I'd love to know more about the story and the exact location on this photo, but... If it is dated correctly and this is indeed 1902, then two circus troupes were touring Shanghai simultaneously – which was unusual – and a third one was rehearsing. First, there was the familiar Baroufsky's Circus (also known as the Russian Circus), which delighted the audience with exquisite acrobatics and dancing, trapeze acts, trained horses and pantomime. Then there was the competing Warren's Circus – also called the American Circus (with some Russians in the troupe as well). The program was similar – trained ponies and dogs, trapeze numbers, wire walking and acrobatics – a total of twenty numbers. One of Warren's attractions was the Clown Niny and his large trained pig. Lastly, Shanghai Amateur Circus had recently formed and started rehearsals at the Race Club, fueled by the energy of the founder Frank Maitland.
This was only a snapshot for 1902, and there were, at different times, other circuses in town. For example, in 1905 Fitzgerald's Circus was showing jumping dogs and racing ponies; all fifty members of the recently formed Australian Society attended Fitzgerald's Australian Night. In the autumn of 1933, the huge Hagenbeck's Circus, from Hamburg, arrived with the entourage of 200 people and 175
Back around the turn of the twentieth century, where did the performances take place? Warren's American Circus was in the city's northeast, on Broadway, opposite the Sailors' Home. Baroufsky's Russian Circus had built its racing track – 400 by 200 feet – on Bubbling Well Road, beyond the Chang Su-Ho Garden (now known as Zhangyuan 张园). On the nights of simultaneous performances, George Warren would return from his circus to the Metropole Hotel, smoke on the terrace and watch the public trickle back to the downtown from the competitor's venue. The old Metropole was on the NW corner of Tibet Road and Bubbling Well Road, where the New World's northern building was later built.
When did the circus first come to Shanghai? In 1870, the SMC was aready collecting taxes on Music Halls, Theatres, Circuses and Dancing Saloons. In 1872, an owner of the Wharf Hotel, near the port, was so disappointed with the staleness of the clown's tricks, that he started a ruckus, got himself arrested and was brought to the court. In 1874, Chiarini's Royal Italian Circus and Menagerie started frequenting Shanghai and demonstrating some balancing acts on globes and stacked up furniture, plus a stable of 30 horses. The public, nonetheless, bickered about the lack of a clown! In 1889, Chiarini's Circus performed in the same pavilion where some "unfortunate Russian troupe" had performed just before them (what happened?!).
One of Chiarini's performing jockeys, George Harmston, who did riding tricks together with Mlle Le Blonde, founded his own company. Harmston's Circus performed in Shanghai and toured Asia for almost forty years. Harmston also helped the Shanghai Amateur Circus with pony training and balancing technique. In 1934, Harmston's Circus attempted a comeback after a few years' absence, pitching a tent on the recently cleared site of the Majestic Hotel, where Hagenbeck's performed the year before. But the public judged the show to be weak save for the juggling and acrobatics. As a promotional gesture, the troupe's menagerie was brought on board of SS Sirdhana, where a crew member named Goolfan started pulling the tiger's whiskers. The tiger clawed and bit the sailor, who died of the gas gangrene the next day. The circus continued to perform, but that was its last season.
Sources: NCH, NCDH, China Press, etc.
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The building of Borovsky's (Baroufsky's) Circus (Цирк Боровского) in Harbin:
An unrelated circus troupe in Moscow, showing a sitting clown in a white and black costume:
The homegrown competitor of the visiting circuses – Shanghai Amateur Circus, founded at the Racecourse in 1901:
In this miniature set of pictures of the Amateur Circus, the clown's white and black costume resembles the one in the top picture, so perhaps, this is not Niny there after all.
This early photo of the Amateur Circus was republished in 1921, when it was considered old enough to be revived. Very soon, however, the public interest was directed at the rising cabaret scene, and the acrobatic and burlesque acts found their way to the nightclub stages.
Harmston's Circus and Royal Menagerie in Batavia (Java), 1928:
Caged tigers at the Hagenbeck's Circus: