Peninsula hotel's historian digs out the glamorous Shanghai of the 1930s

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 September, 2010, 12:00am

As historian Peter Hibbard sees it, despite the 2010 World Expo, today's Shanghai has nothing on its day as the Paris of the Orient. 'Go back to 1930s Shanghai and it was the best Expo ever: the whole city was the Expo, there was a never-ending swirl of social life,' the Briton said.

The opulence of Shanghai hotels between the wars certainly outshone those in Hong Kong then, he said.

A resident of Shanghai for more than 20 years, Hibbard was in Hong Kong to launch Beyond Hospitality, his history of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, owner of the Peninsula chain.

'This whole history was out there in Shanghai but people know nothing about it; I'm trying to make it visible,' he said at the launch at The Peninsula in Tsim Sha Tsui on Wednesday.

Beyond Hospitality chronicles the development of the hotel group, from the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai built during the 1850s to the Peninsula Shanghai, opened last October.

Hibbard found a trove of photographs and documents in libraries in Shanghai and Beijing, some hidden away during the Cultural Revolution.

'You don't ask questions, just go in and look,' he said. 'It also helps if you make friends with the librarians.'