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LOOK: China’s Modern Hotel, the Palace of Versailles of the East

In the heart of the northeast Chinese city of Harbin, a magical realm unfolds amid the falling snow.

Modern Hotel, adorned with a brown and green dome and vibrant parapet, casts a romantic spell as it bathes in the glow of a setting sun.

This iconic establishment, nestled on Harbin’s Russian-style Central Street, is the city’s oldest luxury hotel, but remains a hidden gem for many, despite its rich history.

The hotel, often described as the Palace of Versailles of the East, has undergone two significant expansions in the course of its long history.

The hotel features indoor walls decorated with elegant murals and mirrored veneers, brass stair railings boasting soft, charming lines, and dazzling chandeliers that exude an air of sophistication.

Russian-Jewish entrepreneur Joseph Casp built the hotel in 1906. He ventured to the burgeoning city, located just south of Russia’s Siberia, following the opening of the Chinese Eastern Railway.

Casp, foreseeing substantial potential for the modern urban service industry in Harbin, seized this historical opportunity.

Collaborating with partners and securing substantial funding, he created a modern service industry complex, now blending accommodation, catering, film and television, entertainment, and leisure.

Many also reminisce about its past unparalleled level of comfort and service, which placed it on par with the then finest hotels globally.

Officially put into use in 1914 as a beacon of modernity, the hotel has stood the test of time, radiating a renewed sense of “modern” brilliance after over a century of operation.

Now, upon entering the hotel, relics from its past greet visitors, including antique objects and copper nameplates commemorating former guests, offering a glimpse into its storied existence.

“Drawing from these cultural treasures, we’ve fashioned a distinctive ‘museum-style hotel,'” said Liu Fubin, the marketing director of Harbin Modern Group Co.

Established in 1997 as a state-owned joint-stock enterprise, Harbin Modern Group Co, emerged through three reorganisations based on the Modern Hotel as foundation.

It encompasses hotel accommodation, Chinese and Western catering, food production and sales, and cultural tourism.

“Modelled on architectures such as the Modern Hotel and Sophia Church, we introduced ice lollies with inventive flavours including wild blueberry, osmanthus, mango, and chocolate,” said Zhang Jinying, director of product promotion of the company. “This creative approach not only tantalizes taste buds but also brings to life static cultural relics and monuments.”

“Between 1969 and 2023, cumulative sales of our ice lollies have reached 140 million units, boasting a total length that rivals that of the Great Wall,” Zhang said.

Recent data from China’s Meituan e-commerce platform revealed a 90 percent year-on-year surge in searches for “Modern Hotel” in November 2023, while related review notes on Dianping, China’s equivalent of Yelp, surged by nearly 300 percent.

“Over a century, this exotic ‘time-honoured’ hotel has stood witness to the city’s evolution, radiating even more charm and modernity,” said Kong Qingbin, president of Modern Cultural Tourism Investment Group.

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