It's impossible to fully understand Shanghai without first learning the history of the Bund. Stretching along the riverfront from Suzhou Creek into downtown, Shanghai's embankment or "bund" formed the epicenter of the international settlement in Shanghai in the 19th and early 20th century, and thus sat at the crossroads of the cultural, economic, and political fervor centered around this city at this time. During this 3-hour Shanghai Walking Tour led by an expert on Chinese history, we'll explore the Bund's social and political history, visiting some of the area’s main sites and discovering a new way of understanding this critical period in Chinese history.
"This tour was one of those all too infrequent events in life that absolutely exceeded expectations... I can't remember learning as much in such a short period of time in many, many years, and having so much fun doing it."
Paris of the Orient
We begin at the Astor House Hotel with an overview of Shanghai in the 1840s when, at the end of the first Opium War, British negotiators secured the city as a political and economic free zone, nominally under Chinese rule, but effectively under British (eventually American) control. We'll look at how, propelled by these events, Shanghai rose in sixty years to become the so-called Paris of the Orient, a center of culture, art, and liberal thought.
Shanghai Walking Tour
Crossing Suzhou Creek and progressing along the Huangpu River, we'll enter into the center of the Bund and visit some of the key buildings that tell the story of this part of Shanghai. These include the former premises of HSBC and the Cathay (Peace) Hotel, two key monuments that formed the backdrop to international life in the area before 1949. Our course will take us also off the beaten path a bit to explore areas like the Waitanyuan, or ‘Headstream of the Bund,’ which sustained a curious mix of missionary and commercial activity before 1949, and is today being redeveloped as an upscale retail and leisure destination. Here we'll discover a unique blend of 1920s architecture that give us a sharp portrait of what life was like in Shanghai during this heady time.
Behind the Scenes on the Bund
At this point we'll dive deep into the International Settlement, heading away from the river, along Bubbling Well Road, now West Nanjing Road, one of Shanghai's busiest thoroughfares, lined with imposing mansions before its massive redevelopment in the 1920s and 1930s. An island of that historic development remains in the distinctive lilong or ‘community lane’ housing areas where some dwellings still maintain their characteristic ‘stone frame door’ (shikumen) entrances. Depending on the day, we may be able to step into a few of these such as the 1928 courtyard apartment block where the young Margot Fonteyn once lived.
Depending on time, we may finish up back near the river by visiting the Yu Gardens built in the 16th century, which provides an interesting contrast between the earlier, traditional parts of Shanghai and the later, international areas.
We’ll be able to take in the vast development of the Bund, pulling together the various elements explored on our journey into contemporary Shanghai. We will finish with a better knowledge of this critical period in Chinese history.