My parents talked about their time in Shanghai in a very casual manner, mentioning certain things randomly when I wasn’t really interested in listening 🙁
Talk about an absolutely wasted opportunity! :'(
I had so many chances to ask them to tell me their stories about Shanghai in detail but didn’t, and when I did ask my father to tell me about his life, I got a two A4 page typed document which really didn’t give me much at all 😮
Same with my grandmother. Had I not been so pig-headed about learning Russian, I could have chatted to her about her past but, as a youngster, it was the last thing on my mind and when I did want to know more, it was much too late 🙁
Oh for a time machine to go back and rectify things!!!!
Now I’m trying to piece things together so that my grandchildren will have a better idea of what their GG- and GGG-parents’ time in Shanghai was like! 😮
So, to help give a better visualisation of what Shanghai was like in the 1920s/1930s, I’ll do my best to describe the place – the streets especially – so that when I write about certain places, it will be easier to picture in the mind. It’ll help me too 🙂
But first, a little information about the Whangpoo…
The Whangpoo/Huangpu River is the last significant tributary of the Yangtze River before it runs into the East China Sea. Shanghai is situated about 87km (54 miles) upstream and Soochow/Suzhou Creek is its major tributary.
The river divided the city into two areas – Puxi to the west and Pudong (or as the English called it, Pootung) to the east. Those names are come from Mandarin, with “dong” meaning east and “xi” meaning west.
Pootung was full of docks – with companies like Alfred Holt & Co’s Holt’s Wharf (which we also had in Hong Kong) – mills, warehouses, cigarette and egg factories, ship yards, landing piers and godowns, giving it a very smoky, industrial air just across the Whangpoo.
I guess it would have been fine if all those industries were opposite Yangtzepoo, as that was the International Settlement’s industrial area. However it must have been quite an eye-sore if it was visible from the Bund.
It took residents of the foreign industries living in Pootung half-an-hour on a launch to get to the Bund as they had to their shopping there.
Although Pootung was an industrial area, there was a very interesting snippet about the fact that it had a large congregation of Catholics there!
It contained, within a comparatively small area, a greater proportion of native Roman Catholics than any other part of China, with the possible exception of certain parts of Szechuan. Whole villages are Christian – not convert, but of the sixth or seventh generation – and, as is well known, the International Cotton Mill work-people, to the number of about 2,000, are drawn from these. Source: Tales of Old Shanghai
As you can see from the above map, the International Settlement started in the west at the end of Bubbling Well Road, at the Jing’An Temple, then headed eastwards across Soochow Creek to the Hongkew district and Yangtzepoo.
It went south along the Bund from Soochow Creek until Avenue Edouard/Edward VII.
The Bund is the oldest “road” in Shanghai and was originally called Yangtze Road. Initially it was just a path along the river’s edge used by coolies, called “trackers”, to pull the boats and sampans up and down the river.
The word “bund” is derived from a Persian word, “band”, via Hindustan, meaning «a made embankment on a water front», and it was introduced by the employees of the East India Company.
There were several “bunds” in Shanghai in the early years, eg Soochow Creek Bund, Yang Jin Bund and Defence Creek Bund, but these names fell out of use as the Whangpoo Bund grew in stature.
There were also many bunds in other cities in China, Japan and India.
Round about the 1870s, when the Europeans started to build more and more buildings and roads in the city, the Chinese authorities insisted that the Land Regulations specified that a wide space be kept along the Whangpoo River to preserve the towing path for the trackers, and this is what enabled the Bund to stay so attractive.
Passengers from large ocean liners that were too big to moor midstream had to dock further up the river, either to the north (probably in Pootung) or south, and used to send their passengers by tenders, which disgorged their passengers on one of the landing stages placed at intervals on the river.
Smaller ships or coastal steamers could make fast at the midstream buoys but would still need to use the tenders to ferry their passengers to shore.
From the 1920s onwards, business was booming and passengers arriving at the landing stages would have seen the imposing granite buildings of the various Hongs facing the Bund, with their company flags flapping on masts on the top of the buildings.
They’d see the Customs House with “Big Ching” at the top, facing the river. “Big Ching” was the clock on the top of the building and the superstition was that the clock brought all of Shanghai good luck! Next door, the building with the white pillars, green dome and huge bronze doors guarded by large bronze lions on either side, was the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, the largest bank in the Far East.
It would have been an impressive sight for newcomers and probably a warm, familiar sight for those returning to Shanghai after going back to their home countries on leave.
There were also many steamers going to various Chinese ports, as well as to Hong Kong.
If you read the page about George, he and Lila took the Indo-China Navigation Co‘s steamer, the “Chak Sang”, sailing the 850 nautical miles to Hong Kong in November 1937.
This is the only map I’ve found which show so many street names so I hope you’ll be able to see them. Hopefully it gives a better idea of all the descriptions below 🙂
In the Central District, the streets running east and west were named after Chinese cities and the ones running parallel to the Bund were the names of Chinese provinces.
Hong Kong also had a Central District, which I find interesting. I guess it was a hangover from the old colonial masters but if that’s true, why doesn’t Australia have central districts? We have a CBD in every capital city (Central Business District) … close but not the same 😀
The early residents named the streets heading west from the Bund in alphabetical order, to make it easier for people to remember them.
The main street of Central District was Foochow Road and the HK & Shanghai Bank (aka HSBC or the Bank, just like in Hong Kong!) was on its corner with the Bund.
The rickshaw was a popular mode of transport by most of Shanghai’s citizens, both Chinese and Europeans. Lila used to say how, if her father won big at gambling, he’d come home with two rickshaws loaded up to the gills with fruit, vegetables, and all kinds of goodies he bought with his winnings!
Going west from the Bund, either on foot or by rickshaw, Kiangse Road intersected Foochow Street two blocks away and both the Metropole Hotel and Hamilton House were on those corners.
Another block west brought people to Honan Road, which had the Central Police Station and American Club on the left hand side, while on the right, taking up the full block, was the administration building of the Shanghai Municipal, which also housed the HQ of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps and most of the chief departments of the city government.
Carrying on past Honan Road was the Chinese section, full of Chinese restaurants and teahouses, and the Tien Che Theatre, which was one of the three largest in the city.
Foochow Road ended when it met Thibet Road at the Race Course.
Nanking Road (aka Nanjing Road/Nánjīnglù) was the main shopping drag at the time and the part of the Road closest to the Bund was full of hotels, department stores and other foreign-owned stores where Shanghailanders could find all sorts of items from their mother countries 😀
There were two famous hotels on the corner of the Bund and Nanking Road … one was the Palace Hotel, originally called the Central Hotel (which had been around since 1850) then, in 1929, Victor Sassoon had the Cathay Hotel built on the opposite side.
I’m pretty sure that my mother worked at Whiteways for a time and that’s where she learned about preparing displays in store windows and elsewhere, as well other tools of the trade for retail management. The store was situated on Nanking Road, together with other companies like Kelly & Walsh, the American Book Shop, the Chocolate Shop and the American Drug Co.
Nanking Road – in the 1930s – was famously known as one of the seven great roads of the world 😮
Heading up on that road past Kiangse Road, the shops displayed Chinese merchandise – silks, linen, jade ornaments, gold jewellery, embroided tableware – Lao Kai Fook for silks, Wing On for linens and tableware and Sun Sun & Sincere, department stores where you could buy anything from anywhere around the world … Scotch Whiskey, French perfumes, cameras from Germany and whatever else you wanted!
Both Wing On and Sincere were in Hong Kong when I was growing up 😀
Past Honan Road there were large Chinese stores, with banners showing large red characters advertising their wares and what was on sale at the time.
The area was lit up at night and all the bright multi-coloured lights gave it a fairyland atmosphere.
As Nanking Road approached the intersection with Thibet Road, the name of the road suddenly changed without warning. It was now called Bubbling Well Road, so called because of a spring which was at the Ching An Su Temple/Jing’an Temple, which was at the Avenue Haig intersection, opposite the cemetery.
The well had been around since the 3rd Century and the bubbling was caused by the eruption of carbolic acid gas in the water.
Bubbling Well Road went around the Race Course and Public Recreation Ground on the left and on the right was impressive array of buildings, which include the Park Hotel.
The Public Recreation Ground had a swimming pool, cricket, rugby and football grounds, a golf club, baseball field, tennis courts and the race track.
Further up towards the west, Bubbling Well Road became a residential area but, according to the 1935 edition of “All About Shanghai”, the residential area would soon change to be an important shopping area!
The Shanghai Club was at the southern end of the Bund, @ No 3, on the corner of Avenue Edward VII, which was the French Concession’s boundary.
It was famous for having the longest bar, an unpolished mahogany L-shaped bar that was 34 meters (111 feet) long and, not surprisingly, called the “Long Bar”.
Only white males of a certain social standing or class could be members and, true to form (I say this remembering how it was in HK when I was growing up), there was a strict hierarchy at the Long Bar, where only taipans and managers could stand at the east end, overlooking the Bund!
Like in Hong Kong, one didn’t pay for drinks, meals, or games of squash or tennis, etc, at the clubs. Club members signed a “chit” for whatever drinks or food ordered and at the end of the month, you’d get a bill from the club for the amount spent that past month!
Sometimes it was a shock to realise how much food or alcohol one had consumed during those weeks! 😀
At the north end of the Bund is the Garden Bridge, which spans Soochow Creek, bringing traffic and pedestrians to Hongkew.
The iron bridge was built in 1907 but the original bridge was built of wood and people had to pay a small fee to use it.
Hongkew means “mouth of the rainbow” in Chinese and it used to be where the American Settlement was situated before it was incorporated into the International Settlement.
The Astor House Hotel was situated in Hongkew, on the corner of Broadway and Whangpoo Road, which was near the northern end of the Garden Bridge. Driving across the Garden Bridge into Hongkew, you turned right to get to the Astor and left to get to Broadway Mansions
Built in 1846, it was originally called Richards’ Hotel and Restaurant, and took up a whole block. The hotel had been described as one of the most famous in the world.
The building was a landmark in Hongkew and was the centre of foreign social life before the Cathay Hotel came along.
On the opposite side of the street was the Russian Consulate, as well as embassies for Germany, the United States and Japan.
The General Hospital, Head Post Office, Broadway Mansions and several other imposing buildings were stretched between North Szechuan Road and Broadway.
Another famous place was Hongkew Market – I remember my mother talking about how much selection there was there and how busy it always was.
It was located at the corner of Boone and Woosung Roads and was full of fresh produce – fish flopping in their buckets, poor chickens kept in bamboo baskets until they were selected and killed, large pieces of meat chopped up by heavy choppers (aka cleavers) which the butchers used to smash down on their thick wooden blocks.
No doubt the smells there resembled the smells which I remember from shopping with my mother in Hong Kong’s Central Market. Augh! The sections containing fowls and pigs smelled the worst! Kak!
The Japanese had a settlement in Hongkew and the place was full of hotels, stores and restaurants catering to their citizens.
The industrial area of Shanghai was past Hongkew in an area called Yangtzepoo/Yangtzepu.
Passing through Hongkew brought one to Yangtzepoo and this was Shanghai’s industrial area. It bordered on the riverfront in the eastern part of city and went from Broadway along Yangtzepoo Road to the boundary at the Point.
It was Shanghai’s International Settlement’s industrial area and was filled with wharves, mills, warehouses and factories. It was also where the main plant of the Shanghai Power Company, as well as the Shanghai Waterworks and Shanghai Gas Company were situated.
Quai de France is at the southern end of the Bund, and the tall tower in the photo below shows the Gutzlaff signalling tower, also known as the Bund Weather or Bund Signal Tower.
It signalled weather reports five times a day with reports from the Zicawei/Siccawei Observatory, which was run by French Jesuits.
The south side of Avenue Edouard VII is the start of the French Concession, while the north side of Avenue Edward VII is in the International Settlement.
Interestingly, the border between the International Settlement and the French Concession was originally a stream called Yang Jing Ban but this was filled in and became a road instead 🙂
It amused me to learn that all west-bound traffic on Avenue Edouard VII was subject to French regulations while the east-bound traffic, on Avenue Edward VII, had the International Settlement police keeping an eye out for traffic infringements! And, of course, the spelling of the name of the avenue was different depending on which side of the road one was on!!!
However, according to the “All About Shanghai” book, the two police authorities worked in total harmony on that avenue! This avenue extended westwards to Avenue Foch.
Another street just off Avenue Edouard VII was Rue Chu Sao-pan or, as it was known in those days, “Blood Alley”.
«One of the most notorious places in the Shanghai of the 1930s was Blood Alley, an area filled with low bars, dives and brothels much frequented by the many foreign soldiers and sailors stationed in Shanghai, or on temporary shore leave from the warships anchored out in the Whangpu River. The times demanded of these people outrageous alcohol consumption and engagement in ferocious arguments and fights, which made the place famous.
An excerpt from Sin City, by Ralph Shaw, a British journalist who lived in Shanghai between 1937 and 1949:
It was a thoroughfare entirely dedicated to wine, women, song and all-night lechery. The only business of Blood Alley was the easy pickings to be had from the drunks, the sailors, soldiers and cosmopolitan civilians, who lurched there in search of the joys to come from the legion of Chinese, Korean, Annamite, Russian Eurasian, Filipino and Formosan women who worked the district. Here were the Palais Cabaret, the ‘Frisco, Mumms, the Crystal, George’s Bar, Monk’s Brass Rail, the New Ritz and half a dozen others – opened in the case of the cabarets around 6 p.m. daily and closed, depending on the staying power of the customers, any time after 8.30 a.m. the following day.» Source: Tales of Old Shanghai
Rue du Consulat was the next street along, so named because it was where the French Consulate-General was situated.
There were businesses at the Quai de France end but further up the street, it was full of Chinese shops for several blocks, complete with those flapping pennants advertising wares and sales like on Nanking Road.
The road swung to the left et voila, one arrivesd at Avenue Joffre, the main business street in the French Concession, with many Russian restaurants, cafes, shops and businesses.
This area was known as “Little Russia” by the Shanghailanders.
Before the Russians arrived, Avenue Joffre was a sleepy little thoroughfare and only came to life with the arrival of all those émigrés, who brought with them their hopes, dreams and a desire to give their families a better life after seeing their past lives shatter into a thousand pieces 🙁
The further one went along the tram along Avenue Joffre, the more serene and atmospheric the area became. The trees which lined both sides of the roads were imported from France and the Chinese called them “French wutong”.
There were many gorgeous homes with large gardens west from Avenue Joffre’s intersection with Avenue du Roi Albert, built by wealthy Russians, Chinese, French, German, American and even British businessmen.
Le Cercle Sportif Francais (CSF) was the French country club on Route Cardinal Mercier, and was one of the most luxurious of its time. It was a beautiful Art Deco building and had an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, billiards and 20 tennis courts.
The ballroom had a sprung wood dance floor which made people feel like they were dancing on air and was reached by a spectacular brass staircase.
It opened in 1926 and in 1928 Sir Victor Sassoon built his Cathay Mansions next door. Most people thought Sassoon was mad to build there as, at the time, the area around Route Cardinal Mercier was a real backwater and they said no one would want to live there.
However he ignored his critics and went ahead with his plans. It turned out that Cathay Mansions was a hit as people loved having the CSF so close by 😀
Unlike the British and American clubs, the CSF admitted female members (although only 40 ladies were allowed to be members) and also certain rich and powerful Chinese, so it was by far the most popular and cosmopolitan club in Shanghai 🙂
Some photos of the club …
This little nugget of information was found on the Shanghailander.net website about the population zoning of the French Concession set out in 1934 …
Zones of population dispatch in the French Concession in 1934
The dispatch of population was started from the beginning of the 20th century, continue following similar trends. From the cadaster study from 1934, the concentration of Chinese population is the highest near the Chinese city (Zone I). From the administration point of view, it is reserved for the native population; buildings of all styles can be erected, shops, factories in living quarters are mixed altogether.
Zone II is next to the business district (located in the International Settlement), occupied by many living quarters and Chines shops. The French municipality wanted to transform it into a ‘European City’ because of its size and it proximity with the business district but ambitions of the French municipality was never realized due to heavy cost of such a project.
However, in order to smooth traffic and create more space between the buildings, it is decided to erect higher buildings in this area and avoid the anarchy of older constructions.
Zone III is occupied by shops and residence for the middle class. All constructions are allowed, but they must follow rules about aesthetic and keeping quiet around public facilities, including schools and hospital. Those exclude polluting or noise generating industries. European styles shops are favored on the street side, along with keeping space between buildings.
Zone IV is reserved for residential area and was further extended up to Xu Jia Hui. As a consequence, any factory not following “aesthetic rules” of the French municipality were prohibited so as to guarantee a western type of architecture and avoid pollution in this upper class area.
The French Concession ended at Zikawei Creek in the south and the district of Zikawei to the west.
The Old Chinese City (Nantao)
Nantao was between the French Concession and the southern end of the Bund, as you can see from the map on the left.
From what I’ve researched, it appears that it was recommended that anyone going into the Chinese City should hire a guide and enter from the South end of Rue Montauban, going through the North Gate, which was the entrance to the old walled city in the past.
There were several temples in the old city as well as the Willow Pattern Tea House (Woo Sing Ding/Hu Xin Ting), also known as the Pavilion on the Lake.
This tea house was thought to be the original for the willow pattern plates and was built on stone pillars in a pool, with a zig-zag bridge built to confuse evil spirits who travel in a straight line!
The pool was next to the Yu Yuan Gardens, a most exquisite area which was conceived in 1559 by Pan Yunduan, an officer in the Ming Dynasty, as an oasis for his ageing parents – his father was the minister Pan En – to enjoy peace and tranquility in their twilight years.
The streets in the old city were named after the wares they specialised in, like Jade Street, Bird Street, Bronze Street, Ivory Street, etc.
The information about Shanghai’s streets was gleaned from A H Gordon’s book called «Streets of Shanghai», which was published in 1941, and «Tales of Old Shanghai» by Graham Earnshaw.
This was the principal area of the Chinese Municipality of Greater Shanghai and was mainly an industrial area, and where the North Railway Station was situated.
Because all the factories were situated there and the fact that the railway station had lines going to Nanking and Woosung, the Japanese attacked it during February 20 through to March 2 in 1932. The excuse the Japanese gave for the attack was that they were “protecting” Japanese industries and lives of their nationals in that area.
Not only did the Japanese air force bomb the area, but the Japanese army also attacked Chapei 🙁
Those ruined buildings were rapidly rebuilt but the Japanese attacked again in August 1937 which went on till October so not only was that district bombed again but this time the Japanese Army invaded the city 🙁
During the first Battle of Shanghai, there were 1000 deaths from the attack on Chapei. When the Japanese attacked again five years later, the count of dead and wounded was considerably larger.
Thanks God George and Lila were allowed to leave Shanghai for Hong Kong in November of that year!
There were many other attractions around Shanghai, one of which was the Lunghua/Longhua Pagoda and the Temple of the King of Heaven, which dated back to the 3rd Century.
It was built in 242 AD and the temple was the largest in Shanghai, occupying an area of over 20,000 square meters (5 acres). The pagoda was 7-storeys high (40.4m) and stood in front of the temple.
Each storey is smaller than the storey below and there are balconies and banisters encircling each level. Bells were hung on each corner of the octagonal eaves and as the wind blew, the bells would make a lovely sound.
Close by was Zikawei/Siccawei, a Jesuit settlement where they built St Ignatius cathedral, schools, an orphanage, museum, and a world famous Observatory.
The Observatory would send weather reports to the Gutzlaff signalling tower five times a day.
The connection of the Jesuits to Zikawei went back centuries through Hsu Kwang-ch’i, friend and pupil of Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit Missionary. He was one of the first of the high Chinese officials to enter the Christian Church.
Zi-ka-wei in Chinese characters mean “the residence of the family Zi” and Hsu was the Mandarin pronunciation of Zi, just to confuse matters 😉
Hsu was born in 1562 at Zikawei and his family allowed the Jesuits to acquire all the land in that village which, since 1848, had been a centre for the Jesuit missionary work.
\Kao Chi’ao was a resort which opened on July 16, 1932. Shanghai has always had hot summers and for those who weren’t members of certain clubs which had pools didn’t have much choice where they could go to cool off.
Back in the early 1900s there was just one public pool available on Sichuan Road North, near Hongkew Park, then in 1922 another open-air pool opened on Jiangwan Road. Neither were opened to the Chinese public so the locals had to cool off in the river; however in 1928 a pool in Hongkew was opened to include them.
Kao Chi’ao was situated in north-eastern Shanghai, where the Yangtze River meets the East China Sea. It had a beautiful beach with soft, white sand, and shallow waters which made for great paddling and swimming.
Back in the 1920s the Europeans discovered Kao Chi’ao but it wasn’t until 1932 that Wu Tiecheng, Mayor of Shanghai’s national government, instructed the company which ran the ferries to build a resort by the beach.
Kao Chi’ao was more than 20km from the centre of Shanghai with the Huangpoo (Huangpu) River separating it from the city. The Shanghai Ferry Company had ferries running down the river during the summer months and when passengers disembarked, they got on a bus to Kao Chi’ao but there was still a long walk to get to the beach.
A year later a road was built to connect the town to the beach and passengers could get a shuttle bus to take them right down to the water.
This meant it made Kao Chi’ao so much more accessible to people. It took 90 minutes on the ferry from the Bund straight to the pier then caught a bus which got them to the beach within 20 minutes.
The weather in Shanghai wasn’t the best – very hot and humid in summer, and cold in winter! Back in the 1930s the best season was said to be from about the middle of September till December.
During those days the Chinese weather forecasts were based on the cycles of the moon and July was known as tashu, a time of great heat!
The weather was always a constant subject, especially the summer heat, and the residents relied on the Jesuits in Zikawei for plotting any typhoons that were heading towards Shanghai, so much so that Sapajou even produced a cartoon of the departure of Father Froc, one of the forecasters, when he returned to France.
Buildings in Shanghai in the 1920s-30s
*NB – when you click on the album, the screen will show the top of this page. Please just scroll down to see the pictures.
Streets in Shanghai in the 1920s-30s
*NB – when you click on the album, the screen will show the top of this page. Please just scroll down to see the pictures.
Great video called “Up the Wangpoo River to Shanghai (1920s)”
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