Movies about Old Shanghai have been very rare and difficult to see in the early years of this blog. In the last years, more and more old movies have been found on internet videos website. This has allowed some of the 1930s Shanghai original amateur movies to be viewed again, after all those years.
One of the easiest to find on Youtube is “Old Shanghai 1930s”, on the StephendelRoser account. This is a 8 minutes movies depicting street scenes in Shanghai, probably early 1930s as judged from the cars and vehicle pictured. Scenes are mostly filmed on Nanjing Road and on the Bund, including in front of Astor House hotel. They include a number of road traffic scenes, with cars and rickshaws including the Sikhs policemen of the International Settlement.
The movie also includes a long part that was filmed on a small boat on the Yangpu river, as well as the Suzhou Creek, which was really crowded then. Final scenes include a short part in an airfield and a long stretch filmed from a tramway.
Searching for “Shanghai Grand” on the internet leads directly to a Hong Kong action movie from 1996 set in Shanghai. Much more interesting is the new book from Canadian travel writer and journalist Tara Grescoe, focusing on the life and relationships of New Yorker writer Emily (Mickey) Hahn during her stay in Shanghai in the 1930’s.
Many books have been written about Old Shanghai and not all of them are good or interesting. Although published in mid 2016, Shanghai Grand only came to the attention of Old Shanghai lovers based in Shanghai, when Grescoe presented his book during the 2017 M Literary festival in Shanghai. I have to admit that I was very skeptical about an Old Shanghai book written by an author mostly known for his work about public transports and World overfishing and who never spent more than a few weeks in Shanghai. The presentation itself was of high interest, while the book turns out to be one of the best written and best documented book about Shanghai in the 1930’s and some of its memorable characters.
Shanghai Grand tell the story of the most crazy years of foreign Shanghai, the late 1930’s. Emily (Mickey) Hahn arrived in Shanghai in 1935, and through chances and connection got quickly in touch with Sir Victor Sassoon and the highest class of foreign society. As free and adventurous women, she defied conventions with her interest of the Chinese Society, that was exposed to her through her liaison with Chinese Poet Zau Sinmay (Shao Xunmei in modern PinYin, 邵洵美 in Chinese characters). The books centers on the love triangle between the three of them, while exploring Sir Victor Sassoon’s thoughts about the Shanghai political situation in those troubled times. 1930’s Shanghai was a booming city, but the party was abruptly interrupted by the Japanese invasion, Saturday 14th August 1937, that changed the city forever. Life conditions deteriorated rapidly and Emily (Mickey) Hahn left for Hong Kong, then taking a trip to Chongqing and write her first famous book, the Soong Sisters. She stayed in Hong Kong until repatriation in the US in 1943.
Instead of using local information and archives about the city, Grescoe focused on researching foreign based sources. He primarily used the hand written notebooks from Sir Victor Sassoon (now stored in a library in Dallas, Texas) that where previously unheard of by most people studying Old Shanghai. Another major source was writings by Emily (Mickey) Hahn for the New Yorker written during her time in Shanghai (1935 to 1939), her books written about China and the many letters she wrote back to her family as well as unpublished works, that Grescoe is probably the first person to have researched intensively.
Besides the main characters, Grescoe also cast a light on a few secondary characters that he managed to find new information about. Maurice “Two Guns” Cohen is definitely one of them as little was known about him apart from his work as body guard for Dr Sun Yat-Sen. Bernardine Szold-Fritz, who introduced Mickey Hahn to the Shanghai social life is also an exotic character. The background of Shao Xunmei is exposed thanks to his relatives who are still in Shanghai today. The background of the whole story, and nearly a character in itself it the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel) on the Bund.
While researching the book, Grescoe also received support from Old Shanghai experts like Peter Hibbard and Andrew Field, as well as actually meeting with numerous authors of books about Old Shanghai or the life of his central characters. He also used a number of books written by Shanghai foreigners about their life in the 1930’s, most of them being mostly unknown or really difficult to find. The body of data collected is enormous and a large part of the work was surely to compile it, summarize it and cross references. Thanks to great writing skills, the result is a highly readable book that will satisfy readers that are not familiar with Shanghai history. At the same time, the depth of the research is a treat for Old Shanghai connoisseurs as the author has spread details and references all along the book, making it a great start for further research.
The World Congress on Art Deco is promoted by the International Coalition of Art Deco Societies. Started in Miami in 1991, it has grown into a worldwide organisation promoting awarness and preservation of Art Deco architecture and history. The Shanghai Congress brought together people from several cities in the USA and Australia, as well as France, Hungary, and South America. After two congresses in South America (Rio in 2011 and Havanna in 2013), the first congress in Asia really makes the organisation global. For a week, Shanghai was the center of attention for Art Deco lovers and the best place to exchange ideas about it. Although originated from France with the Exposition des Art Decoratifs of 1925, it was so far mostly celebrated in the US as well as Australia / New Zealand. After South America picking up, it is now the time of Europe as Art Deco societies are emerging in European cities, with Paris, Perpignan and Budapest being represented at the congress. Besides the social aspect, the congress was really a place for discussion on Art Deco from various places. Conferences took place every morning with tours every afternoon, so workload was pretty tough for the ones attending every bit of it.
Being in charge of taking care of the French speaking delegates, we managed to make a small gathering of the French speaking Art Deco delegates. This unplanned event happened at the Cercle Sportif Français (today’s Okura hotel) after the presentation and dinner in the Art Deco ballroom. We took a detour on the old terrace that used to be an open air dance hall and went for a drink. As it should be with French events, it was full of discussion, drinks and Joie de vivre. Art Deco started in 1925 in Paris, so we all dream of making a 2025 Art Deco Congress in Paris to celebrate the 100 years of the exhibition, and maybe one more in another French Art Deco city before that. Lot’s of work in the planning.
From a Shanghai perspective, the real success of the congress was to bring together the largest panel of people interested in Old Shanghai ever. Old Shanghai fanatics all know about each other more or less, but this was a unique opportunity to have most of us together in one place and exchange about our favorite topic. The list was really impressive, including “Old Shanghai rediscoverer” Tess Johnston, Bund and Cathay hotel specialist Peter Hibbard, Shanghai Art Deco architect Spencer Doddington, French Concession specialist Charles Lagrange, Haipai researcher and author of “Shanghai Style” Lynn Pann as well as Shanghai White Russian specialists Katya Knyazeva were among the speakers, and I am surely forgetting some of them. Art Deco Shanghai furniture (and some previously unseen Art Deco Shanghai carpets) where on display, helping to look at Art Deco on various crafts.
The really surprising and maybe most interesting part was to see conferences on topics related to Shanghai, but about which little is known here. They included research about Old Shanghai Department stores on Nanking Road (including Wing On), tracking and giving great details about their roots back to Australia’s department stores. Another great surprise was research about Old Shanghai Chinese architect, including Liu Jipiao, who designed the China pavillon at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs of 1925 and organised the 1st West Lake exhibition in Hangzhou in 1929, modeled after the Paris one. It also included a presentation of Old Shanghai architect Poy Gum Lee, who was part of the team who designed the Chinese YMCA building (today Metropolo hotel on people square) and later continued his career in New York’s China town.
The World Congress on Art Deco could not be over without an Art Deco closing party, that took place at the Art Deco masterpiece, the Sassoon House, host of the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel). This was the opportunity to celebrate in style and to say goodbye to the Art Deco community. See you in Cleveland in 2017 for the next World Congress on Art Deco!
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.
Peter Hibbard has long been one of the leading scholars on Old Shanghai. He wrote the best (if not only) guide to the Bund: “The Bund Shanghai: China faces the West”, as well the privately published book celebrating the opening of Shanghai Peninsula, covering the history of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotel corporation. Peter Hibbard is also known to have revived the Shanghai Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society , an association that was at the center of cultural and intellectual life of Old Shanghai and has come back to life in recent years. With his years in Shanghai and is long term interest for city’s history, Peter always mentioned several book projects, with the most exciting surely an history of the Cathay Hotel (today the Fairmont Peace Hotel). Having started researching in the mid 80’s, the book has finally become reality.
With in-depth knowledge, historical photos, documents never seen before and years of passion in the making, Peace at the Cathay is the definitive guide to what is now known as The Peace Hotel. The book covers the history of the spot of its predecessor, the Central Hotel, as well as the competitor on the other side of the street, the Palace Hotel (now Swatch Peace Hotel). This is where is learned that the Palace Hotel was renovated in 1925 by Spanish architect, Abelardo Lafuente.
Obviously, the main part is focused on what became known as the Sasoon House (still known under this name in Shanghainese), and its most well known host, the Cathay Hotel that opened in 1929. With its revolutionary design, highest end service and luxury shops offering the very best available at the time, the Cathay quickly became the center of the high class social life in Shanghai and a magnet for international tourists. Owner Victor Sassoon, with his office in the building and private apartments on the top of it, probably became the most famous Shanghailander ever and many celebrities stayed at the Cathay, as Shanghai was becoming part of the international scene.
Sasoon hotels also opened the Metropole Hotel n 1932 (and its sister building the Hamilton House). They completed the existing Cathay apartments in the French Concession, and were joined by another Art Deco icon of Shanghai, the Grosvenor house in 1935. All of them are also covered in the book, as well as the later use of the building after 1949.
Despite the in-depth research and the quantity of information it brings, the book makes a good read as well as a pretty coffee table book. Unfortunately, only a few hundreds of copies were made in the first print, so people interested in it should buy it fast (as far as I know, it can be bought at shop in the hotel itself as well as by contacting the author). Hopefully, as second print will be made on a larger scale, making the original copies even more valuable.
Peace at the Cathay is definitely the book about the Cathay Hotel, from the best source. We are lucky it is finally available.
With its tower dominating the river, the Sassoon House has been the focal point of the Bund since its opening in 1929. Owned by the famous Shanghai real estate mogul Sir Victor Sassoon, it was of very advanced design for its time. The Art Deco tower was to become the place to stay in Shanghai hosting the Cathay Hotel (today’s Peace Hotel) and the most famous building of the city, being only challenged after decades of domination by the skyscrapers in opposite Lu Jia Zui. The building originally hosted a shopping arcade, offices of the Sassoon company, the Cathay hotel and the private apartments of Sir Victor Sasoon.
The building had seen many renovation of dubious quality over the years and the current owner JingJiang hotel has been known for ruinovating great buildings of old Shanghai. I went to the last jazz bar concert in 2007 wondering what would come out of the grande dame of the Bund. Numerous rumors went around during the renovation as very few people actually could see how the work developed. The shopping gallery and the hotel reopened partly in 2010, with the last suites being about to be finished in March 2011.
Being quite fearful of the result, I kind of postponed my return to the Cathay Hotel until I took a guided tour and was strike by the result. The most surprising part is surely the rotunda. I never quite realized how much of the building had been hidden before. The document left is a floor plan of the Sassoon House ground floor and the hotel’s restoration has brought it back. The West Arcade is full of shops again although the new shops may not all be of the class that used to be there Old Shanghai time. Interestingly, this is where the rejuvenated Shanghai Cosmetics Brand Shanghai Vive (mentioned in post “Brands of Old Shanghai”) has established its flagship store… just in the same spot as the Peach & Co shop seen on the map.
The Central Arcade has also been reopened and the main attraction is surely the magnificent Art Deco glass dome that has been restored to its former glory. The rose marble walls of the lobby have also been exposed again, but the luxury shops in that part of the arcade have not reopened but covered by mediocre silver sculptures. Part of the Central Arcade is now the hotel reception. The Cathay Hotel Lounge also found back its place, being transformed again back from the old hotel lobby into a stylish cafe. No orchestra is playing for afternoon “The Dancant” anymore , and the furniture used is surely not antiques but the place still has an atmosphere. The jazz bar has come back to its place before the renovation, the Cathay Bar.
The long corridor leading to the waterfront has also been restored. Although the decors described by Peter Hibbard in his book “The Bund” cannot be replaced, the former entrance of the Cathay hotel has found back a lot of the original majesty. Originally, this was the main entrance of the hotel, with guest disembarking from ships and crossing the street to find comfort and civilization again, away from the noise and crowds of the city. This entrance has virtually not been used for decades as it is particularly bad from a feng shui point of view. Having a river in front of your business’ main door can only lead your money to flow away… something that neither the original architect nor Sir Victor Sassoon took into consideration when creating the building.
Peter Hibbard wrote a book dedicated to the former Cathay Hotel (today’s peace hotel), Peace at the Cathay.
The old Shanghai Club building had been closed for quite a number of years. Its transformation and re-opening in the Waldorf Astoria hotel happened with much less hype than the renewed Peace Hotel down the Bund. However, restoration of this piece of history has been very careful and the result is matching the highest expectation.
Built in 1911, this is the second building of the Shanghai Club. The male only British Club was the center of power and wealth in Old Shanghai. A few meters down from the main banks, trading houses and administrations, the club was the second home for the rich and powerful people of the International Settlement. The building contained all that was needed by its members, including bowling alleys, billiard rooms, a barber, restaurants and the long bar, supposedly the longest bar in the world. The top floors where occupied by 40 en-suite rooms for the residency of the members. The club membership was the cream of Shanghai businessman, drinking on the long bar with a carefully selected order.
The richest and most powerful would stand near the front windows, when the griffins (or newbies) would be relegated towards the back end of the room. Climbing Shanghai’s social ladder also meant going up the Long Bar. The Club also had massive dining room on the 2nd floor with giant portraits of the British Royalty. Besides the Italian marble staircases, a small lift was installed for the convenience of the members.
Unfortunately, the building suffered quite a lot in the 50’s to 80’s period. It became the seaman’s club serving a very different clientele from the dignified British gentlemen that occupied it before. The upper floor was turned into a hotel, also of much lower standard. The Long Bar was destroyed at some point and little remained of it when the ground floor was turned into the first KFC in China. Although this brought masses to the place, it is clear that no care was taken of the remains of splendor of this old lady of the Bund. Fortunately, the hotel renovation has been done with great care, recreating the Long Bar in its original location. I am sure that this piece of Old Shanghai will soon become one of the hangouts of the rich and famous of new Shanghai. The massive ball room on the 2nd floor has been renovated into the hotel main ball room. Although the British royalties portraits are long gone, the place still has a lot of majesty (except for the horrible new carpet) and gave a real official turn to the ceremony I recently attended. This would make an incredible location for one of my conferences on Shanghai history. The higher floors of the building have been turned into luxury suites that will surely attracted a very wealthy crowd. As the Waldorf Astoria is not fully open, the building still had a cozy a private atmosphere that matches the old club style. This is the best time to visit it, as the full opening of the hotel will surely change that.
The Bund was the center of business in Old Shanghai. Major banks and companies had their headquarters on the riverside or in the streets behind. A number of these buildings are finally being renovated in turned once again into greatness, though mostly into fancy bars and restaurants. One of the most popular one is Bund 18, open in late 2004, the old building of the “Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China”. Renovation of this old lady was run by Italian experts in old building renovation. Thanks to their work, this dilapidated piece of art has been turned into a luxury shopping mall and an entertainment complex. Bar Rouge on the 7th Floor opened in late 2004 along with restaurant Sens & Bund. Bar Rouge was the undisputed star of Shanghai nightlife (see my post “Decadence on the Bund“) and has been joined by Lounge 18 (4th floor) in late 2007.
Bar Rouge is all about modern design, using very little of the original building’s features, apart from the incredible terrace with the fantastic view on the Pudong. Lounge 18’s decor really uses the building much more, as the 4th Floor was originally dedicated to be an art gallery. The careful restoration of the windows, ceiling and interior adds a lot to the atmosphere, giving real feeling of history in the building. The most breathtaking part certainly is the staircase seen by most people on their way to the bars.
The original owner, the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China was founded in 1853 in London, following the grant of a royal charter from Queen Victoria. The Shanghai branch opened in 1858. It developed in the city, financing trade between India, China and other parts the British Empire. Business must have been good, as the bank built its headquarter on the Bund in 1923. The building was remarkable, competing in style with others along the river… but at the end of the day, it was a bank. In here, like in any bank, people would come in to deposit and take out money, collect their salaries and make investment. Exactly like in today’s Bank of China, people would have a little booklet listing all operations executed on the account. I happened to find one of these booklets from 1940 (picture up and left). The last operation is from September 1941, as probably the client left Shanghai then. Everything was handwritten at the time and very well kept. The Chartered Bank merged with the Standard Bank in 1969 to become “Standard Chartered bank”. After leaving the country in the 1950’s, it has come back many years later as one of the main foreign banks now operating in China. Bund 18 is not a bank anymore, but I think about the booklet every time I go there and the building still is one of the jewel of the Bund.
With latitude in the range of to Casablanca, Baghdad and New Orleans, Shanghai is much more associated with warm summer than cold winters. Harsh winters happened every few years. I saw a little bit of snow in January 2005, but it’s nothing compared to the snow in January 2008 (see pictures in my photo albums).
As you can see on the picture, snow in Shanghai is not a new thing. The postcard was written in December 1930, but the picture is from an earlier time. Peace hotel was not yet built when the picture was taken, so the picture is from before 1928. On this picture, Palace hotel still had it’s tower that were destroyed in August 1912 and rebuilt in 1998 (according to “The Bund” from Peter Hibbard). Railways track visible on the postcard were laid down in 1908, thus the picture is from the period between winter 1908-09 until 1911-12. I have not found yet the records of temperature for this period, but clearly one of those winter was really cold. I am not sure how frequent snow fell on Shanghai then, but it could have been quite rare since the picture was still in use 15 to 20 years later.
Cold in Shanghai at that time was surely not a problem for the rich foreigners and Chinese alike. Most western style houses were fitted with fireplaces. It must have been warm in then, much warmer than later. As I explained in another post (Freezing Shanghai), most Shanghai houses have no real heating, only air conditioners that are used to warm up some air. Fireplace heating can be found in a few bars in Shanghai and a few house have it, but most people just freeze. Snow was rare then, but the cold certainly did not spare the poors. The rickshaw pullers on the picture must have been freezing, right on the most expensive stretch on road in the city. Poorer houses must have been heating burning coal, like they still do in rural parts of China. Just like today, people were certainly wearing multiple layers of cloths to fight the wet cold.
Pictures of Shanghai under the snow are very rare. This is one of the reason I bought this one. Besides the glorious pictures of wide avenue, large villas and imposing building, this picture shows a Shanghai that is rarely seen. I recall seeing another postcard of Huang Pu park covered with snow, that would be directly opposite where this picture was taken. I have not found yet when was the winter in the early 10’s that saw so much snow… just some more research to do.