by Graham Earnshaw
Shanghai is primarily a business centre and not an old city by the standards of this part of the world. In its current form it was founded in 1843, after the British blasted open the doors of China in the first Opium War. Going to visit some of the historic places of interest around Shanghai is as good an excuse as any for seeing the city, and also provides the framework of an excursion. But don’t close your eyes between one attraction and the next – the getting there is the real point of the exercise.
The Bund Pronounced to rhyme with “fund”. This was the heart of the old Shanghai, indeed the financial heart of East Asia. The rubber plantations of Southeast Asia, the shipping firms of Japan, the opium, the spices, the railways – they were all funded and insured in these buildings lining the Huangpu River. Start walking from the Yanan Lu intersection north, with Pudong on your right. (see separate item for detailed description of buildings).
Garden Bridge Spanning Suzhou Creek, the Garden Bridge was built in 1907. It was the key crossing point from the International Settlement proper into the Japanese-controlled part of Shanghai during the late 1930s and was guarded on the north side by Japanese soldiers, and on the south side by British troops, often Sikhs.
Russian Consulate Over the bridge, on the right is the Russian Consulate, opened in 1917 – a year of some significance for the Russian empire, and not just because of the opening of its new consulate in Shanghai. The building became the consulate of the Soviet Union, but the diplomats were kicked out in the 1960s when China and the “revisionist” Soviet Union almost went to war. The building then became a seamen’s club before being handed back to the Russians in the 1980s.
Pujiang Hotel Opposite the Russian Consulate, this was once called Astor House. The current structure dates from 1910. It was the Grand Hyatt of its day, and was famous for its afternoon tea dances. A ramble around the upper floors is interesting. If you like cheap old-style hotel rooms (high ceilings, plumbing with personality), this is the hotel for you.
Communist Party 1st Congress Site Now incongruously surrounded by the ultra-hip Xintiandi commercial development just south of trendy Huaihai Road, the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China on July 23, 1921, is an old house, now completely rebuilt as a shrine. A better example of the contrasts that make life in Shanghai so rich could not be found. The attendees fled the house when a suspected spy of the French authorities visited, and they finished the congress on a pleasure boat on a lake.
Longhua Pagoda This temple and pagoda, at 2853 Longhua Road to the southwest of the city, was a major tourist attraction for foreigners in the days of Old Shanghai. It has eight sides and seven storeys and was first built in the year 274AD. The pagoda itself is closed but can easily be seen from the road. The temple complex opposite is huge, featuring several impressive Buddhas, including one who looks like a serene Bart Simpson.
Great World An amusement palace from Old Shanghai, on the corner of Yanan Lu and Xizang Lu. Now somewhat dominated by an elevated highway, but still worth a visit. It’s changed a bit since the 1930s, but the acrobats are still there, and so is all-day local Chinese opera and music. There’s a quaint ghost house ride, and the fat man / thin man mirrors are authentic 1930s stuff. Fortune telling is now done by computers.
Sun Yat-sen’s residence Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, led the republican forces which overthrew the Manchu Empire in 1912. He lived at 7 Xiangshan Lu, on the corner of Sinan Lu in the French Concession between 1918 and 1924, before dying in Beijing in 1925. The deliciously bourgeois house is open for visits.
Jade Buddha Temple The temple contains two exquisite jade statues of the Lord Buddha, one seated the other lying, which were brought from Burma in the early years of the 20th century. It is said that the temple only escaped destruction by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s because the abbot bolted the doors and covered them with pictures of Chairman Mao, which the Red Guards did not dare to touch. You’ll find the temple at 170 Anyuan Lu.
Old City / Yuyuan Garden THE OLD Chinese city, to the south of the Bund was a walled fishing town when the British arrived in 1843. Modern Shanghai grew up around it. It used to be a maze of tiny alleys, but most of it has been torn down and rebuilt in recent years. The widened alleys are still crowded with tourists, domestic and foreign. At the centre of the Old City are the Chenghuang Temple and the Yu Garden, in which stands the Huxining Teahouse, said to be the model for the design on the “willow-pattern” porcelain plates much loved by Europeans in another era. The Bridge of Nine Turns zigzags to make it difficult for evil spirits to get across (evil spirits, as is well known, have problems with corners).