Shanghai guide book Thursday, Dec 12 2013 

Two well-known Shanghai guide books, one by C.E.Darwent & the other by Arnold Cartwright  have shed some light on the Indians of Old Shanghai.  The tourist attractions and information on the churches, clubs, cabarets and cafes included in these books serve as a peephole into aspects of Shanghai life. The guide books also provide notes on the dreary stuff like fishing and weather.  Yet, morbid as it sounds, I inspect the inset maps  in the guide books for cemetery information. The Parsees had their fire temple and cemetery on Foochow/Fuzhou Lu but scant clues are available about the exact location.

Gow’s guide book, published in 1924 changes that somewhat. The map is divided into number zones and the Parsee cemetery is #89 in the ‘S’ area(Click the Gow’s guide book link to examine the map. ‘S’, I assume refers to the road name, most likely Shantung Road). The book digitized by the Hong Kong University library has few missing pages and at the end is a faded map of Old Shanghai.

The cemetery seems to be located on the Public recreation ground. In Hong Kong, the Parsee cemetery in Happy Valley was designed like a garden, so perhaps structurally that was how it was designed in Shanghai as well.Till date, I have not found any photographs or illustrations of the Parsee worship place or cemetery that existed in Old Shanghai.

The Sikh gurdwara also is identified on the map included in Gow’s guide book published by North China Herald.

Music in Old Shanghai. But, what about bhangra? Friday, Sep 13 2013 

The Sikhs are known for bhangra, a dance style that originated and developed in the Indian state of Punjab. Bhangra is a joyous community dance to celebrate Vaisakhi, the harvest festival.  The bhangra style has evolved from its original art form of Bagga, a Sikh style of martial art.

Old Shanghai also known Paris of the East for its very cosmopolitan atmosphere housed several cafes where live bands played all kinds of music, especially western jazz heavily influenced by Chinese instruments and melodies.  Traveling African-American bands played in cafes including Earl Whaley and his band from Seattle.


Earl Whaley & his band. Click the image to read more on his band,

But, what about the Sikhs? Where are the pictures of Sikhs in Shanghai celebrating Vaisakhi or breaking into a jig? Conditions, living, financial were grim but even then the Shanghai Sikhs prospered with their thrifty habits. Would they have visited a dhaba (small roadside cafe ) outside the International Settlement to enjoy some singing of Punjabi folk music? Or did they attune themselves to Chinese or western music of the times? Did any Indian(visitor or Old Shanghai resident) perform in a band any time?

These absent elements in dominant colony narratives of Old Shanghai reflect the invisible status of the Sikhs. It’s become a refrain in most of my posts and more questions come up than answers. Maybe that will change soon!

Hello ‘Dolly’! Wednesday, May 29 2013 

trains-worldexpresses comSince last week,I have been examining the old sea routes from India to China that must been have been undertaken by sailing vessels and steamers since 1880s onward.The Shanghai Sikh policemen would have to take the train journey from their native village or city in Punjab to Calcutta or Bombay ,as these were the two important ports where shipping companies offered Indo-China voyages.

Interestingly,  P&O,British Shipping company was one such establishment whose passenger & cargo steamers sometimes sailed from Bombay/Calcutta to Hong Kong and then to Shanghai via Singapore,servicing the Indo-China route.The maritime company’s employee,one D’Oliver Leonard and captain of S.S. Kutsang often navigated the Indo-China waters and in his spare time wrote books under the pseudonym ‘Dolly.’

‘China Coasters’  on, though has been credited to one Mrs. Vernon F. Creighton. But, a search on the topic quickly unveils ‘Dolly’ as D’Oliver Leonard.  China Coasters,published by Kelly & Walsh, 1903, was not his first book.’Tales of Hong Kong’,a scarce edition also bore his penmanship.

China Coasters, we learn is a term used for many things:the steamers that ran up and down the China coast, the sailors on these steamers:the officers, engineers and the Captain and the fanciful and humorous yarns told by them, which forms the basis for this book.

It would be truly ground breaking if any of these ‘China’ based commentaries actually deigned to depict other communities like the Parsees or Sikhs. Not holding my breath on it though.

Other books authored by ‘Dolly’ include:

Tales of Hong Kong in Verse and Story, 1891. In 1902, published as Hong Kong in Verse and Story. Hong Kong: Kelly & Walsh, 1902.  

Paul the Pretender: A Romance of Hong Kong. Shanghai: Shanghai Times, 1912. A novel. 

The Vampire Nemesis and Other Weird Stories of the China Coast was published but in Bristol by J. W. Arrowsmith in 1905.  

Caricatures by H W G Hayter Monday, May 6 2013 


From ‘The Rattle’ (1896)

Henry William Goodenough Hayter (1862-1915) was the editor of ‘The Eastern Sketch’, an illustrated weekly in Shanghai’s International Settlement in early twentieth century. His cartoons on Sketch’s  front cover were satirical, lampooning Shanghai’s Who’s who. The July,1896 edition of ”The Rattle’ (another publication) includes his caricatures of Sikhs. One of the illustrations, titled ‘Hide and Sikh’ distinctly depicts a very black-complexioned Sikh beating a Chinese ‘coolie.’


From: ‘The Rattle’ (1896)

Hayter’s cartoons of various eminent Shanghai personalities found a place in his 1902 book published in Shanghai by ‘Kelly and Walsh’, titled ‘Caricatures’ .It contained 32 color illustrations. Most were taken from his collection in  ‘The Rattle’ but few new ones were also added. The book included 5 original cartoons that he’d sketched for the Shanghai Race Club.

Here’s a well-known Shanghai Municipal Councilor who’d penned some humorous verses for ‘The Rattle’  – J.O.P. Bland. Hayter titled Bland’s caricature as ‘Tung Chia.’  Unfortunately not much is known of Hayter. He is, however,credited with introducing the caricature genre in Shanghai.

(I am not sure what the meaning of Tung Chia is but the inference could be ‘wise one’  or worldly wise.)  Anyone knows what it means?

J.O.P. Bland from 'Caricatures' by Hayter

J.O.P. Bland from ‘Caricatures’ by Hayter

The Parade – imperialism in Shanghai Tuesday, Apr 9 2013 

The Sikhs in Shanghai were photographed numerous times for their fine appearance. There are pictures of Shanghai Sikh policemen at various traffic intersections including point duty at Nanking Road (today’s East Nanjing Road).  The mounted troopers with their lances were utilized for royal ceremonies and parades to show off the culture of imperialism that was so integral to quasi-colony International Settlement.  Here’s one such picture. Even as the Chinese and Japanese forces were skirmishing in neighboring native Chinese city, heading for full fledged confrontation by 1937, the forces at International Settlement kept aloof , parading its very variegated and imperial demeanor.


Source: China Postcard on Flickr

‘Sin Wan Pao’ Friday, Mar 1 2013 


The Chinese newspaper publication in Old Shanghai that reported local and international news to its Chinese readers. In this c.1910 picture the office building and staff is shown. The copy boy seems a tad bit young to be an employee. But not unusual.

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