What would Shanghai be without the Bund? It might be like a body without a backbone. The view from the top of the buildings along the banks of the River Huangpu is, in my eyes, a symbol of contemporary China. You can admire the main boulevard, which is 1.5 kilometers long, as well as the heart of Shanghai, made up from ultra modern skyscrapers, European-style buildings, banks, and the former subsidiaries of international companies. From the architecture to the way different cultures co-exist, it's like an open book on the city's history.
If you spend an evening in Shanghai, don't pass on the waterfront promenade and take the time to observe the differences on each side. As you do so, you'll meet with Chinese people in a hurry as well as laid back families, an extremely refreshing melting-pot!
The Bund is located on the left bank of the Hangpu, and is characterized by its 1930s heritage and historic commercial buildings. I enjoy imagining the sophisticated lifestyles of the colonial era, when women dressed in sensual western styles and smoked using terribly chic cigarette holders. It was the great period of art déco, which came directly from France! The buildings are still influenced by the cultural trends of the era.
Of course, things have changed. Everybody experiences today's mix differently. On the other side of the river, the Pudong business district is built alongside traditional houses. Chinese practice tai chi right alongside the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.
To my mind, the main symbols of modern China can be found here: history and heritage on the left bank, and the rush toward economic growth on the right bank, traditional ways of living in the parks and the frenzied modernity experienced by a workforce in a hurry.
In order to understand the place better, I need to explain its history. Originally a simple mud bank, the Bund was not laid down until 1846, when Shanghai became a trading port. Those who remembered that far back reported how women held the reins of finance in the early days. At the time, they sold the fish that their husbands had caught. That meant that they were in charge of the coffers! As such, Shanghai has always been influenced by equality and female power.
Over time, the buildings multiplied: offices, consulates, chambers of commerce, and banks all opened. Gradually, the city began to experience a cultural and economic revolution. It became home to more and more financial institutions, and attracted jazz musicians to its bright lights. The party was in full swing, and joy rang out throughout the streets and the fashionable clubs. All nationalities were engaged in a common purpose. In the late 1940s, the atmosphere changed dramatically. The victory of the communists in the Chinese Civil War caused foreigners to leave the country. Shanghai and the bund became lifeless.
It was only at the end of the 1990s that the city authorities decided to make the Bund into Shanghai's main tourist attraction. Works were undertaken to refresh the promenade and the boulevard, making it the essential destination for visitors to the city, which it remains today.