This church is hidden in the labyrinth of lanes from 370 Da Tian Lu, currently in Jing An district. When I first found out about it, it was really difficult to see from the outside as the whole are area was surrounded with blocks and block of lane. This area has now changed tremendously, with most of the blocks now transformed with tower blocks and sometimes a park. This picture from my friend Shi was a good opportunity to write a post about Saint Therese Church.
There is very little information about Saint-Therese of the Child Jesus (or Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus as it is known in French) to be found. The Catholic Church was built in 1931, on the spot of former Saint-Joseph Church damaged during 1927 fights. It is of neo-roman style, with double front columns. Construction started on 30th Octobre 1930 and the Church was consecrated on 3rd October 1931 by Mgr Auguste Haouisée, who later became the first bishop of Shanghai.
Saint Therese de Lisieux was a French Catholic Discalced Carmelite nun who became widely venerated in the 20th century. She was canonized in 1925, and named co-patron of the missions, with Francis Xavier by Pope Pius XI in 1927. As Saint-Therese was highly venerated at this period, the dedication to her was an obvious choice. Mentions of several Churches dedicated to her in Asia around the same period were found during the research for this post, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Hangzhou and Saint Theresa Cathedral in Changchun.
What makes this Church special in Shanghai is that it is a Catholic Church located in the International Settlement, where Christians missions where mostly seated. It is away from the French Concession, where Catholic Church was predominant, as well as away from Xu Jia Hui Jesuits area. It is also in a area that was mostly Lilongs, the local style of accommodation, away from the areas where most foreigners lived, so probably aimed and maybe financed by the local population.
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.
In previous post “China General Omnibus Company“, I got interested in Old Shanghai bus networks in the former International Settlement. After some more research, I found the complete list of the bus network in all three parts of the city.
This is an extract from a 1931 short guide to transport in Shanghai. The tourists guides did not really address buses network, as I guess tourists of the time were travelling in luxury. This particular guide was dedicated to service men, published by the Navy YMCA. Route N1 was following a communication line of Shanghai then, and of Shanghai today: Bubbling Well (Jing An Temple today) to Hongkew Park (today Hong Kou Gong Yuan). It went down Nanking Road (today Nanjing Road), the Bund, North Soochow (today Bei Suzhou Lu) and North Szechuen Road (Today Sichuan Bei lu), to reach Hong Kou Park.
Others roads included a few surprises. First of all, there was a bus line driving up Hong Qiao road, ending close to Hong Qiao airport. This route 4, from Siccawei (today Xu Jia Hui, English spelling, French spelling was Zikawei) to Monument road (today Suining lu, next to Hong Qiao airport). Although Hong Qiao Road was already lined with villas in the 1930s (including Eve the one of Sir Victor Sassoon, see post “Shanghai Grand” for more details), it is still surprising to see public transportation go that far West.
The other interesting part is that there was Express Route for buses, on the top of the normal routes. The four of them were ending at the Bund, starting from Jessfield Park (today ZhongShan Park) or Brenan Piece (in the North of the international settlement). They took the main West-East roads of Shanghai, being today’s Nanjing Road (Bubbling Well Road followed by Nanking Road), and today’s Yannan Road (Avenue Foch, followed by Avenue Edouard VII). Express Route A was competing with a tramway track (see post “Old Shanghai Tramways” for more details) and is very much following today’s metro #2.
Bus N21 was going from the very East to the very West of the French Concession, from the French Bund to Zikawei (today Xu Jia Hui, French spelling). It had the same start and finish than the main tramway line of the French Concession (see post “Old Shanghai Tramways” for more details).
Bus N22 was loop route from the French Bund and back to it. I went through the small street of the French Concession including Route des Soeurs (today Ruijin Lu, see post “Brooklyn Court, Route des soeurs“), Route Lafayette (today Fuxing Lu), Route Frelupt (today Jiang Guo Xi Lu), Route Dufour (today Wulumuqi Nan Lu, see post “Shanghailander Cafe and Bakery“). This is probably the stop where the original inhabitant of my former home, or rather their staff, would take the bus (see post “Leaving route Kauffmann” for more details). The bus would then go back on Avenue Pétain (today Hengshan Lu), Route Pottier (today Baoqing Lu, where my first home was located, see post “first home in Old Shanghai” for details) and then back to Route Lafayette all the way to the Bund.
Most residence at the furthest point of this loop were built in the late 1920s or 1930s creating need to transport people from and to an area that was previously not really developed, so the line must have been pretty recent in 1931. Cars and buses were driving left-hand side (this changed only in January 1946), so a number of road the bus took are now one-way streets, in the wrong direction. Similarly, Route Lafayette was driven in both ways, when it is now mostly a one-way-street. Traffic direction and driving side may have changed, but the main lines of communication in today’s Shanghai are still similar to the ones in Old Shanghai.
Riding newly opened trolley 71 from the west of Shanghai to the Bund is very practical, and always makes me think about Old Shanghai. Tramways were installed in Shanghai first in the International Settlement in 1908, then in the French Concession and the Chinese city (see post Old Shanghai tramways for more details). If tramways were the most modern urban transport in the 1900s and 1910s, by the 1920s and even more the 1930s, they were taken over in modernity by buses.
The China General Omnibus company was incorporated in Hong Kong in 1923, like many companies in Shanghai at that time, to operate bus services in Shanghai. Part of the Sasoon group, it ran bus routes in the International Settlement and beyond. The first routes were opened in 1924, to increase to about 20 lines in the 1930s. Those routes mostly followed main roads and are quite similar to today’s bus line. Buses in the French Concession were separately operated by the “compagnie française de tramways & d’éclairage électrique de Shanghai” which was also operating the tramways.
Picture left is a list of some of the bus routes (the second page is missing), with some being very familiar, starting with Route 1 from Jessfield Park (today Zhong Shan Park) to the Bund. This is actually pretty close to parts of today metro line 2, and was also following Tram route N2 (see post Old Shanghai Tramways for more details). Route 9 had the same beginning and end, but was going Avenue Foch and Avenue Edouard VII (both streets are now Yannan Lu). This is quite similar the eastern part of today’s 71 bus line. As the road was the border between the International Settlement and the French Concession, there was no tramway line.
Above map is a full route map of the China General Omnibus Company. The network was very extensive, allowing to travel all over the international settlement and other areas controlled or managed by the Shanghai Municipal Council. It is a very rare map, hardly seen online. Although edges are missing, it gives a clear view of the bus network. According to documents found with it, it is from 1937.
Another feature of the CGOC that attracts today’s collectors, are the bus tokens issued by the company in the 1920s and 1930s. As Shanghai coins value was fluctuating a lot, the bus company created token that could be purchased in advance and used to pay the bus fees. There was several issues of various token in 1924, 1926 and 1939. They have now become collection pieces highly sought after. For more information about them, best is to have a look at the China Mint website (see following link for more information). Although they have now been replaced by a electronic card, taking the bus at night through the streets of Old Shanghai still feels like a bit of a time travel.
I have often heard or read that in Old Shanghai, the business district was in the International Settlement, and the higher class residential in the calmer streets of the French Concession. Although most of it has now disappeared, the International Settlement although had its select residential district. Bubbling Well (today Nanjing Xi lu), was originally a countryside road with large mansion along with their massive gardens on its side, including the former Majestic Hotel. In the 1920s and 1930s, these large properties were sold and new buildings were erected in a much denser fashion. The residential streets moved up North, along Avenue Road (today Beijing Xi Lu). Although this part of Jing An has been massively built over in the last 20 or 30 years, a few villas have resisted in this area, they include the Laszlo Hudec Hu Mansion (the Green house), the former Pei Mansion and a few houses around the corner of today Changde Lu and Beijing Xi Lu.
Another street further North with a number of large villas was the Western section of Wuding Lu, although very little information available about them. Large houses seem only to have been in that section of the street as opposed to the (now gone) shikumen and factories that lined the more Eastern section. This stretch of a few hundred meters really feels like other residential streets in the French Concession or around Yu Yuan Lu, making it a pleasant stroll. Although each house is a different style, they all seem to have been built in the 1930s. From a neighboring rooftop, I could see them all and noticed one in particular, an Art Deco mansion, behind a modern school building. Although I could only see part of it, I always thought this house was special.
I thought the design looked familiar, but did not really knew from where until seeing the rendering. The Yan Mansion designed by Poy Gum Lee and built in 1934, is actually the house I saw from the rooftop. This was further confirmed by an old picture, although original balconies have been glassed over and the ornamental doors and windows are long gone. Lastly, a map of the location was provided showing it located on “Wuting Road”, today’s Wuding lu.
Although there is no historic plate on the building, it is without a doubt, the Yan Mansion designed by Poy Gum Lee, located on today’s 932 Wuding lu. Unfortunately, most of the garden has been eaten by a new building masking it from the street. Being a school also makes it off limits for most people. Funny enough, the exhibition showed its blue print but did not show any current picture, nor mentioned that the building still stands. Hopefully, one day it will be recognized and protected. In the meantime, its current use should keep it standing for long.
Although I now have spent nearly 12 years in the city, Old Shanghai still offers surprises for me. One of the latest one was my recent rediscovery of Gordon Road Police Station on Jiangning Lu (former Gordon Road). A walk in the North part of the International Settlement, looking for a famous new restaurant (The Commune Social) took me there. This is when I ran into what is called “The Design Republic Commune“, a major design store and display. The colonial style of the building was quite clear, surely a former colonial administration building, in the former Shanghai International Settlement. The style different, but the overall look is pretty similar to Hong Kong Central Police Station, currently under renovation. Like for many renovation in Shanghai, the interior of the building has been totally gutted to make space for the new usage of the space. In any case, the external cleaning makes it stand out in the area.
Gordon police station was a special place in the Shanghai municipal police organisation, as it was the place were all freshly arrived police officers were sent for training after arrival in Shanghai. The plate on the building mentions “about 1910’s” as a construction date., however the Shanghai Municipal Gazette of 20th March 1908, shows the completion of the “Police training school” Gordon Road to be completed in February of the same year. Since the area at that time was not densely urbanized, this massive police station and the police training school were probably the same building. It is mentioned in Robert Bickers'”Empire made me” (2003) as “Gordon Road Training (or Western) Depot”. As explained in the book, the building had a “large parade ground”. The training and drilling ground is long gone, but at construction and during the 1920’s the area was pretty much countryside, with factories and houses being built around in the 1930’s. Sikhs and Chinese police officers were also stationed there for training, staying in dorms that have long disappeared. It is difficult to imagine the size of the ground surrounding the police station, but it was surely massive.
From 1909, all police force arriving in Shanghai was sent to the Gordon Road Depot for a few months of training before being sent the operation. This was a new organisation, pioneered by the London Metropolitan, opening it’s first depot a year before. The training was close to military training, along with class about the city, police procedures and the Shanghai dialect. Free time as only allowed after diner, until the 1 am curfew. Learning Shanghai dialect was done using “Lessons in Shanghai dialect” by F.L Hawks Pott, president of Saint John University and author of “A short history of Shanghai“. Mastering Shanghainese was essential for promotion as most of the population that the police dealt with did not speak English… nor Mandarine Chinese.
After training, the police officers were sent to various police station around the International Settlement. Wearing the same uniform as in England, the “bobbies” were a familiar sight of Shanghai, with Sihks policemen as subordinates. Although pictures of the later are pretty common, the pictures of English policeman on the Bund is pretty rare.
The very special history of China and Shanghai has been essential at preserving 1920’s and 1930’s architecture, making Shanghai one the world Art Deco hotspot (with the World Art Deco congress coming to Shanghai in 2015). As late as the 1990’s, most original Shanghai buildings had remained pretty much untouched. With clever restoration, the remaining ones have taken back a new life as private mansion, company’s headquarters or bars and restaurants. Old Shanghai dresses have also been coming back, either as part of classic parties (see pictures for my own 40’s birthday party in 2012) or as part of today’s fashion brand such as Shanghai Tang. The only thing really missing is classic cars, as most of them were either taken by owners when they left Shanghai, or destroyed during the war or later. Bringing classic cars back in Shanghai is the aim of the Bund Classic event, for one weekend at least.
BundClassic started in 2013 and the 2014 edition was really nice, under a fantastic weather. As the only classic car event in mainland China, it attracted collectors and classic cars admirers. It was a unique opportunity to actually see cars from Bund building’s period on this location. Due to Chinese regulations on old cars, they could do not really be driven (apart from a short parade), but the photo opportunities were great.
Not all cars were pre WW2, but a few of them really looked just at the right place in front the former British Consulate building. I particularly like the beige Packard that looked pretty much like 1920’s pictures of the Bund, before the Cathay Hotel (Peace hotel today) was built. I am not sure this actual make was ever on the Bund, but it clearly had close cousins right here.
The 1930’s Terraplane coupé was also just in the right place. It is clear that this particular make was imported in Shanghai, as the brand was really popular in the 1930’s in America. Coupé were also seen in Shanghai, a symbol of money and modernity for the youth of rich Shanghainese. I also liked the French Traction Avant, which was surely imported to China, at least for the administration of the ” Concession Française de Changhai”. Although the one on display was red and white, the original color for this model was black only, until the 1950’s.
This short trip to Shanghai glorious past was really enjoyable, sometimes feeling straight out old Shanghai movies or Beverly Jackson’s book ” Shanghai girl gets all dressed up”. Classic cars collection seems to a be trend amongst China’s superrich, so more cars will surely being brought in. However, there is little hope of ever seen one driving down the streets of the former French Concession as they are way too old to be allowed on today’s roads.
John Pal arrived in Shanghai from the UK to be employed by the Imperial Customs in 1920. At that time customs administration was delegated to foreigners, initially under the control of Sir Robert Hart. All of the customs officers were foreigners mostly British but also French, Italians, Scandinavians and Japanese. John Pal’s experience of the customs services organisation and his daily life make the book a really interesting read. China had only a 5% duty for import AND export thus, “Any Tom, Dick or Harry could afford to drink the finest wines and puff the choicest of imported cigards” and “liquor was so cheap that rum runners came from the United States” to buy liquor in Shanghai to export it back to the USA. At the same time, Shanghai saw a massive smuggling activity, mostly for opium and other drugs. John Pal certainly gives a first had account on trying to stop smuggling “continually up against some of the world’s trickiest smugglers”. “Ships from certain countries, or port of call, were always suspected of bringing narcotics” including Vladivostock and Haiphong in French IndoChina (today Vietnam). In his duty, John Pal also worked on the export side, inspecting ships departing and making sure that only the declared goods were loaded in.
John Pal left the customs administration in 1927, as China was taking back control of its administration… but his story does not stop here. He then became a reporter for the Shanghai Times, being invited to many parties and official celebrations. Each country was throwing parties for national days of celebration and other opportunities. “If a man cared to, he could live on the free handouts from Shanghai’s annual celebration – and live high. The numerous nationals of our city magnified their celebrative days into grandiose fireworks and champagne binges.” This does not seem so different from today permanent corporate and national parties occupying a lot of people’s social agenda. He also took a job as kernel manager for the French Canidrome, getting involved in the grey world of gambling in Shanghai. John Pal left Shanghai in 1939 as the War in Europe seemed inevitable and he could see how Japan would turn on Shanghai. I don’t think he lived long enough to see the new Shanghai as it is today. I am sure he would be amazed of the difference between Old Shanghai and the city nowadays but also of some the striking similarities. Somehow Shanghai spirit just never changed.
Shanghailanders leaving the city in the late 1930’s and 1940’s often left a home that they could never return to. Exiled from their Shanghai motherland, they recreated a life in other places, back in their original home country or moving on to new places like the USA and Australia. Life in Shanghai had such a strong mark on them that they could never forger the incredible city they left. Many wrote memoirs, creating books that were a true picture of Shanghai life, or sometimes mere fiction mixed with a few true facts. Besides Shanghai Saga, I also reviewed Sin City from North China Daily News reporter Ralph Shaw in an earlier post. It turned out that both Brits were probably competitors.
Shanghai Saga is an excellent source for information about Old Shanghai, although it was very rare and difficult to find. The book has been reprinted by Earnshaw books. More details in post “Shanghai Saga republished“.
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.
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.
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.
Having lived in Shanghai for more than 6 years, I have seen a clear evolution of the vision of Shanghainese people and the Shanghai municipality. A few years ago, only foreigners were complaining about the destruction of the Shanghai architectural heritage. The fashion was about new, new, new and the past and its remains had no importance whatsoever. Shanghai was supposed to become another version of Hong Kong and Singapore where only a few trophy buildings remain within the everlasting paradise the skyscrapers and other “high level real estate developments”, i.e. brand new building of average quality, lots of marketing and nor more personality than the neighbor. I have seen the evolution with a few of the main buildings being kept away from demolition by the municipality, but the EXPO has clearly accelerated the process.
First of all, most Shanghai facades have been now renovated. This is often limited to the front row of a lane and not always of best quality, but it is clearly a step forward. The face lift given to building gives a much better look to the city and will show to the inhabitants that old does not mean necessarily shabby. Until now, the renovation is mostly limited to the exterior, but I am sure that it will extend to the interior as well. In other part of the world well built and maintained buildings can survive through the ages, while being transformed for various usage. Like in Europe in the 1960’s I hope this will be a turning point for Shanghai.
Secondly, plates and explanation about local history have been put in a number of places just before the expo. Besides giving information to tourists, they also have a lot value for the local people. They are often extremely surprised to learn that the old rotten shag where they think they live in, is actual a wonder of Art Deco or neo-classic architecture.
Thirdly, the whole image of 1920’s and 30’s Shanghai has changed in a few years, thanks to a large number of articles and TV programs about the topic. I always find it kind of funny when I see a sign celebrating the 100th anniversary of various things in Shanghai (transport systems, parks, hospital, university) where no mention is made that actually often foreigners brought these novelties to Shanghai. Once a taboo or forgotten period, old Shanghai is now a common topic of conversation and of pride for Shanghainese, at least some of them. At the same time, the image of foreigners in this period is also changing as Shanghai revisits its own history. Last but not least, the whole image of the Republican period is also changing slowly at least in Shanghai.
Finally, more and more buildings are being protected. One of the latest turn seems to be to keep of the old while building new. In the development I have seen in the past, all buildings on the site were destroyed. During construction, a master house was often built first with a very large garden around, as ground was cheap then. A few years or decades later, the owner would sell part of his garden for a very high price, as the city had extended and a shikumen would be built. The master house would be engulfed into it and is often still there, lost in the middle. The new trend in real estate development is to keep this master house while destroying the shikumen around. In Jing An district where I work, there are 3 massive real estate development that started with destroying the shikumen on the location but keping the master house. I guess they will use it as the club house, taking advantage of the space offered while adding value to the compound. In one of them (picture on the top), the master house as even been moved 100 meters towards Wei Hai Road to give space for real estate development and preserve it at the same time.
This form of preservation is clearly a new trend and probably imposed by new regulation on the developers. Old buildings will become more trendy and more expensive, fueling investment in this new segment. Somebody finally realized how to combine profit and heritage preservation in Shanghai and this is great news.