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’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).
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.
Many autobiographies have now been published by people who live in Old Shanghai, and most of them were written by westerns. The really interesting part of Remembering Shanghai, is that it is a story of a Chinese family in Old Shanghai. Living in the same city as the foreigners, but often not in the space, the personal story makes a really interesting read.
The first wave of autobiographies about Old Shanghai was published in the late 1940s and 50s, when foreigners who used to live in Shanghai, realised that they would not go back after the communist takeover. Among those are “My twenty-five years in China”, by China Weekly Review publisher John B. Powell, as well as Emily (Mickey) Hahn books published after her departure, including “China to me” (for more details about Mickey Hahn’s life in Shanghai, see article “Tara Grescoe’s Shanghai Grand“). Since the events in China were still very much in the Western news, those books sold well at publication.
Another wave of Old Shanghai books came when those people who had lived and worked in Old Shanghai retired and spent time remembering the golden days of their youth, mostly in the 70s. At that time, Old Shanghai was pretty much a forgotten topic, those books sold in small numbers and are now difficult to get. Two good examples included Ralph Shaw’s Sin City (Ralph Shaw was in the Shanghai Police force) and John Pal’s Shanghai Saga (John Pal was a employed in the customs office). Although facts are sometimes distorted by memories, those books are great source of first hand details on life in Old Shanghai.
With the rise of the city on the international scene, Old Shanghai books have been in fashion again from the early 00s. Some who left Shanghai in the late 1940s started to come back to the city they had fondly kept in their memories. Some of the most well known are Liliane Willens’s Stateless in Shanghai as well as Rena Krasno’s book (stranger always, Once upon a time in Shanghai). Both lived in the former French Concession of them attended the French Collegue Municipal Français. Another one is Tea on the Great Wall, by Patricia Lu Chapman. Author give a first hand view of foreign Shanghai, but what makes the new Remembering Shanghai special is that it was written by Chinese people.
Author Isabel Sun Chao was born in a wealthy family from Changshu, in Jiangsu province. Her father had relocated to Shanghai in his youth and was managing the family properties in the city. The life of Isabel and her siblings was on the outside very similar to the one of wealthy foreigners, as the children attended the best schools in the international settlement. Inside home, it was quite different, as a permanent fight between traditional China and modern Shanghai was raging within the family. Traditional China was represented by her father, a poet and a Chinese painting collector, and even more by Qingpo, the grand mother ruling the house with an iron fist. On the contrary, Isabel’s mother was embracing the modern city and its life of fast pace. She eventually became one of the first Chinese women to actually divorce her husband.
Just like foreigners stucked in Shanghai after the Japanese , Isabel and her sister Virginia went through the privation of the war, and finally were able to be the only two members of their family to escape Shanghai before the rise of Communist power. Due to political events, the two branches of the family were separated for years and communication was lost for many years. It’s only in 2008 that Isabel went back to the view the family house on now Zhenning Lu, together with her daughter Claire.
I actually met with Isabel and Raymond Chao in 2011 and wrote a post about it (See post “Shanghai exiles” for more details). This showed them that their story interested people and helped turning the project into reality, with publication in end 2017.
The horse race track of Shanghai (today’s People square) was at the center of the entertainment district in Old Shanghai. Hotels were built in the neighborhood including the home of Chinese stars, Yangtze Hotel (see post Yangtze Hotel for more details), the Great China Hotel and the New World Hotel.
Lászlo Hudec Park Hotel opened in 1934 on the Northern of the race track, on Bubbling Well Road. Financed by the Joint Savings Society, a major Chinese financial institution, it was a clear attempt to compete with the Cathay Hotel that opened a few year earlier on the Bund. As displayed in the advertising material below, entertainment was the main point of the hotel’s offer. If the Cathay was the home away from home for foreign travelers, the Park Hotel was designed with residents in mind, as well as guests coming to enjoy the race track and other local entertainment establishments. Those included the neighboring theaters (Grand Theater, Nanjing Theater and Metropole Theater), as well as the shopping temples on Nanjing Lu (Wing On, Sincere and Sun Department stores) as mentioned on the below map.
I particularly like the hotel silhouette and the characters displayed. Their dress look very much like characters from movie Casablanca. Another specific feature is the display of parts of the Chinese city (Longhua Pagoda and the Civic Center, in today Yangpu district ) as possible tours destination from the hotel. Although Longhua Pagoda was (and still is) a major tourist destination, the new Shanghai area of Jiangwan was rarely mentioned in foreign guides.
Using the same concrete raft technique as the Cathay, the 24 floors building was the highest of Shanghai… and in Asia. It only lost the Shanghai crown in the 1980’s when high buildings construction restarted. For decades the Park Hotel tower dominated Shanghai sky. The view from the top floor was unobstructed and stunning, as seen on the picture below. From up there, one could practically see the whole of Shanghai. For people of the time, this view must have been as stunning as the one from today’s Pudong skyscrapers.
Since most of the original Art Deco interior and furniture has disappeared, the Park Hotel does not compare to today’s luxury hotel anymore. The exterior is now roughly back to its original design, but inside only the ball room of which the circle floor was designed by German Bauhaus trained architect Richard Paulick has survived. When Park Hotel opened though, it was one of the best of Shanghai, competing not only in height but also in the best services with the Cathay. Below is a rare advertising leaflet for the
Pictures of the original Park hotel and decoration are extremely rare, but the hotel was clearly of the highest standard. It hosted two major restaurants, the Main Dining Room “remindful of the choicest wines and Epicurean French Cuisine” on the second floor and the Grill room on the 14th floor “which has a reputation on its own”. 14th floor was also the location of the Sky Terrace, I am preparing a special post on this one.
It also had a lounge on the 3rd or 4th floor, ideal location for drinking cocktails while watching the horse races. The highest attention was put for the kitchen… though no Chinese restaurant is mentioned. “The pastry cook has his place, and quite an important one” as high teas were (just like today) an important market for the hotel. The Park Hotel’s pastry reputation survived the years, as it was one of the few places to buy cakes until the bakery revival a few years ago. It was particularly famous for its Palmiers, or “butterfly cookies, Hu Die SU” as it is called in Chinese, that are still on sale today (Please see post “Tasting Old Shanghai” for more details).
It was quite a shock when I discovered this leaflet in a market in Shanghai more than 12 years ago. It can date it from 1937 or 1938, as I know from other sources that Mr T M Lamb was the GM in 1938. Nearly eighty years later, this advertising for Park Hotel looks very much like today’s top hotels promotion material. Another form of advertising for Park Hotel was hotel luggage labels, see post “Old Shanghai luggage labels” for more details.
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.
The post is focused on my first Old Shanghai house, nearly 13 years ago. The Shanghailander blog did not exist at this time, but this place was surely and inspiration.
I reached Shanghai in early 2004, and after sharing a flat in a concrete block for 8 months, I just could not resist trying the Old Shanghai adventure, living in real Shanghai historic villa. The house was one of a series located in a small compound, at the corner of Route Pottier (today Baoqing Lu, an extension of HengShan Lu) and Rue Lafayette (today Fuxing Lu). The compound had clearly been of high luxury, with 3 level houses following a very European pattern. Houses had been subdivided after the communist takeover in 1949 and the lady upstairs had been living there ever since. The old tenants said that these houses had originally built by a German bank.
After long search, I found a land registry from the early 1930s, showing that the land belonged to French Bank, Banque de l’Indochine, with its seat on the Bund. It was probably built to house the bank directors. No wonder it was luxurious! I never found the construction date, but from the location and the style I would guess late 1910s, or early 1920s. The style is very classical European from the pre WW1 period.
The flat I moved in was on the ground floor, occupying about 70 sqm. It had 2 large rooms, one being a huge dining room with kitchen and the other one subdivided into a study and a sleeping room. The house entrance led to a corridor, opening to the doors rooms, including the one to my flat. The original bathroom and toilet, that had seen no changed and was still in common use for the house inhabitants (fortunately not for me, I had my own!). The first foreign tenant (2 years before me) had attempted to renovate the flat. Some parts were really well done like the elevated floor in the sleeping /study room. Unfortunately, the original fish bone wood floor in the dining room had been sanded with the wrong equipment and was seriously damaged.
The kitchen / dining room of my time was certainly the dining room of the original house. The walls were covered with dark wood panels, as was the fashion of the day. The original setting must have been really dark, but fortunately, they had been painted white. The large French style window overlooked Route Pottier (today Baoqing lu). This dining room had an interesting side door, enclosing a small double door, about 50 cm by 50 cm, 1 meter from the floor. This small door was certainly designed to deliver dishes from the kitchen to the dining room and then having a butler serving the master’s table. The room behind the door was originally a service room leading to the underground kitchen. It had been later used as a bedroom before being turned into my own bathroom, so the little door was not supposed to open anymore (though I did manage to do it once). This certainly gave a feeling of grandeur in the original setting, perfect for a bankers home.
Next to this door was a display niche. The original glass windows have disappeared for a long time but the railing and the upper cupboard door was still there. This was clearly the place to show some expensive pieces to the guest in the dining room. On the right hand side, opposite to the large window looking on the street was a door and a fireplace. The door was originally communicating to the next room (now the neighbors apartment) that had been walled up.
Like most fireplaces in Shanghai, mine had been filled up with concrete after 1949. I dreamed about opening it up during my stay in that flat, but that is not allowed in Shanghai anymore.
The back wall was opened with large french doors. They were really beautiful, but the small windows were nearly impossible to change if damaged, thus some of the windows were broken and left unrepaired. It must originally have been possible to open the top windows to give some fresh air, but after 60 years without being used, I was never able to do it.
The study / sleeping room was divided in two parts with a very clever cupboard / wall left by the architect tenant. The original room had been extended from original construction, probably enclosing a terrace as the room was located half under the 2nd floor and half under it’s own little extension roof. Insulation was very poor and it was extremely cold in the winter (to bad I only noticed that when winter came). There was door from this room to the garden, which was very large and must have originally very nice. Unfortunately, people living in the house never really maintained it and it became half jungle and half junk yard with people dropping all kind of rubbish in it (including an old bath tab).
Avenue Pétain (today Hengshan Lu) and Route Pottier (today Baoqing Lu) is a major way into Shanghai and (further down) became a major entertainment street, thus the road in front of my flat was a 24 hours traffic jam. With taxis and buses honking at any time of the day and night, it was really difficult to sleep. Along with the cold, it made it impossible to stay and I happily left after my first year, moving to a flat on Route Kauffman (today Anting lu) where I stayed for 11 years. The flat on Route Pottier has now been turned into a cafe. Although it still has an atmosphere, many of the original parts have been removed.
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.
Shanghai development was fueled by real-estate and construction. Just like in every big city, people moved house, bought and sold properties and remodeled them. There was also maintenance work, as well as upgrade to be done.
I recently noticed this ad in a 1937 Shanghai publication. I particularly like the “All works satisfactorily executed”. The company was surely a foreign one, located behind the Bund, on today’s Sichuan Middle Road, close to Fuzhou Lu. In such a central location, it must have been involved in building or maintaining the buildings of the business district of the International Settlement, though I did not find more information about. I tried to call 16077, but sadly this number does not exist anymore.
Being in the subtropical zone, Shanghai weather varies strongly over the course of the year.
Summers tends to be very hot, with the back ground noise of cicadas (see post Singing trees and Shanghai heat), the damp atmosphere feeling more like tropical Saigon. On the opposite, winters are cold and damp (See post freezing Shanghai). While snow is rare (see post snow in Shanghai), the humidity makes living in the city really miserable for a few days. Mid-season between those Scylla and Charybdis are really nice, and best to visit Shanghai either in spring, or in Autumn.
Shanghai sub tropical sun light is very strong and a few sunny hours tend the change the city mood really fast. This is why most houses face South, as light coming directly inside the home will brightens up the dampest winter day. In the rare days of winter sunshine, lanes fill up with hanging clothes and bedding, the sun light being most effective to chase away bugs and humidity of the old houses.
Best days for me are also those blue sky days in winter, even better late winter or early spring. Winter time is a particularly great time to look at old architecture in the former concessions. While plane trees leafs provide a nice shadow in the summer, they tend to cover up low rise buildings from the 1920s and 30s. Winter see the leafs disappear and the buildings appearing clearly. It’s a great time to walk around, look at the buildings and take photographs. With the spring a few days away, buds will soon open before becoming leafs. They will recreate the charming green vault overlooking the streets, but will also cover Old Shanghai low rise buildings. With a few days to enjoy it, every day of blue sky is an opportunity to discover more about Old Shanghai, so just go out and look around before it’s too late… for this year.
The former Shanghai race track (today’s People Square) remains an open space in the middle of the city. Horses racing around the horse track are long gone, but pictures of the race are a common sight nowadays. Although the Shanghai Race Club is also long forgotten, people are once again enjoying the view from the top of the building that is now the Shanghai Art Museum, having a drink or a bite at (now gone) Kathleen’s 5 restaurant. What is much less known is what the inner space of the race track was used for.
The Shanghai Recreation ground, as it was known then, was a massive sport center. The large open space was divided in a number of fields accommodating various sports and activities. The Race track was used only periodically, but the recreation ground was clearly an everyday feature of Shanghai’s life. Like in many other places, British colonists brought there love of sports and horse racing with them, and they combined them in one location. A similar feature is still in used today in Hong Kong’s Happy Valley sport ground that is enclosed within the horse race track.
The Shanghai recreation ground was remodeled twice a year to accommodate a winter and a summer layout. Winter layout for 1938 (pictured) included 4 “soccer” grounds, 5 hockey grounds and 2 rugby grounds. Just like today’s expat, foreigners in old Shanghai would spend their winter weekends enjoying some fresh air while practicing team sports, all of it followed by a sizable amount of drinking. Having been a rugby player for a few years, I get a good picture of the “after matches atmosphere”. The summer layout included a baseball ground and a polo ground, another sport that is again practiced in Shanghai though in a far more remote location nowadays.
Similarly to Singapore’s cricket club, there were two pieces of ground reserved for the “Shanghai cricket club” and the “Shanghai recreation club”, both for cricket and tennis. The Shanghai cricket club also had a club house or a “pavilion” built on the side of its dedicated plot, it was roughly where Baraborossa restaurant is nowadays. The pavilion, a mock Tudor style building can be seen on the top left hand side on the picture above. The map also displays the SLBC (Shanghai Lawn Bowls Club) pavilion, as well as a few bowling greens. The most surprising feature was a 9 holes golf course with the tees spread over the whole field. The first tee and the 9th green were conveniently located near the golf pavilion, perfect for a drink before or after a game of golf. At some point, the Shanghai recreation ground was also used as a military airfield. At that time there was probably no time to play golf anymore.