SHOPPERS' PARADISE: Nanjing Road is the epicenter of Shanghai's shopping experience (YU XIANGJUN)
Although a young city at 700 years old—in its fancy compared with Chinese civilization as a whole—Shanghai has become one of the most recognized and dynamic cities in China.
Shanghai serves as a window providing the rest of the world with a glimpse of China's development. The past three decades witnessed China's opening up to the outside world—and Shanghai has played a vanguard role in this process.
Apart from its special economic position, particularly in terms of finance, Shanghai is a major entertainment hub—the birthplace of the country's first symphony orchestra and movie industry and the place where Western oil paintings and ballet first entered China. The innovative and open-minded acceptance of overseas culture is deeply rooted in Shanghai's history and has since become a fundamental part of the city.
Shanghai's visage is evidence of the city's global connections—various foreign and Chinese architectural styles stand side-by-side, proudly displaying Shanghai's past and present, and providing visitors with a look into the city's promising future.
Short-storied and colossal buildings, historic and modern designs, as well as Oriental and Western influences endow the city with a unique charm seldom seen elsewhere in the world. Travelers to Shanghai will find it easy to fill their day with visits to historic landmarks, trendy shopping spots and enchanting entertainment venues.
History along Huangpu River
A good place to start any day of sightseeing in Shanghai is Waibaidu Bridge—a river overpass still in use today that has witnessed Shanghai's development from a small commerce hub into a modern financial center.
For much of Shanghai's history, people relied on boats to reach the north and south banks of the Suzhou River, which runs from west to east into the Huangpu River. In 1856, British businessman Charles Wills formed the Suzhou River Bridge Building Co. to construct a wooden bridge—named Wills' Bridge—over the river. To offset construction costs, a toll was required for the bridge's use, causing an uproar among local residents.
The Shanghai Municipal Council took action, building another wooden bridge to the east of Wills' Bridge. The council eventually purchased and removed the outdated Wills' Bridge, and replaced its wooden structure with a steel truss composite bridge in 1907. Since passersby no longer needed to pay a toll, the bridge was renamed Baidu Bridge, which means "free for passersby," and later acquired the name Waibaidu Bridge.
But more than just a river crossing, the bridge is a significant symbol of Shanghai. For 40 years after its construction, the bridge required very little maintenance—a testament to its ingenuity.
After the founding of New China in 1949, the bridge was structurally reinforced. In April 2008, Waibaidu Bridge was removed for renovation work. On the principle of "repairing the old as it used to be," the framework of the bridge was restored and the bridge's piers were rebuilt. A year later, after maintenance and reinforcing efforts were complete, Waibaidu Bridge once again graced the Suzhou River.
Today, Waibaidu Bridge still serves as a vital artery for traffic along the two sides of the Suzhou River and the Bund area.
The Bund—the most renowned Shanghai landmark—is home to a variety of architectural styles that add to the landscape along the Huangpu River.
In the late 19th century, a number of foreign and Chinese banks set up branch offices and headquarters along the west bank of the Huangpu River. The area, which was named the Bund, became Shanghai's financial street and later earned the name the "Oriental Wall Street." Owning a piece of land on the Bund was regarded as a symbol of wealth and honor. After acquiring land, the commercial and financial firms began massive, intricate construction projects. More than 20 buildings in different architectural styles, most of which have been built or rebuilt three or more times, stand proudly on the relatively small Bund area.
The Bund is home to the headquarters of the China Pacific Insurance Co. Ltd., located in what was originally called the Asia Building. Built in 1913 by the Asiatic Petroleum Co., the Asia Building was once the tallest building on the Bund and is the oldest high rise in Shanghai.
The Bund was also once home to the most luxurious club in the city—the Shanghai Club. Now, the East Wind Hotel stands on the former entertainment venue's location, and although not exclusively a club, the hotel boasts a 110-foot-long bar—once the longest in the Far East.
The English-language newspaper North China Daily News, established by British residents in Shanghai in 1850, once had offices on the Bund. The newspaper was the largest in Shanghai and continued publication until 1951.
The classically designed former Shanghai headquarters of the Standard Chartered Bank, built in 1923, has been preserved by the Shanghai Government as an architectural relic. When people walk into the restored building today, they can still see the four original marble columns taken from a 200-year-old Italian church.