Letter from the French Consulate

I have always been fascinated by mail and posts. Before internet took off, I used to write many paper letters to my parents and friends, including on special super light paper for faster “air mails”. I wrote a post about a letter from old Shanghai French municipality a few years ago, this time I got an actual letter from the Shanghai French Consulate.

This envelop sender was the “Consulat Général de France à Changhai”, i.e. Shanghai French Consulate located on the French Bund, as explained in post “Shanghai former French Consulate“. This kind of document is very rare nowadays. It was sent to France, “Via Sibérie”, meaning it was carried by train to Beijing, then on the Transmanchurian railway to Moscow through Dalian and then further on to Paris. I guess that in 1938, the Japanese occupiers of China were “securing” trains on the line. Alternatively, maybe the mail was sent by ship to Dalian, before being boarded on the train as Manchuria was fully controlled by the Japanese since the Mukhden incident in 1931 and the following invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese army. There were ever only a few flights to Shanghai from abroad, and in 1938 they were surely none apart from maybe Japan. Shanghai was in the lone island period, with the French Concession and the International Settlement being surrounded by Japanese occupation.

The envelop postmark shows 22-07-38 / 19. I assume that it’s 22nd July 1938, at 19:00. Just like on the 1936 letter from the French municipality, Shanghai is written both in English and Chinese (from right to left as was the fashion of the time), although a different stamp was used. It was stamped with five 5 dollars stamps, this being a lighter letter than the French municipality letter that required two 25 stamps and was probably heavier. Currency was the Chinese Dollars. Although it’s pretty difficult to convert to today’s money, it was probably not cheap.

It though the French Consul General at the time was Marcel Baudez, reading that he was Consul General from 1936 to 1939. However, Paul French’s China rhyming blog mentioned that he was Consul General from January 1935 to February 1938 and then from November 1938 to April 1940, thus being out of the post at the time when this mail was sent. In any case I do not think that this letter was an official letter from the Consulate. There was not was seal on the back of the letter and he did not go through diplomatic post. As it was send to France by the normal post, it was not an important or confidential official document.

Adomenil Castle

The peculiar address also attracted by attention as it indicates “Adomenil, par Lunéville”. It turns out that Adomenil is a castle, located in the area of Lunéville, a small town in North-East France. The castle was the property of the “de Ravinel” family, a French nobel family starting from the middle of the 15th century. It has been turned into a luxury hotel after the family sold it in 1978.

Baron Charles de Ravinel (1839-1905), the heir of French nobel family from the 16th century was a French politician in the late 19th century. He was also an administrator of famous companies from the area, including the Faiencerie de Lunéville (Lunéville Chinaware company), the Cristallerie de Saint-Louis (Saint-Louis Crystal factory) and Vittel Spring water, that all still exist today.

Insigna of the de Ravinel family

Baron Charles son was Baron André de Ravinel (1868 1942), who had several children including a daughter called Marie-Françoise de Ravinel born on 6th January 1904 in Lunéville and deceased 20th January 1988 in the same city. She is probably Mlle M. F. de Ravinel, to whom this letter was sent. In 1936, she was 32 years old and was probably unmarried as being named “Mademoiselle”, the then title for unmarried woman in France. From what I could find, she never got married.

Parc de Ravinel (Source Virtual Shanghai)

Today’s Xiangyang park on HuaiHai Zhong Lu, used to called the parc de Ravinel on Avenue Joffre. This particular plot was earmarked to become the location of the new Municipality of the French Concession, designed by Leonard & Vesseyre. The planned building was never built, so a park was created on this plot in 1942. It was named “Square Yves de Ravinel”, after a young employee of the French Consulate who was born in 1911 and based in the Shanghai from 1938 to 1939. He died during WW2 fights in France in 1940 and was remembered in Shanghai through this park. A plate showing his name was also installed then. Yves de Ravinel was the youngest sibling of Marie-Françoise de Ravinel.

So this letter was probably a personal letter from Yves de Ravinel to his older sister, using stationary from the French Consulate. At the time of writing, the Shanghai French Concession and international settlement were pretty lonely, being surrounded by the Japanese army and both areas were overcrowded with refugees. Unfortunately, the letter did not come with this envelop but it certainly mentioned it.

For more research about mails sent from Shanghai French Concession authorities, please see post “Shanghai French Municipality letter“.