“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Yangpu Riverside Development, Shanghai

Posted: September 30th, 2016 | No Comments »

The development of the Huangpu riverside in Yangpu is one of the more intersting attempts at heritage in Shanghai that we’ve seen, I think (!). Of course it’s hard to tell from anything the Shanghai Daily says, plans change, the Party and developers lie and alter their intentions…but it appears interesting at least.

Positive is that the plan (as relayed to us from the state media of the Shanghai Daily in this article) does seem to take note of the district’s (the old Yangtszepoo or Y’Poo) industrial heritage as the powerhouse of Shanghai. They are acknowledging the paper mill, shipyard, water plant, textile mill, coal gas plant as well as the 1946 fish market. They claim that some industrial buildings will be renovated – though which ones remains unstated. An industrial heritage museum is planned (though personally I’d rather they just preserved the industrial heritage as opposed to destroying it and replacing it with a museum). Clearly it is not intended that all existing buildings will remain – in fact, one interpretation of the article could be that 60% of what remains (which is far from all that was there in 1949) will still go. Yangpu took a pounding in the run up to the EXPO in 2010 and road widening and “redevelopment” (i.e. destruction) has continued ever since. However, notions of industrial heritage in the district have always been extremely hazy and, this article at least, seems to indicate some greater clarity.

Here’s some of my previous blogs on Yangpu from the last eight years or so:

Shanghai’s Smokestacks

Mapping Yangpu

Yangpu Holds On…Just (mostly around Yulin Road)

The Massive Clearances on Pingliang Road


The Yangtszepoo Docks (1934)



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Mitya’s Harbin: Majesty and Menace – New White Russian Memoir

Posted: September 29th, 2016 | No Comments »

A new self-published title, Mitya’s Harbin, minutely detailing Harbin White Russian life from after the Bolshevik revolution to the 1950s and the final community forced to leave communist China…..There’s been quite a swarm of self-published old China memoirs lately (it’s an age thing of course for the authors) and they all add something useful for researchers and historians. Lenore Zisserman’s book is no different and helps round out the Russian Harbin story (especially as it is currently being tinkered with by the local communist party up there to a) downplay that community’s differences with the USSR, b) ignore the compliance/collaboration of some in the community with the Japanese and c) make Harbin a second Hongkew and pretend it was a zone of safety for Jews in WW2 created by China)…


In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union was pressuring its citizens in Harbin, China, to return to Mother Russia. For the family of Dimitry (“Mitya”) Nikolayevich Zissermann and other White Russians, leaving their beloved “home town” had its perils. Few wanted to labor on the collective farms – their likely fate if they returned. But where else could they go, and how would they get there?

The Manchurian settlement of Harbin, headquarters of the Chinese Eastern Railway, had grown into a multicultural city by the early 1900s with an unmistakable Russian identity, coupled with unique Chinese-Russian relations. In the ensuing years, the city survived and sometimes even thrived during the Russian Revolution, Manchuria’s Japanese occupation, the Soviets’ expulsion of Japan from the region, Chinese civil war, and China’s Communist Revolution.

Harbin’s eventual transformation from an obscure rural settlement into a strategic Chinese manufacturing center exhibiting increasing animosity toward foreigners impacted the Russians in countless ways. This is one of their stories.

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138 Words from the Global Times that Basically Sum Up Everything That’s Wrong With Heritage in Shanghai (without meaning too obviously)

Posted: September 28th, 2016 | No Comments »

On the 26th September 2016 the following 138 word article appeared in the English language edition of the Chinese Global Times newspaper. One assumes the editors intended the story to be positive. However, the story, below in full, essentially tells you just about everything that’s wrong with heritage in Shanghai, and why no building (of any era, style, architect or usage) is safe in the city.

To talk of protection lists being updated only in 2040 is absurd – that is 24 years away. Even the most keen defender of Shanghai’s corrupt Communist Party bosses and their mega-dodgy property developer pals has to admit that the level of destruction and irreplaceable heritage ruination in the last 24 years, i.e. since 1992, in the city is a catastrophe (and that’s without considering the horrendous relocations, beatings, intimidation etc of local people). What on earth can the next 24 years bring? The simple answer is obviously that perhaps, a quarter of a century from now, nothing will be left of any note (and I include the Bund in that).

It should also be mentioned that of course Shanghai has not preserved 3,000 historical villas – a number approximate to that may stand but very few, only a handful, have not had their interiors ripped out completely (either by conversion to multiple occupancy dwellings in the post-1949 period or later in various ways from wine bar-isation to bad restorations/modernisations. They are facades for the most part.

I am sure I do not need to point out the ridiculousness of calculating cultural capital and heritage in base numbers terms – so many theatres, museums and art galleries, as if they were traffic lights. Nonsense like that leads to the idiocy of giant table tennis museums and state art galleries devoted to socialist realist art! Who else even counts how many “grand concert halls” they have – worthless, if you censor the music and performances within of course.

Shanghai continues to bulldoze heritage, the Party sanctions it, their property developer friends profit from it…2040 is way too late!!

Shanghai protects more historical buildings

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/26 18:08:39

Shanghai will establish a system to regularly include outstanding historical buildings into its protection list by 2040, according to Zheng Shiling, an academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In her recent seminar, Zheng pointed out that the protection list is not updated timely enough and many historical architecture tends to disappear before being noticed by the authority.

But Zheng pointed out that Shanghai has preserved 3,000 historical villas. “Though Shanghai is known for its skyscrapers and modern buildings, it also possesses many cultural heritage sites.”

Shanghai lags behind other developed metropolises like London, New York, Tokyo and Paris in terms of cultural facilities.

“London has 43 universities, 303 national museums, 241 theaters, 10 grand concert halls and 875 artistic galleries, while Shanghai has only 124 museums, 115 theaters and grand concert halls and 208 art galleries,” Zheng added.



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Marie Tempest in Shanghai

Posted: September 27th, 2016 | No Comments »

Marie Tempest was perhaps the best loved English soprano singing late Victorian and Edwardian musical comedies. She has a long career, starting in 1885. She was soon appearing in both London and New York. In the 1890s she appeared in several Chinoiserie productions on the London stage – The Geisha in 1896 and then San Toy in 1899 (and the film version in 1900). She appeared in the early 1900s in several Somerset Maugham plays and the two became great friends. In 1914 she undertook a world tour visiting America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Singapore, Japan and the Philippine as well as, of course, Shanghai. She spent the war years in America. She then passed through Shanghai once more (as well as appearing in Peking, Tientsin and Hong Kong), in 1919, while travelling round the world and eventually got back to England in 1922. Her 1919 engagement in Shanghai lasted an amazing four weeks due to public demand. She appeared at the Lyceum Theatre and charged upwards of C$4-5 a ticket – an unheard of high amount for the time. In 1922 she played the Peking Pavilion with similarly high ticket prices.

By the time she appeared in Shanghai she was in her 50s, but still a major star. Marie Tempest died in 1942, shortly after her home, and lost of the mementos and souvenirs of her long career, was destroyed in the Blitz.


Marie Tempest in The Geisha in the 1890s


by Gordon Anthony, bromide print

And around the time she visited Shanghai

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Thomas Child’s Qing Dynasty Photography Exhibition on in New York

Posted: September 26th, 2016 | No Comments »

If you are in New York this late September or October then here is what you must do!!

Qing Dynasty Peking: Thomas Child’s Photographs

September 23 – October 25, 2016

<strong>Thomas Child</strong><br /> <em>No. 182 Bride and Bridegroom, 1870s</em>

Thomas Child
No. 182 Bride and Bridegroom, 1870s

Rare early photographs of Peking (Beijing) by Thomas Child, from the Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection, will be exhibited for the first time in New York at the Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College.

Qing Dynasty Peking: Thomas Child’s Photographs, curated by Stacey Lambrow, features a selection of over 40 original nineteenth-century albumen silver prints. These views of Peking (Beijing), made in the 1870s and 1880s, are from the earliest comprehensive photographic survey of the ancient city. During his nearly two decades as a resident of Peking, Child produced the most extensive photographic documentation of the city and its environs. The images depict the architecture, monuments, people, and culture of Peking (Beijing) during the early years of photography in late imperial China. Child’s photographs offer a unique glimpse into the country’s rich cultural past.

Among the highlights of the show is a photograph of a Bride and Bridegroom (1870s) in traditional Chinese dress. It is one in a series of three images Child took pertaining to late Qing dynasty wedding customs. The woman in this photograph is the daughter of Zeng Goufan, a high-ranking official of the Han dynasty. Descendants of Zeng Goufan will attend the opening reception of the exhibition to see the photograph of their ancestor’s wedding for the first time.

The photographs included in the exhibition are often the only records of buildings and sites that were later altered or destroyed. Due to historical factors, a scarcity of scholarship, and the fact that very few of Child’s photographs have survived, there has never been an exhibition in New York devoted to the photographer’s work. Child was also a pioneering documentarian, producing printed labels with descriptive text to accompany his photographs. It is evident from his photographs and their labels that he took great care to understand the long history and culture of the Chinese people. Child learned to speak Chinese, and he spent time among Chinese residents while he was in Peking, sharing with them his knowledge of the art of photography.

About the Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection
The Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection, based in New York, is the largest holding of historical photographs of China in private hands.

Opening Reception:
Thursday, September 22, from 6 – 8 p.m.

The Sidney Mishkin Gallery is located at:
Baruch College
135 East 22nd Street at Lexington
New York City

Gallery hours are:
Monday – Friday, 12 noon – 5 p.m.
Thursdays, 12 noon – 7 p.m.
Saturdays 12 noon – 6 p.m.
All exhibitions at the gallery are free and open to the public.


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John P. Marquand on Shanghai, 1935

Posted: September 25th, 2016 | No Comments »

I blogged about John P. Marquand’s 1935 novel Ming Yellow a while back (here). Though nobody much reads them nowadays and their reputation has been unfairly tarnished by the rather daft yellowface films with Peter Lorre, Marquand’s series of Mr. Moto books are actually very good and insightful reads on the situation between America and Japan and the state of China in the late 1930s. You dismiss them as simple pulp or as racist at your peril! Here is Marquand on Shanghai in 1935’s Your Turn, Mr. Moto, the first book in the series (of six)….

“I doubt if any city in the world is more amazing than Shanghai, where the culture of the East and West has met to turn curiously into something different than East and West; where the silver and riches of China are hoarded for safety; where opera-bouffe Oriental millionaires drive their limousines along the Bund; where the interests of Europe meet the Orient and clash in a sparkle of uniforms and jewels, where the practical realities of western industrialism meet the fatality of the East…Believe me, I repeat, anything can happen in Shanghai, from a sordid European intrigue to a meeting with a prince.”



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Accommodating Reform: International Hotels and Architecture in China, 1978-1990 – Beijing till 23/10

Posted: September 24th, 2016 | No Comments »

While this period is a bit modern for me anyone who spent anytime in China between 1978 and 1990 will know the crucial role hotels played in life – food, bars, temporary homes, a book or magazine once in while, foreign newspapers occasionally, meeting spots. So Accommodating Reform: International Hotels and Architecture in China, 1978-1990 should be interesting. Anyway, more details here of the exhibition at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing and a slideshow to tempt….

Looking back at China’s early modern hotels also show me two things – a) of course just how much cities like Shanghai and Beijing have developed (below is the Portman shortly after completion in the early 1990s) and b) just how ugly and badly designed they could be (below is the Portman shortly after completion in the early 1990s)…


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ChinaRhyming’s French Week #5: Man’s Fate – Andre Malraux’s Shanghai of the Absurd

Posted: September 23rd, 2016 | No Comments »

A few older pieces of mine that, I think, have some merit and may be useful to those researching China fell out of copyright recently. So I’ve repackaged them for Kindle in the hope of making a few pennies to contribute towards continued research costs. I live from writing so a small charge seems justified I think. Anyway, Andre Malraux’s Man’s Fate  (La Condition Humaine) remains the greatest novel of Shanghai and in need of constant re-reading and consideration – so here’s my tuppence ha’penny worth…on Amazon UK and Amazon US for less than a quid or a buck….


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