Harbin’s most historic hotel, the inappropriately named Modern celebrated its centenary in 2006. Yet a closer analysis of its history reveals that this splendid corner building did not open until 1914, construction having started in 1913. The original use of “Modern” in the title featured an extra e on the end, as it was a Frenchified Russian name. Its location on Harbin’s main avenue, known as Kitaiskaia ulitsa in Russian or Zhongyang dajie (in Chinese), is prime territory even now.
The claimed 1906 foundation date reflects the fascination that the early history of Harbin still holds. In 1933 the hotel suffered two great scandals, when Semen Kaspe, son of the founder Iosef Kaspe, was kidnapped in August of that year. In November, Kaspe senior being unable to find the necessary ransom money, Kaspe junior was murdered. In the spring of 1936 this hotel played host to one of the world’s greatest ever singers, Feodor Chaliapin, during his far eastern tour.