Shanghai myth busters: The truth comes out

Shanghai myth busters: The truth comes out

In this city it’s hard to tell myths from facts at times, so we wanted to set the record straight on three of the most common local legends
Shanghai truth
Myth busters come to Shanghai and look for the truth in three of Shanghai's most popular legends.

There’s nothing Shanghai residents love more than showing off our knowledge of the city. But our favorite urban legends aren’t always true. We looked into some of Shanghai’s most commonly relayed stories and realized many of them aren’t rooted in fact. Here are a few of our favorite myths, busted.

Bund ParkInvented history

Myth: The Bund Park (aka Huangpu Park) once had a sign reading “No Dogs and Chinese.”
Busted: While both Chinese and dogs weren’t allowed into the park during one period, there’s no proof a sign was ever worded that way. 

The legendary “No Dogs or Chinese” sign has been widely repeated as a marker of the institutionalized racism that existed during Shanghai’s colonial days. The sign’s wordage has appeared in plenty of reputable sources, including writings from Sun Yat-Sen as well as a Harvard historian, according to the Institute for Historical Review. It even made an appearance in Bruce Lee’s “Fist of Iron.” But, “the sign that read ‘No dogs and Chinese’ never existed, at least not in that wording,” says local history buff Derek Sandhaus of Earnshaw Books. Instead, photographs from that period show a different sign that lists a series of park regulations, one of which says that the garden is reserved for the foreign community and another specifies that dogs and bikes aren’t permitted.

Donghu hotelWho lives there?

Myth: The Donghu Hotel was Big Eared Du’s personal residence.
Busted: He might have lived there for a period, but it was never his primary home.

The claim that the Donghu Hotel was the home of Shanghai’s legendary gangster Du Yuesheng, and the launching pad for running his vast gangster empire, is a popular one. In fact, it’s found all over the Internet and in numerous guidebooks about Shanghai. But according to local historian Sandhaus, the location was the gangster’s secondary residence if that. 

“As far as I can tell, he never lived there -- it was just one of the many properties that he owned throughout the city,” says Sandhaus. “His real lodging was close to Yan’an Lu, further east, and was demolished sometime in the 1990s.” That might be why the myth lives on. It’s much more fun to imagine Shanghai’s most notorious gangster was living in a building that’s still around today. 

Shanghai hairy crab Not always a delicacy

Myth: Hairy crabs are delicacy, unique to the Shanghai area.
Busted: In many parts of the world, hairy crabs are considered a pest.

Shanghai’s favorite autumn treat isn’t beloved throughout the world. In fact, it’s not wanted at all. The hairy crab, also called the Chinese mitten crab, is native to eastern Asia. But, as they’ve spread to Europe and North America, locals fear they’ll compete with the native species. The hairy crab’s tendency to burrow also means it can clog drainage systems. The crabs move fast -- with reported appearances everywhere from the River Thames to the San Francisco Bay to local’s swimming pools.

The California Department of Fish and Games speculates that the crab may have been introduced to that region accidentally by oceangoing ship’s ballast, or intentionally to Asian markets there. Regardless, the hairy crabs are not wanted overseas, with the California department saying “If you keep a mitten crab, it must be dead.”

Schmitt is a Shanghai-based writer.
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