All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

Coming Down Alert – Hongkou’s White Horse Inn

Posted: October 19th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

jolly rogerI posted some time ago that the site of the old White Horse Inn was among a number of buildings inside Shanghai’s former Jewish district in Hongkou likely to be knocked down to make way for (wait for it!) a widened road. Well it happened while I was away on holiday (not that the two events are probably linked) and the White Horse is gone in the name of progress and the nonsense EXPO slogan ‘Better City, Better Life’. A friend, Dvir Bar-gal, who has done a lot to raise awareness of Shanghai’s Jewish heritage and ghetto, chronicled the end and photographed it as below:

IMG_9009“While China and Shanghai celebrating the 60 years “Party of the Party” the much-talked-about historical
building of the White Horse Cafe at the former Little Vienna of Shanghai AKA Shanghai’s [Jewish] ghetto was taken from

IMG_9461 To those of you whom may not have read or heard the story: The White Horse was located in one of the nicer historical buildings along the former Ward Road. The White Horse Cafe was owned by the Mosberg/Klinger family (now residing in Sydney) and was one of the famous and lively cafes of Shanghai’s “little Vienna” in the early 1940s.

IMG_9016In early 2009 the Hongkou District government decided to widen the street that was home to this building along with many other historical buildings that were marked to be destroyed. With the hope to preserve these historical sites I contacted few members of the foreign press in Shanghai/China. NPR’s Louisa Lim brought to the area Prof. Ruan Yi Shan from TongJi Univ. that offered in the past the plans for preservation  of that area.While the story about the Historical cafe facing demolition made news in the US Radio,  Prof. Ruan pitched the story to some of his friends at the local newspapers whom as well ran the story and made public to the issue.

IMG_9589In the past 6 months it seemed that the local authorities would stop the demolition. Rumors said that the Hongkou government officials had positively considered Prof. Ruan’s various offers to preserve / relocate the building. However, sad to inform you that while most of us took the time off for the National Vacation the Bulldozers went on the building. In Oct. 2nd the head (roof) of the building was hammered down, next the covering bamboo scaffolds were removed and the final kill came yesterday Oct. 6th. Last picture attached was taken today Oct. 7th.”

White Horse Inn - ShanghaiSo RIP to another part of Shanghai’s heritage and a great building! The destruction continues unabated and in remorseless fashion – left is a picture of the White Horse Cafe in its heyday.

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Shanghai – First Impressions No.7 – Whitey Smith Comes to Not Make a Million, 1922

Posted: August 26th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Shanghai was not Just a Dream – Whitey Smith – 1922



Arriving not to Make a Million

We were off for China!


Aboard with us was a fiddle player Mr. Ladow (1) had picked up to play at the Carlton. I remember him as Benny. Also the president of the China Mail Line, an old Chinese gentleman by the name of Mr. Chen, I think it was. He and his family were going back to the homeland to retire.


We made a stop at Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands, then up to Yokohama and Kobe in Japan. The most interesting stop on the trip was the next Japanese port, Nagasaki. The good ship Nile had to refuel there.


The Nile was a coal burner. Refueling was done the hard way from barges alongside by means of a human chain of Japanese women, children, old and young men carrying baskets. They crawled up the side of the ship on a rope ladder. They dumped their baskets and crawled back down again to the barge on another rope ladder. I thought the moving chain looked like a huge black python on the prowl for a drink of water.


Mr. Chen told me each link in the human chain for fifteen cents a day, working from early morning until dark. It my first astonishing impression of Oriental labor.


The operation was very dirty. By the time we pulled anchor for Shanghai the passengers were almost as black-faced as the Japanese who carried the coal.


The Nile’s skipper, Captain Kinley, took an erratic course for Shanghai. He told me they were dodging around trying to escape a typhoon. We hit some rough weather but on September 14th we steamed up the Woosung River into Shanghai harbor, tying up at the Merchants Wharf.


My great adventure was opening out before me and I felt like an awestruck, happy kid. Mr. Ladow had found out somehow that this was the date I was born and as we walked down the gangplank an American band was playing Happy Birthday. Right then I knew I was going to like Shanghai, just as sixteen years before I fell in love with San Francisco when Papa Schmidt took us on a cable car up Market Street.


I wish I had the words to describe Shanghai as it was then, a great sprawling colorful stately city of contrasts with a fascination of its own. There was never anything like Shanghai in its prime, and I guess there never will be again. Years later I picked up a book written by Dr. Anne Walter Fearn (2), who became my good friend. Dr. Fearn had a couple of paragraphs in her little privately printed uncopyrighted book that recalled Shanghai exactly as it appeared to me that first day.


She said it was here that East met West in a jumble of cooperation, misunderstanding, struggle and friendship. She wrote that Shanghai was a city of hustling, bustling, hurrying, jostling millions. It was a city of noise and confusion. Tramcars clanged their gongs, motorcars tooted their horns, coolies sing-songed as they trudged under great burdens, “ah yee, ah yee’.


Chinese men walked the streets in long silk gowns, blue cotton ones or in the latest Western styles. Some Chinese women were beautifullygowned with smart waved hair, side slit skirts, silk stockings and high-heeled shoes. Some wore the divided skirts and embroidered jackets of tradition. There were Japanese, Indians Americans, Ammanese, and Europeans, a conglomeration of every nationality under the sun.


She described the traffic in all its varieties – pedestrians, rickshaws, handcarts, wheelbarrows, bicycles, motor cars, buses and trains. Occasionally a passage had to be cleared for a patrol of mounted Sikhs on shining groomed horses, carrying lances from whose tips floated red and white pennants. They would be on their way to head some parade. And the crowds of Chinese, not only moving about the streets but silent, gaping crowds, obstructing every moving things.


That was the way it looked to us, too.


Whitey Smith, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila: Philippine Education Company, 1956




(1) The Mr Ladow referred to was



(2) Dr. Anne Walter Fearn was a long term resident of China working as a medical educator in China. She was born on a Mississippi plantation, went to China at 25, founded a coeducational medical school, a school for American children, the Fearn Sanatorium in Shanghai.


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The Last Shanghai Lit Fest Event of 2010 – The Bloody White Baron

Posted: March 26th, 2010 | No Comments »

I plugged James Palmer’s excellent biography, The Bloody White Baron, several times in the past when it came out – see here, here and here. Book blurb and details below.

Roman Ungern von Sternberg was a Baltic aristocrat, a violent, headstrong youth posted to the wilds of Siberia and Mongolia before the First World War. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Baron – now in command of a lethally effective rabble of cavalrymen – conquered Mongolia, the last time in history a country was seized by an army mounted on horses. He was a Kurtz-like figure, slaughtering everyone he suspected of irreligion or of being a Jew. And his is a story that rehearses later horrors in Russia and elsewhere. James Palmer’s book is an epic recreation of a forgotten episode and will establish him as a brilliant popular historian.

James had to cancel his event last weekend in Shanghai but it’s happening this Saturday which means he’ll be bring the curtain down on the Shanghai International Literary Festival 2010 – a week late, and on his own – almost – I’ll be moderating and ask a few questions.

Saturday March 27th – 3pm

As ever at the Glamour Bar on the Bund

Tickets  and details: 400-620-6006 (tickets), 6321-3599 (info)


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Little Vienna in Shanghai at the Jewish Museum Vienna

Posted: October 23rd, 2020 | No Comments »

This is running till next April 21…more details here

Immediately after the National Socialists seized power in Austria in March 1938, Jewish women and men were marginalized, humiliated and persecuted. The possibilities to leave the country increasingly dwindled. Harassment, the necessity of leaving all possessions behind, and the fact that many countries sealed off their borders made any prospect of escape difficult. Shanghai was an international special zone that did not require a hard-to-get visa, yet the German authorities required an exit document, whether it was a visa or a ship ticket. Dr. Feng Shan Ho, the Chinese Consul General in Vienna, issued thousands of these life-saving visas, against the Chinese government wishes.

For many Austrian Jews, Shanghai, the “City upon the Sea,” represented the last hope for refuge. The voyage there entailed a week-long sea crossing or an exhausting land journey across Siberia.

The new home away from home posed great challenges to most refugees. However, the Viennese quickly organized a “Little Vienna” in China, where, in addition to restaurants such as the “White Horse Inn”, there were coffeehouses with Viennese pastry and coffee specialties, sausage stands and wine taverns. Sports clubs and newspapers were founded, and the many refugee artists offered a diverse range of musical evenings, operettas, cabaret and theatrical performances.

When the Japanese, who were allied with the German Reich, took Shanghai in 1941, the living conditions continued to worsen. In 1943, a ghetto was established in the rundown district of Hongkou. Bad hygienic conditions and the poor supply situation led to hunger and illness. The Kadoories and Sassoons, two Jewish families originating from the Middle East who had been living in Shanghai since the 19th century, provided together with several aid committees like the American JOINT, for food and kept the schools operating.

After the victory of the Allies and the landing of the US Army in 1945, many began planning a return. With the imminent capture of Shanghai by Mao Zedong, the last Jews also left the city for the USA, Canada, Australia or Israel. Some came back to their hometown of Vienna. Because of the murder and destruction of European Jewry their return to Vienna meant a completely new beginning in a changed world.

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JG Ballard’s Childhood Home Gutted

Posted: March 10th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

The moral of this story (or at least one of several) – don’t let anyone tell you preservation orders in Shanghai on old buildings mean shit – they don’t. They didn’t at the White Horse Inn last year when it came down, nor the old Shanghai Rowing Club building on Suzhou Creek and they have once again proved worthless at the former home of JG Ballard on the corner of Panyu Road and Xinhua Road (formerly Colombia Road and Amherst Avenue).  It’s worth noting that even if Ballard’s later work as a writer means nothing in Shanghai the house and grounds were a good example of the sort of grand structures erected in the Western Roads Area in the 1920s/1930s.

I have nothing to add to Malcolm Moore’s piece in the Daily Telegraph, accompanied by a short video (here). Another tragedy to add to an ever lengthening list in Shanghai of wanton destruction.

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Coming Down Alert – Shanghai’s Jewish Quarter

Posted: February 26th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

jolly rogerLouisa Lim at NPR reports that the site of the old White Horse Inn is among a number of buildings inside Shanghai’s former Jewish district in Hongkou likely to be knocked down to make way for (wait for it!) a widened road. As the demolition begins much has actually been revealed (and then trashed) such as old shop signs including one for Wuerstel Tenor, a sandwich shop, which had been covered for decades. The demolition will also see the end of other fading shop fronts at the heart of what was known as ‘Little Vienna’ including those of the Cafe Atlantic and Horn’s Imbiss-stube (Horn’s Snack Bar).

According to Lim, in 2005, the Chinese government declared 70 acres of the Jewish ghetto a conservation zone. The White Horse Inn (above) and buildings slated for demolition are inside that zone, but aren’t designated protected buildings. Sadly professors at Shanghai’s Tongji University who fought for preservation were not told about the demolition until too late.

The full sad story of another triumph of roads over heritage here

Other Coming Down Alerts:

Dalian – Harbin Jie

Beijing – Jinbao Jie

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Heads up – Buffalo Bill Goes to China – Jeff Wasserstrom at the British Library – 9/5/18

Posted: April 25th, 2018 | No Comments »

Buffalo Bill Goes to China

Discover the strange story of when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show performed a major Chinese uprising

Roll up, roll up for historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s exploration of Buffalo Bill’s 1901 Wild West Show. What can a strange yet spectacular re-enactment of an anti-Christian uprising in China tell us about America’s understanding of the country?

English and French troops attack the Boxers. Colour-printed battle scene, China, woodblock printed in the style of a new-year print. Originally published/produced in China, c.1900.

In April 1901, at Madison Square Garden, New York City, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show performed a re-enactment of an episode in the Boxer Rebellion, the fierce anti-Christian uprising that had triggered an international invasion of China, involving troops marching behind the flags of eight different nations and empires, including Britain, the United States, Russia, Germany and Japan. The entertainment essentially reworked earlier re-enactments of the ‘Ghost Dance Rising’, with the Native American cast members now playing Chinese militants, and the white cowboys on horseback becoming cavalry from different lands.

Historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom digs deeper into this fascinating cultural moment, and compares it to an Earl’s Court re-enactment of related Chinese events that was staged the same spring. He uses examination of these shows to explore the complex and distinctive ways America’s growing interest(s) in China were understood and articulated at the beginning of the 20th century. Some audience members, who had been scandalised by reports of the Boxers’ killing of Christians, were delighted to see the insurgents bested on stage. Others were less comfortable with this version of events, including Mark Twain, who viewed the Boxers as ‘traduced patriots’ and left the opening night performance in disgust. Join Professor Wasserstrom as he tells the story of Buffalo Bill’s imaginary trip to China, and reflect on what this episode teaches about America’s relationship to China, then and now.

Sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library

More details here



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A Christmas Day Tale from Old China….Vanya Oakes Explaines the Nativity & Santa Claus to her Shanghainese Tailor in 1933

Posted: December 25th, 2017 | No Comments »

There’s a bit of a tradition on China Rhyming of providing an old China Christmas tale every Christmas Day. In the past we’ve had a 1930s Christmas with Carl Crow sharing Christmas dinner with some vegetarian Buddhist monks that did however involve some ancient eggs and sharksfin soup. We have also had the story of the Christmas Errol Flynn spent in Shanghai. And, finally, Anthony Abbott’s 1930s tale of spending Christmas with the “Christian General” warlord.

Well this year’s tale is from the American “lady reporter” Vanya Oakes and comes from her 1943 memoir White Man’s Folly. It’s the early 1930s, Oakes is recently arrived in Shanghai from America. She has just set up home in a nice flat and has invited over her tailor to measure her for a Christmas gown…

“I came in one day and found the tailor engaged in scrutinizing one of my Christmas cards. It was a picture of the manger, and Mary and the Infant Jesus, and the Three Wise Men. ‘Missy, what thing this?’ said the tailor, unabashed at rummaging about in my things. ‘Before have plenty time to see in other misses’ house, tree, and Santa Claus and white rain. But this fashion – no see.’

With zeal worthy a more promising venture I launched into an interpretation of the Nativity. At the conclusion the tailor shook his head cheerfully and said: ‘No savvy, I savvy these Master will bring present, all same Chinese New Year. I savvy this lady belong mother small baby. But Missy, this no belong proper house – this for horse.’

I explained that the lady was very poor, so poor that she had no house.

‘But Missy,’ he objected, ‘where father? No have got job?’

Swallowing hastily, I stammered there was no father.

The tailor stared at me with a kind of contemptuous horror. Of course he had always known that foreigners were stupid. But this was beyond everything. How could even a foreigner suppose there could be a baby without a father?

Some red in the face I tried to explain further. I got wound up in the Immaculate Conception. The tailor’s eyes widened, bugged out. Too bad. Crazy Missy, talking about making baby without father.

Slowly, with severity, he laid the Christmas card down on he table. ‘I no savvy how fashion this small baby so good – only beggar baby,’ he said disdainfully. ‘So poor no can catch proper house.’ I grew flustered, trying hurriedly to make out a respectable case for Christianity. He kept murmuring ‘Small baby in a horse house,’ accusingly. In desperation I gave up. It meant laving him to think ill – very ill indeed – of Christianity. I couldn’t seem to help it.

We did better on Santa Claus. There are several Chinese myths in which gods ride through space on clouds or waves, so it did not strike him as peculiar that Santa Claus should gallop through the ether behind his ‘horse with horns’. We pranced along splendidly therefore until we came to the chimney. But as I began coming down the chimney to put all the nice toys on the tree, the tailor’s shocked gaze pulled me up short.

‘Missy’, he said, with terrifying logic, ‘no can do this fashion – his stomach too fat – get inside, no can get out.’

Wildly I stated that Santa’s stomach was an illusion; where it appeared large and round and solid it was, actually, a balloon which telescoped when convenient.

‘But Missy,’ said the tailor, eyeing me dubiously, ‘he get very dirty. Inside all fire dirt.’

It was unfair – and hopeless. I conceded that Santa Claus would get a little dirty, but that it was part of the trade – just as the tailor occasionally pricked his finger with a needle. Anyhow, Santa Claus would only get a very little dirty, because he was, on the whole, a very clever man.

‘No,’ said the tailor wearily, ‘I think he get plenty dirty.”



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