Recent post Coca-Cola in Old Shanghai, was dedicated to a particular ad for Coca-Cola in Shanghai in 1938. This lead into researching it’s largest competitor in Old Shanghai, the Aquarius water company. This pushed me into more research about Coca-Cola advertising in Old Shanghai.
This is probably the most famous ad for Coca-Cola in the early 30s. The lady in the picture was top movie star Ryan Lingyu. This particular ad was used for marketing material again few years ago.
Ads in magazine was a major channel a the time, like the one above, from 1938.
Mural was also a major advertising channel. I am not exactly sure where below picture was taken, but surely in the business district behind the Bund.
I recently wrote a post about Coca-Cola and its advertising in Shanghai. The soft drink was bottled in Shanghai by Watson’s Water, a brand that is still sold in Shanghai. Its main slogan was “every bottle is sterilized”, showing the need and attention to clean water then, like today. Its main competitor Aquarius, 正广和，a brand that is also still sold in Shanghai today.
Aquarius water was originally founded in 1893, producing “water both still and sparkling, for the table”, as noted in “Sketches in and around Shanghai”, published in Shanghai in 1894. The factory was located away from the city, at the cross of Broadway and Seward Road, meaning right behind the Astor House Hotel, in today’s Hong Kou district. Like it’s competitor, it became an essential supplier of water and drinks for foreigners and wealthy Chinese.
As displayed in above add, the “every drop is distilled” shows the attention for water purity and safety just like today. One of the main drink on offer in the Shanghai heat of mid June was Aquarius Grapefruit Squash, to be drink with Gin as a refresher.
Aquarius was advertising in Chinese newspaper as seen above, linking is sparkling water with the high life of the day, elite activities including horse riding, tennis, swimming and dancing. Since the ad is in Chinese, it was clearly aimed at the Shanghai bourgeoisie that was rapidly growing at the time. Orange squash was surely a soft drink competing with Coca-Cola.
Soft drinks brands had also a number of promotional objects to give out to customer. My favorite one is the serving tray (top picture) that was surely used in the restaurants, bars or hotels in Old Shanghai. Along with it came the bottle opener (see below), that it still very usable today. I even found a picture of the actual Aquarius water bottle, though I have never seen the bottle itself.
The Aquarius brand is still in use in Shanghai, with one of the main depots in Min Hang district. Funny enough the current logo is still the same as the original and the Chinese name is still the same, though now in simplified characters.
Coca-Cola is one of the ubiquitous brand in today’s Shanghai, but the famous soft drink was also very successful in Old Shanghai. It was first bottled in 1927, by the Watson’s Mineral Water Company. “In fact, Shanghai became the first city outside the US to order 10,000 gallons of syrup in a year during the 1930s,” said Ted Ryan Coca-Cola’s director of heritage communications in a 2015 China Daily interview. Like in other countries, Coca-Cola sales were supported by strong advertising.
Above is the front cover of the 1938 Spring Summer Shanghai Dollar Directory, a yearbook including phone and business directory, as well a section on gardening in Shanghai. This ad was the biggest on both covers and must have been a great sale for the advertising section.
By 1938, Coca-Cola was bottled in 2 factories, one in Avenue Haig (today HuaShan lu) and the other one on Wayside (today HuoShan Lu in Hongkou district). Soft drink and sparkling water was a big market, as Watson’s was not the only one (Watson’s has been back in China for many years, but bottling Coke). Another producer of sparkling water and drink was Aquarius (more to come in a later post).
The ad was clearly aimed at both foreigners and Chinese writing. The characters for 可口可樂 (可口可乐 in simplified ) were displayed from right to left as it was usual then. The translation of the brand was the same as today, with characters being roughly translated as “good taste makes happy”, one of the best ever translation for a foreign brand name in Chinese.
Following the link for post “More on Coca-Cola ads” for more examples of Coca-Cola advertising in Old Shanghai.
In post “Déjà vu from Shanghai to Paris”, I looked into a strange tile pattern and color scheme that I saw both in Shanghai and in Paris. I believe the tiling below was imported from France.
The tiling pattern is sophisticated and used in Art Deco interiors, including on the Normandy steamship. Like many things in China, the original one was probably imported, then it got copied, changed and adapted for local production.
I happened to recently visit a building on Hunan Road (former French Concession), with a very similar tile pattern.
Like the original one in the FONCIM, it is used in the common areas, building entrance. The main differences are the color scheme and material used. The color scheme is definitely less elegant than the original. Material is different, as terrazzo (typical from original Art Deco) have been replaced by stripes of marble. Usage of marble is frequent in Chinese architecture, so I guess this tiling was designed by a Chines architect inspired by LVK work, or maybe for a Chinese client. To confirm this theory, the building were I took the picture was definitely built a few years later than the original FONCIM.
Update October 2020: It turns out that this particular building was built by Hungarian architect Béla Mátrai.
Advertising posters were the main way of promoting brands in the 1920’s and 1930’s Shanghai. The methods was brought from the USA mostly by Carl Crow, who made the largest advertising company at the time.
Although there are many fakes and reprints, real old posters are really rare to find nowadays. I happened to buy this one from an antic dealer in 2007 (I think). After years of storage, it is now properly framed and I take a good picture of it.
As common at the time, the center of the picture is a young Chinese girl, dressed with foreign clothes and in a foreign-style environment. This kind of advertisement was showing best style and modernity to be associated with the cigarette brands, so the author used the most up-to-date style. for closing and environment.From the layout as well as clothing, I would date it from the early to mid 1920’s, rather than the 1930’s seen with many of those calendars.
Just like today, advertising from that period was following the latest style. In the mid 30’s, they would show of the environment, focusing more closely on the woman. Her dress and posture would be more modern, and suggestive. Lettering would be more Art Deco inspired.
Russia-China Tobacco Company (驻奉中俄烟草公司 in Chinese) was located in Fengtian (today Shenyang) but little more is known about the company itself. It produced quite a number of advertising posters, that can be found on various auction websites. They range from mid-20’s style to early 30’s. Although some seem to be from a very similar period, I did not find pictures of this particular one.
On the way to visit Qibao Old town, in Minhang district, I was not expecting to see any Art Deco architecture. This part of Shanghai used to be a separate village in the countryside, reachable by boat, crossing the swamps over the small rivers that were surrounding Shanghai then. The trip would have been shorter, but similar to the one to Sheshan (see post Climbing Zo Se for more details).
Although Old Shanghai was one of the largest cities in the World in the 30’s with more than 3 million inhabitants, its footprint was much smaller than today’s Shanghai. If early 20’s century architecture, in particular Art Deco, can be found in the center of Shanghai, it is unheard of outside of today’s first ring road. The only exception being Hudec Laszlo’s Catholic Country Church, built then in the countryside, now located in the residential area of Hong Qiao (picture above) in Changning district.
I was then really surprised to discover this Art Deco building close to Qibao Temple. It was hidden between a large advertising poster and seems to be soon to be demolished, but the style was impossible to miss. How could an Art Deco building end up here?
The mystery did not last for long, as although the style was very much modernist / Art Deco, the cover of small tiles is typical of the 1980’s architectural style in China. This building is the former Minhang phone exchange. This kind of building seems to have crossed through time more or less unchanged, just like the ones in the former French Concession or the Former International Settlement. It was probably the first modern building in the area, and like in other cases, architects in the 80’s reused techniques and styles from the late 30’s or 40’s. Architecture did not change much in the meantime in China, so the modern ideas of Old Shanghai were still modern 40 years later. As new technology allowed larger buildings, this lead to Frankenstein Art Deco (see post Frankenstein Art Deco for more details).
Even if it was out of fashion for more than 40 years went it was built, it must have been the top of modernity in this rural surroundings… and somehow it still is very modern. Too bad it will soon go down.
I only became interested in Art Deco in Shanghai, long after leaving Budapest where I lived for a number of years (see post “Budapest Old and New“) . Just like in France, Art Deco was until recently seen as a minor style, often enclosed in the “Entre- deux guerres” period (Literally “between the 2 wars”), see post “Art Deco in France” for more on that. During my previous trip to Budapest, I was looking for Hudec connection in Budapest (see post “Hudec Alma Mater“. This time I walked around the city in search of Art Deco.
The search was greatly helped by a great guide book, from Zoltan Bolla, that is both in English and Hungarian. I had already looked for Art Deco in Budapest districts where I used to live in (mostly 6th, 7th), including UjSzinhaz theater, that is on the guidebook cover. This time I went to the 8th, 11th and 13th districts, parts of the city I never really visited while living there, but main points of Art Deco and modernist style. The border between Art Nouveau, Art Deco and modernism are often blurry and Budapest is no exception. This made a really interesting trip.
This area is pretty central, and Art Deco buildings are spread between earlier styles building. I focused on Népszínház utca, from Blaha Lujza Tér. The largest and most noticeable building on that road (though not the only onw) is pictured above, a beautiful and massive corner building. Although it is very central, the area was not very desirable when I lived in the city. This has massively changed and it is transforming fast.
Spending most of my life in Pest, I rarely went to Buda, the other side of the river. This is the home of one the main Art Deco et modernist area, around Móricz Zsigmond Körtér, with its large modernist buildings (picture above). I always felt that this part of the city was mostly about large boulevards, but strolling the small side streets looking for Art Deco completely changed my impressions on the area.
Small leafy streets with Art Deco buildings, like Szábolcska Mihály utca (number 3 on that street is pictured above) are really quite, with a high concentration of Art Deco and modernist buildings, as this part of the city was really developed in the late 20’s and 30’s. Away from the traffic, but close to transportation, they make a really nice area to live, away from the tourist crowds.
Further down Bartók Béla út, around Kosztelányi Dezsö Ter, Art Deco and modernist buildings are much larger, overlooking large boulevard. This gives a much more urban and modernist feeling.
Although I lived in that area at some point, I only realized many years later that my flat was located in a modernist building from the 1930’s. This part of the city has quite a mix of buildings, including art Nouveau, Art Deco and mordernist. The most noticeable Art Deco part is surely around Szent István Park (above picture). This is also the location of Duna Park Kaveház, a fully renovated Art Deco Cafe and restaurant. A great spot for a rest while on the hunt of Art Deco in Budapest.
Another really valuable guide about Art Deco and modernism in Budapest is the new guide book from Kovács Daniel, with pictures from Gulyás Attila. Although, it is only (so far) in Hungarian, the English translation will be a great addition for international Art Deco lovers.
Thanks to a recent business trip, I finally had the chance to view the ” Art Deco, the French-China Connection” exhibition in Hong Kong. Opened in early March, it will last until end of June and is worth seeing for Old Shanghai fans visiting Hong Kong.
The exhibition is the result of a very unique cooperation. It’s origin is the major Art Deco exhibition in Paris that took place in 2014 (see post “1925, when art deco dazzled the World” for more details), with a number of major pieces having been brought from Paris. Had this new exhibition been only a short version of the Paris one, it would already have been really interesting, but there much more to see.
One of the major and little known Art Deco link between France and China, is the mausoleum statue of Sun Yat Sen in Nanjing. If the purple mountain based mausoleum and the statue are extremely famous in China, few people know that the statue was created by French sculpture Paul Landowski in Boulogne near Paris, before being shipped to China. Landowski was also the creator of another World famous piece, the Christ statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. (See post: From Boulogne to Nanjing for more details).
With a France-China Connection theme, Shanghai art deco was also called in, with the help of major Shanghai based collector including Deke Ehr, Patrick Cranley and Tina Kanagaratnam. The original Paris Art Deco exhibition had shown a few photos of Shanghai Art Deco architecture by Leonard & Vesseyre company. Here, the Shanghai part is much larger with great examples of Shanghai Art Deco furniture, as well as fashion and famous art deco advertising posters. Side by side with the ones from Paris, they highlight the similarities between style and fashion in both cities during the same period.
Many more of those advertising posters from Hong Kong were on display, but the most important contribution to the exhibition is the whole room full of 1920’s and 30’s compact boxes or “necessaires” as they are called in French. These small boxes for ladies to carry make-up became really trendy in this period, and the collection on display is simply amazing thanks to the Liang Yi Museum.
Although the neighborhood of Kowloon Tong is quite far from the center of Hong Kong, the exhibition is definitely worth the trip for anybody interesting in Art Deco and Shanghai.
It is open until 30th June (10:00 to 19:00, closed on Monday), at CityU Exhibition Gallery, 18/F, Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, City University of Hong Kong, 83 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong
British author Paul French has lived in Shanghai for many years, and is vastly knowledgeable about Old Shanghai. Known for his in-depth research, he is also the author of The Old Shanghai A-Z , a reference book for anyone researching Shanghai history. French turning to crime solving inquiry in previous book Midnight in Peking, turned to be really interesting. Being passionate of both crime novels and Old Shanghai, I could only be interested in his new book, City of Devils, a Shanghai Noir.
Just like Midnight in Peking, City of Devils is not a novel. French takes a character that attracts his interest and research it in all directions possible. City of Devils is the story two characters of the Shanghai underworld. Jack Riley was the king of the slot machines in Shanghai, while Joe Farren was running entertainment shows at the top places like the Canidrome ballroom and the Paramount. Their course in Shanghai crime met numerous times, while they became allied, fell out and got in business again. The stories of both characters is really fascinating, showing the opportunities and the lawlessness of Shanghai in that period.
Little was known about the two central characters before French started his research. Information from a great many different sources have been put together, starting the local press of the time, North-China Daily News, JB Powell’s China Weekly Review and (never heard of before) blackmailing newspaper Shopping News. Although the book does not include a bibliography, they are references to many books about the period or written by people who lived through it, including Ralph Shaw’s Sin City, Bernard Wasserstein’s secret war in Shanghai, Frederic’s Wakeman The Shanghai Badlands and many more. He also search the official from the Shanghai Municipal police, and other Shanghai institutions as well as archives from foreign countries consulates that are stored in their home country. A number of well known Shanghai researchers have also contributed sometimes unpublished information that have been incorporated the book, including Prof Robert Bickers, russian researcher Katya Knyazeva and many more authors on the topic. The amount of information and the number of sources is quite extraordinary. Researching this books must have been like a real police inquiry, with attention to all possible details.
Beside those larger than life characters, the most interesting part is the description of Shanghai foreign underworld including numerous people or location that are mentioned in books of the period but on which little was known. This creates a great picture of the darker side of Shanghai that mixes well with French detailed knowledge. From the known facts he create an entertaining story, by bridging the missing parts with very plausible and well informed details. City of Devils is an entertaining read about a side of Shanghai that is lesser known. It is also a very deep research that is presented in a very entertaining way.
With its mix of influence, Old Shanghai had bits of pieces coming from all over the World including Beaux Arts style, Art Deco, Andalusian, Mexican revival, New Normand, German, traditional Japanese to name a few. They all added up and sometimes got inspired by traditional local style or its modern incarnation, neo confusion (sometimes called Republican style). While walking around in Old Shanghai, it’s sometimes surprising to see details that are heavily influenced by another place.
I have been fascinated by the floor tiling pattern in the picture up, since I discovered it a few years ago. The original picture was taken on the ground floor of the FONCIM D building (1933) at the corner of Jian Guo lu and Gao An lu. The building was designed by the firm Leonard, Vesseyre & Kruze (or LVK) (See post ” Shanghai Art Deco master” for more details or my article, in French, in Lepetitjournal.com Shanghai edition). The firm was highly creative and the building was designed for their largest client, the FONCIM real estate investment firm, so I first assumed it was unique.
The only other similar pattern I found was in a villa on Yong Jia Lu, a few hundred meters from the FONCIM building. The area was built by the LVK firm (Leonard and Vesseyre’s personal homes are nearly opposite from this building), including this one, probably from the mid 30’s. The tiling shape is slightly different, with the beige stripe wider, but still very similar. This was the only place were I saw this pattern until a recent trip.
Having diner in Paris a few days ago, I realized that the early 1900’s building had been extended by an Art Deco part with the tiling on the picture right. It took a while to retrieve the Shanghai picture, but when confronting both, the similarity was striking. So the Shanghai Art Deco pattern was probably not the invention of LVK, but probably imported from France. Looking for more about this pattern, I received a big help from my friends of the France Art Deco Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/franceartdeco).
A similar pattern was used for the flooring of the kitchen of flagship cruiser SS Normandie. Launched in 1935, SS Normandie was the largest cruise ship of its time, a floating palace fully designed in Art Deco Style. Because of WW2, it only operated a few years before sinking in New York in 1942, but it is still a legend in term of cruise ships, technological achievement and as an Art Deco masterpiece. Exemple of the ship’s decoration was shown in the Paris Art Deco exhibition in 2014 (see post “1925, when art deco dazzled the World” for more details).
Unfortunately, all pictures of the Normandie are black and white, so it’s impossible to know the original color of the kitchen tiling, but in any case it looked quite similar to the one used by LVK on Jian Guo Lu. As the pattern originated from France and it is so rare in Shanghai, it is likely that the actual tilling was imported from France. Shanghai was a modern city, in touch with the latest fashion in the World… just like it is today.