When discovering Shanghai Bund marvels, one is often told about the Shanghai Club Long Bar. This actually used to be the meeting place in the 1920s and 1930s for the British elites, but not only them, as the Club was open to foreigners. It was however closed to Chinese citizens and to women who were only invited once a year!
The first Shanghai Club, now part of the Warldorf Astoria Hotel, was built in 1864 to provide the newly arrived group of British businessmen with an exclusive place to meet and discuss current affairs, on the very model of clubs in England. Admission fee was not a fix one, which meant the higher you pay, the more chance you had to become a permanent member. Candidates had to submit three months in advance and be introduced by a minimum of two long time members. The ballot used white and black balls with one black ball in five excluding. The unlucky candidate was then "blackballed". One of these unfortunate, though very rich, applicants was Victor Sassoon, who finally preferred to put his money into a new type of venue, today's Peace Hotel.
Let us go back to our long bar topic. This one was created inside the club house in 1911, when the new Shanghai Club was built. The oak paneled bar was extending its 110 foot 7 inches length on the whole South side of the building. It very soon became a social status barometer, as lower position executives or new comers in town called "griffin" had to in the dark remote side of the bar, the side facing the Bund being reserved for more senior members. The word "griffin" designated a Mongolian young pony horse, not tamed yet. The tradition was to wait one year, one month, one day, one hour and one minute to become a real "Shanghailander"! When traveling to Asia, I was surprised that the club and bar culture inherited from the British had survived. There is a famous long bar too in Singapore Raffles, similar bars in Tianjin Astor House, Rangoon's Strand Hotel, etc... In Kuala Lumpur, I found the Coliseum Cafe (photo right) quite typical. Most of these places still have their sometimes original ceiling fans, slowly bracing the air while you are having a nice evening drink. So it is rather easy to travel in time there!
The most popular drinks in those days were scotch or gin, as they were easy to ship long distance, although some old colonials claim they were meant to kill tropical germs! Above cartoon by Austrian Jewish immigrant Friedrich Schiff shows westerners at the Shanghai Club Long Bar with the title "the longest bar in the world". This slogan, as attractive as it is, cannot be less true. The longest bar in the world in the 1940, when this drawing was made, was probably the one of Mexicali Beer (last photo below) in Tijuana Mexico, stretching its 231 foot-length from the early 1920s already. In 1938, another serious competitor was the Mildura Working Man's Club in Victoria, Australia, with 299 feet, although this one was T-shaped! Anyway the Long Bar of today's Warldorf Astoria is far shorter than the original, since it has been cut in half in 1956 when the place became a Seaman's Club. The remains of the bar were then used to serve greasy chicken feet in 1990 at the opening of Shanghai first KFC (left picture of Chinese dressed in workers white shirt enjoying their first American food!). Still, there are many stories floating around the bar like reports of occupying Japanese troops having to shorten the Club billiard tables to play at ease or famous characters like John Keswick, the head of Jardine Matheson Company (now House of Roosevelt on the Bund), who used to come here. These are stories which still resound in modern Shanghai and confer the Long Bar the status of real urban legend!
-Shanghai, a handbook for travellers, Darwent, Charles Ewart 1920
-The Bund Shanghai, China faces West, Peter Hibbard, 2007
- A last look: Western architecture in old Shanghai, Tess Johnston, 1993
- Site Virtual Shanghai, Christian Henriot
It's been a while I wanted to write about Shanghai Sketch, this Shanghai 1930's famous magazine. Shanghai Sketch （上海漫画 or Shanghai Manhua, nearby) was founded in 1928 by a group of eleven artists including Ye Quanyu, Huang Wennong, Lu Shaofei, Zhang Guanyu and Zhang Zhenyu. One of the sponsors was Shao Xunmei, the Chinese and highly controversial lover of Emily Hahn. From the very beginning, it used erotic pictures or dramatic scenes on its front page to attract readers' attention. Inside the magazine, one could find a very modern type of articles for that period, discussing contemporary art or depicting the Shanghai dancing scene. The influence of Surrealism or Freudian psychology is obvious on some of the magazine covers, reflecting a taste for western most unconventional forms of arts or scientific points of view. Articles on American-born singer Josephine Baker's naked performances or comic strips depicting the new Shanghai bourgeois-type life style also contributed to a vivid atmosphere of urban culture. In its particular way, this magazine stood for a symbol of its time. It appealed to the intellectuals elites of this fascinating period who looked for new references for their daily lifes. However, following a dispute, a large part of the initial team left the magazine in 1930 in order to create another one called Modern Sketch (时代漫画 or Shidai Manhua, below).
If I were to find a French equivalent to this Chinese magazine, I would quote "Hara Kiri", although this one was born in a quite different period, in the years following the 1968 student revolt in Paris. However, the focus was the same: to present the readers with rather unconventional articles, use hand sketches to catch the attention and challenge the morals of the time. This period was also one of profound renewal in France when younger generations were eager for social and cultural changes. Quite like Chinese intellectuals in the 1930s! However, the artistic value of Shanghai Sketch is by far higher than this French satirical magazine. Its Art Deco covers were indeed a manifesto in favor of modernity and they are often used to illustrate books and publications about Shanghai crazy years. The world of dance and the power of "wunu" (dance hostesses) on male partners was part of the exciting background of this very innovative and colorful magazine.
So after decades of standardization in Chinese society, flipping into 1930s Shanghai Sketch copies is still a rare and exclusive pleasure! Real modernity is not a matter of time or period, it is an attitude which is never out of fashion!
After traveling to Yerevan Armenia this summer, I got extensive information about the Armenian genocide occurring from the end of the eighteenth century in Turkey to the early nineteenth century. During this period some 2 million Armenian people were slaughtered, walked to death and tortured by Turks and Kurd militias working with them. The peak of this period was 1915 corresponding to the rise of the Young Turks party in the former Ottoman Empire. This very sad episode is still denied by many countries which sometimes want to preserve their relations with Turkey. Among the famous Shanghai merchants in the Former French Concession was a company run by one of these families having to flee the Turkish massacres. This famous brand was called Tchakalian Brothers and was held by Pierre Tchakalian and relatives. Located in many strategic spots in town, there were fine bakeries providing delicate cakes as well as prepared food. The most famous of the Tchakalian shops was the one located right in front of the Cathay Cinema, as original photo bellow shows, on today’s Maoming Road. For three decades of Shanghailanders, the Tchakalian Bakery was the indispensable stop after an afternoon of shopping on Avenue Joffre (today’s Huaihai Road) or a movie at the Cathay Cinema.
It was somehow an equivalent of today’s Hediard in Paris Place de la Madeleine. When attending class at the College Municipal Français on Route Vallon in the 1940’s, author Liliane Willens recalls meeting two of the sons of Pierre Tchakalian, "one of them was rather good in sports she says although he was older than me". I long asked myhelf if there were some traces left in today’s Shanghai of the Tchakalian bakeries. Actually the former Tchakalian bakeries are still opened, except may be the one on Huaihai Road which is now replaced by Uniclo Shop. They are still called “Lo Da Chang” (老大昌) their original Shanghainese name and also propose western recipes like the fruit cake or palm shaped biscuits, actually tasting very much like the Parisian ones.
The reason for these bakeries being still operating is explained in the book written by Pierre Tchakalian’s son Jean, who had his name changed into Chaland to sound more French. He writes that his grandfather Krikor had to leave his bakery in Erzurum in the East of Turkey in 1896 to escape the massacres led by the new Sultan Abdul Hamid against Armenian Christians. The family could reach Ekaterinbourg, in the Russian Empire which was less hostile to Armenian people. They stayed there for a couple of years, Krikor working as accountant to sustain the family. Then they could reunite with a cousin who had a flour mill in Harbin along the Chinese Eastern Railway.
In 1903, Krikor’s son called Bedros was 24 and made his way to Shanghai, then a promising developing city. He got a job in a French company, Mondon & Co, which imported French fine wines and champagne. In 1911 however, he left Shanghai for France where his employer retired and later returned to Russia. There, he got married and had a first son. In 1917, the Bolchevik unrest pushed the family to head for Shanghai again. Bedros, now called Pierre, started his own business of bakery which became rapidly successful.
The family extended to three more sons, who were all educated in French and Pierre received himself the French nationality in 1932. As his health was declining, he started an association with cousins, freshly installed in the French Concession. This association turned to be a disaster, ending with the sale of the company to Chinese debtors. Pierre died from illness in Shanghai in 1946 and in 1949, the business was naturally seized by communist authorities. Today, Lo Da Chang is still renowned among Chinese who often queue outside the shop on Nanchang Road for “Old Shanghai style yogurts”. While doing this, they also pay tribute to an once Armenian immigrant called Pierre Tchakalian!
I recently watched the movie called "The White Countess" with one of my preferate actors, Ralph Fienes (Voldemort in Harry Potter, The English Patient, The Constant Gardener, Schindler List...). This movie is about White Russians in Shanghai 1930s, telling the story of a former Russian noble lady obliged to work as a bar hostess. Although the story itself is of little interest, it is probably the first time I watch such a precisely and well documented movie about Shanghai 1930s. The background is the White Russian immigration that followed the Russian revolution which led some 20000 destitute czarist Russians, most of them coming from Harbin to find refuge in Shanghai. Their condition was often quite miserable, former military men working as hotel doorkeepers, bodyguards or police assistants. Women sometimes became prostitutes to survive, which somehow damaged the status of the ruling white race.
At that time Huaihai Road, former Avenue Joffre in the heart of the French Concession, was called "Little Russia" as most of the shops, bars and restaurants were named after Russian names (nearby photo credit Katya Knyazeva). Today still we can find traces of this heritage through former Russian orthodox churches (St Nicolas in Gaolan Road or the cathedral on Xinle Road) or restaurants like Deda Cafe still serving borscht. Maoming Road has also kept the tradition of Russian taylors from the 1930s who used to maintain dresses from Saint Petersburg up to the fashion of the day. Today the street however mainly sells Chinese dresses or suits. Seldom shown character is singer Alexander Vertinsky represented in the famous role of "Black Pierrot" (photo bellow) singing traditional romantic Russian songs, although this costume was probably an earlier one.
The effort of the director James Ivory to quote night life existing cabarets is remarkable. Evocation of the Jazz dancing scene with the first Chinese or black American orchestras is also admirable. The famous Chinese singer Yaoli even sings "Rose rose I love", an hymn to Shanghai nightlife in the 1930s during one of the bar scenes! At some point, Shanghai race course (today People Square) is shown. The French, although caricatured like in most American movies are also represented. Jewish families mixing up with Chinese locals, the Bund British companies civil servants, etc...Movie decoration fits the Art Deco style of those years and many scenes have been shot in real places like the ballroom of former Cathay (now Peace Hotel), the French College Municipal existing lilong alleys. Rest of the action was set at Shanghai Film Park.
The movie depicts the night life of Shanghai with focus on the political struggle involving Japanese, communist Chinese and the Kuomintang. Japanese spies running in the city add spice to the plot and we can definitely feel the tension of coming war during the whole movie. So if you like Ralph Fienes like I do and want to have a flavor of Shanghai actual life in those years, I recommend you find yourself a copy of this movie. Forget about the poor scenario and indulge yourselves into the fascinating atmosphere of multiethnic Shanghai 1930s!
Harbin's Russian heritage architecture has often been praised. The city which was founded along the Chinese Eastern Railway by czarist Russia was indeed known as the St Petersbourg of the East because of its resemblance to the capital of the former Russian Empire. There are still many orthodox style churches in town today, though some of them have been turned into catholic churches or even museums (see Saint Sophia on the left). The Chinese Cultural Revolution in Mandchuria however destroyed a few of those previous beauties. In the main city artery, one is also fascinated by rows of buildings in the Russian baroque style, most of them shops like "Churin" famous Russian brand introducing the Harbin sausage in 1903 or restaurants like "Moderne" where you can still enjoy a bowl of borscht today at the sound of live classical music. Exactly like in the 1920s when some 50000 White Russians dominated the Harbin cultural life!
Textile and food industry attracted a large number of workers from all Northern parts of China. They used to live in the alleys connected to the workshops. Some of those houses are now in bad conditions but there are still many people staying there. Facades can be in Chinese baroque style or "comprador" style, just like those in Xiamen or Kaiping. Some Art Deco can also be found, though those are Japanese firms premises from after 1931 invasion of Mandchuria by the Japanese Empire. Most interesting patterns can be seen in some inner courtyards resembling Beijing siheyuan or even caravanserails along the former Silk Road.
Courtyards and alleys bordering workshops are been renovated at the moment in order to allow tourists to enjoys the many local specialties. However I prefer the street side with its colourful facades, some of them with wild grass growing within the bricks and always small shops at the ground floor. Those are really authentic! Close to the main street of Daowai, you can find a large open air market selling birds and pets as well as fresh food. This one is not far from the Songhua River where runners and walkers add to the already lively picture of this part of the town!
This first visit of Harbin gave me the same impression as when I came to Wuhan for the first time: A combination of culture, history and a great deal of Chinese charm. So I strongly recomend you visit it!
On a souvent vanté l'architecture russe de Harbin. Il est vrai que la ville fondée le long du chemin de fer de l'Est chinois par la Russie tsariste est tellement marquée par l'héritage culturel de la Sainte Russie que la ville a longtemps été surnommée la Saint-Petersbourg de l'Est. Les églises orthodoxes, transformées en églises catholiques pour certaines ou en musées pour d'autres (comme Sainte Sophie ci-contre), subsistent encore nombreuses, et ce malgré le déchaînement de la Révolution Culturelle dans cette région. La rue principale restaurée depuis la fin des années 1990 impressionne par l'alignement de ces batiments de style baroque russe. Ce sont souvent des grands magasins ou bien des restaurants comme le "Moderne" où l'on consomme encore du borscht au son de la musique classique. Un mélange que n'auraient pas renié les quelques 50000 russes blancs qui dominaient la vie culturelle dans les années 1920!
Les industries locales textiles et alimentaires employaient une main-d'œuvre importante venue de tout le Nord de la Chine. Celle-ci était logée directement dans les allées qui jouxtent les lieux de travail. Beaucoup d'entre elles tombent aujourd'hui en ruine mais y vivent encore de nombreuses personnes. Les frontons sont soit de style baroque chinois ou de style "comprador" sur le modèle de Xiamen ou de Kaiping. Certains batiments sont auss Art Deco, souvent des fabriques japonaises postérieures à l'invasion de la Mandchourie de 1931. Point intéressant: les cours intérieures sont un mélange de la cour carrée pékinoise (Siheyuan) et du caravansérail tel qu'on en trouvait sur la Route de la Soie.
Les cours et allées entre les ateliers sont en cours de restauration pour permettre aux touristes de goûter les nombreuses spécialités locales. Personnellement, je préfère les façades sur la rue, certaines encore envahies par les herbes sauvages et dont les échoppes au rez-de-chaussée sont décidément plus authentiques! Tout proche de Daowai se trouve un grand marché aux animaux et produits frais de plein air. Celui-ci borde la riviere Songhua (ci-dessous) où se regroupent promeneurs et sportifs, achevant de donner de la vie à cette partie de la ville déjà très colorée.
Aussi cette première visite à Harbin est un peu à rapprocher de mes premières impressions de Wuhan: Un mélange de culture, d'histoire et surtout un charme très très chinois . À voir absolument donc!
As I was flipping again in Peter Hibbard's excellent book about the Bund, my attention was caught by one of Victor Sassoon's love stories. The one with Emily Hahn, a most fascinating character!
However Mickey's most remarkable love affair was the one with Chinese poet Shao Xunmei (pronounced Zau Sinmei at that time). This one was a perfect symbol for the intellectual dandy type of Chinese elites of the time. Brought up in a rich family whose fortune was connected with Chiang Kai Shek regime, he studied in Cambridge as well as Paris. So he was equally used to taylor made western suits and Confucian scholar robe. Shao Xunmei is often compared to French poet Verlaine as he stands for a kind of hedonist decadent style of art. In those years, Shao Xunmei owned a magazine called "Shanghai Sketch" (Shanghai Manhua), which cover often featured naked bodies to attract readers into the more intellectual and even political content. At that time, a love affair between a Chinese man and a Western women was unthinkable, since society was driven by most colonialist ideas. Emily Hahn was nevertheless attracted by the 31 years old poet whose life style definitely fitted her own aspiration for freedom. Shao Xunmei even introduced Mickey to smoking opium, an addiction that took her efforts to get rid off later.
Among the outstanding characters who lived in Shanghai in the 1930’s was undoubtedly William Ewart Fairbairn. Being a member of the Shanghai Municipal Police, for 30 years, Fairbairn got himself involved into hundreds of street fights, most of them implying use of knifes. At the end of his carreer, Fairbairn’s body was covered with all kind of scars, even on hand palms.
Knick-named “Fearless Dan” or the “Shanghai Buster”, W.E. Fairbairn arrived in Shanghai in 1907 to join the Police force. When on duty, he was confronted to street crime, some related to opium smuggling by the local Green Gang, prostitution activity on Fuzhou Road Red Light District or political unrest. In 1925, the Shanghai Municipal Police had to deal with a riot launched by Communist students known as 30th May Incident. Unfortunately it ended by shooting in the crowd as the Shanghai Police was not trained at all to face such situation. Therefore, it was decided to set up a special “Reserve Unit” led by Fairbairn, integrating modern techniques and training in the field of riot control and hand-to-hand combat.
At the head of one hundred highly trained men among whom 14 Foreigners, 26 Sikhs and 60 Chinese, Fairbairn made the Shanghai Municipal Police enter a new era. They could for instance rush to zones of riot in their “Red Maria”, a most frightening fully armed car painted in carmin color and equipped with screaming siren to scare trouble makers. Special Reserve Unit members could also speak some Shanghai dialect, were trained to precision shooting, knife fighting and wore bullet proof jackets at some point, like today’s modern SWAT units. Fairbairn himself was expert in many martial arts like Chinese Kungfu or Japanese Judo and he eventually created his own fighting techniques to gain efficiency.
This way of fighting (click nearby image for video) was called “Gutter Fighting” and was focused on giving fast kill or damage to avoid being killed yourself. Fairbairn could design a new type of knife, meant to change hand easily and therefore disorientate the aggressor. This most lethal weapon is still known today by every commando unit around the world as the “F-S Fighting Knife” (F-S standing for Fairbairn-Sykes). When Britain entered WWII in the 1940’s, W.E. Fairbairn actually proposed his skills to the British Special Forces, the SOE. He instructed the first British elite commandos into efficient body fight and hand-to-hand combat. This training proved useful when preparing the D-Day invasion by Allied Forces.
On 5th June 1944, it revealed crucial to silent some German batteries before landing could take place. On that night and the following days, Fairnbairn-trained commandos stroke in many strategic positions, right behind enemy lines. The most famous victory came with the taking over of Merville canon unit (nearby photo), overlooking the Orne canal. This event did not come without casualties and many commandos died that night but all experts agree that none of the landing operations would have been possible without the help of these daring commandos.
When I am back in Normandy to visit my family now, I cannot help but thinking of Fairbairn role in the liberation of my country. Definitely another strong link with Shanghai!
Récemment, en relisant le superbe livre sur le Bund de Peter Hibbard, mon attention a été retenue par la référence à l'une des liaisons de Sir Victor Sassoon. Celle avec Emilie Hahn (ci-contre), un personnage tout aussi fascinant que lui.
Pourtant, le séjour Shanghaien de l'égérie féministe sera surtout marqué par sa liaison tapageuse avec le poète chinois Shao Xunmei (Zau Sinmei selon la prononciation originale, photo de droite). Celui-ci est la parfaite représentation du dandy intellectuel chinois tel qu'en fleurissent dans les années 30 en ville, sous l'influence grandissante de la culture Européenne. Il vient d'une famille bourgeoise riche, ayant prospéré dans le commerce alors florissant à Shanghai dans les années Chiang Kai Shek. Ayant à la fois étudié à Paris et à Cambridge, il est à l'aise aussi bien dans un costume Européen taillé sur mesure que dans la robe de lettré confucéen dans laquelle on l'aperçoit de temps en temps. Rapidement il s'illustre par la publication d'une revue décapante dont les couvertures modernes aux femmes dénudées n'ont d'autre but que d'attirer le lecteur vers les points de vues plus politiques ou des manifestes sur l'art moderne à l'intérieur: "Shanghai Sketch" (Shanghai Manhua, couverture ci-dessous). A l'époque, une relation entre une Européenne et un Chinois est totalement scandaleuse, dans un monde encore empreint de préjugés colonialistes. Emily Hahn sera pourtant envoûté par le charme du jeune poète de 31 ans , parfois comparé à Verlaine et dont le style de vie décadent correspond en tout point à son propre besoin de liberté. Elle décide de s'installer rue Kiangse (rue Jiangxi actuelle), en plein cœur du Red Light District de Shanghai et fera de son appartement le cœur battant de sa collaboration artistique avec Shao Xunmei.
If you get a chance to visit a Chinese Market in Shanghai or the rest of China, you probably notice that in addition to raw eggs, another variety will be on sale: the “One Century Eggs”, also called “pidan”
This sort of preserved egg has nothing in common with the fertilized duck eggs that one finds in the Philippines (“ballut” in Philippino) or in Vietnam. It is actually more often used as a condiment than a single dish. There is no reason to fear this kind of egg: it contains nothing that can hurt either your stomach or your sensibility. This black coloured egg is often cut into small pieces and mixed in a congee (hot water with rice) or with tofu in some Shanghainese dishes. The dark transparent colour is actually obtained by maceration of the egg in a mixture of clay, salt, lemon juice and ash to preserve it. For this reason, it is too salty to be eaten alone and is used to add flavour to some simple dishes.
There are other kinds of eggs sold in China, such as tea-eggs, most of the time sold in parks or local shops, next to the boiled corn or hot fish balls. The last very famous preserved egg is called “Xiandan” (salted goose eggs) and can be bought on Shanghai markets. As they are high in cholesterol, you should not be eaten them too often.
To know more about Chinese culture and its its daily treats, feel free to join one of our Shanghai Culture Tours. I will be delighted to take you on the streets, talk with locals and discover together some of the Shanghai secrets. I wish everybody a Happy Easter!
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