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

A Sad Suicide at Shanghai’s Embassy Hotel in 1933

Posted: August 1st, 2018 | No Comments »

I sometimes think of old Shanghai as a city of suicide. Reading the old newspapers it is striking just how many suicides are reported, both Chinese and Shanghailander. The reasons are many and varied but mostly go to the core issues of Shanghai –

  • In a town with effectively (beyond a little charity) no safety net people got sick, they didn’t have money for treatment so they committed suicide;
  • old age and the fear of unemployment – no pensions and often for rootless and stateless people no families. But this wasn’t always the elderly; Beatrice Den Adel committed suicide in Shanghai at 33, a dancer she feared that as she got too old to dance she’d fall on hard times.
  • Financial ruin, gambling debts, opium addiction all feature
  • for women the loss, through death or desertion of a male spouse often triggered suicide and a sense of hopelessness.
  • Mental illness was of course under diagnosed and under treated and seems to be behind many cases
  • and, as in this case today, broken promises – especially hard for people offered a future that is then taken away leaving them stateless, alone and poor…

The Embassy Hotel was on No.7 Carter Road (Shimen No.1 Road) near the junction with the Bubbling Well Road (Nanjing Road West) in the International Settlement. It wasn’t the grandest hotel in town but it was far from the worst. It was managed for many years by Mrs. Jessie Cameron and her staff. In 1933 a Dane by the name of F.M. Bjergfeldt, who was in Shanghai on a contract working for the Danish Great Northern Telegraphy Company, was a long term resident.

Bjergfeldt had taken up with a 24-year-old White Russian emigre called Tamara Tavgueridze. She was described as his fiance. On Sunday July 2 Tamara went to Bjergfeldt’s room, drank poison, and committed suicide. Why she did it? – I don’t know. I can surmise a broken off engagement, a sense of futility living in exile…The Embassy Hotel was quite the place for suicides (many foreigners chose it as a suicide spot). It was said to be a gloomy hotel and perhaps that encouraged suicidal thoughts.

I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of the hotel, but do have this shot of the junction of Carter Road and Bubbling Well Road at the time…which does include the marvelous old Bubbling Well Pharmacy…

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