Shanghai

 

4 Days Shanghai Tour: Five-Star: Shanghai Portman Ritz Carlton | Deluxe: Hua Ting Hotel

By Chinese standards, Shanghai is a very modern incarnation. Although its antecedents go back to the Warring States period (475–221 BCE), when it was just a small fishing village on a tidal creek near the mouth of the Yangzi River, it’s gradual transformation into a flourishing trading city gathered enormous momentum in the 19th century when it became one of the treaty ports and thus was internationalized’. It has since become the world’s seventh largest city, as well as the nation’s biggest port and manufacturing base.

It was that very position near the mouth of the Yangzi, China’s main trade artery, which made Shanghai so attractive to 19th-century merchants from Europe and America. Modern Shanghai owes its development, cityscape and pre-eminence to that strange conjunction of Western traders and regional Chinese entrepreneurs who flocked there to make their fortune in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.




The Bund

 
 
 
The Bund and Xujiahui Cathedral are part of the Western legacy. The Bund is probably the most famous thoroughfare in China. It’s official name is Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, though the Shanghainese call it Waitan. It should be noted that the local government is now substituting Road for Lu as part of their efforts to encourage the use of English.

The Bund stretches along a section of the Huangpu River, and is bounded on the other side by spectacular colonial buildings. In the 1930s, those buildings housed the offices of foreign trading firms and banks, so the Bund was then Shanghai’s equivalent to Wall Street. Much of the 1930s skyline remains, including the old Hongkong and Shanghai Bank building, with its broad facade, portico and dome now home to the Pudong Development Bank after being vacated as the city’s Communist Party headquarters in 1996.

The most striking skyline is now opposite the Bund in the rapidly developing Pudong, where the 88-storey Jin Mao building, housing the Grand Hyatt hotel in its higher storeys, is topped only by the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.
 




Temple of the Town God

 
 
 
The city has some attractive temples, too. In the old quarter, there is the Taoist Temple of the Town God, very active and an architectural curiosity.

In the northwest of the city stands the Temple of the Jade Buddha (Yufo Si), named after its two exquisite milk-white jade Buddhas, which were brought from Burma in the 19th century. One of the Buddhas is seated, and the other is recumbent, the latter position symbolizing the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment. It is an active temple. The monks are used to visitors, who may, if they wish, attend the religious services here.

At the western end of Nanjing Lu is the Jing’an Temple, dating back to the last century, when it was popularly known to foreign residents as the Bubbling Well Temple. It has a colourful history, and was once presided over by an abbot who was famous for his rich wife, seven concubines and White Russian bodyguard.

To the southwest of the city, near a small park, stands the Longhua Temple, with its seven-storey pagoda. The temple was founded in the third century, although the pagoda in its present form dates from the tenth century and the other buildings are all from the Qing dynasty. In a bid to attract tourists, the tradition of holding a temple fair here in spring—the season of peach blossoms which can be seen in the adjoining Longhua Park—has been revived.
 



Nanjing Lu

 
 
 

In the old city south of Nanjing Lu, you can add to your shopping list long cotton underwear for less than a few dollars, fans with Chinese opera characters, pot plants and patterned silks.

This quarter is popular with locals, too, thanks to its restaurants and the Huxinting Teahouse. This is set in the middle of a pond and is reached by a nine-turn, zigzag bridge. It has arched eaves and is painted red, making it a perfect setting for a leisurely cup of tea and traditional Chinese snacks.

On the other side of the pond is a slightly scruffier establishment, which serves delicious steamed dumplings known as Nanxiang dumplings. Made of minced pork, steamed in a thin pastry skin and dipped in vinegar and slices of ginger, they are so popular that the small restaurant can be identified simply by the sight of steam escaping from its windows and the crowds around its door.


 




Xintiandi

 
 
 
Historic architecture plays a major role in Shanghai’s most stylish eating and entertainment area at Xintiandi, ‘New Heaven on Earth,’ which opened in 2001. The Luwan district government wanted to rejuvenate the area for the 50th anniversary of communist rule. Though an historic part of the former French Concession, this in itself was insufficient to safeguard the area from being razed to make way for new development. However, its hosting the building where the communist party was founded in 1921 gained it some security.

This Hong Kong initiated development is Shanghai’s answer to London’s Covent Garden. A whole block of archetypal ‘shikumen’ houses, dating from the early 20th century, have been fabulously refurbished and recreated to perfection. Such shikumen, or stone frame door, houses—a cross between the British terraced house and the Chinese courtyard dwelling—are fast disappearing across the city, only to be replaced by faceless high-rise apartment blocks. Here they are preserved in an environment where East meets West, and where the past and present collide.

A neighbouring modern block contains shops, a cinema and a chic boutique hotel. The area is fringed by the impressive Taipingqiao Park, where Shanghai’s largest downtown man-made lake mirrors this marriage of old and new.
 



Yu Garden

 
 
 
The Yu Garden, adjacent to the Lubolang restaurant, is a good place to walk off that lunch; it has marvellous vistas of pools, pavilions and rock gardens. The garden is attractive but it is often overcrowded with sightseers. It was laid out in the 16th century by a Ming official who made the garden to please his father. Only two hectares (five acres) in size, it recreates a wild landscape in miniature, with strange rocks, still pools, running water, meandering paths which offer changing vistas, and small pavilions in which to sit, dream or watch the moon.

The garden also has an interesting history as the headquarters of the ‘Society of Little Swords’, an offshoot of the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century. In fact, this association saved the garden from the destructions of the Cultural Revolution, since the ‘Little Swords’ were deemed to be early revolutionaries.