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

Shanghai gets a plug in Castrol’s 1929 Advertising

Posted: April 24th, 2016 | No Comments »

In 1929 Castrol motor oils were running a campaign called “in use the world over” – Shanghai was one of those locations….


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1935 – Shanghai Cop Looks to Detroit for Traffic Management Solutions

Posted: April 23rd, 2016 | No Comments »

I have no idea what the traffic was like in Detroit in 1935 – but given it was the centre of car production one has to imagine it was fairly congested. Of course Shanghai was suffering long traffic jams all across the city in the mid-1930s as car ownership skyrocketed and cars vied with rickshaws, wheelbarrows, pedicabs and, of course, pedestrians. The Municipal Police were keen to find any possible solutions – hence, presumably, Inspector Joseph Leslie’s visit to the city in May 1935 to observe traffic methods.

Leslie, an Englishman born in 1904, had joined the SMP in 1924, i.e. at just 24. He stayed until the bitter end – 1942 – meaning he was interned by the Japanese.



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That Mystery Copy of Crow’s 400 Million Customers – a little follow up & hello to Mr Topshoj

Posted: April 22nd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Yesterday I posted about a slightly mysterious copy of Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers that Joe McKernan, a used book dealer showed me. As yesterday’s post shows it seems to have been a locally produced Shanghai copy of the book and came out as an exact copy (down to dedication and page numbering) of the American edition published by Harper and Brothers of New York shortly before. All well and good…and very interesting as I didn’t know such editions existed.


Now to the seemingly illegible name in the front pages – and thanks to Paul Midler and his research and deciphering skills it would seem to have been owned by a Mr. S. Topshoj. A bit more digging reveals that this is probably correct. Topshoj was a Dane, possibly a Swede, who was the Chief Engineer of the Danish cable laying vessel Store Nordisk running between Hong Kong and Shanghai laying cables. He is listed as being in the region in 1937/1938, i.e. at just the right time to have purchased the book and a man with a probable interest in the title. The Store Nordisk was part of the small fleet of the Great Northern Telegraph Company (Det Store Nordiske Telegrafselskab A/S), a Danish firm whose Chinese Hong name was Da Bei, or Big North) that laid most of the cable (telegraphic that is) around China and Hong Kong at the time. They had headquarters in Shanghai (at No.7 Bund), Peking and Hong Kong – I blogged back in 2010 about the destruction of their former office building in Beijing’s Da Yuan Fu Hutong. Great Northern had been around for a long time in China and in the nineteenth century (1868) won the tender to lay cables to connect Russia with China, Japan and Hong Kong and then onwards to connect with Europe.

The cables (further contracts were won by Great Northern to extend the system all over China and beyond) led to a small fleet of cable laying boats – the CS Store Nordisk, as well as the CS Cella and CS Africa, that undertook the main cable laying work, with a Danish naval vessel, the Tordenskjold, laying some of the shore ends.

We can then assume that in 1937/1938 Mr Topshoj was sitting in his bunk, moving slowing across the South China Sea listening to the cable slowly play out the back (yes, I know, “aft”). The CS Store Nordisk was built in 1922 by A/S Nakskovskibs of Nakskov in Denmark. The ship continued to be a cable layer in Asia until sold to the Mitsui Ocean Development & Engineering Company in 1969 and renamed the Ohtaka. And so here is the Store Nordisk, perhaps with Mr Topshoj onboard reading Carl Crow…


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A Lost Edition of Crow’s 400 Million Customers – A Bit of a Mystery

Posted: April 21st, 2016 | No Comments »

My thanks to bookdealer Joe McKernan for sending through some pics of this seemingly rare, and slightly mysterious, edition of Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers. Perhaps someone out there knows a bit more…??

My best guess is that it is a print copy made in Shanghai shortly after the book’s initial publication (1937). According to the torn sticker in the book it was printed by a firm called Li Hanzhang, a firm I do not know (though possibly a derivation of the name of Li Hongzhang’s, China’s self-strengthening movement leaders, brother?). Their offices appear to have been located at 123 Huajia Road in Shanghai, which I cannot locate (there is a Hua Jia Road but it’s out in the Songjiang Industrial Estate and, I assume, of more recent construction and naming). The publisher also appears to have a branch in Nanking (Nanjing). The book was printed by The Modern Printing Company of Shanghai. It is a straight reprint of Crow’s 400 Million right down to the same page numbers, dedication and illustrations by George Sapojnikoff (aka “Sapajou”). The cost was $4.20 (i assume Chinese dollars pre-1949) and about right for a book at that time I think. The book was previously owned by someone who signed it, but I can’t make that signature out I’m afraid.

Any ideas, leads? I’d love to know…







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Shikumen Builders – Fonciere et Immobiliere de Chine

Posted: April 20th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Interesting news that a hotel group is developing a hotel in a shikumen – press release here,  indeed in the largest remaining cluster in the old French Concession. While the press release contains rather a lot of bluster about the buildings and a few inaccuracies as to their date and origins (while making no mention of course of the fact that this project is only rare because of the mass destruction of Shanghai’s traditional architecture) it does note that the original builder of the development was the French company Fonciere et Immobiliere de Chine. The project, Jian Ye Li, is a 463,000 square foot redevelopment project (basically encompassing the French Concession’s largest remaining cluster of shikumen) that began in 2011 and overseen by Portman, who Shanghai architecture fans will probably know with some stomach churning.

Though described in the release as a ‘landmark of the 1930s’ the buildings were constructed, as with most shikumen, in the 1920s. As the development was in the French Concession the architect was French and the financier also French, Fonciere et Immobiliere de Chine. With the large-scale destruction of shikumen in Shanghai Jian Ye Li became a “historical preservation site” (in the case of Shanghai this does not mean preserving the former residents of course but “repurposing” their former homes and shops into high end redevelopments – residents from the Jian Ye Li site were relocated and compensated but there was resistance to both relocation areas and compensation amounts predictably). The site is on the far western side of the former French Concession, just off Hengshan Road (formerly Avenue Petain) by Jianguo Road West (formerly Route Frelupt) and not far from Xujiahui (formerly Siccawei). These properties were well built in general though had, as with most shikumen, deteriorated in recent decades (no room here to go into all the myriad reasons for that) though were hardly “squalid” as described by one property market analyst. There’s a property industry assessment of the project here that rather glosses over this aspect of the development – indeed seems to only worry that unhappy former residents protesting might be a bad thing and considered, “how this might affect the marketability of the residential units and leasing of the retail space.”

And so to the developer. There’s a rather detailed description of the Jian Ye Li development in Hanchao Lu’s Beyond the Neon Lights:Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century. Fonciere et Immobiliere de Chine were big in Shanghai development in the 1920s, in the 1920s their share listing was greater than that of many of the other major players such as Asia Realty, Cathay Land and Metropolitan Land. They were, in capitalisation terms, the largest of the major developers in Frenchtown alongside Credit Fonciere d’Extreme-Orient. The company was established in Shanghai in 1920 with 2,000,000 taels ($2,800,000) in capital. As well as their own properties in the concessions they managed those of the International Savings Bank. Their main offices were at, the rather prestigious, number 7 Avenue Edward VII (Yanan Road now). BTW:  there is a company called Fonciere et Immobiliere de Chine, still in existence; but I’m not sure they’re related as that appears to have been established in 1959.








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Bills Motors Shanghai

Posted: April 19th, 2016 | No Comments »

Remarking yesterday on the foiled 1935 kidnapping of K.A.L. Suez in Shanghai, I noted that he was employed by Bills Motors, a Ford, Lincoln-Zephyr and Mercury dealership in the city who also dealt in Fiat trucks. So perhaps a little more…they were headquartered at 615 Avenue Foch (now Yanan Road) but with a branch in Frenchtown too. they were pretty swank with nice showrooms and fancy offices. As I’m away from Shanghai perhaps some flaneuring Shanghailander type can track the building down from the below and see if it still stands. The picture at bottom is after the war when the place appears to be shuttered and closed. The company was run by Freddie P. Bills. Bills, I think, returned to the USA during World War Two and shortly after the liberation of the city the company was looked after by a certain George Bourne. I believe Bourne was ex US Navy and treasurer of the American Legion in Shanghai but had been secretary and treasurer of the firm before the war. Bourne was married to Maurine and they lived in the French Concession where their kids attended the American School. Bourne’s wife and children left Shanghai for Berkeley in 1941.

The Bills Motors staff were an interesting bunch apart from Bills, Bourne and Suez, C. R. Shekury ran XU8CR, a ham radio station that allowed people to keep in touch in Shanghai. Shekury was praised for keeping the station up and running allowing people to get messages to loved ones and relatives in Shanghai after the Japanese invasion. Charitable chaps too, they made a regular donation to the Red Cross in Shanghai. Chester V. Manney was also a veteran executive of the firm, who had worked for Shanghai’s Hudford Motors in the 1920s, and an active mason in Shanghai. Manney married Mary A. Selezneff of Manila on New Year’s Eve 1929 and also worked in Hong Kong for Dodge & Seymour, a New York firm that sold cars and trucks all over Asia.



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A Shanghai Kidnapping Gone Wrong, 1935

Posted: April 18th, 2016 | No Comments »

In 1935 Shanghai was in the grip of a kidnapping surge as the city’s economy slumped suddenly…this attempted kidnapping in Frenchtown however went very wrong…one Sikh watchman wounded; one gangster dead…The kidnapee “Kal” (actually his initials were K.A.L. – Kyeuyoong Albert L.)  Suez went on to be quite a useful chap during the war developing a version of a flatbed truck that could withstand the terrible road conditions in Free China in 1941 and allowed guerillas to transport weaponry around the country. Suez was a lifelong motor guy – he’d worked as the Chinese sales manager and engineer for the Motor Management & Finance Co. in the city before becoming a manger at the A. F. & R. Service Co. At the time of the attempted abduction Suez was 30-years-old and Head Salesman for Bills Motors, a Ford representatives, in Shanghai. He also spent some time in the late 1930s living in Hong Kong, residing on Queens Road Central, after the Japanese invasion of mainland China.

Suez, was successful enough to have a chauffeur and was also a graduate of the University of Michigan (class of 1932). Digging a little deeper it seems Suez was a victim of mistaken identity, according to the French Surete in Shanghai. The kidnappers had been looking for another man who happened to live in the vicinity of where his car pulled up for a stop. Unlucky, but then rather lucky.


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ETC Werner in Consul’s Regalia

Posted: April 17th, 2016 | No Comments »

Readers of my book Midnight in Peking will be fully aware of who ETC Werner was – the father of the murdered girl Pamela Werner, killed in 1937 Peking. Here is a picture of Werner, while serving as a consul…he is front row, fifth from left with full dress and sword….

front row, fifth from left, is British Consul E.T.C. Werner

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