History Imbued in Xing Guo Hotel

Nestled in a rare serenity at the heart of the city, Xing Guo Hotel was always mysterious to the locals, for it only served senior government leaders in the past.

Only recently has the hotel removed the surrounding thick walls, replacing them with iron fences.

It is now under the management of the American-based Radisson Group and has been opened to the public as Radisson Plaza Xing Guo Hotel.

Standing on one floor of the newly built high-rise hotel building, people can see a panorama of European villas, where the guestrooms that had once accommodated top leaders of the country now serve ordinary customers.

The hotel has 28 villas of French, British, German, American, Spanish and Canadian design, which were built in the 1930s by foreign or local merchants.

After the People's Republic of China was set up in 1949, the villas became the residence for municipal leaders. The first Shanghai Mayor, Chen Yi, lived in one of the buildings from 1952 and 1956. After that it was transformed into a governmental inn.

The No.1 building may be the most attractive, for former Chairman Mao Zedong once stayed there.

The two-storeyed building once belonged to Butterfield & Swire, a British concern that once monopolized the Chinese shipping industry. It was known as Swire House.

The solemn columns, large copper lamp hanging from the ceiling to the first floor and the symbolistic rounded glass on the roof display a traditional simple but elegant British villa.

Chairman Mao used to live in a room on the first floor, and all the decorations and arrangements seemed to be too simple and out-of-date compared with modern hotels, however, it gave off a special flavour.

The furniture was never changed and the light-green carpet was said to have been chosen specially for Mao, because he liked the colour. There is no central controlling airconditioner and in the old days, Mao had to bear torridity as ordinary people with only an electric fan.

You can see a large piece of peak green grassland, which attracted various birds that are seldom seen in the city.

Ordinary guests can ask to stay in the villas, and the rate for the No.1 Deluxe Standard room is 770 yuan ($93) a day, and four waiters provide butler services.

Different from any other hotel, the Xing Guo Hotel has extreme tranquility, and 90 percent of the hotel is covered by plants, making it more like a park.

( Shanghai Star March 7, 2002)