn’t list this address at all but I can find Qinghai. There is nothing remotely resembling anything like a Recreation Club on current Google maps but that’s hardly surprising. Was the Shanghai Recreation club near Qinghai Rd? He once told us that he remembers seeing a large field with a golf course and that during WWII, it was used as an airfield by the Japanese. Your blog mentioned the use of the Shanghai Recreation club as a military airfield at one time but did not specify when or by whom. Would you have any information in this regard?

    Best Regards,
    Andrew Chiu

  4. Hello,

    I am currently writing a book on horse racing in China and would like to use the winter layout image. I will be grateful if you would advise me on its source. I’ve checked the 1925 edition of Gardening in Shanghai by Frederick Bourne and it doesn’t seem to be there.

    Ning Jennifer Chang

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