Many of you more avid Shanghaiist readers already know my thoughts on Sinan Mansions, the high-end hotel and restaurant location that is unfortunately located on a street that’s historically dear to me. Now that Expo is almost ending, the demolition of my grandmother’s house is drawing ever closer. This photo, by Sue Anne Tay, is a striking example of the ephemeral mingling of the old-old with the new-old.
But since we’re on the subject, I might as well impart a little more historical context – and another story involving my family. While I’ll always think of it as my grandmother’s place, to be more accurate it was owned by my great-granduncle, a Kuomintang diplomat called Wei Daoming (魏道明).
Like many of the people who resided in or around Sinan Lu through the 20s and 30s, my great-granduncle was very involved in the beginnings of modern China.
Wei Daoming, signing a treaty with the Americans
His father, Wei Tiao-yuan, was an active member of Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary movement and Wei Daomin followed his footsteps by becoming the youngest president of the Judicial Yuan, the legal branch of the KMT.
In 1942, he became the Republic of China’s ambassador to the United States and was instrumental for helping secure American support against the Japanese (and the Communists – heh). But perhaps his most grand act for the city of Shanghai was pushing through the 1943 treaties that abolished British and American extraterritorial privileges. In short, my great granduncle was instrumental in returning The Bund (and other parts seen here) to the Chinese.
His wife, Tcheng Yu-hsui (鄭毓秀) has an equally interesting past. In her youth, she was part of an assassination attempt on Yuan Shikai (the guy who declared himself Emperor of China for about a year before he got kicked out), which is hilariously documented in her autobiography. Being of the upper class, and a demure-looking woman, she was able to easily smuggle a bomb into her visit with Yuan Shikai. Fortunately for Chinese feminist history and our family tree, the bomb failed to go off and my great-grandaunt’s self-sacrificial plans went to naught.
But being one of the first Chinese freedom fighters wasn’t enough for Tcheng Yu-hsui, who went off to France to study law. When she got back to Shanghai, she became the first female lawyer and judge in Chinese history as well as the first Chinese person ever to practice law in the French Concession. She advocated women’s rights, including the right to choose their marriage partner.
After the KMT lost the war with the Communists, Wei and his family fled Shanghai, spending some time in Hong Kong before heading to Taiwan. He served as foreign minister during the 1960s, helping to secure U.S. protection of Taiwan against the P.R.C. But that’s part of a whole other type of Chinese history.
To be honest, as amazing as those stories now sound to me, I don’t think I was that interested in my family living at 70 Sinan Lu until very recently. It’s strange how events come together – just a week or so after I wrote the Sinan Mansions article and showed it to my dad, he stumbled across this poster in the office of a government official in Qinghai (of all places):
Click to open a larger version
We forwarded both findings to our relatives, who then chimed in with their own stories of Wei Daoming and Tcheng Yu-hsui. It’s interesting how these things snowball.
I don’t have much to add about Sinan Mansions itself. I’ve had the opportunity to try out some of the restaurants and they’re pretty great – I have absolutely nothing against any of them. While it’s still disappointing to me that the street will no longer be the quaint, residential, and admittedly dilapidated area I’ve known for the past decade, the urgency of its demise has led me to find out things about my family I never would have looked for before. Silver linings in everything, I suppose.