This part of Shanghai, on the left bank of the river Huangpu, belonged to France from 1849 to 1946. At the beginning it was just a marsh, without any gardens or rice paddies. It was all the Chinese were prepared to give to the first consul, Charles de Montigny, who came to negotiate a Concession where French people could buy property and live under French law.
In the beginning, I was interested in the French Concession because of it's history. This inhospitable place has lived through a lot of changes. Over the years in this marshy area, mankind has reclaimed ground, bridged the streams and made it more beautiful. From an inhospitable piece of ground they have created a fashionable area where luxury shops, delicatessens and tea shops share the space and the upmarket clients.
Nowadays, the shops you will find there are very familiar. A bit like the plane trees that the French brought there, or some of the Art Déco furniture. I like to eat macaroons or dine in a Parisian style bistro on one of the squares of the former Concession. This corner of Shanghai is still a great place to eat a French style meal, drink a glass of Bordeaux, or buy perfume. In the maze of narrow streets you run across bicycles and trees. It's a bit like being in Provence. French people who are feeling homesick during their trip to China, are recommended to spend some time there!
The French Concession had its apogee after World War I. It just kept growing. In 1934, it had more inhabitants than Lyon!
Life was organized around churches, schools, hospitals, and brothels (well, the French are famous for them!) Travellers can still feel how important France was to China at the time. Thousands of Chinese were drawn to the Concession, especially when the first cars were seen there.
But in 1941 the game changed when Shanghai was occupied by Japanese troops. Shanghai's inhabitants flocked there for protection. Times were changing and agreements to restore territory started to be signed. France left the town in 1946 but you can still feel its soul in the French Concession...