Jardine Matheson, founded by William Jardine – the man who did more than any other individual to precipitate the Opium Wars and open Shanghai up to foreign trade – was the first foreign concern to buy land in Shanghai. Their former base (they lost all of their holdings in China after 1949), just north of the Peace Hotel, is now occupied by the China Textiles Export Corporation.

The wealth of the Sassoon family, too, was built on opium, but by the early years of the last century, the family fortune had mostly been sunk into Shanghai real estate, including the Cathay (originally known as Sassoon House). The flamboyant Victor Sassoon lived long enough to see his hotel virtually destroyed by the Japanese, including his rooftop private apartment, with 360-degree views and dark oak panelling (it has recently been restored), but also long enough to get most of his money away to the Bahamas.

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