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7 hotels that changed China
From the ballroom where China's last emperor danced to the secret bunker of Mao's deputy, these hotels witnessed the stories that shaped today's China
Hotels, in the Western sense, are a relatively new addition to China -- the oldest still standing only date back about 150 years.
But in that time, they have formed the backdrop to many turbulent moments in China’s modern history.
Here are the hotels where you can still stay, and the history they’ve witnessed.
The Astor Hotel, Tianjin
The Astor in Tianjin dates from 1863 and hosted Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th U.S. president, during a two-year world tour following his second term, and Herbert Hoover in 1899, who lived in Tianjin when he worked as an engineer for the oil company Bewick, Moreing & Co.
However, the eight-story, 152-room establishment also witnessed some of the final grand days of China’s last emperor, Pu Yi (爱新觉罗•溥仪).
The Qing ruler was deposed in 1912, restored in 1917, and finally expelled from the Forbidden City in 1924. In 1925 he moved to a villa in Tianjin, where he lived for five years.
He visited the Astor every autumn with his Empress Wan Rong (婉容) and concubine Wen Xiu (文秀).
There they danced the tango nightly in the hotel’s sumptuous ballroom, while southern China descended into civil war and the north slipped under the grip of the invading Japanese.
These were the last carefree years of the Emperor’s life. In 1931, his concubine left him and Pu Yi was installed by the Japanese as the puppet ruler of Manchukuo, which ultimately led him to be charged with treason by the Chinese.
The ballroom where Pu Yi danced is still one of the hotel's major features.
The Astor Hotel, Tianjin (天津利顺德大饭店), 33 Tai’er Zhuang Lu, Tianjin 天津市台儿庄路33号 +86 22 2331 1688, www.starwoodhotels.com. Nightly rate: from RMB 2,500 (US$393) plus 15 percent service charge.
The Raffles Beijing
This palatial Beijing institution (originally called the Beijing Hotel) received its first guests in the early 1900s, and throughout the 20th century it hosted many of the great and good who came through the capital.
During Richard Nixon’s first visit to China in 1972, the so-called “week that changed the world” by starting to normalize relations between the United States and China, Nixon’s wife, Patricia, was photographed touring the hotel and speaking to the staff.
However, it was later the site of another week that shook the world.
Western media stayed at this hotel, which overlooks Tiananmen Square, when the 1989 student protests turned violent.
Jeff Widener of the Associated Press was standing on the balcony of his sixth floor room when he photographed a lone protestor standing before a tank, an image which became the most iconic of the protests.
The 171-room hotel has also named nine suites after other famous guests including George Bernard Shaw, Dr. Sun Yat Sen, Herni Cartier-Bresson and Charles de Gaulle, and these rooms contain period touches.
The Raffles Beijing (北京饭店莱佛士), 33 Dong Chang'an Jie, near Wangfujing Da Jie, Beijing 北京市东长安街33号, 近王府井大街, +86 10 6526 3388, www.raffles.com/beijing. Nightly rate: from RMB 4,100 plus 15 percent.
The Cathay, as it was called when it opened in 1929, was built by Victor Sassoon, the Iraqi Jew who made a fortune trading guns and opium in Shanghai.
The luxury hotel has hosted the great and the good, from Charlie Chaplin, who stayed in room 51 with his new wife Paulette Goddard following their secret marriage in Shanghai, to Field Marshal Montgomery, who stayed in room 72 in 1960.
But it’s Noël Coward’s stay that tops them all.
In 1930 the English playwright was touring Asia when he caught the flu and took to his bed in room 314.
There, over the next two weeks he wrote “Private Lives,” a comedy of manners set in a hotel -- though one in France, not China. The play was a smash hit and its first London run starred Coward and Laurence Olivier.
The Cathay reopened as the Peace Hotel in 1956. In 2010, it was extensively restored by Fairmont.
Unfortunately, due to the re-numbering and renovation of the rooms, room 314 has not been kept at today's Fairmont Peace Hotel.
The Fairmont Peace Hotel (费尔蒙上海和平饭店), 20 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, Shanghai 南京东路20号, 近中山东一路, +86 21 6321 6888, www.fairmont.com/peace-hotel-shanghai. Nightly rate: from RMB 2,000.
The Garden Hotel, Suzhou
In 1969, following clashes on Zhenbao Island -- Damansky Island in Russian -- China was on the brink of war with the then USSR. More than 940,000 Chinese soldiers, 4,000 planes and 600 vessels were placed on alert and archives were moved from Beijing to the southwest in anticipation of nuclear attack.
Mao moved to Wuhan, the general staff to a bunker outside Beijing, and Mao’s designated successor, one of China’s most senior generals and the architect of the Cultural Revolution, Lin Biao (林彪), retreated to a secret bunker in Suzhou.
Lin had fitted it out to withstand a nuclear blast, with a 15-centimeter-thick steel door that was three meters high.
The bunker is now part of the five-star, 238-room Nan Yuan Binguan, or Garden Hotel. It remains as it was 40 years ago.
Guests can still see Lin’s official limousine in the garage, and follow underground tunnels to the shelter where the general hid while the country prepared for war.
According to official accounts (both American and Chinese), timely intervention by President Nixon averted nuclear conflict.
The Garden Hotel (南园宾馆), 99 Daichengqiao Lu, Suzhou 苏州带城桥路99号, +86 512 6778 6778, www.gardenhotelsz.com. Nightly rate: from RMB 1,558.
More on CNN: 10 hotel rooms where history was made
In 1992, Deng Xiaoping had retired as the Chairman of the Communist Party, but he was still in control of China.
At the age of 88, he embarked on a tour of southern China, which many now trace as a defining moment in the country's liberalization and its subsequent economic rise.
While in Shenzhen -- a city bordering Hong Kong and the most startling example of what economic reform could and would do for China -- Deng stayed at the Shenzhen Guesthouse.
The 600-room, three-star hotel stands in the Dongmen business district, which only a decade before had been nothing but fields.
Deng stayed in the Guiyuan Villa, one of 10 guest villas in the grounds of the hotel, while he spent days touring factories and, behind closed doors, urging local leaders to persist with reforms and shape the modern Chinese economy.
Shenzhen Guesthouse (深圳迎宾馆), 15 Xinyuan Lu, Luohu District, Shenzhen 深圳市罗湖区新园路15号, +86 755 8222 2722, firstname.lastname@example.org. Nightly rate for rooms starts from RMB 495 and villas from RMB 22,800.
The Astor House Pujiang, Shanghai
Albert Einstein checked in this six-story hotel on November 13, 1922, and stayed in room 304.
He had been awarded the Nobel Prize for physics four days before, and there were rumors that he was first notified about the award when he arrived at the hotel. He was on his way to Japan, where he gave a speech entitled, “How I Invented the Theory of Relativity.”
Einstein returned to Shanghai on December 31, and stayed at the Astor until mid-January, where he received many guests, eager to meet the most brilliant mind of the century.
The Astor House is now the Pujiang Hotel. Room 304 has been renamed The Einstein Room, and is furnished as it was in the 1920s. The bed and armchairs are the original pieces kept from Einstein's stay.
Opened in 1858, the Astor House was for decades the center of high society in Shanghai.
The hotel also hosted the son of Queen Victoria, Prince Alfred, the last King of Hawaii, David Kalākaua, Charlie Chaplin (room 404), Bertrand Russell (room 310), Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi (room 8103), among others.
Astor House Pujiang (浦江饭店), 15 Huangpu Lu, near Dongdaming Lu, Shanghai 上海市黄埔路15号, 近东大名路, +86 21 6324 6388, www.pujianghotel.com. Nightly rate for The Einstein Room is RMB 1,000 (all inclusive). Price for a basic room starts from RMB 600 per night.
The Modern Hotel, Harbin
Opened in 1914 as “The Moderne,” the four-story building was the grandest structure in Harbin, complete with a cinema that could seat 700. The founder was a Russian Jew called Iosif A. Kaspe, who turned the hotel in the center of Russian society.
Russians had poured into Harbin since 1900 to work on the vast Chinese Eastern Railway project. Then, following the Russian Revolution, more than 100,000 White Russians moved to the city, fleeing the Bolsheviks.
The hotel is best-known in China for "Moderne kidnapping."
On August 24, 1933, kidnappers seized Kaspe's 24-year-old son, Semen, a pianist who was in Harbin to give a concert. Kaspe refused to pay any ransom, even when his son’s earlobes were mailed to him.
Semen was held for three months and then killed by his kidnappers.
Later it emerged the gang were backed by the Russian Fascist Party and the Japanese, who were trying to seize Jewish property in the city.
The hotel still stands, and is now called the Modern Hotel.
The Modern Hotel (马迭尔宾馆), 89 Zhongyang Da Jie, Harbin 哈尔滨市中央大街89号, +86 451 8488 4099. Nightly rate: from RMB 789.