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Notes on the Geography of China: Shanghai Checkup(2012)

One day in January, 2012.

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China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 1

Not Mao's China; we start with the refurbished Shanghai Club.

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Here, facing the Bund, is the building from the outside. Pelham Warren, then the British consul, opened the club in 1911. Today it's a fancy hotel, with a French restaurant called Pelham's.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 3

A minute's walk away is the Gutzlaff Signal Tower, built in 1908 more or less at the boundary between the British and French concessions. The tower announced noon and warned ships of impending typhoons.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 4

The view across the Huangpu must now rank as one of the ten most famous skylines in the world. Which, presumably, is exactly what the Chinese intended. The three tallest are, from the left, the twin towers of the International Finance Center, the zigguratty Jin Mao ("Golden Prosperity") Tower, and the hole-in-the-head World Financial Center. In front of them are the Shangri-la Hotel (including the towers with the V-shaped roof line and the waterside building in front of it) and the Mirae Asset, Aurora, and Citigroup buildings.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 5

The view downstream and along the Bund, which must have one of the widest sidewalks in the world. Familiar faces: the Custom House, with the clock, the green-pyramid of Sassoon's Cathay Hotel (later the Peace Hotel and more recently the Fairmont Peace), and at the far right the twin towers of the Hyatt hotel.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 6

Half a mile downstream, the Garden Bridge crosses Suzhou Creek. (The garden is long gone.) The first three buildings on the left are the Broadway Mansions hotel, the lower and older Astor House hotel, and the Russian consulate, straight out of a colonial pattern book. The building on the right used to be the Shanghai Rowing Club, with what looks like an old, filled-in swimming pool.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 7

The British Consulate across the street. Opened in the 1870s, it had an on-again, off-again existence until it was finally closed during the Cultural Revolution. For decades after, it was left to moulder, but it's now part of the Peninsula Hotel property and has been tidied up.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 8

The former Union Church, a Protestant church bordering the creek, was confiscated in the 1950s and made into offices. Later it was almost demolished before being converted to apartments. The spire is entirely new.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 9

Across the creek is the General Post Office from 1924. Now a postal museum.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 10

Looks like the messenger of the gods up there on the left, no? Better than air mail.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 11

Nearby, this is the former Capital Theater, partly also an office building with Socony among its tenants.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 12

The dome of the theater lobby.

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Drifting south, away from the creek and a block back from the river: Yuanmingyuan Road, with sober office blocks.

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Might be Liverpool, except for the Oriental Pearl Tower at the back and perhaps the perfect tidiness of the street.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 15

What do you think this is?

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We can step inside.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 17

Here's the same building seen from the Bund. It's home of the Roosevelt China Investments Corporation. Go back a bit and it was the Foreign Trade Building; farther still, it housed Jardine Matheson, a company founded on the export of opium to China. The DNB quotes Jardine writing in 1830 that opium is "the safest and most gentlemanlike speculation I am aware of."

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 18

A few blocks to the south, the Metropole Hotel was an investment by David Sassoon, who already owned the Cathay Hotel. The Metropole has a twin, the Hamilton House, which is at the far right.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 19

You're not impressed by the China Mutual Life Assurance Building from 1910? Step inside.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 20

The foyer floor.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 21

The ceiling.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 22

Another detail.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 23

Oh my goodness. This is the Westin Hotel, and just a few years ago the sign read Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Shanghai. Perhaps the dealer needed more floor space.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 24

The Anglican Holy Trinity Cathedral of the Diocese of North China was built in the 1860s to a design by the eminent George Gilbert Scott. Confiscated after 1949, then abandoned, "the red church" was restored and reopened in 2011.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 25

We'll head west along Nanjing Road.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 26

The China United Apartments, built (as if you couldn't guess) by an insurance company and subsequently converted to the Pacific Hotel.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 27

The Marvel Shanghai Hotel, formerly a YMCA.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 28

Shanghai had several YMCA's, including one for Chinese, one for Japanese, one for the military, and this, for generic foreigners. The building now houses the Shanghai Sports Administration.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 29

The Grand Theater and, behind it, the forbiddingly gloomy Park Hotel. If you thought the Radisson hotel chain was Canadian, you're obviously wrong. It's extra-terrestrial. Can't you hear the low organ notes when it's transmitting back home?

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 30

A closer look at the Grand Theater, from about 1930 and still running.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 31

A closer look at the Park Hotel and YMCA. The architect of the hotel, the Hungarian László Hudec, also did the Grand Theater.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 32

The tower of the nearby racecourse clubhouse, 1933.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 33

The clubhouse itself, reminiscent of the Piccadilly Hotel, London.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 34

A viewer of this website writes to say (2/22/2014) that Katharine Burkill was the wife of Albert William ("Bertie") Burkill, one of the sons of Albert Robson Burkill, founder of the A. R. Burkill Company, a chemicals company that still exists in Hong Kong. In the 1920s Bertie Burkill was also Chairman of the Stewards of the Shanghai Race Club, and he has been quoted as saying that "factions come and factions go, and generals rise and fall, but it seems that our Chinese friends will always remain with us; and I have come to believe, so well do we get on together, that if the three race clubs had the power to rule this country, they would do it very well."

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 35

What's happening at Xintiandi, that alternative to highrise jails? We're just about there but can't resist this corner. It's the color. It makes the credit cards in your pocket twitch.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 36

Deep conversion: Xintiandi repurposes worker's housing.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 37

Not yet redone.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 38

Night falls over Pudong. What is it with colored lights?

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 39

Come morning, the skyline looks hungover.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 40

The Bund at night. More colored lights.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 41

Sober daylight.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 42

Feeling steamrolled by the Western World? Let's run over to the Yuyuan Gardens.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 43

Discouraging?

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 44

Japanese gardens in Kyoto are smaller but feel bigger.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 45

Careful you don't take a careless step.

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 46

Just outside: housing of two generations. Go through the gate?

China: Shanghai Checkup(2012) picture 47

Much closer to the truth of daily life than anything in the Yuyuan Garden.


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