Figs 1A to G

The Brands in Our Time

Empty Packs Created a Favorite Pastime
For Our Hongkew Youth

A story

In the 1800s, China began opening its society to outside ideas and influences. After the mid19th century, foreign imperialism subsequently transformed Shanghai by the 20s and 30s into one of the worlds most glamorous and cosmopolitan cities. The International Settlement in particular became the center of adult entertainment with cabarets and nightclubs hosting a cigarette and cigar puffing clientele.

During that era, many different brands of cigarettes, some illustrated in figure 1A through 1G, were available locally. They were the ones most often seen and smoked in the Shanghai Ghetto. As for the visitors entering Shanghai, only 206 cigarettes, or a half pound of tobacco, were allowed by custom examiners duty free. A pack of cigarettes by the name of "Capital A" is shown advertised in the March 31, 1940 edition of the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle, illustrated in figure two.

There were actually several hundred tobacco-brand names back then. The largest tobacco companies, such as BAT (British and American Tobacco) even employed their own in-house artists to make the design for the sleeve covering the pack The Western cultural influences, at the time, are shown on a pack of cigarettes in figure three. It shows a Japanese woman wearing Western-style clothing. When Japanese troops occupied Shanghai, Japanese women were often illustrated on the pack with at least some Japanese writing.

Those who grew up in the Shanghai Ghetto, or were in their adolescence, will attest to the numerous number of cigarette manufacturers that existed, or had existed during that period. They will remember, without a doubt, picking up all the different brands of cigarette packs that were empty, and discarded on the street gutters. They became the treasures for our youth, trading them or playing an ingenious, self-devised game called "packs" the name derived from cigarette packs. Thus, the empty cigarette packs served as a good substitute for real toys our parents could not afford to buy. All the packs shown in figures 1a through 1g were salvaged by a former "Shanghai kid" and brought later to America.

The milder and more desired brands of cigarettes came later from America. Beginning in November 1945, UNRRA the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, shipped each month to the Jewish refugees in Shanghai cases of US rations. In some of the cases were found small packages of cigarettes, illustrated in figure four, which were after a few months sold on the black market.

Another source for obtaining American cigarettes was from the US Armed Forces stationed in Shanghai. US sailors and officers from ships docked on the Shanghai peer often presented to the children visiting the ships cartons of cigarettes to give to their parents. Those cartons were also later sold on the black market to buy food. A typical package of cigarettes, Chesterfields that came from such cartoons is illustrated in figure five.

While cigarettes, if at all, played only an infinitesimal part to our survival in Shanghai, they nevertheless deserve to be incorporated in our collection of memorabilia.

Thanks again go to Andreas Heinsius who so generously contributed most of the material to my personal archives.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Fig. 5