RAS Members Only Event

RAS Library

Shanghai in the 1980s

Speaker: Tess Johnston

The 1980s Shanghai was another world – one almost unimaginable today.  What are some of the outstanding contrasts?  One of RAS’s Founding Members and Shanghai architecture expert Tess Johnston is in town. In this members-only lecture, she will take us into the not so distant past as she reveals personal accounts of a city that has undergone massive renovation and gentrification that only a handful of us witnessed. Travel in time as we follow Tess through the streets of Shanghai in the 1980s when there was:

  • No traffic, in fact there were almost no cars except for the few scarce and slow taxis and the Red Flag sedans of high-ranking officials that stopped all traffic, including pedestrians, at street crossings.
  • Pollution, not today’s sophisticated varieties, but from fires at boiling-water sales points and from coal-fired boilers for the few centrally-heated buildings like hospitals and hotels and apartment buildings for foreigners.
  • Not much to buy and all diplomatic personnel entitled to shop in the foreigners-only ‘Friendship Stores’ (primarily for tourists) and the special food markets for diplomats.
  • Wonderful second-hand items to buy on Sunday morning at the street markets on the pavements in Old Town where most genuine antiques were offered (as faking had not yet infected that trade).
  • And vast and delicious offerings of ‘street food’ from the many stalls and sidewalk vendors of everything from sticky sweets to the ubiquitous noodle soups with their wide choice of add-ins.
  • Finally, the Chinese young people, always eager to talk to foreigners in order to practice their English.  They often surrounded us during our weekend visits to public parks, as did the many older Shanghainese who had learned their flawless English in the foreigner-found schools and universities of their youth.

About the speaker:

Tess Johnston first came to Shanghai in 1981 to work at the American Consulate General and in 1996, after over thirty years in the diplomatic service, she retired and stayed on to research, write, and lecture. She and her co-author, Shanghai photographer Deke Erh (Er Dongqiang), have published 25 books, including fifteen volumes on Western architecture and the expatriate experience in old China.

Tess is a native of Virginia and her academic back-ground includes a M.A. from the University of Virginia, where she subsequently taught. She has lived abroad for more than half a century, including seven in Germany (both east and west), and more than 40 in Asia, including 33 in Shanghai and seven in Vietnam (1967–74). Tess has now repatriated to Washington, DC, where she continues her research, writing and lecturing yet she returns to Shanghai regularly to give talks at the Lit Fest and to the Royal Asiatic Society China and numerous other organizations.

For more information about Tess Johnston, please visit: http://www.tessinshanghai.com


RSVP: artgroup@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn