The story of the Beijing International Club is closely intertwined with the history of China's diplomacy. From the"Western Gentry Club" in the late 19th century to the iconic construction on the extension line of the East Chang'an Avenue today, the Club, throughout the years, witnessed a century of vicissitudes of China and has assured itself of a place in China and the world with its long history and excellent reputation.
1.The "Western Gentry Club", the Predecessor of the Beijing International Club (1878-1911)
It was in 1878 in Beijing that diplomats, bankers, businessmen from different countries, eager to have a place to conduct their social and entertainment activities in Beijing, jointly created the "Western Gentry Club" (also known as Peking Billiard Room). The Club was located then between the company Jardine Matheson and the German legation on West Dongjiaominxiang (then known as the "Dongjiangmixiang”), covering 4,185 square meters. In March 1901, the German Legation swapped with the Western Gentry Club for a new space of 5,500 square meters at No. 7 Taijichang, Dongjiaominxiang street, thus enlarging the size of the club.
Soon afterwards the allied forces attacked Beijing and Dongjiaominxiang was devoured by the flames, leaving most of the buildings in ruins. However, the club survived. In 1909, another unexplained fire broke out and this time the club was destroyed.
2. The creation of the Beijing International Club (1911-1949)
After the occupation of the Beijing Legation Quarter by the Allied Forces, some countries opened embassies and banks there and the construction of a permanent place of social entertainment became a priority. In 1911, the "Western Gentry Club" was rebuilt at what is today the No. 7 Taijichang of Dongjiaominxiang and renamed the "Peking club". According to the records, a portion of the construction costs came from the "Boxer indemnity" and other funds raised by the respective legations.
In its early years, the Peking Club was run by Britain, France, the US and subsequently Japan and the US, and introduced the notion of "membership". Members paid a monthly fee. Among the business facilities there were a restaurant, a bar, a reading room, a bridge room, a tennis court, ballrooms and others. In addition, it also owned a racetrack in the district of Lianhuachi and a polo field in the Dongdan Park. At that time, most of the members were plenipotentiaries, military commanders and bank managers stationed in Beijing. According to the archival documents, in 1949, the Peking Club had a total of 94 members from 19 different countries and regions. The main funding sources included membership fees, banquets revenues as well as a variety of revenues from leisure activities.
3.The birth of the new International Club (1949-1973)
With the change of the time and situation and the establishment of New China in October 1949, the Beijing club also opened a new chapter in its history. In late November 1950, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent its military representative Duan Boyu to take charge of the Peking Club, renamed it the"International Club" after its reorganization. Consequently, the club’s activities were clearly redefined to focus on services, especially services for the diplomatic staff.
After its restructuring, the original building of the International Club was renovated and expanded, its equipment modernized, and its sport and culture activities extended. Cultural activities offered included movies, dances, concerts, acrobatics and opera performances. Badminton, billiard and table tennis facilities were added. Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Soong Ching Ling, Deng Yingchao, He Long and other senior Chinese leaders came there often to participate in activities. To better coordinate the diplomatic work, the International Club in 1951 began to engage in the activities of the nursing home in Beidaihe for diplomatic personnel, opened the service stations of the Ming Tombs and Badaling respectively in 1962 and 1964 specifically responsible for the reception of the diplomatic staff, and received high praise from foreign diplomats.
In its new management system, the Beijing International Club still preserved the notion of "membership" of the Peking Club. In addition to some adjustments concerning the original members, many new members arrived, including foreign diplomats and officials from the Chinese central government such as Zhou Enlai, Li Kenong, Zhang Wentian and Han Xu. According to statistics, at that time, the total number of members of the International Club reached 289. The system of "membership" had been extended until the beginning of the "Cultural Revolution".
4.The new International Club (1973-1987)
In the 1970s, the international environment around China underwent major changes, and China's diplomacy experienced rapid development with an increasing number of diplomatic missions being settled in Beijing. The existing facilities of the International Club were far from being able to meet the needs of diplomatic Service. Therefore, the International Club was rebuilt. January 1973 saw the completion of the new club, located at No. 21 Jianguomenwai Dajie, with a constructed area of 15,000 square meters and a total area of 47,000 square meters. At that time, the buildings and facilities of this scale were unparalleled in Beijing.
The new club facilities included an indoor tennis court, an outdoor tennis court, an outdoor swimming pool, a table tennis room, a billiards room, a movie theater, a ballroom, a Chinese restaurant, a Western restaurant and a banquet hall. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai praised then the value of Western chefs and the French cuisine he considered "very authentic" and he specially hosted receptions there for foreign guests. It was in the Hall of Crane, before the completion of the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs office building, that the Ministry organized all its press meetings.
Premier Zhou Enlai paid particular attention to the development of the International Club. He came twice here to participate in activities and even spent time listening to the report of the person in charge of the club, despite his busy schedule. All other top Chinese leaders like Deng Xiaoping, Li Xiannian, Deng Yingchao and Wan Li also hosted or participated in activities at the club. Wan Li, Hu Qili, Liao Chengzhi and other leaders were regulars of the club.
High-level foreign leaders, China's famous friends and even entrepreneurs, such as the Japanese Prime Ministers Tanaka and Ohira, Konosuke Matsushita, Saionji Kinkazu, President Bush, Henry Kissinger, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and many others participated in various activities in the hotel.
In addition to carrying out its own business activities, the International Club also provided a large number of cooks, waiters and hairdressers to Chinese embassies abroad and foreign embassies in China, and trained a large number of logistical personnel for the Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
5.The establishment of the Beijing International Club Company Limited (1987- present)
Time passed, and so did the wheel of history. China experienced a major shift in its history with the start of the reform and opening process. With the reform and opening of China and the expansion of relations with foreign countries, the number of diplomatic missions in Beijing continued to increase. According to incomplete statistics, in 1985 the Chinese government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing had received about 2,800 foreign delegation members and foreign visitors. Obviously, the existing facilities of the International Club could no longer meet the demand. In July 1984, the State Council approved the expansion of the International Club in the form of a joint venture, creating the "Beijing International Club Company Limited". From then on, the Beijing International Club entered a new stage of its history.
After the founding of the joint venture, the club started a new cycle of expansion, in order to adapt to changing market needs. In addition to the ballroom and the tennis court which were still maintained, other existing facilities were modified for commercial use and for conducting market-oriented leasing activities. Renowned companies and organizations like Nokia, Kodak, Associated Press and others were the first to settle in the club. In an office market that was then on a low level of development in Beijing, the club enjoyed a great period of prosperity, maintaining a very high occupancy rate and rent level.
The club's expansion project was officially launched in 1987 and lasted for more than ten years, which was like a second birth for it. In 1995, the club's office building was completed and entered service. It was an 8-storey office building with a modern architectural style, an advanced communication system and a central air conditioning system, succinct, beautiful, strong and lavish. Its built area covers 9,180 square meters and available leasing area 6,500 square meters. In 1997, the Beijing International Club Hotel was opened under the management of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Group. Starwood’s advanced hotel management methods injected a new vitality into the hotel, which made the Beijing International Club Hotel a unique brand establishment then in Beijing. To further develop the domestic and international market, in 2001, the International Club Hotel went under the name of "St Regis", Starwood’s top-ranking brand. In 2011, its name was officially changed to St. Regis Beijing, and the hotel became the first five-star luxury hotel in the Asia-Pacific region to bear this name. The St. Regis Beijing has managed to establish a good reputation for its high quality services in the industry and received the highest level leaders of the world such as US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, winning the praise from its customers. In 2001, the International Club Apartments and Recreational Center were opened, also managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Group. The style of the International Club Apartments and Recreational Center with comfortable surroundings and friendly service, a logical continuation of the high-end luxury style of St. Regis, was very popular with customers.
With its history of more than a century, the Beijing International Club, sharing the ups and downs of the times, always continues to follow the historical development of different eras. Thanks to the efforts of several generations, the International Club now forms a mature business model and offers integrated services of the hotel, offices, apartments, the leisure center and other facilities. In the future, the International Club will continue to build on its strengths, seize every opportunity to develop its brand, and write a new chapter.
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