Walking up Nanking Road

The weather was really nice last week, I spent time walking up the Western stretch of Nanjing Dong Lu, the former Nanking Road. Going from the Bund to the Race course, Nanking Road was the main road of Old Shanghai and its main shopping street. It is still very busy nowadays, although it mostly caters for tourists. Walking down Nanjing the newly pedestrian street all the way to the Bund is a must for a Shanghai visit.

1930s vs 2000s

Although many of the old buildings of the Nanking Road have been destroyed, the above section (corner of Nanking road and Hoopei road / Nanjing Dong Lu and Hubei Lu) has not changed so much, as seen on above picture. The four main modern department stores of Old Shanghai were built on this stretch and those buildings are still here.

Some of the buildings on the left side have been teared down, but Wing On department store (1918) is still visible. The façade has been renovate and looks very nice. Unfortunately, the interior been ruinovated several times in the last decades.

On the right side, Sincere department store building (1917) is also still visible. Although it has been renovated, the building is in less good shape than the Wing On. The façade is half covered by an ugly advertising. The ground floor is occupied by cloth shops. The hotel in the back of the building has been expended to occupy a large share of what was the department store.

Finally, the middle spire of has disappeared but the building supporting it has not. The former Sun Sun Department store (1935), designed by Hungarian architect C.H. Gonda is still there, although it is less visible. Sincere spire can be seen in the background of above picture left. Further down is the location the fourth department store of Nanking Road, the Da Sun, now Shanghai N1 department store.

Modern skyscrapers in the background seem just behind the Sun Sun, although they are much further, located on the side of people square. The lowest dome is the New World shopping mall, located at the spot of the New World entertainment centre and hotel.

Bianchi Pastry and Chocolate

Having a sweet tooth myself, I got interested in Old Shanghai sweets brands, like Hazelwood ice cream. A more high level and confidential brand was Bianchi, a pastry and chocolate shop on Nanjing Road.

I got to know about Bianchi’s when finding a chocolate wrapping paper at an antique dealer store, probably around 2008. There was no indication of time then, but it turns out that Bianchi was a famous store located on 23 Nanking Road. This is actually inside the former Palace Hotel (today Swatch Peace Hotel), at the corner of the Bund and the Nanjing Road. I guess Bianchi chocolate was the shop on the right-hand side of the main entrance, nowadays selling watches.

Bianchi Chocolate wrapping paper

Bianchi’s must have been a high level shop, catering for both a foreign and Chinese clientele as the address is written both in English and in Chinese characters on the chocolate wrapping paper.

Bianchi chocolate was advertised as “the Home of Tasty Dainties”. The founder of the company, Attilio Ferrari, resided in Shanghai since 1907. He started Bianchi on Nanking Road in 1918 and operated it until his death at the age of sixty, in 1938 (he was among the oldest Italian residents in the city). (Thanks to Katya Knyazeva @ https://www.facebook.com/mapoldsh/ for the info).

Paul French, author of the China Rhyming blog, found adds for Bianchi shops located at 76 and 154 Nanking Road (http://www.chinarhyming.com/2013/03/25/bianchis-of-nanking-road-ice-creams-and-sodas/). Either the shop moved down the road, or they opened several branches. They were particularly well known for their palmier cake (see post “Tasting Old Shanghai” for more details).

Pastry and chocolate shops were a rarity when I reached Shanghai in 2004, having disappeared along with many western style luxury in the previous decades. They have now come back in force, with bakery, pastry and café having popped up in many places in the city (See post “Shanghai Coffee culture“).

The Bianchi chocolate shop does not exist anymore of course, but just finding this piece of the old times was wonderful. I can picture myself going to buy my chocolate near the riverside, walking those busy streets, full of a mixture of trendy office workers, vendors of all kinds shouting to advertise their products and dockworkers. I get to the Bianchi shop, push the glass door. I look at all the chocolates in the shop, talk to Mr Bianchi about his chocolate, good food, life and other topic. It takes me a few minutes to wake up from my dream, holding my 80 years old chocolate paper in my hands. This old relic is so powerful that I still feel the taste of this chocolate created and eaten many decades ago.

Sam Sanzetti, Shanghai photographer

Sam Sanzetti
Sam Sanzetti's having fun

Sioma Lifshitz arrived in Shanghai on a freighter from Vladivostock in 1922. The 20 years old energetic Russian jew had no money but lot’s of dreams and soon started to work in a photography studio under the name of Sam Sanzetti. It took him 5 years to open in own studio in 1927, becoming one of the most famous photographer in Shanghai. The studio was first located on 73 Nanking Road (today 73 Nanjing Dong Lu), near the Bund and just behind the Palace hotel (today Swatch Art Peace Hotel). Construction on the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel) was on-going at that time very and the opening in 1929 certainly also helped his business. The central position in the business center allowed him to become the photographer of the rich and famous in Shanghai, surely meeting with other successful business people of the time.

add for Sanzetti's photo studio
add for Sanzetti's photo studio, Shanghai Dollar Directory 1938

His office later moved to 39 Peking Road (today Beijing Dong Lu) as reported in 1938 Shanghai Dollar Directory. Some of his photographs clearly remind of the calendar ads from the Carl Crowe company located very close on 81 JinKe lu and both men hanging around in similar circles probably worked with each other at some point. Sam Sanzetti left Shanghai in 1957 to immigrate to Israel leaving a Chinese wife and a stepdaughter behind and remade his life in his new country. He had fun memories of Shanghai as explained in an interview with an Israeli Newspaper years later. However he was never able to come back to Shanghai before his death in 1986.

Pretty Sanzetti picture
Pretty Sanzetti picture

The story of Sam Sanzetti could have disappeared in history without his stepson finding rolls of Shanghai pictures in his archives. With the help of Pr Pan Guang of Shanghai Social Sciences university and the Israeli Consulate in Shanghai 200 of these pictures have been recently selected for a future exhibition to be held in Shanghai. The pictures are stunning, as Sanzetti was a great photographer and he made pictures of various kinds of people. With the high price charged by the studio, many people photographed are the wealthy and famous of the time, but personal pictures of Sam Sanzetti are also included. They give very pretty and human vision of Old Shanghai, as rarely seen before. I am sure the exhibition will draw a lot of people to the Palace Hotel (today Swatch Art Peace Hotel) where the exhibition will probably be held.

This astonishing story has even more depth in it. As very little information was available on the people photographed, the Israeli Consulate in Shanghai used modern social media to find further information from the general public. They simply put the picture on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter. The response from the public was instant with thousands of people living comments. Hopefully, information will be found to trace back some of the people.

The pictures are available on the Israeli Consulate’s Weibo page: http://weibo.com/israelinchina