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Katya Knyazeva's scrapbook

Shanghai history and architecture


Quick links
See all the entries on Shanghai Russians.
See all the entries on the old town.
Search for old photos of Shanghai on the map.

Click here to see all topics or use the Search box on the top right.

Read my article on Vladimir Zhiganov on academia.edu.

Читать о шанхайской архитектуре по-русски (серия в Магазете).

#103 Shanghai Architecture Series: Grand Hotel
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A recent article by Michelle Qiao was the primary source of information and illustrations for this piece.

Read about the Grand Hotel (aka the Workers' Culture Palace) in Russian / in English. See it on the map.


City walls: Lucca vs. Shanghai
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I am now staying in Lucca that has its city wall still preserved. This wall compares to the extinct wall around Shanghai in many respects:
- same years of construction (1545 for Lucca; 1553 for Shanghai);
- same length (~4km);
- similar height (Shanghai's was 8–10 meters high; Lucca's is around 12 meters);
- same shape and the principle of construction: an earthen rampart, slopey on the inside, steep on the outside; faced with brick on the outside;
- big arched gates for water (now cars) and smaller doors for people;
- rounded bulwarks around the gates;
- a defence moat, still filled with water in some places.

Here are the maps of Lucca and the old town of Shanghai, brought to the same scale:




I haven't taken a walk around the city along the top of the wall, but I will at some point. This walk was possible in Shanghai back in the day as well. And to think that you have to travel to Tuscany to know a little more about Shanghai!

Lucca, 2018:


Shanghai, 1890s:


Coffins everywhere
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Here is Marquis de Beauvoir describing the future French Concession in 1867, traveling between the walled city and Xujiahui in winter:

Today we wish to go into the country: Zi-Ka-Wai is our goal; it is a little colony founded by the Jesuits, six miles from Shanghai. Picture to yourself a sandy plain, naked and barren, divided by several muddy canals which have no water at low tide; here and there a few villages, of which the wretched huts are only composed of yellow reeds and mud; to the right and left of the path we follow, hundreds and hundreds of coffins!

There are no cemeteries in North China, and over this immense extent of ground the coffins are distributed, like the baskets of flowers and groups of trees in an English garden. Sometimes it is in the midst of a field of cabbages and choice vegetables that, with no farther precautions, these long boxes of carved wood are deposited; sometimes in a corn-field four defunct Chinamen look as if they were playing puss-in-the-corner. Here is a pile of coffins heaped up in the shape of a sugar-loaf; there they serve as benches in an arbour; and this is what the light breezes pass over as they come to fertilize the smiling cultivation of the Chinese gardens. It is pushing love and respect for ancestors rather far!



#102 Shanghai Architecture Series: Green Lotus Teahouse on Foochow Road
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Read about the Green Lotus Teahouse in Russian / in English. See the comparison of two of its photos from the 1890s. See it on the map.


Another one of those unrealistic expectations of Shanghai
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Captioned "Flower (Pleasure) Boat at Shanghai."

Image from the 1870s book "The Earth delineated with pen and pencil: or, voyages, travels, and adventures all round the world" (archive.org)

Ethnographer's plight (1874)
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Although the memoir of Pavel Piasetski that describes his visit to China in 1874–1875 has been translated into English, the translation omits large parts of the text. Here is a passage from the original Russian version which the author complains that although the ethnographic team was assigned a photographic camera for the trip, he never got to use it because "for some people public property is the same as their own." So in the absence of a camera Piasetski makes sure to purchase views of Shanghai from the Saunders' photo studio, "the only one in town."




My earlier post about Piasetski's visit to Shanghai is here.

Top image: William Saunders' photograph of the Old West Gate.


A lively moment in the 1890s
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These two photographs depict the Green Lotus Teahouse 青莲阁茶楼 on Fuzhou Road (in the center) and another teahouse to its left. The pictures appear to be identical, yet they are not the same, but rather two different shots taken within seconds from each other:

(There's also been some photoshopping in the lower right corner of the second picture, but that's beside the point.)

In the teahouse at the foreground, the arm in a black bracelet is resting on the balcony railing in both shots, but a little bit to the right the thin man in a black vest changes his position. In the top picture he is sitting and looking into the distance, and in the bottom one he is standing up to face the camera, as if alerted to the presence of the photographer. This change suggests the order in which the images were taken.

How much time passed between the pictures? Enough for the photographer to wait for the horse carriage to approach and get out of frame. Enough to adjust the exposure time, turning it down a notch. The scantily dressed beggar with a very long queue, his right hand outstretched, barely moves. On the balcony above him, a teahouse customer is still sitting with his back to the street, chatting with his companion who is fanning himself (or herself):



In the meantime, there has been a lot of motion in the street. Foochow Road was a lively thoroughfare! Someone has arrived to the Green Lotus Teahouse in a rickshaw and disappeared inside. The curious servant in a short jacket, who is probably delivering a dish that he is carrying in his right hand, has made little progress because he has paused to look into every window.

Nineteenth-century photographs usually appear static, controlled, cleaned-up, the opposite of spontaneous. But this slight movement between the two shots makes the street and its inhabitants come to life, at least for me. It is intriguing that they both shots would become postcards representing iconic Shanghai sights:



Stereoscopic images of turn-of-the-century China
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Here is a lovely collection of stereoscopic images of China by James Ricalton taken in 1900–1902, generously put online in hi-res by the Museum of New Zealand. Ricalton's photos were accompanied by a book (online at archive.org) describing each image in detail. There are several views of Shanghai as well.


"A street of "flower boats," places of amusement and debauchery, Canton, China."


Three jiaoquan houses in Shanghai
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This article on jiaoquan houses 绞圈房子 mentions that three such houses still survive in downtown Shanghai. The article focuses on a house in Zhoupu (two houses, actually). A little search revealed two more of these structures:

1) A courtyard house at Lane 780 Haining Road: 海宁路780弄22-24号 (I've not been there):


2) A residence in the old town, at 80 Aijia Lane 艾家弄80号.

Before I knew anything about jiaoquan houses 绞圈房子 I remember my fascination with the way its three interior courtyards are interlinked by a passage. I would not say this is the only instance of such architecture in the old town, but definitely one of the better preserved and least cluttered.

The history of the building on Aijia Lane is included in my book that is due by the end of the year. For now, here are some photos of the courtyard:








#101 Shanghai Architecture Series: Del Monte Cabaret & Casino
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You thought the legendary Del Monte was gone, but it is not! The former cabaret is sitting right in the middle of the Shanghai Theatre Academy's campus on Huashan Road. Now called the Xiong Foxi Building, it is frequently misidentified as the site of the German Garden Club, which was, in fact, located next door. Perhaps, the Theatre Academy does not want anything to do with Shanghai's oldest and most resilient cabaret? Well, its students think differently: Broadway-style musical remains the most sought-after major in this college.

Read about Del Monte in Russian / in English. See it on the map.

Image credit: flickr user 老壶嚼早.