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 French Municipality Letter

Separated from the Shanghai International Settlement, the Shanghai French Concession had an administration on its own. Beside the French Consulate located on the Bund, the French Concession also had a French municipal administration as well as municipality building. The French Municipal Council (Conseil Municipal) was in charge of the city’s management, as opposed to the Consulate representing the French state. Although the French Municipal council was presided by the French Consul General, it regularly tried to distance itself from the Consulate’s influence.

While foreigners, and even more French people, were only a minority in the French Concession, the French Municipal Council had mostly French members as well as 3 foreign members. Chinese members were added in 1914, as a condition for the final extension of the French Concession. Members of the French Municipal Council were elected and including known people of the French community like René Fano, and Lucien Basset. Hugh Martin who I wrote about in previous posts was a also a member. The most famous Chinese member was surely gangster Du Yusheng.

Documents from the Municipalité Française de Changhai are pretty rare, so I was very happy to get this original envelop from the Municipalité Française from 1936. It was posted on 27 June 1936 at the Shanghai Post office, probably the General Post office on Sichuan Lu, as the character Zhong (center) is used below Shanghai. It was stamped with the 12 (probably 12 o’clock) batch. As discussed in previous post “General post office“, this was carried by the Chinese post, with Chinese stamps on the letter.

This was a registered letter, “Recommandée” is written on the envelope, as French was (and still is) the language of the international postal association. This also meant that a coupon was attached on the letter that was detached when the letter was actually delivered. As no mention is about the route to France, I assume the mail went by boat.

I was curious about the destination, ” Etablissements Ph. Lafon in Tours. The company was specialized in floor mills equipment. Below is an add from 1919 but I found pictures of machines from this company from 1950s. I have not found any company importing this brand in Shanghai, but maybe the Shanghai municipality was buying or looking at buying equipment from this company.

Asni`eres Art Deco

The 1920s and 30s was a period of intense building in Paris outer districts and in Paris close suburbs. Away from the grand building of Central Paris, buildings in suburbs tend to be a little smaller, with more space around. They are more similar to the ones of Shanghai former French Concession.

As a stopover before flying back to Shanghai, I spent a day in Asni`eres/Seine, a very close suburb to Paris. Asni`ere is familiar for French people, as French standup Fernand Raynaud (1926-19730) mentioned it in one of his most famous pieces, asking for phone number 22 in Asni“eres in the 1950 (see video below).

Like many cities in the Western part of Paris, it was built up before and after WWI, so Art Nouveau and Art Deco are plentiful. Another similar exemple is much more though after Boulogne-Billancourt (see post From Boulogne to Nanjing for more details). Walking around the city, I found a number of nice Art Deco examples.

With such a sunny and hot weather, it felt even more like in Shanghai, surrounded by Art Deco buildings.

爱情神话 / B for busy

爱情神话, in English “B for busy” is a recent Shanghai movie that has taken the city like a storm. This is a story of Shanghai people, taking place in the heart of Shanghai… in Shanghai dialect.

爱情神话 movie poster

爱情神话 can be translated as “love myth”. The movie is a romantic comedy centered on Old Bai, a Shanghai man in his mid. Divorced since years, he still looking for love and find himself the center of attention of three women. His Tango lover ex-wife is still around, and his own mother never accepted their divorce. One of his female student is also showing clear interest, though he is mostly some kind of distraction for her. Along comes a new friend that is attracting a lot of his attention. This trio of women makes a mess of his own little comfortable life, along with old friend Lao Wu, with his legendary past adventures with women.

The movie reminded me a lot of French movies, that are often centered around a couple of people in a short period of time. It studies the interaction between and how they change each character’s life. It also gives a sense of intimacy that really helps the viewer to relate with the movies characters. It’s a romantic comedy, and like in many French movies, the viewer will experience both laugh and sadness within short periods of times, making the movie very close to real life. Like many intimate French movies, it is depicting the life of the middle class, with cultural or artistic background.

Having lived in Shanghai for more than 18 years, I could also find a lot of reminders of my own life in Shanghai. All characters speak Shanghai dialect and characters are a real reflection of Shanghai life, including food and habits. All exteriors have been filmed in the streets of the Former French Concession, where a lot of Shanghai people in their midlife have spent their childhood in, just like characters of the movie. Walking down one of those streets, I am half expecting to meet the movies characters along the way. The whole movie actually feels like a love letter to life in this city.

The combination of strong Shanghai feeling and close intimacy with the characters is surely what has made the success of the movie in Shanghai. At the same time, it is also attracting foreigners who live in the city, as it gives all of us a sense of proximity and belonging. .. thanks to the English subtitles in the theater version. Hopefully, this will also make successful abroad as well, showing a very human face of Shanghai to the World.

Jardin Français

A recent post on this blog was focused analyzing a day of Park Hotel accounting. One the pages in the booklet particularly attracted my attention, a receipt from “Jardin Français”.

As the subtitle states it, Jardin Français or French Farm, was a market garden in the West part of the French concession. It offered “sanitary own grown vegetables, asparagus, fruits and special lettuces at any seasons and times”. This actual voucher was for chicory salad, and another one was for eggs. This was probably a premium place to get quality western vegetables, serving the hotels and the high level residents, something like today’s organic farming.

19B Route de Say Zoong is now located on Changshu lu. Above map shows that 19 was just South from the Route Ratard / Route de Say Zoong corner, today Julu Lu / Changshu Lu. It is located on below map from 1939. This was definitely a shop, but not the garden itself, which was probably a few miles away, in the countryside.

After writing the original post on this topic, friends from MOFBA came with a advertising for Jardin Français at a different address, published in “The China Press” from 9th March 1934.

From “The China Press” from 9th March 1934

The earlier incarnation of Jardin Français was closer to the center, and probably moved West along with the development of the city, and maybe (just like today) rents increase. I like the “prices reasonable”, which sound to me like a literal translation of “Prix raisonnables” in French but sounds kind of funny in English.

This is the exact same corner, today Julu lu / Changshu lu. On my back it the other side of Julu, Changshu lu 17, i.e. 17 Route de Say Zoong. Numbers on that street have not been changed. The large building is numbered 55 but covers a large area, so it surely encompasses 19, and 19B. This was the location of the Jardin Français shop in 1938. The actual building was probably a 2 story long building with many shops, that is common in Shanghai even today.

Culty diary advertising

In post Shanghai Milkman, I wrote about milk delivery in Old Shanghai, and Culty Dairy, a farm located in the former French Concession. Culty dairy was advertising its products in the “Journal de Shanghai”, the French newspaper in Old Shanghai. Below ad is from 8th December 1928.
“Culty milk. Drink it daily brings good health”. Simple but effective!

Culty dairy ad, 1928

Staying on Rue Colbert

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.

Hotel location on a very old map

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.

Boulevard des deux républiques (carte 1932)

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.

The opposite corner from the sky

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.

wheelbarrows on Rue Colbert (Picture virtualshanghai)

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.

Le musical-hall des espions

French journalist Bruno Birolli was stationed in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Beijing for more than 23 years. After two non-fictions book about Asia history, he published “Le musical-hall des espions” in France in 2017. I have read and written about quite a number of Old Shanghai novels like The master of rain” or “Night in Shanghai“, as well a Paul French book on Shanghai Gangsters, City of devils. Since I also love reading crime novels, one taking place in Old Shanghai could only attract my attention.

Book cover

Birolli novel’s title, ” Le music-hall des espions”, could be best translated as “Theater of spies”. The novels takes place from 1930 to 1932 and focuses on French man René Desfossées, who is sent to political unit of the Shanghai French Concession Police. Main characters include his boss, Commandant Léo Fiorini along with Archibald Swindown, a colleague from the International Settlement police. As historical events unfold in Shanghai, their police work will make them meet various people including the chief of police for the Kuomingtang government, other members of the French police, a magician, and many more. The action is mainly located in Shanghai, the city could be considered also as one of the main characters, along with a short part in Hankou’s French Concession.

The author has spent years in Asia and it definitely shows in the book. I often found that Old Shanghai novels lack the climate, noise and smells of the city. They are all here. The dampness of the city after the rain, cold waves that freeze it a few days a year and other mentions of the city’s weather just feel like the real thing. Neither are missing the smell of Chinese food or of coal burning, the noise of people shouting in the streets and the honks of cars, giving a vivid portrait of the city.

Birolli’s interest in early 20th century’s Asian history and journalistic experience is also showing. This makes his version of Old Shanghai very accurate, taking into account the time of constructions of various roads and buildings. Actual historical events are developing in the background and are fully integrated in the story. One can also find numerous references to real history characters of the time, the most obvious one being the Commandant Fiorini, whose name is a direct reference to the real Captain Etienne Fiori who ran the French Concession police from 1920 to 1932. Characters have deep personality and there own history influences their actions and decisions in a very realistic way. Probably a little more explanations would be welcome by readers unfamiliar with the settings and Shanghai history, but the novel is making it a very enjoyable trip to Old Shanghai.

The real Capitaine Fiori receiving a medal

Although the background, historical events and characters are very credible, the books feels sometimes more like a photograph of an era, than a real crime novel. Having read many of those, I was expecting more speed in the story as well as a more sophisticated intrigue. Writing style is still very journalistic, as opposed the punch that one could expect from great noir novels, like “Perfidia” by James Ellroy or an historical spy novel like “Carnival of Spies” by Robert Moss.

In any case, I enjoyed reading the book and it highly recommended to anybody interested in Shanghai history. Unfortunately, it is only available in French so far.

French Master of Shanghai Art Deco

Le Petit Journal Shanghai edition has republished an article about Art Deco in Shanghai, focusing mostly on the work of Léonard, Vesseyre and Kruze firm. I wrote the article together with my friend David Maurizot in 2018.

The article is in French only and can be found following the link below:

https://lepetitjournal.com/shanghai/a-voir-a-faire/promenade-historique-les-maitres-francais-de-lart-deco-shanghai-221435

It’s a great way to enjoy autumn in Shanghai.

City of devils, a Shanghai Noir

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 records 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.