Marie-Claire Bergère , Françoise Ged, Danielle Elisseeff and Jérémy Cheval (2013). La Villa Basset : Résidence du consul général de France à Shanghai. Paris: Editions Internationales du Patrimoine.Collection / Série : Résidences de France ; 11. . Translators: Ju Wang et Xiaoli Wei. Photography: Jonathan Leijonhufvud.
From the mid-19th century to just after the Second World War, the responsibilities of the French Consul in Shanghai were twofold. On one hand, he must protect French interests in the face of senior officials of the local Chinese authorities and the agents of major foreign powers represented in Shanghai. On the other hand, he must oversee the management of the French Concession and ensure compliance, security, public order, urban planning regulation, education and health in this semi-colonial enclave. The consular residence with its vast administrative annexes was the principal power centre of this flourishing cosmopolitan metropolis for a century1.
The villa Basset is returning to the limelight. Listed as a historical building of Shanghai since 1994, it has also been registered since 2003 in the largest of the 12 protected areas of the city, an innovative municipal measure in China at the time. With this classification, as with the rest of Shanghai, the stories of the people who lived in this residence are coming out of the shadows too2.
Built in 1921 by French architects from the Crédit Foncier d’Extrême-Orient (Far East mortgage bank) by order of Lucien Basset, the consular villa combines Asian and European influences. Its hybrid architecture elegantly combines neoclassical columns, Flemish roofing, Italian balconies, capitals and mosaics and Chinese landscaped and rock gardens. This “Mediterranean” or “Italian style” house, whose story keeps the print of its successive occupants, remains a historical witness of the distinctive architecture of the old French Concession3.
The visitor enters this beautiful residence through the north side, as ordinary citizens and suppliers from the Forbidden City did during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911); but here, the vegetation surrounding the porch allows us to imagine what lies beyond, south of the house. We can easily guess that this visit, as with all beautiful villas built in Shanghai by Europeans during the Republic, will end in the garden, living jewel of the property4.