In my previous post titled “Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy” I mentioned that on my many trips to Shanghai, I often went wandering in and out of every variety of store along the Bund (and surrounding area) that ran along the Huangpu River.
In my book, No Problem, Mr. Walt at the beginning of each chapter is a little Chinese history beginning with Emperor Pu Yi in the early 1900s and progressing chapter by chapter to the present. So in that spirit, I will tell you a little about the Bund and its ever changing skyline.
The area in the picture known as the Shanghai Bund has a large number of historical buildings lining the Huangpu River. Many of the buildings once housed banks and trading houses during a period when Western trading nations and the Japanese controlled large parts of China and tried their best to uphold the corrupt foreign Manchu Dynasty to protect their own interests.
It was initially a British settlement and over time became the International Settlement. Around the turn of the 20th century many beautiful buildings sprang up along the Bund. The hotel where I stayed every time I was in Shanghai (not far from the Bund) at one time was in the old French Concession.
Over the years the Bund housed the headquarters of most of the financial institutions operating in China and had the best hotels and clubs in Asia. When the communists came to power many of the financial institutions move and the clubs and hotels were converted to other uses. All the statues and signage from the Western trading nations that once ruled Shanghai were thrown into the trash can of history.
Then everything changed – a portion of the area's racetrack was converted into the People’s Park and the communists constructed the People’s Square out of the southern half. Mao Tse-tung ran China with an iron fist and the Bund area looked like the rest of China - not too good.
After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping came into power saying, “To become rich is glorious” and the rest is history. For example, the Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai Hotel is now where the Shanghai Club once stood which was the principal social club for British nationals in Shanghai. I think of Deng as the George Washington of China and will write a little about his colorful life (he once worked in a tractor factory) in an upcoming blog.
Visiting the Bund always reminded me of Christmas shopping back home thanks to the daily throngs of shoppers lining the streets, their bags loaded with goodies.
Today, the Bund is grander that it has ever been, so if you travel to China be sure and visit my favorite shopping district.