Essay

The Shanghai Mind

Arthur Ransome and the Origin of the Shanghai Mind – Paul French

People have long talked about Shanghai being different from the rest of China. Beijing scholars in the 1920s coined the term haipai (Shanghai style) to criticize Shanghai’s self-obsessive modernity. Shanghai was a “bubble,” “a bastard child,” somehow not fully China.

It is true that Shanghai’s history is distinctly different to that of other Chinese cities. It was not a Crown Colony, a Dominion, a Commonwealth, a Raj or a Federated State, but Shanghai was that other product of British imperialism – a Treaty Port. From 1842 until 1941, Shanghai was one of initially five settlements forced from China after the First Opium War (1839-1842) and based on the notion of extraterritoriality, which meant that foreigners were exempted from the jurisdiction of local Chinese law.

Essay

Au Revoir to the Astor

Bidding farewell to one of Shanghai’s iconic hotels – Paul French

The Astor House Hotel, in one form or another and under one name or another, has stood at 15 Huangpu Lu (previously known as Whangpoo Road) since 1846. Variously, it has been called Richard’s, The Astor House, and then the Pujiang since 1959. Just across from the Waibaidu, or Garden Bridge, on the north side of Suzhou Creek, its views have been somewhat obscured by the construction of the Russian Consulate in 1917 and the art-deco Broadway Mansions in 1934. But still the Astor stands – majestically occupying an entire block with its 134 rooms and suites, a sprung dancefloor, bars, lounges and a 500-seat restaurant. The building many know and love really dates to 1911, when it was one of the city’s finest hotels. Now, due to new regulations on state enterprises owning commercial businesses, the Astor, which is owned by the Shanghai Stock Exchange for convoluted reasons, closed at the end of December. Best guess, and rumour, is that it will re-open as a museum (of what is unclear) after perhaps two years of refurbishment.

Hidden History

A Very British Time in China

Penelope Fitzgerald’s holiday in China – by Paul French

With the release of the film of Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 novel The Bookshop this year, hopefully she’ll win many new fans and readers. The Bookshop was Fitzgerald’s second novel and is thought by many to be her best. The film version, by the Spanish director Isabel Coixet, stars Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Bill Nighy. The story revolves around Florence Green, a middle-aged widow, who decides to open a bookshop in a small town, finding some support and some opposition. Though the book was famously set in Suffolk (Hardborough, a satirical version of the real town of Aldeburgh) the movie version was filmed in Northern Ireland and Barcelona.