Gangs of Old Shanghai: The Burlington Hotel Gang

By Paul French, September 30, 2019

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Following on from New York Times bestseller Midnight in PekingPaul French released City of Devils, a delve into the murky underworld of Old Shanghai. There were plenty of wrong'uns about, and a whole lot of bad blood between them. In this 'Gangs of Old Shanghai' series, French presents us with a who's who of old time organized crime, and quite the rogues gallery it is too.

The Burlington Hotel Gang

Boss: William ‘Old Bill’ Hawkins
Base: The Burlington Hotel, Bubbling Well Road (Nanjing Xi Lu)

‘Old Bill’ Hawkins first turned up in a Shanghai courtroom in 1904. By the early 1940s, he was running a famous – and illegal – casino out of the Burlington Hotel. The Burlington had been swank in its day (which by 1940 was several decades previously), with telephones and central heating in every room, and one of the city’s first elevators.

Hawkins (whose nickname ‘Old Bill’ predated his actually getting old; it was a joke on the common diminutive for William and the slang term for the police in England) had been running his operation in the hotel’s largest suite from virtually the day it opened. It was said that he had trained all the best croupiers in Shanghai.

How Hawkins, who was rumored to originally come from Manchester, came to be in Shanghai is still a mystery, but he stayed until the Japanese occupation, when he died of natural causes. He was well respected among the foreign gangs and, like Carlos Garcia, regarded as a man who could mediate inter-gang disputes.

He always had his sleeves rolled up, wore his trousers high-waisted, heavy working men’s shoes (all the better to kick you out if you were broke!) But with a solid gold wristwatch, a diamond pinkie ring and a ruby set in his gold tie pin that showed those Burlington Hotel wheels paid.

To read about more Gangs of Old Shanghai, click hereFor more history stories, click here.

[Images courtesy of Paul French]

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