Essential Architecture- The Bund, Shanghai

North China Daily News Building

presently housed the most influential English-language newspaper in Shanghai at the time. Today it houses AIA Insurance. Formerly the North China Daily News Building, renamed to Guiling Building.




No. 17, The Bund, Shanghai, China






rendered masonry


Office Building
  Above left image ©Paul Pak-hing Lee - 1997, right image reproduced with the generous permission of Simon Fieldhouse. Copyright Simon Fieldhouse.
The new building for the North China Daily News was formally opened in February 1924 to commemorate the diamond jubilee of a newspaper that had begun life as a weekly broadsheet, the North China Herald, in 1850 prior to becoming a daily publication in 1864. Its proprietorship had been in the hands of the Morris family, British Catholics of Jewish descent, since 1880 when Henry Morris took a controlling interest in the business following his marriage to Una Pickwood, the daughter of a former proprietor. Henry, who had a great passion for horses, set himself up as a successful bill broker after his arrival in Shanghai from Bombay in 1866.

He also accumulated large areas of land in the city, including a large estate to the south of the racecourse (today’s People’s Square) which became known as Morris Village or Morrisville. Appositely, his death at the age of 76 in 1911 was attributed to a riding accident a year earlier. Henry senior’s passion for horses was adopted by his son, Henry junior, also known as Harry, chairman of the company when the new building opened, and whose horse Manna was the winner of both the Two Thousand Guineas and the English Derby in 1925. He used to walk his dogs from his substantial estate, today’s Ruijin Guest House, to the Canidrome Dog Track next door. Gordon, another of Henry’s sons, was also a director of the paper, as well as a partner in the company that erected the new offices.

It wasn’t until 1901 that all the papers’ offices and presses were moved to the present site on the Bund. At one point, the residents of the Chartered Bank next door obtained a court injunction to stop the hammering noise of the presses’ engines that were keeping them awake at nights. The new building was especially designed in two sections with a rear part, where the presses were placed in the basement, separated from the front part by a hollow wall. The first papers would be gathered from the presses at three in the morning. On the top floor, two luxury flats provided the highest habitable spaces in the city, and the paper’s editorial offices were located on the fifth floor. For most British in the city life without the Far East’s leading British newspaper and bastion of Empire would have proved unthinkable. It was Asia’s empire builders who were to put a temporary end to the illusion.

A local Japanese newspaper, the Tairuko Shimpo, remodelled the building and installed their own machinery inside after they took possession in December 1941. However, within a week of the end of the Pacific War, on 21st August 1945, former employees R. W. Davis, the paper’s secretary and manager, and assistants Haslam and Yung, who had all been inmates at the Japanese internment camp in Pudong, walked in and demanded their building back. At first they feared that the newspaper’s valuable and voluminous archives had been lost as they were nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, a representative from Jardine, Matheson & Co. phoned from down the Bund to inform them that they were safe in their offices. They were scheduled to have been sent to Tokyo.

The newspaper’s furniture and equipment was later found scattered all over Shanghai. Remarkably, ‘The Old Grandmother or Lady of the Bund,’ as she was affectionately known, continued publication after 1949 and was only closed down on 31 March 1951 following its coverage of the Korean War. Another great institution, the American Asiatic Underwriters (AAU), brainchild of a young American, Cornelius Vander Starr, occupied many floors of the building after 1927. Starr, who established the company in Shanghai in 1919, was to build up the largest insurance empire in Asia, the forerunner of today’s leading global insurance company, AIG (American International Group, Inc.).

Apart from his insurance interests Starr had a massive hand in Shanghai’s realty business and was the owner of Shanghai’s only American daily newspaper, the Shanghai Evening Post & Mercury. Like those of the North China Daily News, the offices of AIG’s & rerunner were opened within a week of the end of the Pacific War and, although closed in 1950, they made a grand comeback almost half a century later in 1998.