Fuxing Park, laid out by the French in 1909 in the French Concession, was originally a private garden in the Ming Dynasty and is now accessible to all residents and visitors, providing a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of busy Shanghai, China; the plane trees (genus Platanus) are the same as those in the tree-line streets of Aix-en-Provence, France, except these trees all came from a southern province of China
In order to gain better insights into the historically designated French Concession (French: Concession française de Changhaï; Chinese:上海法租界) district of Shanghai (that we have visited several times on previous trips), we decided to book a tour through Context Travel Tours and had some friends join us. Our guide informed us that the former French Concession was once the stomping ground for the radicals, writers, prostitutes, and pimps in Shanghai. Although officially controlled by the French in the 1920s and 30s, renowned gangster and drug lord Du Yuesheng called the shots for a substantial period. The green and leafy neighborhood was sometimes dubbed the “Paris of the East”.
“For much of the 20th century, the area covered by the former French Concession remained the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai, and was also one of the centres of Catholicism in China. Despite re-development over the last few decades, the area retains a distinct character and is a popular tourist destination.” – Wikipedia
“The French Concession is the area of Shanghai once designated for the French, consisting of today’s Luwan and Xuhui Districts. Luwan’s Huaihai Road is a busy shopping street and is also home to both Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang, extremely popular shopping and dining spots for tourists. Xuhui is also ever popular for tourists and is home to Shanghai Stadium. The tree-lined avenues and their many Tudor mansions in the area still retain an air of the “Paris of the East”.” – www.wikitravel.org
We were grateful to our young guide for sharing of so much “life behind the scenes” that had been experienced and learned during time living in Shanghai. Our afternoon tour began in Fuxing Park, a European-style park laid out by the French in 1909, then the largest park in Shanghai. The park was originally a private garden belonging to the Gu Family during the Ming Dynasty and is now accessible to all residents and visitors, providing a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of busy Shanghai.
Some of the magnificent gardens in the public Fuxing Park in the French Concession, Shanghai, China
College Francais, built in the French Renaissance style with Art Nouveau decoration, functioned as the first French Club in the French Concession, Shanghai, China; it is now operated by the Chinese government as a science institute
An interior view of College Francais, built in the French Renaissance style with Art Nouveau decoration, in the French Concession, Shanghai, China
A private sign that was interesting for both its message and its age (1988), French Concession, Shanghai, China
A typical former private “mansion” home, now with retail stores on the street level and apartments above, in the French Concession, Shanghai, China
This former private “mansion” home was seized, along with virtually all private property in Shanghai, by the Communist government in 1951 and carved up – each room was assigned to a family, French Concession, Shanghai, China
The typical rent for a room in the building [pictured above] today is about 30 to 35 Chinese Yuan (Renminbi), equivalent to US$4.25 to US$5.00 per month (for a family). Note that the rooms have neither a bathroom nor a kitchen. The residents use commodes for toilets (either in their rooms or in a common space in the building). The communal “kitchen” area might be outside (in the back), on a terrace, or, occasionally, in a dedicated room in the building. The typical low-end worker’s monthly salary in Shanghai is about 2,000 Chinese Yuan (Renminbi), equivalent to almost US$300. Thus, rent for one of the government owned “apartments” (rooms) in Shanghai is a fraction of a low-end worker’s monthly income. It is also important to note that with a population of 24 million people, we were told that more than half of the population of Shanghai still lives in government owned “apartments” (of varying sizes, but the “room” arrangement, pictured above” is quite prevalent).
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, designed by Alexander Yaron Architects, was built in 1932-1934, French Concession, Shanghai, China; the roots of the French Concession are heavily entwined with Russian heritage, as Shanghai became home to many Russian expatriates following the Bolshevik revolution, with the area around Avenue Joffre known as “Little Moscow”
The former detached garden house of Soung Haung Chaug built in the 1920s with a masonry-timber structure; since April 2005 it has been the Han Yuan Mandarin School, French Concession, Shanghai, China; the front terrace café is presently a spot “where local Chinese and foreign friends can communicate and interact”
This sign, ubiquitous throughout Shanghai (and China, generally) lists the twelve key principles of the Chinese Communist Party; French Concession, Shanghai, China
The 12 values of the Chinese Communist Party, written in 24 Chinese characters are the national values of “prosperity”, “democracy”, “civility” and “harmony”; the social values of “freedom”, “equality”, “justice” and the “rule of law”; and the individual values of “patriotism”, “dedication”, “integrity” and “friendship”.
An interesting street in the French Concession, Shanghai, China – the formerly private “mansion” homes on the left are now, again, individually privately owned by large companies, whereas the nearly identical buildings on the right side are owned by the government and were carved up into individual room “apartments” (as discussed above)
This company-owned private home (with a Bentley in the driveway) cost around US$25 million to purchase (before renovations), along with a commitment by the new owner of the house to provide lifetime free rentals elsewhere in Shanghai to the former individual room “apartment” occupants; French Concession, Shanghai, China
A very high-quality tea shop in the French Concession, Shanghai, China, where we bought some special Chinese teas to take home
Typical low-rise early 20th century apartment buildings in the French Concession, Shanghai, China, flanked in the distance (outside the French Concession) by tall modern (21st century) high-rise apartment buildings
The Art Deco Cathay movie theatre in the French Concession, Shanghai, China
Recently added to street crossings in Shanghai are cameras and vertical video displays (pictured) that, from the bottom, show the pedestrian crossing, four recent jaywalkers singled out, and, at the top, an enlargement of one of the jaywalkers; French Concession, Shanghai, China
The exterior of the entrance to the Former French Club, opened in 1926 (now the Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai), French Concession, Shanghai, China
The Art Deco second floor lobby of the Former French Club (now the Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai), French Concession, Shanghai, China, leading to the Art Deco ballroom
Details of columns (nudes) in the Art Deco second floor lobby of the Former French Club (now the Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai), French Concession, Shanghai, China; note that these sculptures were NOT destroyed during the Cultural Revolution — formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution — (1966-1976) because an enterprising worker erected plywood “covers” around all the columns to hide the art
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