Population Zoning in the former French Concession

Urbanisation zones in the French Concession
Urbanisation zones in the French Concession

I have often wondered how zones of Old Shanghai were urbanised, of there was any planning at all. I recently encountered a document showing occupation zones of the French Concession in 1934. The document is in French and I have not been able to ascertain its origin or its author, but here is it for sharing with readers:

“Zones of population dispatch in the French Concession in 1934.

The dispatch of population was started from the beginning of the 20th century, continue following similar trends. From the cadaster study from 1934, the concentration of Chinese population is the highest near the Chinese city (Zone I). From the administration point of view, it is reserved for the native population; buildings of all styles can be erected, shops, factories in living quarters are mixed altogether.

Zone II is next to the business district (located in the International Settlement), occupied by many living quarters and Chines shops. The French municipality wanted to transform it into a ‘European City’ because of its size and it proximity with the business district but ambitions of the French municipality was never realized due to heavy cost of such a project. However, in order to smooth traffic and create more space between the buildings, it is decided to erect higher buildings in this area and avoid the anarchy of older constructions.

Zone III is occupied by shops and residence for the middle class. All constructions are allowed, but they must follow rules about aesthetic and keeping quiet around public facilities, including schools and hospital. Those exclude polluting or noise generating industries. European styles shops are favored on the street side, along with keeping space between buildings.

Zone IV is reserved for residential area and was further extended up to Xu Jia Hui. As a consequence, any factory not following “aesthetic rules” of the French municipality were prohibited so as to guarantee a western type of architecture and avoid pollution in this upper class area.”

It is interesting to compare this 1934 study with current urban development in Shanghai. Zone I is being totally transformed into a modern living area, along with the area  of Zone III where Xin Tian Di is located. At the same time, Zone VI has kept most of its charm and is now often referred as “the Former French Concession”, when it actually is only a part of it.

Farewell to Shanghai General Hospital

As foreigners created a living space in Shanghai from the 19th century, they introduced various services to support life in the new city. I mentioned schools with the College Municipal Francais and postal services in previous posts. Hospital was another of the public services that were created.

The first foreign hospital in Shanghai was the Shanghai General hospital opened in 1864 on the Quai de France, or French Bund, at the corner of Rue Colbert (See post “Rue Colbert” for more on this street). This building was a few steps away from the new French Consulate building also located on the Quai de France (See post “Former French Consulate” ). The hospital was staffed with nurses from Les filles de la Charite de Saint Vincent de Paul, a French Catholics order.

The original Shanghai General Hospital on the French Bund

According to “Histoire de la concession Française” by Maybon & Fredet, the ground rental was stopped in 1875, and the hospital had to move. It was then decided to build a new one. The hospital needed a large area for a reasonable price and ground price in central Shanghai was already very high. After much debate, a plot was chosen on the North side of the Suzhou River in the International Settlement. “At that time, it was nearly still the countryside. Few people lived there as it was away from the Shanghai city itself.” Like for the General Post Office next from the new location, the choice was difficult and it took a long time to decide as the move would add 10 to 20 minutes of transportation in case of emergency. It is very amusing to notice that the same area is now considered very central and desirable.

View of Shanghai General Hospital in the 1920s

The hospital building was of Colonial British Style, that as now mostly disappeared in Shanghai. As the city developed more capacity and space was needed and more buildings were added on the same plot, a red brick building on the right and a neoclassical building on the left. The left one is probably from the 1910s as it looks similar to other buildings from this time. The right one is probably from the late 1920s or early 1930s looking at its architecture. Above picture shows that the garden on the Suzhou creek side was already well maintained, long before the recent recreation of the Suzhou Creek promenade.

In the 1930’s the nurses were replaces by another Catholics order, the “Institut des soeurs Franciscaines”. The picture right shows an operation theater staffed with nurses from this order. The Shanghai General Hospital was still one of the main hospital in the International Settlement, along with “Hopital Sainte Marie” (today’s Ruijin Hospital), the German hospital (today’s HuaShan hospital), Lester Hospital on Shandong lu and Shanghai Country hospital (today Huadong hospital).

As for many historical buildings in Shanghai there was little maintenance over time. The original middle building was replaced by a concrete cube probably in the 1970s. Both side buildings got added floors and transformation to gain space. The left building can be seen on the righ side of left picture. It suffered the most. The right building was kept in better outside shape. Both did not escape destruction in April 2010, just before the Shanghai Expo opening. Only a small red brick building on the right has been kept, being the last remaining part of the former Shanghai General hospital. It was the former morgue of the hospital.

August 2018: A new building has been built on this location and just opened as the Bellagio hotel. The fake Art Deco style is supposed to match the location’s history but has none of the grandeur of the original. The remaining building has been renovated and is mentionned as the former Shanghai General Hospital.

Collège Municipal Français

The original Cercle Sportif Francais

Most people interested in Shanghai history know about the “Cercle Sportif Francais”, the current Okura Garden hotel on Maoming lu. The French Club as it was called in English moved to this brand new building in 1926, from its original location on Route Vallon (today’s Nanchang lu). The very large building previously used was then allocated to house the French High School or “Collège Municipal Français” in French.  The garden of the Collège Municipal Français extended all the way to French Park, i.e. today’s Fuxing Park. Unfortunately the park has been separated from the building and a wall is now separating them. It would be extremely difficult to take the same picture again.

Shanghai Science Hall

I managed to get into today’s Shanghai Science Hall on Nanchang lu, the building that was the old Collège Municipal Français. It is not a high school anymore, but a building dedicated to science studies. As such, it is sometimes difficult to enter  as the guards are not happy to see foreigners coming in. The side on Nanchang lu is oriented towards North. The much nicer facade is oriented toward the South, overlooking the park. Like in many buildings in Shanghai, a south orientation allows to get some light and warmth in the gloomy winter.  With the large space this building is very cold in the winter, like most buildings in Shanghai. I have not seen a real heating system in place, but the may have been one when it was built.

One of the most interesting feature is the art deco stain glass in the hall way (see picture left). Stain glasses were very much in fashion when this building was erected, as found in a number of building in Shanghai. This one is the largest I have seen in the city. I have tried to take pictures of it before, being chased out by the guard… but today was my day of luck. The stain glass is not noticeable from the outside, but really nice from the inside. Although it has been clearly repaired in some parts, it has crossed time and Shanghai history while being well preserved.

up the stairs

Among others, two famous authors attended the teaching of the Collège Municipal Français, Rena Krasno and Liliane Wilens. As explained by the later when we met (see post “a date with Liliane“), students of the Collège Municipal Français were French children and other foreigners, as well Chinese from Shanghai upper class society. Located in the heart of the French Concession, the Collège Municipal Français was very near to some famous residential areas such as Rue Lafayette (today Fuxing Lu) and Avenue Pétain (today’s Heng Shan lu). Since the building was not originaly designed as a school but as an entertainment club, it became a school with a wonderful design, surely giving life long memory to the children who went to school there.

This location was also the seat of the original Alliance Francaise de Changhai, teaching French to Chinese students just like it is today on the Wusong Lu campus. This very large building is still in use without much repair and still has grand style and appearance. It is very well worth a visit if you can sneak in.