French concession detailed map

Maps are an essential took for understanding history. I recently found an amazing map of the Shanghai former French concession. Finding all information on it is a real challenge, but also very rewarding.

The below map was downloaded from a public website. It is clearly the scan of an historical map of the Shanghai French Concession. The title is “Plan de la Concession Française”, “Changhai”. The website mentioned the date of 1920, but it’s clearly from a later date.

The shape of the map clearly shows the full size of the former French concession, after 1911. One specific point for finding the date of the map is the presence of the Cercle Sportif Français (Corner Route Bourgeat and Rue Cardinal Mercier / today Changle Lu and Maoming Nan Lu) , officially opened at the end of 1926. At the same time, the Canidrome is not mentioned on the map, in the block Route Lafayette / Route Cardinal Mercier / Avenue du Roi Albert (Fuxing Lu / Maoming Nan Lu / Shaanxi Nan lu). The part of the Rue Cardinal Mercier next to the canidrome was not even built, with the Morris Estate covering both side of the current Maoming Lu. As the Canidrome opened in 1928 and needed some time for building, the map can be dated from 1927.

Looking at the details more in-depth, very interesting information is found in the lower right corner. First of all, the date of the design is written. The map design was finalised on 28 April 1927, by “l’ingénieur en chef” (the chief engineer) of the Shanghai French Municipality whose signature is printed on the map. Furthermore, the print work is mentionned as “T’ou-sé-Wé”. This was the orphanage of the ZiKaWei (XuJiaHui) Jesuits complex which was also an art and craft school run by the Jesuits priests. The framing of the map is also very nice, with a square motive on each corner. The map was printed on brown paper with 4 color (Black, Orange, Blue, Green).

On the top left corner is added some information probably stamped later in red. “Police Jour C 1514 / Nuit W 6675” as well as “Incendie Jour C 79 Nuit W 79”. I guess those were the police and fireman phone number for day and night service.

The size of the map is mentioned to be 12 x 28 inches (30.48 x 71.12 cm), with a 1 : 8750 scale. I am somewhat skeptical of a map size in inches, this must be an approximation as this French map was surely an integer number in cm. Futhermore, I have seen a very similar French Concession map, with original map about 140 cm x 60 cm).

This map is very highly detailed and of very high quality. Since it is signed by the chief engineer, it was made for the French Consulate, or most probably the French Municipality. This makes it an official map of the French Authorities. Those cadaster maps are extremely rare nowadays, this was a lucky catch. If you need the original full size file, download link is below.

Shanghai Milkman

Daily milk delivery has been a feature of English life since the end of the 19th Century. The milkman service was a full part of British culture, with 94% of the milk consumed delivered by the door in 1974. This is probably best illustrated by the 1966 British hit “No Milk Today”. Similar service was also available in Holland and in the USA. Being of such importance in the UK, it is of no surprise that a milkman service was available in Old Shanghai. What is more amazing, is that the service has survived in Shanghai and is still available nowadays.

Milk and milk products were an essential trade for European settlements in Asia, including Old Shanghai (see post “milk and butter” for more details). As the population of Old Shanghai grew, European farming was developed to supply local customers, including dairy products. They were quite a number of dairy farms in Shanghai, including the Liberty Diary on Connaught Road, in the International Settlement (today Kanding Lu), the Standard Milk Company on Great Western Road (today Yanan Xi Lu), or Model Diary Farm on Tifeng Road (today Wulumuqi Bei Lu).

1938 ad for The Liberty Diary
Standard Milk Co ad – Picture MOFBA

The most famous then and today being probably the Culty dairy, located at the corner of Avenue Joffre and Route Culty, today’s location of Shanghai librairy on Huai Hai Zhong Lu. It was a few step away from Hungarian architect Béla Matrai’s home and most well know building.

Shanghai libray, former location of the Culty Dairy

Just like in the UK , milk was delivered daily in glass bottles. Every customer received a small metal box that was hanged outside the house, like the one pictures below. Early morning, the milkman would come, collect empty bottles from the previous day and put filled bottle instead. Bottles were normally half pints, i.e. 236 ml. Milk was delivered and consumed within a short time, it did not really need refrigeration.

Although milk is now mostly sold in cartons, using refrigators, the milkman service is still available in Shanghai, with milk delivered early morning daily. The little box is made of plastic, not of metal anymore but form and function are similar. Glass bottles are 195 ml, that is pretty close to the half pint.

Since very little packaging is used, this is also an environment friendly way of getting your milk. Bright food group was born form the merger of several food companies in Shanghai, including the Yimin N1 food company, the original ice cream company in Shanghai. They probably also included some of the former dairy farms and milk company, including Sun-Shine dairy, so service continued all those years. Bright also owns the Aquarius water and soda brand, that was available in Old Shanghai.

Now that I am regular customer, I enjoy my daily milk just like in Old Shanghai. This is a revival experience, similar to enjoying unchanged palmier from Park Hotel, or having lunch in Old Shanghai Deda Cafe.

Shanghai’s Art Deco Master

Art Deco master 001
Book cover

Like a number of those before on this book review is a biased one.  Just like “Peace at the Cathay“or “Promenades dans l’ancienne concession Française“, the book was written by friends of mine, in that case Spencer Dodington & Charles Lagrange. Furthermore, I was actually involved in the project itself, though only for a tiny bit. In any case, this books really fills a hole in Old Shanghai studies.

Having lived in Shanghai for about 10 years, and discovering its history and architecture, I long dreamed that somebody put as much efforts into studying work of  French architecture firm “Leonard, Vesseyre & Kruze”, as that was the case for British firm Palmer & Turner and Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec. It took a team of a Belgian and an American authors to actually deliver in-depth study of the French firm. LVK was a major influence of the architectural style of Old Shanghai and this books truly highlight this heritage, focusing on the life of principal architect Paul Vesseyre.

Thanks to enormous archive research, in-depth knowledge of Shanghai and access to the archives of the Vesseyre family, the authors give a precise account of the early life of the architect, as well as his voyage to Shanghai. Just like contemporay Laszlo Hudec, Paull Vesseyre architecture studies were interrupted by WW1. He then returned to France, taking part of rebuilding one of main French Art Deco cities, Reims before sent by French construction firm Brossard & Mopin to Tianjin, and then Shanghai. He met Alexandre Leonard there, and both created firm Leonard & Vesseyre architects in 1922. Their debut work was the new building of the Cercle Sportif Français on Rue Mercier, today’s Okura Garden Hotel on Maoming Lu. This major work became an anchor of the French Concession and insured the success of the company and both men personal wealth.

Leonard & Vesseyre created most of the modern buildings in the French concession. They worked for the Catholic Church, the municipality and most prolifically for the French developer FONCIM. Major pieces include Béarn and Gascogne apartments on Avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai Lu), the Dauphine and the Boissezon apartments. LV&K was also the designer of the series of neo-normandy style houses aroung Jian Guo Lu and Gao An Lu (see portrait of an old neighbour and further posts on this topic), as well as many buildings in that neighborhood. All of them  and many more are analysed in the book, making it an essential piece of the knowledge and understanding of Old Shanghai. The book is currently only available in English, published by Earnshaw book. A French version in under preparation.

Meeting of old neighbours

lilianeelenasMy first encounter with Liliane Willens, author of “Stateless in Shanghai” about 4 years ago was really the product of chance (see post “A date with Liliane“). As she came to Shanghai again, fate was again acting, making me encountering another former Shanghailander by total random and making them meet each other. Last Thursday was the day for the first presentation from my friend Didier Pujol (founder of China World Explorer). He was scheduled to speak about “Swinging Shanghai”, entertainment in Old Shanghai. I was also going there to meet Liliane Willens, who had just returned to Shanghai for a visit. This is when my phone rang, with a real surprise. A friend of mine had read my previous blog about the police building and Huai Hai lu and had met à lady in front of this very building. This lady was claiming to be a former Shanghailander, who used to live around this place on Huai Hai lu. After talking with her on the phone for a few minutes, I decided to take her with me to Liliane’s conference on the same evening. This is how I met with Elena Nemtzeff and introduced her to another Shanghailander.

Elena’s parents were White Russians, who fled the Russian revolution first through Harbin and then arriving in Shanghai. “My mother was not very educated”, she said, “but my father was an army cadet, from the Russian military elite school.” They met and married in Shanghai, and Elena was born in 1935. Elena’s father, using his military background, was employed as a body guard for wealthy Chinese. He then created his own firm, a pest control company , serving all the large buildings that were built in Shanghai in that period. “He worked in all the large new buildings like the Cathay Hotel and Broadway Mansions. We became quite well off, until loosing everything during and after the war.” Elena went to school to the French école de la rue Rémy (still a school today on Yong Kang lu), that was opened by the French authorities for the children of the many Russians refugees who lived in the French Concession. Most of her French has disappeared after living many years in Sydney.

During her first visit back to Shanghai, she went back to her former appartment building on 1352 Avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai zhong lu), which still stands today. She managed to catch up with her former Chinese neighbor, school mate and friend who still lived in the same place. “Because his dad was working for the French police, we went to the same school. We used to  go to school together.”

Talking with Liliane Willens, we realized that they were living about 100 meters from each other, as Liliane was living in the Savoye appart on Route Sayzoong (today Changshu Lu). Liliane was going to a different school, the College Municipal Français, so they never actually met. Liliane left Shanghai to go to the USA and Elena went to Australia.

What these two ladies have in common is a strong link to Shanghai. They remained attached to the city, despite time and distance, and they felt enough link to come back again several time when China opened again. They are and feel like Shanghailanders until today.

Boonna Cafe, Huai Hai Lu – 5 years of blogging

The first post in Shanghailander about Boonna Cafe was written about 5 years ago, being on the very first posts on the this blog.  The current one is like marking the 5th anniversary of Shanghailander, written in  the lastet Boonna incarnation. The original post was about this particular cafe, but also about the lack of similar places at that time. Boonna Cafe, along with Vienna Cafe and a very few others were a refuge from both the constant activity of the city and the ever growing empire of global brands such as Starbucks. The original Boonna Cafe on Xin Le lu has long beeing chased out by rent increase and the abundance of clothes shops on the former Rue Paul Henry. Fortunately, it has recreated itself a few time, the last incarnation being the South part of the former Avenue Joffre (today’s HuaiHai Lu). The current Boonna Cafe still has the same characteristics as its ancestor, being located in an old Shanghai house, red inside walls, hanging photographs and plain simple design although it is about twice as large.  The main change from my 5 years old post is probably the crowd.

2006 central Shanghai was still burgeoning, 2011 Shanghai is running full speed. Old Boonna’s consumers were often foreigners, trying to find a bit of home and comfort. Today’s Boonna’s consumers are mostly the young educated 20 something Shanghainese crowd. The cafe culture of Shanghai has come back with a vengeance and pioneers like Boona are not the only kid in town anymore. Besides the ubiquitous Starbucks coffee giants Costa has joined the game, followed by numerous other locals. Xin Tian Di is not the only mixed food, bar and retail area, as Tian Zi Fang as developed along with a few others. Opening of retail to foreigners and waves of oversease chinese and students coming back have created a new face for Shanghai shops and bars / restaurants. The local joint good for breakfast, lunch and any coffee and web browsing stop in the middle is not a rarity anymore, but rapidly becoming the norm in central Shanghai. The 2010 expo has not only left its traces to the city landscape, but also to the city’s culture bringing the world to the city as well as more foreign exposure. Another profound change is that buying power has increased enormously and the younger generation often has disposable income to spend, often in shopping and food.

Shanghai has not only moved on in terms of modernity, it has also got much more in touch with its past. Shanghai history was mostly the interest of scholars and a few crazy foreigners when this blog started. Multiple movies were since made taking place in old Shanghai (such as Tai Tang Kou, Shanghai) as well as TV series (such as Shanghai Shanghai). Novels from the period have been republished and are now really popular (see “Love in a fallen city” post). At the same time, numerous books about Shanghai history have been published both by foreigners who actually lived in the city (like Liliane Willens’ stateless in Shanghai) and local people showing an interest. Although I don’t really read it, I know numerous novels in Chinese have been published. The cherry on the cake being that copies of 1930’s sidecar have become cool thanks to a series of advertising for a chewing gum brand (view it on youtube). All of is has recreated a glamorous image of Old Shanghai, hopefully helping to preserve its remains (See post “Somebody finally got it”).

Shanghai in the last 5 years has deeply changed. It has become modern, more cool, more international and closer to its past. Although transforming, it is also becoming more like what the old Shanghai used to be, a city at the confluence of the East and the West,  the Chinese door for the West, one of the center of the XXIst century. Shanghai is definitely becoming one of the world cities.

Hung Ying Library, 1413 Avenue Joffre

1413 Huai Hai Lu
1413 Huai Hai Lu

Located at the corner of Huai Hai Xi lu and Fuxing Xi Lu, the Xu Hui Art Museum is located in an old mansion renovated around 2005. Hosting various art exhibition, it is quite different from the previous tenant of the building… a Sichuan Restaurant. There is little in English about the history of this building and its original occupant, but I happened to find more by complete random. Here is the story of the house located on 1413 Avenue Joffre, and its uncommon owner Ye Hong Ying.

It all started in an antic market, when I encountered a stack of  bills all for the same location, 1413 Avenue Joffre. They were normal utility bills from the 1930’s including electricity bills from the “Compagnie Francaise de tramways et d’eclairage electrique de Shanghai” and “Shanghai Telephone Company”. With them also came along a significant number of subscriptions invoice to major English Newspapers published in Shanghai, starting with the most important one, the North-China Daily News.  They also included other titles such as the Shanghai Herald, the Shanghai Times and The China Weekly Review.  Finally, I also found bills from famous publishing companies such as Kelly & Walsh, The Commercial Press, The China Press, as well as “International Booksellers Limited”, a bookstore on Museum Road. Since all the bills were addressed to “Hong Ying Library”, it was clear that the location was a library in the 1930’s but I had very little information about the establishment or who Hong Ying was.

Ye Hong Ying
Ye Hong Ying

No results were found on the English internet, however the Chinese one gave the answer and details about this gentleman and his library. Born in 1860 in Xiamen, Ye Hong Ying moved to Shanghai with his family in 1867. He went to Japan to learn the trade of seafood in 1877, coming back to Shanghai in 1881. From that point on he became a major trader in sea foods, abalones and other sea delicacies, as well as exporter or various commodities. By the mid-30’s his empire included cotton mills as well as banks and insurance companies. He spoke Chinese, Japanese and probably English as well.

In 1933, he set aside the amount of 50 million Chinese Dollars to create a English language library. The establishment became known as the “British Library” or Hong Ying Library. It officially opened in 1942, containing more that 150.000 books, 3600 magazines and subscriptions to many dailies (including the ones mentioned above) . Unfortunately, it did not last for long as the content was transfered to the Shanghai library in the 1950’s. Along with the Xu Jia Hui library and the library of the Royal Asiatic Society, the British Library was a major source for English books in old Shanghai. Most importantly, it was open by Chinese people who were eager to expose their country to the world, bringing the knowledge right where it could be most useful. As such, it was surely a place often visited by modern English speaking Chinese and probably foreigners as well.

More info (in Chinese) at:

Old Shanghai tramways

Tramways on the French Bund
Tramways on the French Bund

As Shanghai grew as a metropolis, in the first half of the XXth century, transportation problems were are a serious issue, just as they are today. Although the city was not united but cut in three sections (the International Settlement, the French Concession and the Chinese City), investments were made for the city to develop. The first phases included actually paving the roads and building the dam to stabilize the Bund. As the city extended westward, much larger scale investments were required.

The fast growing city considered having tramway as early as 1898, but it is only in 1908 that the network actually opened. Three networks were created, ‘Shanghai Tramways’ run by the Shanghai Electric Construction Co Ltd in the International Settlements, ‘La Compagnie Francaise de Tramways et d’eclairage electrique de Changhai‘ in the French Concession and the ‘Chinese Tramways company’ in the Chinese city. Originally, the line were connecting, but not tracks were not crossing from one part to the other, so passengers crossing a border had to disembark and get into the car from the next company. This was changed later, see below). Just like today’s metro, Shanghai tramways were essential for the life of the city.

Map of the International Settlement tram network

Down the Bund: The tram line was crossing the Suzhou river at the Garden Bridge (or Waibaidu Bridge) going all the way down the Bund down to the French Bund where it connected to the French Concession network. Not all lines were going the whole Bund down, but line number #2 from “Bubbling well road” (today Jing An Si), to ‘” “Marché de l’Est”, at the end of “Rue de la porte de l’Est”, today Dong Men lu.

Nanking Road tramways – Line 2

Nanking Road / Bubbling well (currently Nanjing Road East and West): Crossing the international settlement from East to West, the line went up to Jing An temple. As indicated on picture left, this was tramway line number 2. It had a very similar route to the today’s metro line #2 and part of Tramway line # 20

Avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai lu): The main line of the French Concession was crossing the French Concession throughout the urban part all the way to the end of the concession near Xu Jia Hui. Going down avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai Lu), the route was going first going through the heart of the French Concession, turning left on Route Prospère Paris (today Tianping lu) through a less urbanised part built only in the 1930’s, finishing at Xu Jia Hui jesuit center.

There was also other lines going down Seymour Road / Avenue du Roy Albert (the current Shaanxi Bei lu and Shaanxi Nan lu. The same road is still followed by a trolleybus line.

Shanghai tramway ticket

Picture right is a Shanghai tramways ticket from Old Shanghai. Although it is difficult to date, it is clearly from the 1930s or before. The ticket shows 8 possible routes (a 1931 list shows 11 routes so it probably from the 1920s). This ticket was punched for route 5, “Railway station to West Gate Via Boundry, North Chekiang, Chekiang, Hoopeh and Rue Hue”.

Along with the tramways, the Shanghai Electric Construction Company also built a network of “Trackless trolleys” in the 1930s. Shanghai also had a competing bus network, green double-decker vehicles very similar to the ones used in Britain and in Hong Kong. They were operated by the China General Omnibus Company.

Shanghai tramways were stopped in the 70’s and the tracks removed but as seen above current lines often follow the same route as the old tramways.

More about tramways in other Chinese cities with this article from Paul French’s blog:

Tian Shan Apartments

Tian Shan Apartments
Tian Shan Apartments

One of the most rewarding part of my passion for old Shanghai is to find locations and information that are little known or have been overlooked when they should be easy to see. Just like in the post “Haig Court, right in our face” this post is about a building on a street that every knows but only few people have noticed. Showing the city to visitors on a sidecar is challenging and pushes me to learn more and more about the city, so more posts like this are to be expected.

U-shaped Tian Shan Apartment

The entrance of Tian Shan apartment is located on Huai Hai Zhong lu, on one of most busy shopping stretch. The apartment complex is made of six buildings of 4 floors. Architecture and facades are typical of art deco, using vertical and horizontal lines to enhance the shape of the buildings. These 6 buildings are U-shaped with the opening turned south to catch as much light as possible for each apartment. They would not be really noticeable without the art deco fixtures on the roof. As you can see on the picture below, the buildings are linked with concrete cross-beams that are hanging on the whole with this very geometric design hanger. I am not sure what was it useful for, probably for pipes or cables.

Decoration on Tian Shan Apts
Decoration on Tian Shan Apts

This definitely increase the art deco feeling of this compound a lot, as well as the decoration on the roof of the central part (see picture right up). This compound is now mostly inhabited by employees of the nearby university and still gives the impression of peace and quiet, a few meters away from the busy street.

Tian Shan Apt

The recent painting also helps a lot.  The purpose built cable carrier did not stop the electricity company to install some ugly cables in the middle (see right), but they did not manage to destroy the harmony of this 1928 piece of art.

This charming small compound was located in the heart of the urban part of the French concession, not far from Brooklyn Court, Russian bakeries and restaurants, and Cathay Apartments. With entrance on famous Avenue Joffre (the old name of Huai Hai Zhong Lu), it was certainly one of the nice adresses to live in and rental were surely very high. Tian Shan apartment can now be found at 622 Avenue Joffre (today 622  Huai Hai Zhong Lu).

Lights on HuaiHai Lu

Avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai lu) was the focal point of the Shanghai French Concession. Marechal Joffre was a hero of French World War I and many cities in France have a street named after him. The street got its current name from the battle of Huai Hai (1948), that was the decisive point toward the communist victory, the take of Shanghai and the establishment of the people’s republic of China in 1949.

The French municipality was located on Avenue Joffre (currently the Central Plaza shopping mall, at the corner of HuaiHai lu and Madang Lu, that is interestingly hosts a Delifrance shop). Although many of the old buildings have gone, the section from Maoming lu to the North South Elevated motorways still looks like the old time.  In the 1930’s, many dress makers, hat shops and tailors were located on that stretch of the street, making it the main fashion shopping center for elegant wealthy citizens of the French concession. Shops were mostly operated by Russians as well as cafe’s, restaurant and bakeries giving to this area the nickname of little Russia. In the same area is located Brooklyn Court and the Cathay Apartments. Most of the old buildings of Huaihai lu have been destroyed to leave space to bright and new skyscrapers, but the above stretch has been more or less left like before. Facades have been renewed, and new additions fit relatively well in the background. Anchor buildings such as the Cathay theater (still a cinema today) and the opposite shop (today selling lingerie) can still be recognized on the pictures down though trees has grown a little since then. The return of high street clothing brands as well as coffee houses just adds to the atmosphere. Like everywhere in Shanghai, cars now drive on the right-hand side, as opposed to the left-hand side in old Shanghai.
The really unfortunate bit of Huai Hai lu are the horrible metal archs and lights crossing over the street. As they are hidden by the trees during the day it is somewhat easy to disregard them. At night, they just kill the atmosphere. I have seen similar kind of lighting in other Chinese cities, so they must be part of a fashion here. On the background of  trees and old buildings of Avenue Joffre, they are just out of place and I have hoped for their removal every time I have passed by them. This is when a recent radio announcement attracted my attention. Apparently, the horrible lights will be removed in the near future. I will only believe it when I see the horrible lights gone, but this already makes my day.

First Russian Bakery & Tkachenko

Writing the last post about Paul bakery attracted my attention to bakeries in the old Shanghai. There was a lot of foreigners but not that many French (probably about 1200 in the French concession at most). Still, from the documents I read and knowledge about European culture, there must have been bakeries in Shanghai to satisfy foreign (and Chinese appetites). The best place to look was surely my 1938 version of the Shanghai Dollar diary (more about it in an upcoming post).
I looked into the “bakery” entry of this older version of the phone book and found out 15 entries. I remember reading that the bakery business in the 30’s was run by many Russians in Shanghai. By looking at the names of the shop, at least 5 of them were run by Russians. The most obvious was First Russian bakery, Tchakalian (more about in a further post) and Tkachenko.
First Russian bakery is pictured right (picture is from the website of the Shanghai municipal archives). Located on 234-236 Avenue du Roi Albert (This now Shanxi Nan Lu, the location was approximately opposite Parkson on the other side of Shanxi Nan Lu). This was the urban art of the French Concession where many small apartment buildings were built, not far from Cathay Apartments, Brooklyn Court and the Cercle Sportif Francais. I will have to check, but if the building still exist, it’s probably a cloths shop nowadays.
Tkachenko bakery was also pictured on the same website.
As you can see, they were located in a large mansion of early Shanghai style. This is surely a much earlier building than the one of First Russian Bakery, but it was located only about 15 minutes walk away from it. 640-642 Avenue Joffre is today HuaiZhong lu, north side about half way between Yan Dang Lu and Sinan Lu. It’s approximately opposite the current Sephora shop. The original building was torn down since, probably in the 1990’s. This Avenue Joffre location was a bakery but also a Cafe and Restaurant (as seen on the picture). it would have been the ideal place to stop after shopping on Avenue Joffre (just like Paul today). It was typical of this part of the French Concession that attracted a lot of the White Russians and took the nickname of little Russia. Tkachenko also had factory and confectionery on Nearby Route des Soeurs (today RuiJin Er Lu), just after the corner with Nanchang lu.
This setup of having a shop on a prime location with a factory and confectionery in different location is very similar to today’s Visage chocolate shop and bakery (with its shop in XianTianDi and bakery and confectionery at the cross of HongQiao Lu and HuaiHai lu). The nearest thing to today’s Paul was probably the Tchakalian bakery, but this will the topic on another post.