24 hours in Shanghai mark the beginning of a fortnight’s work trip, taking in the University of Nottingham’s two overseas campuses at Ningbo, China and Semenyih, Malaysia. Getting to- and around those campuses- will involve stop overs in Shanghai, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, so art, culture, work and travel will undoubtedly mash together in the most unexpected ways. I am looking forward to it.
So, let’s start at the beginning of this epic journey and take a (jet lagged) look at Shanghai. It all started with the river, the Huangpu, which established it as a major port city,and of conure, the mighty Yangzi river which connects it to mainland city. So, trade is at the very root of Shanghai’s DNA, in silk, porcelain and tea originally, and in the 19th century, opium. The Treaty of Nanking in 1843 both opened the port of Shanghai to foreign trade and allowed foreigners to take up residence in the city; the British did so enthusiastically, and by 1855, over three quarters of foreigners living in Shanghai were British. These foreigners lived in what is called concessions, dedicated areas of the city which to this day bear very distinctive architectural traces of their occupants, giving Shanghai it’s very distinctive architectural blend of East and West and yes, even jet lagged and with little time for sightseeing, you can pick up on that by going to the waterside, the Bund, and looking at the houses there.
Residences such as the wonderful Fairmont Peace Hotel, originally built as the Cathay Hotel (1929) and one of Shanghai’s most beautiful Art Deco gems, bordered the Bund, the waterside, and clearly staked the Western claim to Shanghai, the coveted ‘Paris of the East’. In Shanghai, the arts and culture flourished in a city that was dominated by the West, and had in 1911 declared it’s independence from the Manchu Dynasty that still ruled from Beijing; in 1912, Shanghai’s ancient city walls ( some of the ancient gates, now reconstructed,more main around the Old City) were broken down and Nanjing was established as China’s capital. Meanwhile in Shanghai, street lights had been electrified from 1882, and in 1896, the first film shown in China was one that depicted a Shanghai Teahouse- this Western city of art and money continued to thrive until 1937, when It became a battle ground between the Chinese and Japanese, with bombs falling on the Bund, and the city finally, in 1945, closing it’s treaty ports and revoking foreign trading rights. Any foreigners who could, had long since departed from Shanghai to Hongkong… Shanghai sunk into it’s long cultural and financial decline, until Phoenix- like, the city rose again in the 1990s, in exuberant, splendid and truly inimitable fashion, maybe best symbolised through another of its iconic buildings, the 1994 Oriental Pearl Tower, which now dominates the skyline of the Pudong.
Shanghai’s history is inscribed in its buildings and expressed through its spaces, from the wonderful chaos of the Old City to the leisurely stroll along the Bund, but while it seems to wear its heart on its sleeve, one does get the sense that getting below Shanghai’s surface would take time and work. few spaces are what they seem, with much of the splendour of the Old City reconstructed, and temples that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution painstakingly restored and, by the looks of it, vibrant centres of spiritual contemplation. Shanghai is so many things, and even at first glance, this is a city I could learn to love.
Now, what about Thoresby then? Well, in an earlier blog post, I looked at Cliffe Castle and it’s connections to Marie- Louise Roosevelt Pierrepont, Countess Manvers, as the seat of her paternal grandfather. Sir Henry Issac Butterfield rose like a comet through the ranks of Yorkshire’s mill owners, celebrating and embracing a cosmopolitan lifestyle of considerable splendour and elegance at Cliffe Castle. Butterfield’s wealth dates particularly to the 1860s when cotton trade with Shanghai was at its height. Also at its height was the trade with tea, porcelain, silk and of course opium, and many of the great Hongkong trading houses, including BUTTERFIELD &Swire set up concessions in Shanghai. Short of digging a bit more, looking especially at back copies of the North China Herald and the Butterfield archives, the distinctive name for this concession suggests the connection to the family of Countess Manvers. Even more, there are some interesting leads on the Bund itself; there is, for example, a
House of Roosevelt, and of course the great Cathay (Fairmont Peace) Hotel.
The decline of the Butterfield fortunes maps on to the decline of Shanghai as the ‘Paris of the east’, so there are leads aplenty to follow. But first, work calls, and off to Ningbo I go.