Most people are probably unaware that the corner of Huaihai and Changshu Road becomes an occasional time portal into the a world of early 20th century Shanghai. On this street, 100 years ago, walked some of the most dangerous men colonial China has ever seen. Newman Tours hosts a variety of walking tours throughout the city that bring the past alive by telling those it’s guests the history behind the buildings that most people walk past everyday without noticing.
The Gangster tour begins outside exit 3 on Changshu Lu. Chloe Leiper, the host for the day, greeted the guests and quickly stepped into character by adopting a cockney accent and pulling on a pork-pie hat. She growled that 1940's Shanghai was the best time to be a criminal. One could commit a crime in British territory, run to the next street to get to French territory, or easily jump into Chinese territory to evade the law. The atmosphere that Chloe created infected the guests, and they all immediately assumed characters as criminals on a mission.
Throughout the evening, the tour highlighted the Shanghai International Music Club, which was once a home owned by a family of bankers whose fortune and house were usurped by gangsters. The walk also featured The Mansion Hotel, a clubhouse owned by Du Yuesheng, aka big-eared Du, which he used to hide his opium. On display in The Mansion Hotel is a gorgeous opium pipe encased in glass as well as photos of Du and his crew.
Big-eared Du was one of the most notorious criminals of colonial Shanghai. His involvement in murder, gambling and prostitution granted him some friends in high places, like Huan JinRong, the highest Chinese ranking member of the French police and incidentally the leader of the Green Gang, the biggest criminal organization in China at the time.
Along with sharing the history of key figures in the crime ring and pointing out the history behind colonial buildings, the tour also involved interactive elements that allowed us to try our hand at some tricks of the trade. Chopstick pick-pocketing gave people a chance to show off their chopstick skills by attempting to steal a 20 kuai bill out of the pocket of another guest. The tour ended with cocktails at the decadent halls of Sasha’s, which was owned by one of the historical Soong sisters.
Chloe is now managing the tours that take place in Shanghai as Daniel Newman, the founder of Newman tours, is expanding the business to Beijing. Along with the gangster tour, Newman Tours also hosts historical tours of The Shanghai Museum, The Bund, The French Concession, Ancient Shanghai, and Ghost Tours. Other tours also feature excursions that venture to Hangzhou, Suzhou and Zhujiajiao, plus a Future Tour which explores predictions of the future of Shanghai.
"You can stand there with a book and read a certain amount, but to be told that as well really brings it to life."
Uncovering the real stories hidden behind everyday life is what makes the city more fascinating for Chloe. “Everyone goes to the Bund when they come to Shanghai. I remember the first time I went - I thought ‘It’s a load of grey buildings’, but when you actually know the people behind those buildings, the faces of 1930s Shanghai, why they were building that and what they were up to in the buildings, obviously it becomes much more interesting. You can stand there with a book and read a certain amount, but to be told that as well really brings it to life,” She shares.
The Gangster Tour is a unique way to see a new side of Shanghai. It allows you to step back from the excitement that tends to consume those who are visiting or even live in the city, and transports its guests back into a fascinating time of gangsters and lawlessness.
WORDS BY MELISSA HELLMANN
Check out more tours here: http://newmantours.com/
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