The Fairmont Peace Hotel: Blossoms Shanghai Era and Beyond

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The allure of a city’s past often intertwines with its present, drawing us into a captivating journey through time. Such is the case with Shanghai, a city steeped in history and vibrant cultural heritage. On January 9th, the final episode of the TV series “Blossoms Shanghai” directed by the acclaimed Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai aired, marking his television debut. Adapted from the 2012 novel of the same name by Shanghai writer Jin Yucheng, the 30-episode drama takes viewers on a journey to Shanghai in the 1990s.

The Fairmont Peace Hotel: Blossoms Shanghai Era and Beyond
A poster of Blossoms Shanghai 

Set against the backdrop of Shanghai’s rapid transformation into a hub of foreign trade and finance during the era of reform and opening up, “Blossoms Shanghai” follows the story of Ah Bao, a young man who rises from humble beginnings to become a successful businessman within a decade.

Ah Bao’s journey forms the central narrative, yet the drama also serves as a nostalgic ode to Shanghai in the 1990s, captivating viewers with its stunning portrayal of iconic landmarks such as Huanghe Road, the Cathay Cinema, and the legendary Fairmont Peace Hotel.

While the drama takes us back 30 years, the Fairmont Peace Hotel has been an inseparable part of Shanghai’s grandeur for much longer. Its history goes back to the 1930s, when Shanghai gained its reputation as the “Paris of the East”, attracting a diverse array of people with its fusion of Eastern and Western cultures, thriving economy, and bustling nightlife.

The Fairmont Peace Hotel: Blossoms Shanghai Era and Beyond
The Fairmont Peace Hotel

The Cathay Hotel gained fame as the most luxurious hotel east of the Suez Canal. Constructed in 1929 by Sir Victor Sassoon, a wealthy British Jew who built a fortune trading opium and guns, the iconic building proudly stands at the prominent corner of the Bund and Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s commercial center.

The luxurious walls of the hotel welcomed a wide range of visitors – artists, diplomats, travelers, and celebrities – the elite of the world. Among the guests were some renowned individuals, including Chiang Kai-shek, Edgar Snow, Ernest Hemingway, and Charlie Chaplin. It was here that Noël Coward, sick with the flu, wrote his iconic play “Private Lives” in just four days.

With its striking Art Deco façade and distinctive green copper dome, the Cathay Hotel was a world of luxury and cutting-edge amenities. Alongside its in-house telephones, ahead of any European hotel, two elevators, marble baths with silver taps, and a private plumbing system, the hotel also offered a selection of themed suites. Guests could indulge in the opulence of Chinese, Japanese, English, and French-inspired interiors.

The Fairmont Peace Hotel: Blossoms Shanghai Era and Beyond
The Cathay Hotel, 1930 (Archieves of Institute d’Asie Orientale)

Despite being bombed during World War II, the hotel resiliently survived and reopened in 1956 under the name “The Peace Hotel” to honor China-Soviet Friendship following the communist takeover in 1949. In 2007, the hotel underwent a three-year renovation, encompassing both the exterior and interior and reopened its doors in 2010. Today, known as The Fairmont Peace Hotel, it stands as a testament to the city’s heydays and endurance, embodying Shanghai’s rich history and timeless charm.

The Fairmont Peace Hotel: Blossoms Shanghai Era and Beyond
The Cathay Hotel bedroom, 1929 (Archieves of Institute d’Asie Orientale)

Our tip: The best way to capture the essence of the old days of the Fairmont Peace Hotel is to visit the hotel’s jazz bar in the evenings (from 6:30pm onwards) where a six-piece jazz band made up of mainly octogenarians can be found playing to a crowd of reminiscent listeners, loyal locals and hotel guests alike, swaying to the swoon-worthy tunes.

By Elena Shlykova