Where: Kathleen’s 5, 325 Nanjing Road (at Huangpi Road)
Starts: Sunday, May 17, 11:30AM
Price: 475RMB includes free-flow Taittinger Champagne (125RMB for kids under 16)
We do love tales of the Jazz Age of Shanghai history, back when the city was rife with life – gangsters, business men, and expats putting on the ritz. And now, with the Shanghai Race Club celebrating its 75th anniversary, we get to re-experience a bit of the glamor of yore.
Byron Constable, the Shanghai-based database marketer who conceived of the celebration, said he had become attracted to the Shanghai Race Club when he found out that Shanghai had originally been planned more or less around a horse racing track: “The absurdity of this attracted me at first. It
even tops Hong Kong in my view. I then started to uncover the amazing stories of the Club and its significance to Shanghai.”
While there will be a historian talking about the club’s venerable past at the 75th anniversary celebration on Sunday, Constable agreed to talk a little bit about one of the richest foreign corporations of its time.
Can you tell us about the history of the Shanghai Race Club? We know it was founded 75 years ago, but why and by who?
Technically the Shanghai Race Club as an association has existed since 1848 or ever slightly earlier. Although it was formerly under the name of the Race Committee of the Recreation Club. It became a Club in 1855. One of the main founders of the club was Thomas Chay Beale, a decendant of Thomas Beal (senior) whose firm – after several name changes – became known as Jardine, Matheson and Co.
The 75th anniversary is of the final and most glorious rendition of the Shanghai Race Club. “In March 1934 the new (Shanghai) Race Club opened. The grandstand was thought at the time to be largest in the world, and probably was, while the Race Club, with its marble staircases, teak paneled rooms, oak parquet floors, and its coffee room, which was 100 feet by 47 feet with a huge fireplace, must certainly have ranked as the most sumptuous club of its kind yet built in any country.”
Is there a particularly interesting story from back when the Race Club was in its prime?
From an issue of the China Weekly Review, 13 July 1929:
The Race Club “tiffins” were invariably sumptuous and expensive. Early in 1887 a member formally proposed lowering the cost of tiffin. There was a large meeting of the members to discuss, though no one at the meeting could quite come round to admitting that they liked to be short of champagne. It was pointed out that “the main pleasure of the ladies coming to the races is getting something to eat”. This was a cardinal point. Without the ladies…. Vote was taken. The motion was defeated 100 votes to 4.
We’re assuming that the civil war that enveloped China in the late 1940s was probably not kind to its members – what happened to the Race Club after the revolution?
Actually. Racing and the Club ended earlier than this. According to Austin Coates, a British civil servant, writer and traveler who wrote the book China Races, about the history of racing on the China Coast, the last race was in 1940:
The Champions sweepstake of 8th May 1940….before a crowd of 20,000, with leadened skies put to shame by the early Summer fashions, broad-brimmed hats flaunting a suggestion of Ascot, the then beautifully conditioned, fidgety starters were “off” to a bunched start…..It was the last time a race was ever run.
What is the Official Shanghai Race Club Board Game?
It’s a luxury board game, based around Shanghai 1930’s rich society, which features a few of the landmark buildings and legendary people of this era who were also members of The Club. It’s a simple to learn and somewhat addictive. More importantly, it lets you escape back to Shanghai glamor era in the company of a few friends after dinner. Especially if played with a fine glass of cognac… or even a glass of sherry, come to think of it.
The art director Ruan Hui from Northern China designed the game packaging to make you feel more like you are becoming a member of a very exclusive club. You even get your own private number and key.
What can we expect of this event?
Champagne, fine food, wonderful people. In essence the chance to join in the decadence that made the Shanghai Race Club.
What do you hope the Race Club will become for the next generation of Shanghainese/Shanghai expats/Shanghailanders?
To be an icon that excites the world enough to come and take in Shanghai.