Shanghai: Mansion Hotel

( words)

The Man behind Mansion Hotel Jul 26, 07 | The heady days of 1920s and 1930s Shanghai were brought back to life in the meticulously restored Mansion Hotel in the former French Concession. This is where gangster Du Yuesheng staged lavish parties while plotting the next extension of his vast empire, writes Douglas Williams. On the northwest corner of the junction of Xiangyang and Xinle roads stands an imposing building of a certain vintage. This property has recently changed hands and opened as the Mansion Hotel. The 70-year-old former French Concession villa was once the headquarters of one of Shanghai's most notorious sons, gangster Du Yuesheng. The villa was a gift to Du from his chief financial controller, Jin Ting Sun, and is now part museum, part luxury boutique hotel with 32 rooms. "I hope this hotel's unique and special character and history reflects a little of Shanghai's rich heritage and that people can enjoy it as a real, living museum as well as a superb hotel," says Dr Dean Yin, the hotel's CEO and former general manager of Xintiandi. Dr Yin is a historian and has authentically recreated how the building appeared in the 1920s and 1930s when "Big Eared" Du presided over one of the world's most sophisticated and powerful organized crime syndicates. Two enormous and very heavy safes from those heady days were recently removed. The lobby is full of authentic, historical artifacts from an opium pipe to a gramophone to numerous sepia-tinted photographs, even first-edition books such as Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy." "I was told by an elderly Chinese guest recently that the lobby brings back to him memories of his very wealthy grandparents' living room," says the erudite and urbane Dr Yin. Du's parties were famed as was his generosity and his love of Peking Opera, both the watching and the performing. Opposite what is now the reception area was once Du's own stage where private shows were held. "He was a very colorful character gifted in many ways and he changed the culture of gangsters of that era. He was tall, slim and very softly spoken and he didn't have any tattoos," says Dr Yin. "He was a sophisticated and complex man of multiple characters." Beginning this month the Mansion Hotel will be serving traditional afternoon tea in the lobby, allowing guests to sit a while and enjoy the distinctive Oriental ambience and opulence. Tea, sandwiches and cakes, just the way it used to be, are served from 1:30pm to 5:30pm for 158 yuan (US$21). The Mansion Veranda Italian restaurant on the fifth-floor roof top has rapidly become one of the city's favorites, booking well in advance is essential. The view from the veranda and the perspective afforded is unique and revelatory and was perhaps useful to Du when he was in residence. Although Du had many friends, he also had no shortage of enemies. Du's abilities were spotted early on by Huang Jinrong, also known as "Pockmarked Huang," leader of the Green Gang until the early 1920s. Du came from Pudong as a humble fruit vendor, practically without education. He took over the Green Gang, unifying the various factions involved in the opium trafficking while gaining himself the protection of the authorities in the former French Concession. "He had an iron will," says Dr Yin, "and he was gifted at making relationships with the right people." Unsurprisingly many wished to align themselves with Du - he even had his own small army. Du struck up a strong alliance with the senior Chinese police officer in the French police force, Huang. Together they ran all the racketeering in the former Concession. He was also a logistical genius, ensuring huge volumes of opium passed through the city and out to the hinterland. In the complex political landscape of the day, Du forged a number of important connections, probably the most important one being with Chiang Kai-shek. With Du's assistance, the Kuomintang routed the Communists from Shanghai in 1927. Work on the Mansion Hotel began nine months ago, it will soon join the Small Luxury Hotel Group, becoming one of only three Chinese hotels in the prestigious group. The company that owns the Mansion Hotel, Boutique Hotel Investors, plans to open another seven similar "landmark historical buildings" throughout China over the next two years. "These are a new kind of hotel product and in the same way as this hotel has, these other hotels will contribute to the renaissance of the cities where they are located," says Dr Yin. By the early 1930s Du was one of the wealthiest men in Shanghai with business interests that stretched way beyond opium trafficking. He invested in banking, textiles, real estate and the railroads. He even had his own bank, the Chung Wai Bank. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, Du headed up river all the way to Chonqqing. There Du poured considerable resources into a number of relief societies and he supported the anti-Japanese campaign with great vigor. That ensured he is still remembered as a patriot, as well as a killer. Du was also highly superstitious, as were many Chinese from that time, and reputedly wore a monkey head, which hung from the back of his collar. With the return of the Communists, the gangsters of Shanghai fled. Du decamped to Hong Kong in 1949 where he died peacefully in his bed in 1951. He had been planning to return to Shanghai. Source: Shanghai Daily

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