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December 5, 2010

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Take a peek at Shanghai's mansions

PRIVATE clubs, club memberships, and country clubs have entered our lives as a symbol of social status. Actually, overseas Chinese started to bring club culture to Shanghai when the city first came into being, such as the well-known Shanghai horse racing club, Shanghai Club at the Bund, the French Club, the American Club, the Country Club in the western suburb of Shanghai... Club sandwiches and club salads could be found in western-style restaurants at the time, which shows that club culture was already popular among the upper class in Shanghai.

For some time, this culture was deserted. However, as the Tang poem says, "The grass doesn't die from a wild fire. It revives when spring comes." Now private clubs are trendy again. People in the city like to entertain friends at clubs, especially friends from outside Shanghai, as it shows respect and symbolizes their taste and social status.

Ren Chun gives us the first book to look at Shanghai from the angle of private clubs with "Exploring Shanghai Mansions."

With her fluid, smooth writing style, the author takes the readers through 12 clubs one by one. The book is not only a good read, but also has academic value. It is excellent for understanding Shanghai and its urban culture, and is also a useful travel guide.

The 12 clubs the book introduces include those inside historical mansions and old houses. The author is a frequent visitor to some of these clubs, such as Dak Town, Pei Mansion Hotel, Wendao Garden, and Yongfoo Elite.

Many of the club owners, who are very creative, are also the writer's friends, such as Wang Wei, the owner of Wendao Garden, who claims that he's merely a farmer. The author witnessed how he turned a large mess of construction materials - they were original materials he found from ancient buildings across China - into the Grand Garden of the 21st century, with beautiful ancient-looking buildings and low-key historical memorial arches.

The owners are all relatively new to Shanghai, but in some ways, they love Shanghai more than those born here. Even though they may have only lived in Shanghai for about a decade, they have integrated into society and have continuously explored, discovered, and protected the city's resources.

Since the city came into being 160 years ago, new Shanghainese, both Chinese and people from outside China, have all worked together to create a unique metropolis.

As time goes by culture evolves. If a city wants to stay vivacious, it has to rely on such evolution.


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