True. Almost everyone we talked about the city with before and during our visit said that. But if already the 1930’s guidebooks to the city mentioned, or actually warned about this, obviously Shanghai must already be one of the various incarnations of China these days, right? Shanghainese sure think Shanghai is China, just not the China one might expect to find.
Shanghai has been a busy city for centuries, absorbing winds from every direction and luring people with good and less sweet intentions. The architecture here can be approached like the annual rings of the trees, you’ll see how different influences, trends, decades, cultures and government projects have left their mark. Many who come for a couple of days may only have time to see the Nanjing Road, the Bund and some Pudong skyscrapers. And yes, they are definitely an important part of the history and actually Nanjing Road is quite an excellent way to start exploring the city.
In her article Nanjing Road: A walk down memory lane Michelle Qiao (Shanghai Daily, May 27, 2017) provides interesting quotes by Shanghai historian Xiong Yuezhi, editor-in-chief of the book General History of Shanghai:
“Few roads can rival Nanjing Road in terms of colorfulness and richness it embodied”//“Many of China’s modern facilities made its debut on this road, such as the gas and electric lamps, trolley cars, elevators and skyscrapers, as well as neon lights and large amusement parks”//“I can find no words to describe its former prosperity. It was a place to show off political power where big celebrations were often held. A galaxy of celebrities left their traces, too. It’s where Dr Sun Yat-sen concocted spectacles, Albert Einstein lectured on theory of relativity, Bertrand Russell gave a speech on cross-cultural comparison and Charlie Chaplin had his silk shirts tailor-made.”
As our first hotel JW Marriott Tomorrow Square was located on the East Nanjing Road, next to People’s Square & Park, we started our first afternoon by just walking out of our hotel and following the shopping strip that takes you all the way to the Bund. This is a combo of old and new buildings, an interesting walk for architecture puffs we believe. And if you pay attention, you can find some really historical things.
Nanjing Road is one of the busiest, maybe even the busiest, shopping streets in the world and obviously it’s name is a famous one too. For a lot of people it is one thing they can name of the city.
Originally the 1851 constructed East Nanjing Road was called Park Lane, then Nanking Road and then, after World War 2 it again got a new name, East Nanjing Road. The same time former Bubbling Well Road became West Nanjing Road. The general name of the two roads is Nanjing Road, with the People’s Park in the middle.
Actually, the futuristic hotel next to the People’s Park we stayed at is quite an impressive architectural masterpiece itself and you can enjoy it even if you don’t stay there. There’s a nice selection of bars and restaurants to try here. Even an afternoon drink at the lobby bar gives you awesome views.
Just across the street is the former Shanghai Raceclub Building from 1934. The vast People’s Park used to be a horse-racing track where notable race horses with names like Silky Light, Hero and Picadilly raced and where famous personalities gathered to socialize and gamble. At this point you could go and take a nice walk around the People’s Park and then return to East Nanjing Road.
The first department stores in China opened here, at East Nanjing Road in the 1920’s and The Shanghai No 1 Department Store, that opened in 1936 (last major renovation 2017), still averages 150,000 shoppers a day.
After this department store you’ll have a nice pedestrian shopping area, one of the urban regeneration projects that started in the 1990’s and aimed at mixed use of land, revitalising urban areas and introducing a new lifestyle in Shanghai.
The promenade is complete with trees, sitting areas, street lamps and even a trolley that drives back and forth the pedestrian area. The high-end shops and designer boutiques can now found on West Nanjing Road and some other upscale shopping streets, but don’t skip East Nanjing Road because of that.
Shops & restaurants are on both sides (we even found an alley for street food) and as the sun starts setting the neons start glowing one by one. Just mere looking at the crowds is fun, this is a feel good area for walking.
To explore Chinese grocery ingredients, there is the No 1 Food Store (720 East Nanjing Road) that has several themed floors. The first floor is mostly for gifts like moon cakes, sweets, nuts and tea. Go to floors above to find with fresh produce of land & sea, chicken feet, the most exotic dried sea creatures, fungue and items you just can’t name in any way.
Interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM? Want to get your yin and yang back in balance? One of the oldest traditional pharmacies in Shanghai is Cai Tong De (450 East Nanjing Road) that opened in 1882. There’s also a TCM clinic above the store. The store sells herbal remedies for all imaginable conditions and items like ginseng, dried seahorse, lotus seeds and bird nests in the most beautiful gift boxes.
Suddenly, as the pedestrian area ends, you’ll likely be guided to walk on just one side of the street. As the crowd gets heavy, the police starts guiding pedestrians like herds and you can only walk East bound the right side and West bound the left side.
After all the walking it was nice to escape the crowds and find the alfresco rooftop terrace of The Swatch Art Peace Hotel (you could alternatively go across the street to hang out at the Fairmont Peace Hotel’s legendary Jazz Bar, no views, though), a hotel and an artist residency at the corner of East Nanjing Road and The Bund. The building has an interesting history, enjoys protected status and is one of the most significant and well-known landmarks in Shanghai. As we walked to the terrace the sun had set and the views to Huangpu River and Pudong were spectacular.