Loved as the Paris of the East or reviled as the Whore of the Orient,  Shanghai has had a chequered history.  China’s eastern coastal megalopolis of Shanghai (Hu for short), situated on the estuary of Yangtze River, began as a fishing village in the 11th century, but by the mid-18th century it was an important area for growing cotton and by the 1800s it was becoming the largest city in China, a position that led to frequently unwelcome intervention from foreigners seeking to impose their exports on the Empire during the nineteenth century.

During the early 1900s, Shanghai attracted many entrepreneurs and established businesses.  Around the same time, opium sales along with the gambling and prostitution that went with it brought in very big profits.   Foreigners came into Shanghai due to foreign trade after the Opium Wars.  Shanghai was the largest and most prosperous city in the Far East during the 1930s.  During the first half the twentieth century, Shanghai was the only port in the world to accept Jews fleeing the Holocaust without an entry visa.  The British, along with the Americans and French, were allowed to live in certain territorial zones without being under the Chinese laws.  As a result of all the foreigners, Shanghai became greatly influenced by Western culture.  After the end of Shanghai’s subjugation by the Japanese, the Nationalist Chinese government was given control of the city.  The foreigners no longer had control and by 1949, Shanghai was transformed by the Communist Chinese government.

Things then changed dramatically after Communism took over.  As the foreigners left, the businesses that were left behind were one by one taken over by the government.  After losing ground during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, Deng Xiaopeng’s open door policy allowed for the advancement back to being an international force in business and finance.  Now the good times are rolling again as China’s economic boom has lifted Shanghai from the doldrums and given this city of 27 million people a high-tech makeover of mammoth proportions. Shanghai hosted the World Expo in 2010.  After the building boom, Shanghai is now relatively easy to navigate by taxi, metro and on your own feet. The face of the city constantly evolves weekly as roads are ripped up, subway lines added, and new skyscrapers built.

Many foreigners chose to live, give lectures or just experience the Chinese charm in Shanghai. They included Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Czar Nicholas II, Prince of Siam, Aga Khan, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Doris Duke, George Vanderbilt and Bernard Shaw to name but a few.

Shanghai’s cosmopolitan past has given the city an eclectic architectural heritage. The historic shikumen houses of the now-trendy Xintiandi area fuse Chinese style with European design flair, and the city also has one of the richest collections of art deco buildings in the world.  As a result of the numerous Concessions (designated districts) granted to Western powers at the turn of he 20th century, Shanghai sometimes has the feel of Paris or London, while Tudor style buildings give a German flair, and the 1930’s buildings put you in New York or Chicago.  Nowhere else in China is the contrast between old and new China so striking – sidestep from a glittering shopping parade into a narrow pedestrian alley and 15 seconds later you are in another world.  Housewives dry their laundry outside, beat carpets and take more than a few breaks to gossip and laugh with neighbors.

Shanghai is bisected by the Huangpu River, with the older town (Puxi) on the west bank and most of the brash new development on the east side (Pudong). The space-age Pudong skyline is dominated by the bold (some might say hideous) skyscrapers of the Lujiazui Financial District

Sightseeing

  • The Bund. Situated on the bank of the Huang river, Shanghai’s most famous mile of riverfront, here, one can enjoy the bracing air and fine sunshine as well as seeing something of the many activities along the river. The new finance and commercial houses cluster together along the south of the Bund while along the west there is a wealth of grand buildings in the European architectural styles of the nineteen-twenties, thirties and early forties. It boasts some of Shanghai’s most impressive architecture and is home to some of its most prominent institutions. The 52 buildings that make up the Bund represent a number of architectural styles, but the strip is best known for the Art Deco elegance that graces many of the buildings. The scenery at night has to be seen and the Bund is a must. The ornate classical and modern buildings take on a new and exciting look as they are lit up by an abundance of colored lights. Looking across the Huangpu River to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and skyscrapers is a magical sight.  While on the Bund, don’t miss:
    ★ Peace Hotel (Cathay) (20 Nanjing Rd E) The name is indicative of the ambiance within—this hotel is where you go to get away from it all. an art deco mansion that epitomizes the colonial romance of Shanghai. Built in 1929 by Victor Sassoon, a British descendant of Baghdad Jews who’d made their fortune in opium and real estate, the building was originally part office/residential complex known as the Sassoon House, and part hotel, the Cathay Hotel, one of the world’s finest international hotels in the 1930’s.  The most notable feature of the residence is that it has 17 restaurants offering Shanghai, Cantonese, Sichuan and French cuisine. A country-style jazz bar adds to the eccentricity, with the help of 75 old timers of the local music scene.
  • Pudong & Lujiazui Financial District a conglomeration of shockingly massive skyscrapers creating the financial hub of China, viewable from just about anywhere in Shanghai, but very views are from the bund on the PuXi side.  Major buildings include:
    ★ Oriental Pearl TV Tower (东方明珠塔) [opened in 1994]  – Most Recognizable Landmark (2 Lane 504 Jujiazui Rd,  Pu Dong District) is the modern symbol of Shanghai. Standing beside the Huangpu River and the Bund with a height of 468 meters high, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower is was of the highest towers in Asia. Tourists may climb the tower for panoramic views of the city.  There is a revolving restaurant at the 267 m level.  The ground floor features a shopping area, cafe, and an international city exhibit.  On clear days, the upper levels of this tower, measuring no less than 263 meters in height, offer spectacular views of the city.
    ★ Jinmao Tower (金茂大厦) (88 Century Blvd, PuDong) [opened in 1999] The world’s fourth tallest building and the tallest building in China (at least it is at the time of writing), the Jinmao Tower soars over Shanghai in the Pudong district, overlooking the Bund and Huangpu River. The Tower, with its 88 floors (eight is a lucky number in China), can be seen from almost anywhere in Shanghai and was built by the same architecture firm that designed Chicago’s Sears Tower. It contains a shopping mall, offices and the Grand Hyatt Shanghai hotel, which at the time of completion was the highest hotel in the world. Take in the sweeping views of the city from either the observation deck on the 88th floor or from within the Hyatt hotel, which features a 33-story atrium starting on the 55th floor.
    ★ Shanghai World Financial Center (上海环球金融中心) [opened in 2008], the tallest building with a hole, offers the full extent of Lujiazui and Puxi areas, attracting more and more visitors to appreciate the beautiful panorama of modern Shanghai.  Designed by a Japanese firm, the original design called for a circular hole, only during construction did the Chinese government notice that it could be perceived as “the Japanese rising sun” over China, and demanded a change of shape.   The top of the building was redesigned to make it look more like a bottle opener.
    ★ Shanghai Tower (上海中心大厦) [opened in 2015], tallest building in China and 2nd tallest building in the world (behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa). As of 2015, it has the world’s highest observation deck within a building or structure  and the world’s fastest elevators at a top speed of 74 km/h). Owned by the Shanghai city government, designed for high energy efficiency, provides nine separate zones divided between office, retail and leisure use.
  • French Concession (上海法租界) was established on 6 April 1849, when the French Consul to Shanghai, Charles de Montigny, obtained a proclamation from Lin Kouei (麟桂, Lin Gui), the Circuit Intendant (Tao-tai/Daotai, effectively governor) of Shanghai, which conceded certain territory for a French settlement. The concession came to an end in 1943 when the Vichy French government signed it over to the pro-Japanese puppet government in Nanking. For much of the 20th century, the area covered by the former French Concession remained the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai. Despite re-development over the last few decades, the area retains a distinct character, and is a popular tourist destination.   Explore the area between Julu Rd (巨鹿路) to the north and Huaihai Rd (淮海路) running through the center, plus Maoming Rd (茂名南路) and surrounding area to the south of Huaihai Rd. Pleasant tree-lined streets and local Shanghainese bustle, combined with a growing number of trendy boutiques and restaurants. Changle Rd (长乐路) and Xinle Rd (新乐路) are rapidly becoming the places to find small designer clothing shops.   Some major points: 
    ★ Avenue Joffre, now Central Huaihai Road, is Shanghai’s most fashionable street.  Built in 1901, the 6km long boulevard stretched across the French Concession in an east-west direction. The road was named after Joseph Joffre in 1916. Avenue Joffre was a tram route. Its eastern section featured Shikumen residences. Its western part featured high-end residential developments, including standalone houses and apartment blocks. The central section was – and is – a popular shopping area, with many shops opened by the Russian community. The former Avenue Joffre remains a high-end retail district under it’s new name, Huai Hai Road, which commemorates the Huai Hai Battle during Liberation. Today, this road has become synonymous with what is trendy and fashionable in Shanghai. While the stretch between Shan Xi Rd and Xi Zang Rd is the busiest section (and best for people-watching), this commercial street contains more than 400 shops, restaurants and businesses. The remnants of French architecture give the street its cosmopolitan charm.
    ★ Xujiahui (Zikawei: “Xu’s Confluence”), an area named after the family of Xu Guangqi and the confluence of two local rivers. While Xujiahui was technically not part of the French Concession (lying immediately west of the boundary of the concession), it was the centre of Catholic Shanghai, featuring St Ignatius Cathedral, the Observatory, the Library, and several colleges, all of which were French-dominated. Today, Xujiahui is a busy commercial district. If you’re looking for anything electronic, Xujiahui is the place to start. Pacific Digital Plaza is a huge electronics mall in two parts. Phase 2 is more oriented to the end-user market; for things like custom-built computers or parts for do-it-yourself, try the upper floors of Phase 1.  Today’s Xuhui District is named after this locality.
    ★ Avenue Pétain, now Hengshan Road, was a major bou