Due to the CoVid epidemic, the original entrance of the former “Cercle Sportif Français“, the former French club, on Rue Cardinal Mercier (today Maoming Bei Lu) has been closed for months. This is a great opportunity to admire the wonderful original wrought fence that is normally folded during the day.
This is a great work of wrought iron, undoubtedly the original Art Deco fence designed by Léonard & Vesseyre. Sunshine gave a great light to it.
2019 James Carter book about Old Shanghai races was on my reading list for a while before I finally could go through it. Focus on Old Shanghai through the horse races and a very thorough research makes it an entertaining read full of new or rarely found information about my favorite topic.
Horse races in Old Shanghai
The book centers around horses races in Old Shanghai. Although this type of activity has gone out of fashion a lot, horses races were a major part of entertainment in Old Shanghai. The highlight of the season was the twice a year Champions Day, the main competition between horse owners. Shanghai would stop for the afternoon with large crowds joining for viewing and betting on the race. This made the Shanghai Race Course was the most important point of the city along with the Bund. The first main point of the book is to show the upmost importance of the event for the social life of Shanghai, that may be little difficult to grasp in today’s World of unlimited entertainment.
New information about race courses
The books also brings a lot of information about The Shanghai Race Club and the race course (that was located in today’s people square). What is really new is the in-depth information about the other major race course, IRC (International Race Course) located in Jiangwan district. Although started by Chinese who could not get membership in the Shanghai Race Club, both Race Courses had strong links and membership in one would bring access to the other, allowing Chinese and foreign horse owners to mix.
Many new characters
Finally, the book brings out a lot of characters that were previously little studied. The cast of horse owners competing for the main price gives is varied, showing different sides of the Shanghailander society. As opposed to what was mostly thought, some of those characters were Eurasians, children of (mostly) western fathers and Chinese mothers. The book also turn the light on the Chinese modern society that was created in Shanghai, with several inclination towards foreigners and political conviction. Whether they lived from or competed with foreigners in Shanghai, the whole development of Shanghai was influenced by the West, while trying to keep a distinctive Chinese character.
Although very detailed, the book lacks in pictures which will make it harder to comprehend for people unfamiliar with the topic. The other missing point is a transcription in characters of the main people and location. This would have helped research on them on the Chinese internet, where probably more information is available.
A great read about Old Shanghai
Champions Day is the result of an incredibly thorough research, compiling the whole English press from Old Shanghai, as well as massive research in existing academia on the topic. It definitely brings lots of information on many new characters in a very entertaining manner and definitely a recommended reading for anybody interested in Old Shanghai.
Traveling in general and hotels in particular, have long been a strong interest of mine. In an earlier post, I was writing about Hotel luggage labels that were stuck on traveler’s luggage for advertising (see post: “Old Shanghai hotels luggage labels“). Here are a few more examples of luggage labels.
The Cathay Hotels Ltd
The luggage label from Cathay Hotels featuring The Cathay and the Metropole is probably the most famous luggage label of Old Shanghai. I found out that there was also a version with three properties. The Cathay Mansion was completed in 1928, the Cathay in 1928 and the Metropole 1931. However the Cathay Mansion was originally an apartment building, turned into hotel with a redevelopment and restaurant addition, so I guess the 3 hotels version was the latest.
The Great China Hotel
The property is still located at that corner and Fuzhou Lu and Xizang lu, but it was turned into an apartment building. The building that was dominating this side of the racetrack is now dwarfed by neighboring towers, but it is still easy to recognize.
The New World Hotel
Also located near the race track, the New World Hotel was located at the corner of today’s Nanjing Dong Lu and Xizang Lu. It was part of the entertainment center, the New World, an earlier version of the massive gambling, shows and entertainment focus, the Great World or Da Shi Jie that is located a few hundred meters down Xizang Lu. It has been destroyed to build a shopping mall.
Spanish architect Alvaro Leonardo has been instrumental in the rediscovery of Spanish architect in Shanghai, Abelardo Lafuente. While being in Shanghai, he researched his thesis on his forefather. He has been back in Madrid for a couple of years and his thesis is now completed, though only in spanish. His work is starting to get attention, like in this recent article in major Madrid daily Diaro ABC (in Spanish only).
Like for most Shanghai architects, their legacy was lost for many years and has only recently reappeared. It is then a struggle to find back information and an even bigger struggle to achieve recognition in their home country, so far away and after so many years. Congrats to Alvaro for this article!
Francophone Chinese stand-up comedian Li Song has got really popular in the French community in Shanghai, and with China focused people in France and French speaking countries.
He launched in career with the stand-up show “Chroniques du débridé” in 2018. The weekly Show “Le Journal du débridé” started in 2020. I was invited to be part of #11, released on 27th Feb 2021 (the part on Shanghailander.net starts at 13:50). The show is available on Youtube and Wechat.
Spending a staycation around the Yu Garden area became a great way to enjoy an overlooked part of Old Shanghai, before it disappears. Bordering the Renmin Lu (former Boulevard des deux Républiques), the building hosting the hotel occupied a complete block, with a great view in all directions.
Above map shows the location of the block, at the cross Renmin Lu, Xinyong’an Lu and Yong An lu. Although the hotel is mostly known for its proximity to Yu Garden, it’s view on the former French concession that really interested me.
Renmin lu was originally a canal, like many streets in Shanghai including today’s Yanan Lu (see post “Crossing the Yang Jing Bang” for more details). As the South border of the French Concession, it was called “Quai des fossés”, meaning “pit quay” in English), and was facing the North part of the Shanghai city wall. The city wall was teared down in 1912, the canal was filled and turned into a street called “Boulevard des deux Républiques”, meaning two republics Boulevard, i.e. the French Republic and the newly formed Chinese Republic. The Chinese name was and still ease “Renmin Lu”, republic street. Along with Zhong Hua lu, litteraly China street, making a circle following the former city wall, they form “Zhong Hua Ren Min”, meaning “The people of China”.
Xinyong’an Lu, was one of the early roads of the early French Concession, called “Rue Colbert”. One block down from the main road Rue du Consulat (today Jinling Road), it was the original seat of the Shanghai General hospital. Xinyong Lu was called “Rue Laguerre”, after French Commodore Adolphe Laguerre, who helped liberate Shanghai city from the Small Swords Society in 1855.
The whole area was covered with lanes, or Lilong housing many people and shops. In 1937, the block where the hotel is now located had 1200 inhabitants, with 33 Europeans and 70 shops. Shaped as a triangle, it could offer a very long line of shops. The building was on the border between the Chinese city and the back street of the French Bund. Located close to the Northern gate of the Chinese city, it must have been a great location for shops.
The opposite block was much larger, housed 2000 people including 49 Europeans and only 30 shops. Those Europeans were mostly living in the Saint-Anne building, a long 6 storey building on the side of Rue du Consulat, that was the highest building on this part of the French Concession.
It was great to give a last look to this area that is now scheduled for redevelopment, as the opposite corner has already been emptied of its inhabitants and will surely massively change in the coming years. The other side of Route Colbert must have been built with similar kind of housing. A few year ago, this stretch of the street was a great spot for being ribbons, knots, fabrics and was needed for sewing.
Above picture shows the half way between de rue Laguerre corner and the river. The first building is the back of the Butterfield & Swire godown (warehouse). Being close to the French Bund, or Quai de France, and with a major trading company this part of the street must have been busy with warehouses and coolies. This is very different nowadays as the river front is not used for unloading cargo anymore. Route Colbert nowadays is a much quieter street.
I was fortunate enough to get interviewed by Shanghai magazine “That’s Shanghai” about Shanghailander.net turning soon 15 years old.
The most enjoyable is that in my first years in Shanghai, That’s Shanghai was the prime source of information about what to do in the city. In a time before social media, getting your hand on the magazine (available for free in most foreign bars and restaurant), was one of the highlight of the month. Great opportunity to grab a cup of coffee and spend one hour reading about new places opening and looking for you friends pictures in the socialite section 🙂
As information is now dominated by the internet and social media, That’s Shanghai is mostly read online, but they still print an actual magazine. Hopefully I’ll get a copy, sit down with a coffee and read it again.
My previous post about Yangtszepoo docks attracted attention from some readers, here is some more information about the mother company of the docks, ” The new engineering & shipbuilding workd Ltd”.
The company did seem to enjoy fine ladies on its marketing material. Previous post was about an art deco painting of ladies printed on blotter, below one is the painting of a lady with as a metal frame. Definitely a promotional article for the company. Next artefact was also produced for the company, being hairpin and scissors, engraved “Ms H. E. Arnold, Opening ceremony, Yangtszepoo docks No2, February 21 1930.
As the site of the company seems to still exist partly, this will be a aim for an exploration later.
All Shanghai artefacts come in many forms and shapes. One of the interesting type is advertising objects, as they offer a real window in what people used and consumed at the time. I recently came across an interesting item, a advertising for Yangtzepoo Docks.
The paper is actually a blotter, the kind of thick paper designed to absorb the overflow of ink while writing with a fountain pen. Blotters have disappeared along with fountain pens, but they were very useful and popular in the time of Old Shanghai, including as advertising objects. I was first attracted by the picture, as it is a really nice painting. The image of finely dressed ladies in the wind helps to date the item. From the fashion, including men’s hats I would date it from early to mid 1930s.
The topic of the image used for the ad, has nothing to do with the services promoted, i.e. Shipbuilding and repair. It also has no specific link to Shanghai, not even in the background, though it must have been representative of western fashion at that time in Shanghai, as well as in England. Since the document was written in English only, one can assumed that it was sent to shipping lines and related businesses, both in Shanghai, the UK and other countries sending ships to Shanghai.
The Yangtszepoo dock was located on Yangtszepoo Road (today Yangshupu lu) and shown on below picture. One of its known engineer was Archie M Kerr. The Yangtszepoo dock was famous for its 584 feet (178 m dry docks). According to the 1928 “Port Directory of the Principal Foreign Ports” from the US Navy, it was the second longest dry docks in Shanghai.
The Yangtszepoo area was the main industrial point of Old Shanghai, with factories, docks and shipyards located along the river. Although this part of the city has been transformed a lot in the recent years, it remained a heavy industry and shipyard area for decades. 90 years later, the 584 feet long dock is still there, along with #2 docks that was officially opened on 21st February 1930.
Interestingly, Yang Chow Road nearby is still called YangZhou Lu, along with PingLian Road that is now Ping Lian Lu. Thorburg Road has been replaced by Tongbei Lu, which is near enough to probably have been the original Chinese name.
Having a sweet tooth myself, I got interested in Old Shanghai sweets brands, like Hazelwood ice cream. A more high level and confidential brand was Bianchi, a pastry and chocolate shop on Nanjing Road.
I got to know about Bianchi’s when finding a chocolate wrapping paper at an antique dealer store, probably around 2008. There was no indication of time then, but it turns out that Bianchi was a famous store located on 23 Nanking Road. This is actually inside the former Palace Hotel (today Swatch Peace Hotel), at the corner of the Bund and the Nanjing Road. I guess Bianchi chocolate was the shop on the right-hand side of the main entrance, nowadays selling watches.
Bianchi’s must have been a high level shop, catering for both a foreign and Chinese clientele as the address is written both in English and in Chinese characters on the chocolate wrapping paper.
Bianchi chocolate was advertised as “the Home of Tasty Dainties”. The founder of the company, Attilio Ferrari, resided in Shanghai since 1907. He started Bianchi on Nanking Road in 1918 and operated it until his death at the age of sixty, in 1938 (he was among the oldest Italian residents in the city). (Thanks to Katya Knyazeva @ https://www.facebook.com/mapoldsh/ for the info).
Pastry and chocolate shops were a rarity when I reached Shanghai in 2004, having disappeared along with many western style luxury in the previous decades. They have now come back in force, with bakery, pastry and café having popped up in many places in the city (See post “Shanghai Coffee culture“).
The Bianchi chocolate shop does not exist anymore of course, but just finding this piece of the old times was wonderful. I can picture myself going to buy my chocolate near the riverside, walking those busy streets, full of a mixture of trendy office workers, vendors of all kinds shouting to advertise their products and dockworkers. I get to the Bianchi shop, push the glass door. I look at all the chocolates in the shop, talk to Mr Bianchi about his chocolate, good food, life and other topic. It takes me a few minutes to wake up from my dream, holding my 80 years old chocolate paper in my hands. This old relic is so powerful that I still feel the taste of this chocolate created and eaten many decades ago.