China; Shanghai and the Bund

Less than two hundred years ago, Shanghai was just a small village. Thanks to colonization and opium traders, Shanghai has become the largest world port in the world. In 2004, the city took over this title from Rotterdam. The Bund is the colonial boulevard on the Huangpu River. There is a lot of history to be found here.


In Cantonese Seung Hooi. The name of the city means: At sea. It is a port city located on China’s Yellow Sea. Shanghai is the largest city in China, is a municipality and is one of four Chinese cities that also have the status of a province.
Shanghai is a municipality with more than 15,500,000 inhabitants, making it the largest municipality in the world. The municipality has almost 800,000 fewer inhabitants than in the entire Netherlands. Since 2004 it has been the largest port city in the world, beating Rotterdam.


Shanghai is divided into 17 urban districts and 3 rural districts, each of which is administratively divided. Pudong district has a separate status and autonomy. The city center is divided into 9 districts (the Puxi). The Bund and Hongqiao (the business district) are on the west bank. The shopping street is located on Nanjing Road in the Huangpu district where the municipal hall and government buildings are also located.
Once upon a time, just under a hundred years ago, Shanghai was a grimy port city. Founded by opium traders from France and England. Then the city was called the Paris of the Far East. Half of modern-day Shanghai was still underwater 1,300 years ago.
History in a nutshell:

  • From the years 618 to 907 (during the Tang dynasty) and from 960 to 1279 (during the Song dynasty), Shanghai was an insignificant port and fishing town on the Huangpu River.
  • In the second half of the 11th century, the name Shanghai came into being, named after one of the tributaries of the Wusong River.
  • In the years 1280 to 1368 (during the Yuang dynasty), a center of cotton spinning and weaving emerged in Shanghai. It is suspected that the farmer’s wife Huang Daopo brought this art to the city.
  • Then the Ming dynasty follows from 1368 to 1644. Under their management the city became increasingly important, especially for trade in and around the port. In 1544, the city was given walls around the old harbor to fortify it against the raids of Japanese pirates. The walls remained standing until the early 20th century. The outline of these walls can still be recognized in the oval shape of the ring road around the city center.
  • In the 17th and 18th centuries the city became increasingly important, partly due to the silk production in the area around the city.
  • In the 19th century, the port ensured a flourishing domestic trade. In 1832 the first westerners came to the city. At that time the population was 300,000. The Treaty of Nanying was drawn up in 1842. This partly formed the basis of the foundation of modern Shanghai. That same year the British were given settlement rights, five years later it was the turn of the French. Sixteen years later the Americans followed. Over the years, Shanghai became China’s most important foreign trade center. Foreign powers took over parts of the city for trade. The Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921, and the May 30th Movement emerged four years later.
  • Then followed the occupation by Japan from 1937 to 1945. Until the Japanese invasion, Shanghai was the most glorious metropolis in Asia. Around 1930 the city had more than 700 brothels.
  • In 1945 the city came under the authority of the Guomindang and four years later, 1949, the communists took over power, which they still have.

Today, Shanghai is a fast-growing megacity, full of skyscrapers and where plans are ready for the tallest building in the world, more than 1,200 meters high. The city is constantly changing, people do not hesitate to flatten an entire residential block for the construction of a skyscraper.
The city is full of ultra-modern skyscrapers on the Pudong, which is the most important Asian economic center. Yet the city has a lot of history, buildings from the colonial times of Germany, France or England. Many of these old, historic buildings are currently being restored. This modern, dazzling city is the avant-garde of China.

The Bund

The Bund is a chic, colonial 4 km long boulevard on the Huangpu River (this river is also called the Chun Shen River or the Huang Xie River). The river is 114 km long, 400 meters wide and 9 meters deep, the water is colored yellow. There are many colonial buildings on the Bund. The Bund was once the financial center of the Far East (in the pre-communist era) and was called the Wall Street of the East.
In addition to many colonial buildings (European commercial properties), there are also many luxury hotels, Western buildings and banks (such as the Jardine & Matheson and the Hong Kong & Shanghai bank). These western buildings all date from around 1937, which symbolize the power of Europe in both financial and commercial areas. Many street vendors, pickpockets, musicians, etc. can be found here. On the water, bulky container ships and decorated pleasure boats sail right through each other. On the other side of the Bund are the modern skyscrapers.
The historic buildings have all been restored. The oldest building is the Peace Hotel, located on the corner of Nanjing Lu shopping street. The hotel has high ceilings, wood carvings. Much is built in the art-deco style.

The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel

Through this tunnel, a kind of capsule takes you to the other side of the river (about 400 meters further) in 5 minutes. Along the way you get (if you like) a kitschy light show.

The Bund History Museum

On the north side of the Bund is the Bund History Museum, near the Monument to the People’s Heroes. The museum (which is free of charge) has a photo exhibition about the history of the Bund, its commercial past and the political unrest before the Second World War. Opposite the museum is Huangpu Park. Built by the British and off-limits to the Chinese until 1928.

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