As the gateway to the Yangzi River (Cháng Jiāng), Shànghǎi (the name means ‘by the sea’) has long been an ideal trading port. However, although it supported as many as 50,000 residents by the late 17th century, it wasn’t until after the British opened their concession here in 1842 that modern Shànghǎi – in some ways the most influential city in 20th-century China – really came into being.
The British presence in Shànghǎi was soon followed by the French and Americans, and by 1853 Shànghǎi had overtaken
all other Chinese ports. Built on the trade of opium, silk and tea, the city also lured the world’s great houses of finance, which erected grand palaces of plenty. Shànghǎi also became a byword for exploitation and vice; its countless opium dens, gambling joints and brothels managed by gangs were at the heart of Shànghǎi life. Guarding it all were the American, French and Italian marines, British Tommies and Japanese bluejackets.
After Chiang Kaishek’s coup against the communists in 1927, the Kuomintang cooperated with the foreign police and the Shànghǎi gangs, and with Chinese and foreign factory owners, to suppress labour unrest. Exploited in workhouse conditions, crippled by hunger and poverty, sold into slavery, excluded from the high life and the parks created by the foreigners, the poor of Shànghǎi had a voracious appetite for radical opinion. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was formed here in 1921 and, after numerous setbacks, ‘liberated’ the city in 1949.
The communists eradicated the slums, rehabilitated the city’s hundreds of thouthousands of opium addicts, and eliminated child and slave labour. These were staggering achievements; but when the decadence went, so did the splendour. Shànghǎi became a colourless factory town and political hotbed, and was the power base of the infamous Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution.
Shànghǎi’s long malaise came to an abrupt end in 1990, with the announcement of plans to develop Pǔdōng, on the eastern side of the Huángpǔ River. Lùjiāzuǐ, the area facing the Bund on the Pǔdōng side of the Huángpǔ, is a dazzlingly modern highrise counterpoint to the austere, old-world structures on the Bund.
Shànghǎi’s burgeoning economy, its leadership and its intrinsic self-confidence have put it miles ahead of other cities in China. But perhaps alarmed by Shànghǎi’s economic supremacy, Běijīng has made attempts to curb the city’s infl uence. In March 2007, Xi Jinping was chosen as the new Shànghǎi Communist Party secretary after Chen Liangyu was dismissed from his post on corruption charges the previous year. The choice of Shaanxi (Shǎnxī)–born Xi Jinping is seen by many as a victory for President Hu Jintao in replacing members of the Shànghǎi clique of ex-president Jiang Zemin with officials loyal to his tenure.
Despite the fanfare and its modernity, Shànghǎi is only nominally an international city; it cannot compare with the effortless cosmopolitanism of cities such as Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). A recurring sense – deriving from China’s constant ambivalence regarding the outside world – pervades that the city’s internationalism is both awkward and aff ected, while a marked absence of creative energy can make this fast-changing city seem oddly parochial and inward-looking.
Shanghai is a busy city bustling with about 21 million people. Living in Shanghai is like living life in the fast lane where everything is hectic – the people, the traffic and undeniably, the bikes. Just learning to cross a street in Shanghai is a skill everyone must master.
Shanghai is China’s most Westernized city, and the most comfortable one for expatriates when they choose a city in China. Shanghai is easy to get around since there are more people who know how to speak English, and taxis are inexpensive and easily available. Although taxi drivers don’t speak English, expatriates quickly learn the names of common destinations — or rely on taxi cards, cards with the names of destinations written in Chinese. The clean, modern subway system is equally easy to navigate.
The shopping in Shanghai is excellent, from street market bargains to designer duds, although larger sizes will have to stick up at home or have things tailor made. After shopping for 6 hours straight, one may feel a bit hungry. Not to worry! There are cafes, restaurants, and hundreds of convenience stores that line Shanghai’s streets.
Shanghai is busy cleaning up its act with regard to pollution, but it is a slow process and the city today varies with some areas being more polluted than others.
The shopping in Shanghai is excellent, from street market bargains to designer duds, although larger sizes may have to resort to having things tailor made. After shopping for 6 hours straight, one may feel rather hungry. Not to worry! There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and hundreds of convenience stores lining Shanghai’s streets.
Needless to say, Shanghai has really good food especially in the French concession area. Local eats are available at any time of night and day. If you fancy hot spicy Sichuan soup, for example, you can just walk two blocks from your apartment and enjoy it immediately.
Night life is plentiful and varied in Shanghai. There are a number of clubs, bars, massage parlors and Karaoke TV places that you can frequent with a group of friends.
Shànghǎi municipality covers a huge area, but the city proper is more modest. Broadly, central Shànghǎi is divided into two areas:
Pǔxī (west of the Huángpǔ River) and Pǔdōng (east of the Huángpǔ River). The historical attractions belong to Pǔxī, where Shànghǎi’s personality is also found: the Bund (officially called East Zhongshan No 1 Rd) and the former foreign concessions, the principal shopping districts, and Shànghǎi’s trendiest clusters of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Pǔdōng is a more recent invention and is the location of the financial district and the famous Shànghǎi skyline. Remember that Shànghǎi is developing at a breakneck pace and there is consequently an even higher rate of change here than in most other major world cities. The last entrance to many Shànghǎi museums is one hour before closing.
The area around the Bund is the tourist centre of Shànghǎi and is the city’s most famous mile.
Symbolic of colonial Shànghǎi, the Bund (Wàitān) was the city’s Wall St, a place of feverish trading and fortunes made and lost. Coming to Shànghǎi and missing the Bund is like visiting Běijīng and by passing the Forbidden City or the Great Wall. Originally a towpath for dragging barges of rice, the Bund (an Anglo-Indian term for the embankment of a muddy waterfront) was gradually transformed into a grandiose sweep of the most powerful banks and trading houses in Shànghǎi. The majority of art deco and neoclassical buildings here were built in the early 20th century and presented an imposing – if strikingly un-Chinese – view for those arriving in the busy port.
Today it has emerged as a designer retail and restaurant zone, and the city’s most exclusive boutiques, restaurants and hotels see the Bund as the only place to be. The optimum activity here is to simply stroll, contrasting the bones of the past with the futuristic geometry of Pǔdōng’s skyline. Evening visits are rewarded by electric views of Pǔdōng and the illuminated grandeur of the Bund. Other options include taking a boat tour on the Huángpǔ River or relaxing at some fabulous bars and restaurants. Huángpǔ Park, at the north end of the promenade, features the modest Bund History Museum (外滩历史纪念馆; Wàitān Lìshǐ Jìniànguǎn), which has been closed for the past few years for renovations. See the walking tour for a rundown of the area’s most famous buildings.
East Nanjing Road
Once known as Nanking Rd, East Nanjing Rd (南京东路) was where the first department stores in China were opened in the 1920s, and where the modern era – with its new products and the promise of a radically different lifestyle – was ushered in. A glowing forest of neon at night, it’s no longer the cream of Shànghǎi shopping, but it’s still one of the most famous and crowded streets in China. Shànghǎi’s reputation as the country’s most fashionable city was forged in part here, through the new styles and trends introduced in department stores such as the Sun Sun (1926), today the Shànghǎi No 1 (First) Food Store (上海市第一食品商店; Shànghǎi Dìyī Shípǐn Shāngdiàn; 720 East Nanjing Rd; mPeople’s Sq), and the Sun Company (1936), now the No 1 Department Store (上海第一百货商店; Shànghǎi Dìyī Bǎihuò Shāngdiàn; Map ; 800 East Nanjing Rd; mPeople’s Sq). Guard against English-speaking Chinese women (or students) shanghaiing you towards extortionate ‘tea ceremonies’.
Rockbund Art Museum
(上海外滩美术馆; Shànghǎi Wàitān Měishùguǎn; www.rockbundartmuseum.org; 20 Huqiu Rd; 虎丘路20号; adult Y15; h10am-6pm Tue-Sun; m East Nanjing Rd) Housed in the former Royal Asiatic Society building (1932) and the adjacent former National Industrial Bank, this private museum behind the Bund focuses on contemporary art, with rotating exhibits year-round. Opened in 2010 as part of the Back Bund renovation project, the Rockbund is off to a promising start as one of the city’s top modern-art venues.
Shànghǎi Post Museum
(上海邮政博物馆; Shànghǎi Yóuzhèng Bówùguǎn; 250 North Suzhou Rd; 北苏州路250号; h9am-5pm Wed, Thu, Sat & Sun; m Tiantong Rd) It may sound like a yawner, but this is actually a pretty good museum, where you can learn about postal history in imperial China, tap your foot to China’s official postal hymn, Song of the Mail Swan Geese, and view rare pre- and post-Liberation stamps (1888–1978). It’s located in a magnificent 1924 post office, with panoramic views from the rooftop garden.
Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
(外滩观光隧道; Wàitān Guānguāng Suìdào; The Bund; one way/return Y45/55; h8am- 10.30pm; mEast Nanjing Rd) The weirdest way to get to Pǔdōng, where train modules convey speechless passengers through a tunnel of garish lights between the Bund and the opposite shore. The entrance is behind the Tourist Information & Service Centre.
Shànghǎi Gallery of Art
(上海沪申画廊; Shànghǎi Hùshēn Huàláng; 3rd fl, Three on the Bund; 中山东1路3号3楼; h11am-9pm; mEast Nanjing Rd) Pop into Shànghǎi’s handiest art gallery for glimpses of highbrow and conceptual Chinese art.
In true Shànghǎi style, today’s restaurant scene is a reflection of the city’s craving for foreign trends and tastes, whether it comes in the form of Hunanese chilli peppers or French foie gras. Most visitors will be interested in the Chinese end of the spectrum, of course, for that’s where the best cooking is, as well as the most variety. While a dinner overlooking the Huángpǔ River or safe in the Xīntiāndì bubble makes for a nice treat, real foodies know that the best restaurants in China are often where you least expect to find them. Part of the fun of eating out in Shànghǎi is stumbling across those tiny places in malls, metro stations or down backstreets that offer an inimitable dining experience. Nor should you be put off by eating in chain restaurants; many of Shànghǎi’s better eateries have branches scattered across town. Shànghǎi cuisine itself is generally sweeter than other Chinese cuisines, and is heavy on fish and seafood. Classic dishes and snacks to look for include smoked fish (熏鱼; xūnyú), braised pork belly (红烧肉; hóngshāo ròu), fried dumplings (生煎; shēngjiān) and Shànghǎi’s steamed dumpling, the xiǎolóngbāo (小笼包), copied everywhere else in China but only true
to form here. Make sure to reserve at fancier places.
THE BUND & PEOPLE’S SQUARE
A lot’s cooking near the Bund : from elegant gourmet palaces to delicious local restaurants hidden in malls, all are staking out a
spot along the sumptuous skyline.
(花马天堂; Huāmǎ Tiāntáng; www.lostheaven.com.cn; %6330 0967; 17 East Yan’an Rd; 延安东路17号; dishes Y30-90;E;m East Nanjing Rd) Lost Heaven might not have the views that keep its rivals in business, but why go to the same old Western restaurants when you can get sophisticated Bai, Dai and Miao folk cuisine from China’s mighty southwest? Specialities are flowers (banana and pomegranate), wild mushrooms, chillies, Burmese curries, Bai chicken and superb pu-erh teas, all served up in gorgeous Yúnnán-meets-Shànghǎi surrounds.
(宏伊国际广场; Hóngyī Guójì Guǎngchǎng; 299 East Nanjing Rd; 南京东路299号; meals from Y30; E; mEast Nanjing Rd) Not all malls are created equal: the Hóngyī effortlessly slices and dices the competition with its star-studded restaurant line-up, and the whole shebang is a mere stone’s throw from the waterfront. Top picks here are South Memory (6th floor), which specialises in spicy Hunanese drypots (a kind of personal miniwok); Dolar Hotpot (5th floor), whose delicious sauce bar makes it popular even outside of winter; Charme
(4th floor), a Taiwanese restaurant with tryit- to-believe-it shaved-ice desserts; Wagas (ground floor), Shànghǎi’s own wi-fi cafe chain; and Ajisen (basement), king of Japanese ramen.
(上海姥姥; Shànghǎi Lǎolao; 70 Fuzhou Rd; 福州路70号; dishes from Y20; E; mEast Nanjing Rd) This packed home-style Shanghainese eatery is within easy striking distance of the Bund and handy for a casual lunch or dinner. You can’t go wrong with the classics, like Grandma’s braised pork and fried tomato and egg.
(大食代; Dàshídài; www.dashidai.com; 6th fl , Raffl es City, 268 Middle Xizang Rd; 西藏中路268号; meals from Y35; mPeople’s Sq) King of the food courts, Food Republic offers Asian cuisines in abundance for busy diners, with handy branches around town –
this one overlooks the nonstop action on People’s Sq. Prepay, grab a card (Y10 deposit) and head to the stall of your choice for on-the-spot service.
Nina’s Sìchuān House
(蜀菜行家; Shǔcài Hángjiā; 227 North Huangpi Rd, inside Central Plaza; 黄陂北路227号; dishes Y18-88; E; mPeople’s Sq) The best Sichuanese restaurant in the neighbourhood, Nina’s is as authentic as they come, with lines out the door and few foreigners
in on the secret.
(法国餐厅; Fǎguó Cāntīng; %6321 7733; www.jean-georges.com; 4th fl, Three on the Bund, 3 East Zhongshan No 1 Rd; 中山东一路3号4楼; mains from Y148, 3-course lunches Y188; E; mEast Nanjing Rd) Divine palatepleasers such as pickled peach, goat’s cheese and crystallised wasabi salad, and crunchy tiger prawns.
Yù Fashion Garden
(豫城时尚; Yùchéng Shíshàng; Middle Fangbang Rd; 方浜中路; meals from Y58; mYuyuan Bazaar) True, eating in a mall isn’t quite the same as braving the crowds at the Yùyuán Bazaar – and if you’re up for it, by all means give it a try – but if you’d prefer to dine in more-relaxed surrounds, there are a few good choices here, notably Din Tai Fung (2nd floor), whose tender dumplings knock the stuffing out of the overrated ones at the bazaar.
(松月楼; 99 Jiujiaochang Rd; dishes Y25-48; h7am-10pm; vE; mYuyuan Bazaar) This humble spot is Shànghǎi’s oldest
veggie restaurant, with the usual mix of tofu masquerading as meat. English menu on the 2nd floor.
(%5404 5757; www.elwilly.com.cn; 20 Donghu Rd; 东湖路20号; tapas Y65-165, rice for 2 Y188-218; E; mSouth Shaanxi Rd) The unstoppable energy of colourful-sock-wearing Barcelona chef Willy fuels this restored 1920s villa, which ups its charms with creative
tapas and succulent rice dishes. The set lunch (Y78) is a steal.
(天泰餐厅; Tiāntài Cāntīng; %64459551; www.simplythai-sh.com; 5c Dongping Rd; 东平路5号C座; mains Y45-65; E; mChangshu Rd) Everyone raves about this place for its delicious, MSG-free curries and salads, and crisp decor. There’s nice outdoor seating, a choice of 55 different wines and lunch specials are good value. Another branch is in Xīntiāndì.
(新吉士; %6336 4746; Xīntiāndì, North Block, Bldg 9; 新天地北里9号楼; dishes from Y28; E; mSouth Huangpi Rd, Xīntiāndì) Sweet Shanghainese home cooking in swish surrounds: specialities include crab dumplings, stuffed red dates and the classic Grandma’s braised pork. Several branches.
WEST NANJING ROAD & JÌNG’ĀN
(福一零三九; Fú Yāo Líng Sān Jiǔ; %6288 1179; 1039 Yuyuan Rd; 愚圆路1039号; dishes Y40-288; h11am-2.30pm & 5-11pm; E;mJiangsu Rd) Set in a three-storey 1913 villa, Fu is upmarket Shanghainese all the way, with an unusual old-fashioned charm in a city hell-bent on modern design. Not easy to find, it rewards the persistent with succulent standards such as the smoked fish starter and stewed pork in soy sauce. The entrance, down an alley and on the left, is unmarked. To get here, follow Yuyuan Rd west from the metro station for about 200m (after crossing Jiangsu Rd) and then turn south (left) down an alley. The unmarked entrance will be the first on your left.
Vegetarian Life Style
(枣子树; Zǎozi Shù; %6215 7566; 258 Fengxian Rd; 奉贤路258号; dishes Y20-48; nvE; mWest Nanjing Rd) For light and healthy organic vegetarian Chinese food, with zero meat and precious little oil, this welcoming place has excellent fare. The health-conscious, ecofriendly mentality extends all the way to the toothpicks, made of cornflour. There’s another branch (%6384 8000; 77 Songshan Rd; 嵩山路77号; mSouth Huangpi Rd) in the French Concession.
PǓDŌNG NEW AREA
(正大广场; Zhèngdà Guǎngchǎng; 168 West Lujiazui Rd; 陆家嘴西路168号; h10am-10pm; mLujiazui) This gargantuan shopping mall has the best selection of eats in Pǔdōng, with everything from cheap Thai and healthy sandwiches to the swish Sichuanese-Cantonese combo on the 10th floor (South Beauty).
There’s something for most moods in Shànghǎi: opera, rock, hip hop, techno, salsa and early-morning waltzes in People’s Sq. None of it comes cheap, however (except for the waltzing, which is free). Expect a night on the town in Shànghǎi to be comparable to a night out in Hong Kong or Taipei.
Venues open and close all the time. Check out Shànghǎi’s entertainment websites and magazines for guidance.
Chinese acrobatic troupes are among the best in the world, and Shànghǎi is a good place for performances.
(逸夫舞台; Yìfū Wǔtái; Map p 170 ; %6322 5294; www.tianchan.com; 701 Fuzhou Rd; tickets Y30-280; mPeople’s Sq) A block east of People’s Sq, this is the main opera theatre in town, staging a variety of regional operatic styles, including Běijīng opera, Kunqu opera and Yue opera, with a Běijīng opera highlights show several times a week. A shop in the foyer sells CDs.
(百乐门; Bǎilèmén; %6322 5294; 218 Yuyuan Rd, Jìng’ān; 豫园路218号; afternoon-tea dances Y80, evening ballroom dancing Y250; h1- 4.30pm & 8.20pm-1.30am; mJing’an Temple) This old art deco theatre was the biggest nightclub in the 1930s, and today has sedate
afternoon-tea dances to the sounds of old-school jazz and tango, as well as ballroom dancing in the evening. It makes for a nice nostalgia trip for those with a sense of humour (dance partners cost extra).
In addition to the places listed here, other bars, cafes and restaurants, such as the Glamour Bar and Bāndù Cabin (traditional
Chinese music), stage musical performances. The Peace Hotel jazz band had just been resuscitated as this book went to press.
(育音堂; www.yuyintang.org; 1731 West Yan’an Rd, 延安西路1731号; cover Y40; hThu-Sun 8pmmidnight; mWest Yan’an Rd) Small enough to feel intimate, but big enough for a sometimes pulsating atmosphere, Yùyīntáng has long been the place in the city to see live music. Rock is the staple diet, but anything goes, from hard punk to gypsy jazz. It’s west of the city, on lines 3 and 4. The entrance is on Kaixuan Rd.
(No 288, Taikang Rd; 泰康路288号; h5.30pm-1am; mDapuqiao) This friendly bar has an eclectic line-up of local musicians – some good, some bad – every night of the week. It’s a good spot to hear some tunes after an afternoon or evening at the Taikang Rd Art Centre.
Shànghǎi’s swift transition from dead zone to party animal and its reputation as a city on the move forges an inventive clubbing attitude and a constant stream of clubbers. Clubs range from huge, swanky spaces dedicated to the preening Hong Kong and white-collar crowd to more relaxed, intimate spots and trendy bars that rustle up weekend DJs. There’s a high turnover, so check listings websites and magazines for the latest on the club scene.
(%6258 2078; www.chinatownshanghai.com; 471 Zhapu Rd, Hóngkǒu; 乍浦路471号; h8pm-2am Wed-Sat; mNorth Sichuan Rd) The Chinatown Dolls take to the stage in an old Buddhist temple north of the Bund. The show itself is somewhat tame; the firstrate cocktails ain’t. There’s a minimum spend of Y250 on weekend nights; reserve.
(www.museshanghai.cn; New Factories, 68 Yuyao Rd; 余姚路68号同乐坊; h8.30pm-4.30am; mChangping Rd) One of the city’s hottest clubs (house, hip hop) over the past few years, Muse has three locations. The main club is in north Jìng’ān, the other two(both smaller) are in the French Concession; check the website for details.
Gay & Lesbian Venues
Shànghǎi has a few places catering to gay patrons, but locales keep moving around, so check the listings.
(嘉浓休闲; Jiānóng Xiūxián; No 4, Lane 1950, Middle Huaihai Rd; 淮海中路1950弄4号; h9pm-2am; mJiaotong University) This hip newcomer to the Shànghǎi gay scene has transformed the cool depths of a former bomb shelter into a laid-back bar, art gallery and men’s underwear shop.
(嘉浓咖啡; Jiānóng Kāfēi; 1877 Middle Huaihai Rd; h8pm-2am; mJiaotong University) A gay-friendly bar-cafe attracting a slightly more mature Chinese and international gay crowd with inexpensive drinks and neat decor.
Classical Music, Opera & Theatre
Shànghǎi Grand Theatre
(上海大剧院; Shànghǎi Dàjùyuàn; %6386 8686; www.shgtheatre.com; 300 Renmin Ave; 人民大道300号; tickets Y50-2280; mPeople’s Sq) This state-of-the-art venue is in People’s Sq and features both national and international opera, dance, music and theatre performances.
(环艺电影城; Huányì Diànyǐngchéng; 10th fl, Westgate Mall, 1038 West Nanjing Rd; 南京西路1038号10楼; mWest Nanjing Rd)
UME International Cineplex
(UME; 国际影城; Guójì Yǐngchéng; www.ume.com.cn; Xīntiāndì, South Block, No 6, 5th fl; 新天地南里6号楼5楼; mSouth Huangpi Rd, Xīntiāndì)