Hailing from the Burgundy region in France, Hugues Martin has lived in Shanghai since 2004. A partner at Expatrimo, a firm specialized in real estate investment in France, he is also the man behind Old Shanghai blog and newsletter, Shanghailander. With its 15th anniversary coming up, we caught up with him to find out more.
How did Shanghailander first come about?
Shanghailander was born out of my interest for the city and its past. It is focused on Old Shanghai, meaning the 1920s and 30s. I am particularly interested in the way foreign and Chinese culture intertwined to become the typical Shanghai style, or haipai (海派).
How do you find material and research your stories?
I spent a lot of time going to antique markets in the early years of the blog, read lots of books about the topic. Material also comes from the internet and a network of other people focusing on the period.
If you could have a dinner party and invite characters from Old Shanghai, who would they be and why?
Du Yue Sheng: Meeting the Godfather of Shanghai would be fascinating, but also dangerous. What a source of information!
Carl Crow: He brought advertising to China in the form of the famous posters and was one of the foreigners that was really interested in the country. He also published a monthly magazine called The Shanghailander, a bit like an ancestor of That’s Shanghai.
Albert Londres: The most famous French reporter in the 1920s and 30s. He came to Shanghai for an inquiry about corruption in the French administration and died mysteriously in a ship fire on the way back, and his articles – that were ready for publication – were all destroyed.
Wallis Simpson: This American lady was famous for her wit, drinking habits and contacts with the underworld. She must have had an attractive personality, as she ended up marrying the King of England Edward VIII, who abdicated for her.
Father Jacquinot de Bessanges: He was a French Jesuit Priest who organized the first refugee zone in the world, during the Japanese invasion of 1937. The zone lasted from 1937 to 1940 and is credited to have saved the lives of thousands of Chinese residents of the city.
You also assist people in buying, selling and renting historic residences in Shanghai – what is the most memorable property you have been involved with?
The most memorable is the day I was invited to visit an apartment that turned out to have been designed by Hungarian architect Matrai, who had just been rediscovered. That made a nice blog post.
How often do you send out the Shanghailander newsletter, and what can people who sign up expect?
It’s really based on my available time. I started with one post a week, then one post a month after I opened my company… and one post a year when I got children. It has gone back to a regular post since 2020 as passion for the topic came back again. A newsletter containing several posts is sent every few weeks.
Tell us about your live presentations?
I enjoy public speaking, so I was invited a few times to give a lecture for French people living in Shanghai, focused on Shanghai history.
Shanghailander’s 15th anniversary is coming up in the summer – anything exciting planned for that?
I’m still amazed that the blog has lasted for so long. I think the 15th anniversary post will be a reflection about how much Shanghai has changed in 15 years, as well as the perception of its own history.
Find out more at shanghailander.net, or scan the QR code: