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Hotel Moderne in Harbin: Architecture and History Essay


The author of the article “The Many Faces of Hotel Moderne In Harbin” is Mark Gamsa, an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at Tel-Aviv University who teaches Chinese history and literature. The academic discipline the author is writing from is history, namely the history of Chinese architecture from the 1900s up to modern days. The article’s main argument is the uniqueness of the hotel Moderne in the Chinese city Harbin: the hotel was transformed into different facilities during different decades (hospital, hotel for political consultants, anti-revisionist hotel, guesthouse, cinema, concert hall, theater, wedding reception even). Another argument that the author ponders upon is the possibility of bringing together the hotel’s Chinese and Russian history (32).

According to the author, it is not the racial issue that made the Moderne exclude the majority of Chinese but rather the social standing (33). During the Iosif Kaspe (hotel’s founder) period, Gamsa points out that Chinese and Japanese guests were lodged in the hotel. Therefore, the article argues against the assumption that the “inclusion” into the Moderne atmosphere was based on race only (32). However, the author admits that the Moderne maintained its European atmosphere until 1946 when it was passed to Chinese management (33). The many faces of the hotel were the cause of different perceptions produced by Russian and Chinese management. As the author states, while some Chinese managers and lodgers perceived it as built-in a “French-style”, other reviewers marked it as “German school.” The truth behind it is that the hotel was built in the style known as Art Nouveau (34). Thus, it had a Europe-inspired style, but it was not related to one European school in particular.

To support the arguments, the author provides quotes and citations from published journals, reviews, and other studies that focused either on the hotel Moderne or the architecture in Harbin. Moreover, the author also provides pictures and images of the hotel from different periods to display how advertised and perceived during different decades in the 20th century.

Another purpose of the hotel was to make the customers and tourists feel that they have been transported “elsewhere” when entering the luxurious building (38). That was also one of the “duties”, the author argues, to make visitors perceive it as something outstanding that does not fit into the surrounding geographical context. The hotel remains to be one of the most famous landmarks in Harbin, although it was renovated and rebuilt many times.

For me, the Russian-Chinese history of the Moderne is what makes it so interesting. The article provides a detailed story behind the hotel, whereby it focuses on the different eras and periods that dominated the city. Furthermore, this close look at architecture reveals how buildings and facilities can send a particular message and how they reflect the history of a district, a city, or a whole country.

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IvyPanda. (2020, November 2). Hotel Moderne in Harbin: Architecture and History. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/hotel-moderne-in-harbin-architecture-and-history/

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"Hotel Moderne in Harbin: Architecture and History." IvyPanda, 2 Nov. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/hotel-moderne-in-harbin-architecture-and-history/.

1. IvyPanda. "Hotel Moderne in Harbin: Architecture and History." November 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hotel-moderne-in-harbin-architecture-and-history/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "Hotel Moderne in Harbin: Architecture and History." November 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hotel-moderne-in-harbin-architecture-and-history/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Hotel Moderne in Harbin: Architecture and History'. 2 November.

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