July 9, 2010 / 4:51 AM / 9 years ago

Shanghai flirts with legacy of 1920s heyday

SHANGHAI (Reuters Life!) - Leggy dancers sporting nipple tassels and lace suspenders sashay on stage, while a cheering audience hoots and whistles from red-velvet boudoir-style booths.

This is no seedy strip joint, evading the watchful eye of China’s ruling communist party — but the country’s first modern burlesque club.

Chinatown, popular for its showgirls and cabaret style performances, is one of the latest attempts to recreate the glamour of Shanghai during its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s when the city was a thriving trading port and colonial enclave.

Shanghai was transformed from an idyllic fishing village into a city of late night jazz clubs and dance halls during Western occupation in the 1800s when it became home to British bankers and French artists.

The city’s melting pot of cultures was what prompted New York nightclub veteran Norman Gosney, 62, founder of Chinatown, to open his new venture in Shanghai, instead of London or Hong Kong.

“Shanghai has a reputation as the ‘Paris of the Orient’ and we thought it would make a great backdrop. Shanghai is certainly the city with the most promise at this time,” said the grey-haired Briton.

Gosney’s sentiment is echoed through this year’s flood of new luxury hotels, private clubs and global brands like Apple opening flagship stores, as more businesses set their sights on Shanghai.

Authorities in Shanghai, already China’s most modern city, have gradually unshackled many of the constraints during the Communist revolution by allowing clubs like Chinatown to operate but maintain they must still abide by party rules.

Anna Patterson, Chinatown’s managing director, says the club has to make sure all the shows are approved by the local government prior to the actual performance.

“We regularly video our shows and rehearsals and translate our scripts and lyrics to songs,” she said.


The local government is trying to promote Shanghai as an international center, using the six-month World Expo to splash out $58 billion on the event and revamping most of the city.

Albert Loh, general manager of Yu Shanghai, a new supper club and bar in the historic Yuyuan area, was commissioned by the district government this year to bring more nightlife to part of Shanghai’s old city.

“It is a big challenge for us to come here as there is a perception that nobody comes here at night,” said Loh.

Loh said Yu Shanghai, housed in a 600-year-old Ming architecture building, tried to preserve as much of the exterior facade to complement the neighboring ‘shikumen’ style lane houses combining Western and Chinese architecture.

An increasing number of luxury and boutique hotels have also opened along the city’s Bund waterfront promenade.

The Peninsula hotel opened with an extravagant launch party in March, marking a homecoming after almost six decades for the Kadoorie family, which has its roots in Shanghai after they emigrated from Baghdad in the 1880s.

“Over the past 55 years we have waited, patiently and with expectation, for the opportunity to return,” Michael Kadoorie, chairman of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd based in Hong Kong, told Reuters.

“We are back, once again on the Bund, with The Peninsula Shanghai, a powerful expression of our proud heritage, of the vibrancy of present day Shanghai and our confidence in the future of this great city.”

The Peninsula will be followed by Swatch Group’s Swatch Art Peace Hotel, the Fairmont Peace Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria, all expected to open by September.

Nick Hayek Jr, CEO of the Swatch Group, said he chose Shanghai for Swatch’s new hotel and art venue because of the city’s history and heritage architecture.

“Shanghai is not just the Pearl of the Orient, it is one of the pearls of the world,” he said.

Editing by Sugita Katyal

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