Carl Crow, A tough old China hand

Although the French translation of “400 million customers” seems to have been a strong success Carl Crown did not gain long term fame in France. I never heard about him before coming to Shanghai. The discovery came while listening to Paul French, author of his biography, Paul French, during the 2007 Shanghai literary festival. Having heard about the famous Carl Crow map of Shanghai before I bought the book after French’s speech at Glamour bar.

Book Cover
Book Cover

Carl Crow was a very important figure of the old Shanghai, where he spent two periods of his life. He first started the China Press in Shanghai, a newspaper that was bringing an American voice to a scene dominated by the British North China Daily News. After moving to Japan, he became famous for being the first journalist to publish the “21 demands” from Japan to China in 1915.

Coming back to Shanghai in 1918 he created what became one of the main foreign advertising firm in Shanghai, helping foreign companies to sell their products throughout China. Carl Crow Inc also maintained the first and largest advertising network in Eastern China, importing the concept of advertising and creating the famous Shanghai advertising posters with Chinese girls in QiPao. These posters have since become one of icon of old Shanghai. He also founded the Shanghai Evening Post in 1929, the Shanghai newspaper that mostly supported the Nationalist cause and the development of China. He finally left Shanghai on the last American refugee boat after the Japanese invasion of the settlement in 1937 and finished his life in the US as a writer and adviser on Asian politics. MOFBA recently published a great article about the different locations of the Carl Crow Inc in Shanghai.

Carl Crow is the author of many books including “400 Million Customers“, “The Chinese are like that” and “Foreign Devils in the Flowery kingdom”. He crossed the path of Sun Ya Tsen, Chiang Kai Chek and his wife, Zhu En Lai, various Chinese warlords and many Shanghai known figures. He was part of the Shanghai publishing scene along with fellow Missourians such a Tom Millard and JP Powell.

It took me while to finish the book, not by lack of interest but by lack of time. Paul French definitely spent an enormous amount of time to research it. He travelled extensively to the US, HongKong and other locations to pull together information, and the book really feels like a great study. As an Old Shanghai fanatic, I found in it many information that I missed, many cross references to things I had heard of and many points of high interest. Carl Crow’s life takes us to the tumultous Chinese’s history from the 30’s. At the same time, I sometimes felt that without all my previous knowledge of these events and characters, I would probably have been a bit lost. “A tough Old China Hand” is a highly interesting book, but not one for the freshers in the Old Shanghai.

Paul French has written numerous other books about Shanghai, including among others The Old Shanghai A-Z, City of Devils, Bloody Saturday and Beijing based Midnight in Peking, all of them Being the result of in-depth research.

This article was originally published in 2008, updated and republished in April 2021.

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.

French Club wrought iron fence

Due to the CoVid epidemic, the original entrance of the former “Cercle Sportif Français“, the former French club, on Rue du Roi Albert (today Maoming Bei Lu) has been closed for months. This is a great opportunity to admire the wonderful original wrought fence that is normally folded during the day.

Unfolded fence

This is a great work of wrought iron, undoubtedly the original Art Deco fence designed by Léonard & Vesseyre. Sunshine gave a great light to it.

Champions Day, the end of Old Shanghai

2019 James Carter book about Old Shanghai races was on my reading list for a while before I finally could go through it. Focus on Old Shanghai through the horse races and a very thorough research makes it an entertaining read full of new or rarely found information about my favorite topic.

Cover of Champions Day

Horse races in Old Shanghai

The book centers around horses races in Old Shanghai. Although this type of activity has gone out of fashion a lot, horses races were a major part of entertainment in Old Shanghai. The highlight of the season was the twice a year Champions Day, the main competition between horse owners. Shanghai would stop for the afternoon with large crowds joining for viewing and betting on the race. This made the Shanghai Race Course was the most important point of the city along with the Bund. The first main point of the book is to show the upmost importance of the event for the social life of Shanghai, that may be little difficult to grasp in today’s World of unlimited entertainment.

New information about race courses

The books also brings a lot of information about The Shanghai Race Club and the race course (that was located in today’s people square). What is really new is the in-depth information about the other major race course, IRC (International Race Course) located in Jiangwan district. Although started by Chinese who could not get membership in the Shanghai Race Club, both Race Courses had strong links and membership in one would bring access to the other, allowing Chinese and foreign horse owners to mix.

Many new characters

Finally, the book brings out a lot of characters that were previously little studied. The cast of horse owners competing for the main price gives is varied, showing different sides of the Shanghailander society. As opposed to what was mostly thought, some of those characters were Eurasians, children of (mostly) western fathers and Chinese mothers. The book also turn the light on the Chinese modern society that was created in Shanghai, with several inclination towards foreigners and political conviction. Whether they lived from or competed with foreigners in Shanghai, the whole development of Shanghai was influenced by the West, while trying to keep a distinctive Chinese character.

Although very detailed, the book lacks in pictures which will make it harder to comprehend for people unfamiliar with the topic. The other missing point is a transcription in characters of the main people and location. This would have helped research on them on the Chinese internet, where probably more information is available.

A great read about Old Shanghai

Champions Day is the result of an incredibly thorough research, compiling the whole English press from Old Shanghai, as well as massive research in existing academia on the topic. It definitely brings lots of information on many new characters in a very entertaining manner and definitely a recommended reading for anybody interested in Old Shanghai.

More Old Shanghai luggage labels

Traveling in general and hotels in particular, have long been a strong interest of mine. In an earlier post, I was writing about Hotel luggage labels that were stuck on traveler’s luggage for advertising (see post: “Old Shanghai hotels luggage labels“). Here are a few more examples of luggage labels.

The Cathay Hotels Ltd

The luggage label from Cathay Hotels featuring The Cathay and the Metropole is probably the most famous luggage label of Old Shanghai. I found out that there was also a version with three properties. The Cathay Mansion was completed in 1928, the Cathay in 1928 and the Metropole 1931. However the Cathay Mansion was originally an apartment building, turned into hotel with a redevelopment and restaurant addition, so I guess the 3 hotels version was the latest.

The Great China Hotel

The property is still located at that corner and Fuzhou Lu and Xizang lu, but it was turned into an apartment building. The building that was dominating this side of the racetrack is now dwarfed by neighboring towers, but it is still easy to recognize.

The Great China Hotel luggage label (image eBay)

The New World Hotel

Also located near the race track, the New World Hotel was located at the corner of today’s Nanjing Dong Lu and Xizang Lu. It was part of the entertainment center, the New World, an earlier version of the massive gambling, shows and entertainment focus, the Great World or Da Shi Jie that is located a few hundred meters down Xizang Lu. It has been destroyed to build a shopping mall.

The New World Hotel Luggage lable (image ebay)

For more Old Shanghai Hotels luggage labels, go to original post “Old Shanghai Hotel Luggage Labels“.

Lafuente article in Madrid paper

Spanish architect Alvaro Leonardo has been instrumental in the rediscovery of Spanish architect in Shanghai, Abelardo Lafuente. While being in Shanghai, he researched his thesis on his forefather. He has been back in Madrid for a couple of years and his thesis is now completed, though only in spanish. His work is starting to get attention, like in this recent article in major Madrid daily Diaro ABC (in Spanish only).

Like for most Shanghai architects, their legacy was lost for many years and has only recently reappeared. It is then a struggle to find back information and an even bigger struggle to achieve recognition in their home country, so far away and after so many years. Congrats to Alvaro for this article!

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.

That’s Shanghai interview

I was fortunate enough to get interviewed by Shanghai magazine “That’s Shanghai” about Shanghailander.net turning soon 15 years old.

The most enjoyable is that in my first years in Shanghai, That’s Shanghai was the prime source of information about what to do in the city. In a time before social media, getting your hand on the magazine (available for free in most foreign bars and restaurant), was one of the highlight of the month. Great opportunity to grab a cup of coffee and spend one hour reading about new places opening and looking for you friends pictures in the socialite section 🙂

As information is now dominated by the internet and social media, That’s Shanghai is mostly read online, but they still print an actual magazine. Hopefully I’ll get a copy, sit down with a coffee and read it again.

The full article is available following this link: https://www.thatsmags.com/shanghai/post/32368/hugues-martin-on-old-shanghai-blog-shanghailander-turning-15

Yangtszepoo Dock advertising

All Shanghai artefacts come in many forms and shapes. One of the interesting type is advertising objects, as they offer a real window in what people used and consumed at the time. I recently came across an interesting item, a advertising for Yangtzepoo Docks.

The paper is actually a blotter, the kind of thick paper designed to absorb the overflow of ink while writing with a fountain pen. Blotters have disappeared along with fountain pens, but they were very useful and popular in the time of Old Shanghai, including as advertising objects. I was first attracted by the picture, as it is a really nice painting. The image of finely dressed ladies in the wind helps to date the item. From the fashion, including men’s hats I would date it from early to mid 1930s.

Yangtszepoo dock advertising

The topic of the image used for the ad, has nothing to do with the services promoted, i.e. Shipbuilding and repair. It also has no specific link to Shanghai, not even in the background, though it must have been representative of western fashion at that time in Shanghai, as well as in England. Since the document was written in English only, one can assumed that it was sent to shipping lines and related businesses, both in Shanghai, the UK and other countries sending ships to Shanghai.

The Yangtszepoo dock was located on Yangtszepoo Road (today Yangshupu lu) and shown on below picture. One of its known engineer was Archie M Kerr. The Yangtszepoo dock was famous for its 584 feet (178 m dry docks). According to the 1928 “Port Directory of the Principal Foreign Ports” from the US Navy, it was the second longest dry docks in Shanghai.

The dock was used by local ships for construction and repair, and was also used by ships from other location. An article from Old Boston blog, tell the story of the Wyberton a steam trawler that travelled from Boston (England) to Shanghai to be repaired at the Yangtszepoo docks and then sold to a Chinese fishing firm in 1922.

Yangtszepoo docks (1934), source Paul French’s China Rhyming blog

The Yangtszepoo area was the main industrial point of Old Shanghai, with factories, docks and shipyards located along the river. Although this part of the city has been transformed a lot in the recent years, it remained a heavy industry and shipyard area for decades. 90 years later, the 584 feet long dock is still there, along with #2 docks that was officially opened on 21st February 1930.

Interestingly, Yang Chow Road nearby is still called YangZhou Lu, along with PingLian Road that is now Ping Lian Lu. Thorburg Road has been replaced by Tongbei Lu, which is near enough to probably have been the original Chinese name.

More advertising articles for the company were found later. They are displayed on post: advertising-the-new-engineering-shipbuilding-works-ltd/

Silas Hardoon’s garden

Silas Hardoon’s story of moving from a poor employee of the Sassoon house to the richest man in Shanghai, maybe Asia, is one of those Old Shanghai legends. He was the man that owned most of the ground on both side of Nanjing Road, making a fortune with the Westward extension of the city.

Silas Hardoon

The real mystery as long been how his famous garden and houses, Aili Garden, looked like. Aili Garden was built on the plot where the Shanghai exhibition center (formerly Sino-Soviet friendship building) is now located. As seen in picture below, this block is absolutely massive, occupying a large section of Central Shanghai.

Hardoon’s garden former location

Although Silas Hardoon was already very rich when he built the place, the Bubbling Well Road area (today Nanjing Xi Lu) was still a far away suburb. This was the area for big mansion with large parks, just like the Hong Qiao area in the 1930s and today’s Qingpu district. Picture below gives a clear idea of the street view of the time.

Bubbling Well Road (today Nanjing Xi Lu) 1910.

The garden was used as base by the Japanese army from December 1941 and mostly destroyed by fire in 1943, freeing prime location space for the construction of the Shanghai exhibition Center in 1956. There was no picture available of the garden and its appearance was only described in a few books. Hardoon’s garden was lost in history.

This is until my good friends from Historic Shanghai found a source and published unseen original pictures from Hardoon’s family.

These amazing pictures can be found at this link: http://www.historic-shanghai.com/inside-hardoons-garden/