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Art Deco Shanghai Reborn

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by cookie, Feb 19, 2012.

  1. Shanghai has existed for centuries. But the city we know today is largely thanks to Western influence.

    Previously, Shanghai was a medieval walled city. Its name means "On the Waterfront"...the 'water' in this case being the Huangpu River.

    Shanghai expanded starting in the 1840s. When the British won the Opium Wars, they set up a Concession Zone outside the original walled city of Shanghai, starting in 1843. The Americans set up their own concession nearby in...1845, I believe. And the French followed a year or so later. In time, the Russians, Italians, Jews and the Japanese would also set up their own concessions and quarters.

    In 1863, the two biggest concessions, the British and American ones, joined together to form the Shanghai International Settlement. The other concession-zones joined in soon after, but the French Concession chose to stay separate. By the turn of the Century, Shanghai was split into three zones:

    Nanshi - The original walled city.
    The International Settlement - Made up of foreign concessions.
    The French Concession - To the south of the British concession.

    Shanghai existed like this for a hundred years.

    The flag of the Shanghai International Settlement

    The Latin reads "Omnia Juncta In Uno" - 'Everyone together as one', or more fluidly - "All Together", reflecting the multinational, multicultural background of the Settlement.

    In 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War started and the Settlement (which had its own police-force, fire-service, government-council, and even its own drivers' licenses), declared its neutrality from the conflict.

    The Japanese respected the neutrality, but occupied almost every other part of China. Peking (Beijing today) fell in a matter of weeks.

    Chinese Shanghai (the area outside of the Settlement which was NOT under the control of foreign governments), fell to the Japanese in November of 1937, after a battle that went on for three months.

    The Settlement remained the only safe-zone in the entire Chinese Republic. Life within went on as normal - You went to the nightclubs, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, department-stores and brothels. But step outside the boundaries of the Settlement and you put yourself at the mercy of the Japanese.

    On and off between 1933-1941, about 25,000 Jews fled to the Shanghai International Settlement. Terrified of Nazism in Europe, they boarded ships leaving Italy, and sailed for two months halfway around the world to Shanghai...one of only TWO ports in the ENTIRE world...that would take them in as refugees without question or quota.

    Because of the Japanese war, passport-control in Shanghai went out the window. The corruption and lawlessness meant that it was eas(ier) for the Jews to go to Shanghai than any other place in the world. Since many of them had their passports taken or altered to prevent travel, Shanghai was a huge blessing.

    The Settlement was invaded in 1941. On the 7th of December, the Japanese made their big push, attacking Malaya, Hong Kong, Wake Island, the Phillipines, Pearl Harbor...and the Settlement, each within hours of the other.

    Those who could, evacuated the Settlement on steamships and troop-transports. Anyone left in the city after that would become a prisoner of war.

    From 1843, Westerners living in the SIS were called "Shanghailanders" and were treated as Western expatriates living in the Republic of China. When the Settlement was officially dissolved in 1943, these people became known as 'stateless refugees'. To keep an eye on them, the Japs rounded up Western expatriates and sent them to the "Area for Stateless Refugees"...AKA...a ghetto.

    Colloquially called the "Shanghai Ghetto", this was located in the east of the city, in the slum of Hongkou District. Here, the 20-30,000 European Jews made their home for the rest of the war.

    After the War, the Shanghai belonged wholly to the Chinese.

    By 1949, almost all the Jews in Shanghai had fled to Australia, the UK, the USA and to Israel.

    In the face of communism, the United States Consulate in Shanghai (which had operated there for nearly a hundred years, and which had moved four times between 1933-1945), was closed in 1950.

    There would not be another U.S. Consulate in Shanghai until 1980. It was reopened in the same month, almost to the day, that the previous one closed, exactly thirty years before. The consulate operates in Shanghai to this day.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2012
  2. Blackthorn

    Blackthorn My Mail is Forwarded Here

    That is a fascinating history, Shangas. I was there last year...what an incredible city. Does the Nanshi area still exist, or has it been overwhelmed by new buildings?
  3. Hi Blackthorn.

    Yes, the Nanshi District still exists. You can find it if you look on a map of Shanghai. It's the roughly oval-shaped part of town in the South, bordered by ring-roads all around. The roads that form a ring were the ones that followed the original city wall, when the Concessions started in the 1840s.


    This is downtown Shanghai, Ca. 1936.

    What you're looking at right here is the British Concession, the first of the foreign concessions, established back in 1843.

    Edward VII Avenue split the British Concession from the French Concession (south of the Avenue).

    The Soochow Creek (Suzho today) split the British Concession (south) from the American Concession (north).


    This is the same area a little earlier. This is 1933.

    Edward VII Avenue is the main East-West street that you can see, in the middle of the map.

    Below, you can see the oval-shaped area. That is Nanshi, the original walled city of Shanghai.

    It was said, to drive through ALL of Shanghai, you needed three drivers' licenses. one for the Settlement, one for the French Concession, and one for Nanshi and Chinese Shanghai outside foreign control (the city that existed beyond the boundaries of the Settlement).
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2012
  4. Mr Vim

    Mr Vim One Too Many

    Fascinating stuff!
  5. DJH

    DJH I'll Lock Up

    Shangas - thanks so much for posting this.
  6. You're welcome.

    This is Shanghai from the air as it appeared ca. 1935:



    Same part of town, opposite direction, ca. 1930.

    Here you can see some of the buildings mentioned in the article. The tall one on the waterfront with the black pyramidal roof is the Cathay Hotel (the Peace Hotel today). Next door to it is the much smaller Palace Hotel (still operating today, as part of the Peace Hotel).

    The massive structure to the far right in the first photograph is Broadway Mansions, a huge luxury apartment-building. It was opened in 1934, the same year as the Park Hotel (mentioned in the article). It remained Shanghai's tallest building for decades. Today, it's the Broadway Mansions Hotel.


    A closeup of Broadway Mansions in the late 1930s.

    Art Deco Shanghai had its own tramway system (est. 1908) and its own police-force - Shanghai Municipal Police - established in the 1850s. By the 1930s, the SMP was made up of mostly British and Chinese officers. Its own hospitals, hotels, theatres...everything. It even had its own defence-force, made up of mostly British and American troops...none of which took part in the Second Sino-Japanese War. They were there to defend the Settlement if it was attacked directly - not to get involved in other people's wars.

    Shanghai was attacked by the Japanese back in 1932 (The "Shanghai Incident"). Incredulously to our eyes, the League of Nations (fore-runner to the UN) ordered the Chinese to make Shanghai a DMZ...while permitting the Japanese to retain a small force of their own in the Settlement. The Chinese were only allowed to keep their police-force in Shanghai.

    When the Battle of Shanghai started properly in August, 1937, thousands of Shanghainese fled into the safety of the International Settlement. The Japanese refused to bomb the Settlement for fear of foreign intervention in their war, so the Chinese (and everyone else) saw it as the only safe-zone in China, free from the fighting.

    That didn't mean that they were entirely safe, though. In 1937, at least one bomb fell on the Settlement. It was dropped over Nanking Road (the Settlement's premier retail shopping-district). It scored a direct hit on a department store.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2012
  7. Chasseur

    Chasseur Call Me a Cab

    Wonderful information Shangas! My interest in 1930s Shanghai was the main reason I read "When We Were Orphans".
  8. Although the Settlement was officially neutral from the Japanese War, that didn't mean that just living within the Settlement boundaries meant you were safe. Many of Shanghai's iconic art deco buildings were damaged heavily during the war.

    In August, 1937, airplanes flying over downtown Shanghai discharged their loads. One bomb hit the middle of Nanking Road (the main retail shopping precinct) during the lunchtime rush. Over 1,000 people were killed.


    Three more bombs hit at the intersection of Nanking Road and the Bund, directly outside the Palace and Cathay Hotels (they sit directly across the road from each other at the intersection). The results are below:



    These pictures were taken by journalists working for the Shanghai Times (one of about a half-dozen English-language newspapers in print in the Shanghai Settlement at the time). The folks at the Times could probably count their blessings - The newspaper offices for the Shanghai Times were just a couple of blocks away.

    More photos from the Japanese air-raid on the Settlement (14th August, 1937), can be seen here:


    Despite the bombings, life in the Settlement continued much as it had done for the past 90 years. Especially in the 20s and 30s, Shanghai was famous for an almost indecent level of frivolity and decadence.

    One of the main party-hubs in Shanghai was this place here:


    Still standing today, is the luxurious Paramount Ballroom, opened in 1933.

    Another one was the Great World Entertainment Complex, located in the French Concession:


    It's still around today.

    Great World was (in old Shanghai) on Edward VII Avenue, right on the border between the British and French Concessions.

    Opened in 1928, there was also the Canidrome Ballroom:


    Unlike the Paramount, Great World, the Cathay and the Palace, the Canidrome has not survived. It was pulled down in 2005. Probably just as well - it didn't enjoy a very clean reputation during the Cultural Revolution.

    In my mind, one of the greatest examples of Art Deco architecture that still stands in Shanghai is this beautiful structure:


    The Metropole Hotel. Another party-hub in Swinging Shanghai. The Metropole was located in the British Concession of Shanghai.

    There's also the Astor House Hotel:

    Last edited: Feb 20, 2012
  9. Blackthorn

    Blackthorn My Mail is Forwarded Here

  10. Shanghai Shuffle - 1924 - Gene Rodermich and His Orchestra:


    From Here to Shanghai - 1917 - Irving Berlin (Roll performed by Peter Wendling, 1917):


    These songs capture the vibrance and mistique in which Shanghai was held in the 20s at the start of the Art Deco Era. All things Chinese became very popular during the Roaring Twenties. Mahjong, Chinese-style architecture and colours, visiting Shanghai...everything. Mahjong was such a 20s fad that shops were regularly selling-out sets faster than they could get them delivered.

    The lyrics of "From Here to Shanghai" show the views that Westerners held for the Far East at the time. Ideas of tea and chopsticks, bamboo furniture and Shanghai of being some far-away (as it was - two months by ship from Europe) city full of wonder. The song also mentions pigtails, which unknown to Westerners at the time, are not actually Chinese.

    The song also mentions a long-forgotten celebrity - Chinese magician Ching Ling Foo (1854-1922). He was one of the first Chinese celebrities to be widely known in the West. He toured the United States in 1898, causing a sensation.

    The pigtail is actually Mongolian. When the Mongols or 'Manchus' invaded China in the 1600s and established the last of the imperial dynasties (the 'Qing' Dynasty), they forced all the men to wear pigtails as a sign of subservience.

    When the Republic was declared in the 1910s and the last emperor (PuYi) was forced to abdicate ca. 1912, a lot of Chinese men went around cutting off their pigtails as a sign of protest against Imperialism and the birth of a new, democratic and republican China, influenced by Western politics.
  11. Blackthorn

    Blackthorn My Mail is Forwarded Here

    And this is what it looked like last year, such contrasts of wealth and poverty:



  12. You find that in all major cities. Shanghai in the 20s and 30s was no different. That first photo is beautiful. So is the last one. Not sure about the others, though. They look a bit depressing.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2012
  13. Blackthorn

    Blackthorn My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Reality can be that way. It's just life...
  14. Godfrey

    Godfrey One of the Regulars

    My Grandfather spent a bit of time in Shanghai in the thirties. Given he was a ships stoker and his stories of Marseille, India, Egypt, etc I expect he experienced all Shanghai had to offer - and then some. He went back in the early 1990's and was disappointed to see so much changed - a couple of revolutions will do that to a town!
  15. Like almost everywhere in China, Shanghai would've been heavily affected by the Chinese Civil War. From the 1920s until 1949, that's a long time to be fighting. As much as they liked to kid themselves, the Nationalists (who ran the country from the abolishment of the Monarchy in 1912, until the end of the Civil War in 1949) couldn't win. China was sitting on a time-bomb for over thirty years.

    And then the Cultural Revolution (1967-1977) wreaked even more (and in my opinion, unnecessary and wasteful) havoc on Chinese culture, history and people. My Chinese teacher in school, Mr. Liu, lived through the Cultural Revolution (his father was arrested and chucked in jail). He always looked back on that period in his country's history with a LOT of hatred. In history class, he came in to give us a lecture about the revolution (we were studying Chinese history in history class at the time). I remember his opening words were:

    "Today, I'm going to give you a talk about the 'so-called' Great Poletariat Cultural Revolution".

    He NEVER just called it the 'Cultural Revolution'. 'So-called' would always precede it, he hated it that much.

    When the Civil War ended, Western residency in Shanghai was a thing of the past. Most of them had fled Shanghai when the Settlement was invaded in '41. Those who didn't, and who survived the war, would've fled between '45-'49. They didn't want to stay in a Communist China. And at any rate, they weren't welcome.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2012

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