World Sign
Vol. 55: Stone Sign Boards in Old Shanghai

“Change after one year, total transformation after three years” is the slogan being used to promote development in China. Visiting Shanghai after an interval of five years, I was able to see for myself the enormous changes that have taken place in the city. Seeing the large numbers of high-rise office blocks and luxury apartment blocks, I’d never have imagined that Shanghai could have undergone such a drastic transformation.

Shanghai is still full of buildings in the Art Deco style that bring to mind the late 19th and early 20th centuries when China lost its independence, and it would be a disaster if these buildings were to be sacrificed to the grand development project currently under way. The many splendid buildings which give Shanghai’s waterfront district its character allude to yesteryear in a manner contrasting starkly with the buildings on the other bank, which look almost science fiction-like in their other-worldly modernity.

I was particularly happy to see that the atmosphere of the former French quarter, which represented the height of fashion at the time, was still unchanged. The lobby of the celebrated hotel where I stayed was once the French Chamber of Commerce, and it has lost none of its elegance. In the iron railings surrounding the French-style garden at the front, stones had been used at regular intervals to create the effect of a show window, and an advertising poster had been installed. If it had been created for this purpose from the outset, this would indeed be the world’s most extravagant signboard. I felt I was gazing on a rare aspect of the erstwhile glory of Old Shanghai.

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