Throughout the past century, Shanghai has had numerous name tags attached to it; the "whore of the East", the "Paris of the Orient" and the "Pearl Of China". Images of Shanghai more than any other Chinese city, are bountiful in the west. A visit here therefore, is naturally tainted to some extent, with a preconception of how the city will be.
As the largest and most prosperous city in the nation, Shanghai is the economic, financial and cultural center of China, where Beijing is the political heart. And this image of Shanghai as a fast and modern metropolis is certainly the one that most visitors take away. Those old preconceptions of Shanghai as the home of crime vice and prostitutes are wiped away, as the city successfully projects an image of itself as young, vibrant and cool.
Shanghai is a modern and fast paced city, rich in history and culture and with a wealth of areas and sites just waiting to be explored. One of the nicest aspects of Shanghai is that the crowds here are much more manageable than in a city like Beijing. This is largely because there are no great ancient sites which people flock too. Rather, this is a city to be walked, wandered, explored and discovered in your own time and, in your own style.
| Peoples Square|
People's Square is a spectacular space in the heart of the city. Formerly the city's race-course, a sports arena and a gamblers paradise, the area west of Nanjing Lu was converted after the war to become the People's Square. Unlike many other Chinese city squares, Renmin Guangchang is not a concrete mass but a vast green area including plants and trees and surrounded by spectacular buildings on all sides.
The Square has been renovated again recently and opened up further and many of the old buildings around here are in the process of being ripped down.
Today, the Square covers 140,000 square meters. In the north lies the Municipal Government Mansion, an impressive and serious building which is not open to the public. In the northwest sits the Shanghai Grand Theatre, a colossal construction made almost entirely from glass which is balanced by the brand new Exhibition Hall for City Planning in the east. The most impressive building in the square however, is the Shanghai Museum. Perfectly smooth and symmetrical, the building was designed to resemble a Chinese cooking pot. The Square is particularly spectacular at night, when steam appears to seep out of the roof of the museum and the light bounces off the glass walls of the Grand Theatre.
Tucked away in the northwest corner of the square is the quirky Bird and Flower Market where locals come to buy trinkets, plants, fish and parade birds in their cages! These few lanes off Huangpi Lu are a great contrast to the modern constructions in the main square.
The Square offers unusual and impressive views of the city. Surrounded on all sides by mammoth and overpowering constructions, new buildings attack you from all sides. The panorama of the city from the Square, while not the picture postcard image of Shanghai's Bund, is arguably, the most accurate image which reflects the changing nature of this sophisticated and modern city.
| The Bund|
The symbol of old and new Shanghai, the Bund (officially known as Zhongshan Lu) is Shanghai?¡¥s most famous landmark. The ?¡ãBund?¡À is from an Anglo Indian term meaning the muddy embankment on the waterfront, and it is the Huangpu River which helps create the uniquely colonial feel here and provides a feeling of space and openness which is lacking elsewhere in the city. Four kilometers long, the Bund has long been one of the most important areas in Shanghai. In the 1930s, the row of buildings was host to the city?¡¥s financial and commercial centers and the world?¡¥s greatest banks and trading empires established a base here.
At the North end of the Bund and just over Waibadu Bridge and Suzhou Creek is what was formerly the British embassy. Also here is a large and atmospheric blue painted building which is the Russian Embassy, sitting precariously on the bank of the river. In colonial times, the Bridge was guarded by Japanese and British sentries marking the boundaries of territory.
On the ?¡ãBritish side?¡À of the bridge is the entrance to Huangpu Park. More of a pedestrian walkway than a conventional park, this area was also under the control of the Brits. The British Public Park (as it was once known) was forbidden territory to Chinese people for years, unless they were accompanying employers. Today, the park is free and open to all and is a well- maintained walkway providing excellent views over the river to Pudong and down river to the old Customs House and other colonial relics.
On the west side of the Bund tower various buildings of different architectural styles including Gothic, baroque, and Romanesque. The combination of these creates a unique boulevard, which resembles the Liverpool Docks and 1920s New York.
Today, the Bund is still home to many of the city's hotels, bars and banks. The nature of the area has not changed so dramatically either. Huge western banks and office buildings dominate the horizon of the Bund, emphasizing the role the city plays as a commercial and financial base.
The pleasure of the Bund, is that it is not simply a tourist strip but a place that everyone enjoys. At sunrise, the boulevard fills up with people of all ages practicing Tai Chi or dancing. In the day, while visitors file up and down the long strip, it's business as usual in many of these magnificent buildings. And, in the evenings, couples wander along the river front, holding hands and enjoying the spectacular city lights, buildings and atmosphere of the area which provide a continual reminder that Shanghai was, and in may ways still is, a foreign invention.
| Yuyuan Garden|
The Yuyuan gardens are situated not far from the Bund in the southwestern side of the city. The Yuyuan is certainly tacky- a kind of China meets Disney with an added twist- but nevertheless well worth a visit.
The Gardens themselves were completed in 1577 by the Pan family in Shanghai. The original Gardens were destroyed twice in the 1800s and have now been restored. They are usually pretty busy but, are worth looking at if you can either come during the week or are prepared to face the masses. The gardens cover a significant space and include a few halls, springs and other buildings of interest.
The area surrounding the Gardens makes up the Old City God's Temple Area and was known in colonial times as the "Chinese City".Today, the area directly around Yuyuan has been "renovated" somewhat tastelessly and is a mass of tourist shops and naff decorations. The Queen of England visited here recently and took tea in the famous Huxinting Tea House. The tea house is something of an institution around these parts and while quaint and interesting, is extortionately over-priced.
What is nice about this area are the numerous antique markets and the small side streets which have yet to be renovated by the authorities. There is a great antique market just off Shanghai "Old street" and another on a small alley called Dongtai Lu. Be prepared to bargain hard in these places though. Some of the stuff is genuine but other "antiques" are less authentic and its slightly worrying that the most popular English word in these places seems to be "very old, very cheap"!
| The Shanghai Museum|
The Shanghai Museum was originally housed within the City Library on Nanjing Road until 1995. This spectacular building is now the centerpiece of People's Square. The Museum is a harmonious combination of square shapes and circular ones, epitomizing the Chinese traditional concept which imagines heaven as round and earth as square. The design is also in keeping with Feng Shui principles and this perfectly symmetrical building is said to resemble a large Chinese cooking pot with two handles protruding from either side. In the evenings, smoke bellows out of the vents in the building, making the museum literally appear to be simmering away in the center of the city.
As well as embodying the modern spirit of the city, the museum also houses a great permanent collection and hosts various exhibitions throughout the year. Even if you are not a big museum fan, this place is worth a visit. The displays are well presented and labeled in English and Chinese and it's an excellent indication of the cultural wealth existing in the city.The museum boasts over 120,000 pieces, including bronze, ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, sculpture, ancient Chinese coins, jade furniture, and western art.
| Nanjing Road|
|Nanjing Road was the first commercial road in Shanghai. In the early 20th century, there were only four department stores along this stretch. Today, it has become the number one place for shopping in the city. The money at work in the road has encouraged many companies and businesses over the years to set up bases near here. Nanjing Road is fantastically located, stemming off the Huangpu River and the Bund at a right angle and linking the city's main commercial and residential districts to the mouth of the river. The road to the east of Xizang Road is called Nanjing Dong Road while the road to the west is known as Nanjing Xi Road.|
| Jade Buddha Temple|
|The Jade Buddha Temple (Yufo Si) was built during the Guangxu period of the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1875-1909) and burned down in the early 20th century. In 1918, Jade Buddha Temple was rebuilt on Anyuan Road. The construction of the temple is in the magnificent architectural style of the Song Dynasty. The temple is composed of several compounds such as the Halls of Heavenly Kings, the Main Hall, the Hall of the Sleeping Buddha and the Hall of the Jade Buddha. There are monks currently living in the Temple and the Temple houses the Shanghai Buddhist Institute. Here many ancient statues, paintings, a complete set of Buddhist scriptures (printed in the Qing Dynasty), and over 7000 other rare scriptures are kept.|
| Oriental Pearl TV Tower|
|The Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower stands in Pudong Park in the new and developing Lujiazui district on the banks of the Huangpu River. The tower was once the highest building in the city but now, although it's spire reaches higher than the Jinmao Building, it pales in insignificance compared to its mammoth neighbor. |
The design for the Tower incorporates eleven spheres (or "pearls") and three gigantic columns linking the green grass below to the blue sky above. There are six high speed passenger elevators (although there are usually queues) inside the column taking visitors up to the viewing platform which affords great views over the city. One of the most impressive aspects of the building is the lighting. A computer controlled system alternates the light on the tower dependent on the weather conditions.
Although the Tower has now been surpassed in terms of height and design, many Chinese still see it as a fantastic symbol of the new Shanghai. Photographs and Postcards of the Building when it was first completed illustrate the gargantuan changes that have taken place in a short space of time here.