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The Shanghai Bund in myth and history: An Essay through Textual and Visual Sources



The Bund ranks first in any introduction to Shanghai in contemporary guides as a “must see” place where one can go to discover the wonders of Shanghai and its now sanitized and non-controversial past. Current accounts usually point to the bizarre architectural heritage that the municipal government has lately chosen to turn into a tourist attraction for domestic and foreign consumption alike. The present paper intends to unveil a much more complex and multi-layered history. It relies on a large body of materials, especially visual sources, to document the transformation of an undistinguished space – a riverfront – into a central place of political, social and architectural juxtaposition. This exploration will start from the earliest visual records of the city, made by Chinese or Western residents and travelers and move into the late 1940s. This paper weaves different threads to highlight the various layers of discourse that “made the Bund” while at the same time blending textual and visual sources to illustrate its changing nature over time, from a commercial entrepot to a cityscape devoted to finance and leisure.
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The Shanghai Bund in myth and history: an essay through textual and
visual sources
Christian Henriot*
Institut dAsie Orientale (CNRS), University of Lyon, Lyon
The Bund ranks first in any introduction to Shanghai in contemporary guides as a ‘‘must
see’’ place where one can go to discover the wonders of Shanghai and its now sanitized
and non-controversial past. Current accounts usually point to the bizarre architectural
heritage that the municipal government has lately chosen to turn into a tourist attraction
for domestic and foreign consumption alike. The present paper intends to unveil a much
more complex and multi-layered history. It relies on a large body of materials, especially
visual sources, to document the transformation of an undistinguished space a riverfront
into a central place of political, social and architectural juxtaposition. This exploration
will start from the earliest visual records of the city, made by Chinese or Western residents
and travelers and move into the late 1940s. This paper weaves different threads to
highlight the various layers of discourse that ‘‘made the Bund’’ while at the same time
blending textual and visual sources to illustrate its changing nature over time, from a
commercial entrepot to a cityscape devoted to finance and leisure.
Keywords: urban; visual; architecture; Shanghai; representation
While Shanghai evokes mixed images of glamour, exoticism, a SinoWestern hybrid, the
Bund has almost become its metonym par excellence. The Bund ranks first in any introduc-
tion to the city in contemporary guides as a ‘‘ must see’’ place where one can go to discover
the wonders of Shanghai and its now sanitized and non-controversial past. Current accounts
usually point to the bizarre architectural heritage that the municipal government has lately
chosen to turn into a tourist attraction for domestic and foreign consumption alike. Although
the Bund fell into relative obscurity after 1949, it returned to life with brightly illuminated
façades in the late 1980s and, more recently, with expensive and chic coffee-terraces on top
of its ‘‘old’’ buildings.
The present paper aims to tell a different story and to unveil a much more complex and
multi-layered history. It relies on a large body of materials, especially visual sources, to
document the transformation of an undistinguished space a riverfront into a central place
of political, social and architectural juxtaposition. This exploration will start from the earliest
visual records of the city made by Chinese or Western residents and travelers and move into
the late 1940s. While brief references will be made to the revolutionary and post-
revolutionary period, this essay focuses on the late Qing and Republican periods. In terms
Journal of Modern Chinese History
Vol. 4, No. 1, June 2010, 127
ISSN 1753-5654 print/ISSN 1753-5662 online
#2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17535651003779400
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of geographical coverage, the focus is on the Bund as an icon, specifically the section of the
riverfront that extended southward from Soochow Creek (Suzhouhe) to the border with the
French Concession.
Nevertheless, I shall also occasionally enlarge the scope to include
the riverfront of the French section and that of the Chinese walled city.
Previous studies of the Bund have generally focused on its architectural composition and
transformation. Jon Huebners paper offered one of the first systematic descriptions of the
last wave of high-rise buildings erected along the Bund in the International Settlement.
While Huebner illuminates the nature and significance of these landmarks around which
Westerners construed a collective memory, he does not explore the various ramifications of
the Bund as a specific space.
Jeremy Taylors take on the Bund starts from an opposite
posture. It examines the Bund as a crucial element of the treaty-port system, a ‘‘ spatial form
that emerged not only in Shanghai, but in many other ports open to foreign trade throughout
Mainland China, Taiwan and Japan.’’
Taylor also highlights the major functions
commercial, military, and recreational of the Shanghai Bund along with other similar
areas within their various settings. In his otherwise useful approach, however, Taylor tends
to read too much into the actual function and symbolic meaning of the Bund. That the
shaping of these ‘‘bunds’’ was tied to the Western presence is undeniable. But to claim they
had no precedent in the laying out of waterfronts in Chinese cities is certainly open to
In the case of Canton, the ‘‘ Thirteen Factories’’ formed a row of buildings that, beyond
their façades, matched local building practices and style well before Westerners used their
gunboats to open up other treaty ports.
Moreover, the formal resemblance between the
‘‘bunds’’ built in various places did not translate into the same pattern of power relations and
social intercourse. A ‘‘ bund’’ could simply be a Western-style waterfront with a large degree
of regulatory power in Chinese hands.
The Shanghai Bund was a unique example in that
this ‘‘spatial form’’ was backed up by a full set of strong and largely autonomous Western
dominated institutions (Shanghai Municipal Council, Mixed Court, Volunteer Corps, and
Maritime Customs). This paper will weave different threads to highlight the various layers of
discourse that ‘‘ made the Bund’’ while at the same time blending textual and visual sources
to illustrate the changing nature of the Bund over time.
A note on sources and method
The present study is based in large part on visual materials, both paintings and photo-
graphs. It is only through such sources that one can hope to reconstruct the century-long
transformation of this famous sector of the city, especially when it comes to a study of
architectural change. For paintings, I have made intensive use of an issue of Arts of Asia
By convention, throughout this text, I shall use the original names for places in English for the pre-
1949 period. I refer to these places in post-1950 Shanghai by their Chinese names in pinyin translitera-
tion. Whenever necessary, I add the current Chinese name in brackets.
Jon W. Huebner, ‘‘Architecture and History in Shanghais Central District,’’ Journal of Oriental
Studies, vol. 26, no. 2 (1988), 109222.
Jeremy E. Taylor, ‘‘The Bund: Littoral Space of Empire in the Treaty Ports of East Asia,’’ Social
History, vol. 27, no. 2 (2002), 126.
Jonathan A. Farris, ‘‘Thirteen Factories of Canton: An Architecture of SinoWestern Collaboration
and Confrontation,’’ Buildings and Landscapes, no. 14 (2007), 6783.
Chen Yu, ‘‘The Making of a Bund in China: The British Concession in Xiamen (18521930),’’
Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering, no. 38 (2008), 3138.
2Christian Henriot
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devoted to the Bund, with its series of six nineteenth-century views of the Bund.
Photographs, however, I had to identify and glean from a variety of sources, mostly
books published before 1949.
Paintings may be considered a questionable source for the historian, at least when
taken as an ‘‘ actual’’ source in viewing objects from the past. My approach, however, has
been to test the limits of these (superficially) imaginary renderings of the Bund. Of course,
there is no reason to question the intent of the painters, most of them anonymous artists, to
give a fairly accurate view of the riverfront. Yet, as for drawings and paintings by military
painters, there is a significant margin for imagination, beautification, and other involuntary
or voluntary distortions. Arguably, the stakes in landscape representations are much less
salient than when it comes to producing a visual report on a battle or other heroic moments.
There is less risk of a major deformation.
The artists, however, could have simplified
the view, or skipped an ugly building or ‘‘improved’’ it with a more decent appearance.
While I had access only to the reproductions published in Arts of Asia, the quality was
high enough, especially after digitizing, to allow for close-up examination of individual
Photographs, as compared to paintings, provide a more reliable view of reality. In
my case, I was dealing with panoramic views of the Bund that left no room for
‘‘framing’’ the picture. What is in the photograph was there. The issue was to find as
many images as possible that covered the entire Bund through its pre-1949 history. In
the same way that the riverfront had attracted the eye of painters, photographers also
endeavored to provide panoramic views of the Bund. They were initially limited in
their attempt by the technology of the time, which did not allow wide-angle shots.
Creativity and skill, however, made up for this deficiency as the Bund was often
photographed section by section. Eventually, the photographer reconstituted a panora-
mic view in the darkroom. These views were taken from the other side of the river,
sometimes from a tower, with varying degrees of clarity. A major limitation in terms of
quality was that many of the photographs had been obtained from books. Digital tools
and software, however, helped improve the images.
In using these visual materials, I had to address several issues. First was the necessity of
collecting a representative sampling of pictures large enough to be able to see both the
transformation of the Bund over time, and to allow the possibility of comparative views. I
tried to build a series that would cover as narrow a time interval as possible. Table 1 shows
that the temporal coverage is quite dense, even if large gaps still exist. Yet all the major
transformations took place during periods that preceded these views by just a few years.
Eric Politzer, ‘‘The Changing Face of the Shanghai Bund, Circa 18491879,’’ Arts of Asia, vol. 35,
no. 2 (2005), 6481.
See Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu, ‘‘Du dessin de presse à la photographie (18781914): histoire
dune mutation technique et culturelle,’’ Revue dHistoire Moderne et Contemporaine, vol. 39
(JanuaryMarch 1992), 628.
Sources of the photographs: Ch-B Maybon and Jean Fredet, Histoire de la Concession française de
Changhai [Bund in 1873 & 18761878] (Paris: Plon, 1929); Politzer, ‘‘The Changing Face of the
Shanghai Bund’’ [Bund in 1876]; Arnold Wright, Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong,
Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China: Their History, People, Commerce, Industries, and
Resources [Bund in 19071908] (Lloyds Greater Britain Publishing Company, 1908); Shimazu
o, Shanhai annai [Bund in 1893 & circa 1913] (Shanghai: Kinp!
usha, 1918); Shanhai
umindan sanj!
unen kinenshi [Bund in 1894 & 19371938] (Shanghai: Shanhai
umindan, 1942); Kobori Rintar!
o, Natsukashi no Shanhai: shashinsh!
u[Bund in 19161918]
(Tokyo: Kokusho Kank!
okai, 1984); Virtual Shanghai, ‘‘General View of the Bund and Huangpu River
from Pudong’’ [Bund in 18981901].
Journal of Modern Chinese History 3
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While I may have missed a few buildings, I believe almost all the major structures that were
erected along the Bund are included. A second issue was the dating of the paintings and the
photographs. For the former, I relied on the dates provided by Eric Politzer in his Arts of Asia
paper, although I made a careful study of their content to assess their credibility.
Photographs, in contrast to paintings, rarely came with an indication of the exact year they
were taken. Usually there was a crude indication based on the date of publication (such as
‘‘A current view of’’ ). By going back and forth between the images and the records, from the
date of construction/destruction of the buildings and other items displayed in the photo-
graphs, I was able to narrow down the time frame of several pictures.
Unfortunately, at this
stage, I am unable to pin most of them down to a single year.
Time frame of the Bund views
The third source I mobilized for this study is comprised of maps. They were useful in several
ways. First, because maps sometimes display specific buildings, I was able to ascertain the
existence of buildings at a certain point in time, even if the accuracy of commercial maps is
sometimes questionable. Second, maps provided the exact location of the buildings repre-
sented in the images. The general views of the Bund I used both paintings and photographs
hardly showed any details about the space between the buildings, even when there was an
Table 1. Time frame of the Bund views.
Paintings Photographs
circa 18491850
circa 1854
circa 1857
circa 1862
circa 18671868
circa 1879 1873 and 18761878
1893 and 1894
Eric Politzers work is based on the use of visual (paintings), cartographic (the 1925 version of the
1855 map of the British Settlement and a cadastral map of 18641866) and textual (especially
newspapers and Hong Lists) records. He produced a very careful and well-documented study of the
buildings of the Bund during the 18491879 period. His approach was very similar to mine, but in my
case, apart from extending the period of investigation into the twentieth century, the use of GIS-based
maps allowed me to reconstitute the cadastral lots and location of buildings through time. Politzer,
‘‘The Changing Face of the Shanghai Bund,’’ 80
On the buildings of the Bund and their dating, a most useful tool is Peter Hibbard, The Bund
Shanghai: China Faces West (Hong Kong: Odyssey, 2007).
There were three photographs that came with estimated periods or no indication at all: one from
Wright, Twentieth Century Impressions (no indication, book published in 1908); Shimazu, Shanhai
annai (‘‘present view’’ of the Bund, book published in 1918); Natsukashi no Shanhai (no date given).
The ‘‘internal critique’’ of these documents led to the following dating: respectively 19071909;
19101912; 1914. For a discussion of the dating method, see individual photographs in the Virtual
Shanghai image database.
4Christian Henriot
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empty yard. The streets are either not represented or hidden from view both in paintings and
photographs. Perspective also introduced a distortion in assessing which building was
where, or simply to make sure a building was indeed on the Bund (and not in the back-
ground). To overcome this problem, I reconstituted the cadastral lots on maps and traced
their transformation over time.
The textual records were also an essential part, both helpful but also misleading. They are
frequently not accurate, being documents produced well after the period they study.
Another problem in the written records is that buildings are usually referred to by the
name of their occupant rather than by the structure itself. Conversely, some companies
remained on the same spot, but rebuilt their premises two or three times. Finally, some
companies moved their offices to different locations on the Bund. In other words, one might
be led to believe there is a new building where there is only a change of owner or tenant. To
avoid assuming a new building where there was only a new tenant, I had to trace the
occupancy of the buildings. The second case reconstruction of the premises was of
course easier to solve through the visual record, while the ‘‘ intra-Bund’’ moves were indeed
By going back and forth between the maps, the images and the textual records on
individual buildings, I built a small database that identified almost every building on the
Bund and provided a timeline of its transformation. I then matched the transformation of the
buildings over time with the visual sources. There remained a few gaps of minor buildings
which I was not able to identify.
The Bund through words and works
The conventional explanation for the use of the term ‘‘ Bund’’ is a Hindi word [band]
meaning ‘‘ embankment.’’ It was part of the general phenomenon of using foreign words
in the pidgin that served as a lingua franca among merchants in the various ports from India
to China.
Some authors argue this was part of a general process of appropriating words
Sources of the major maps: ‘‘ Ground Plan of the Foreign Settlement at Shanghai North of the Yang
Kang Pang Canal,’’ from a survey by Mr FB Youel RN, 1855; ‘‘Plan of the English Settlement at
Shanghae’’ (Shanghai: Shanghai Municipal Council, 18641866); ‘‘ Street Plan of the English, French
and American Settlement’’ (London: published for the North China Herald and North China Daily New
Offices, Shanghai, circa 1870); ‘‘Plan de la concession française à Shanghai’’ (Shanghai: Imprimerie
de Erhard, 1882); ‘‘Cadastral Plan of the (So-called) English Settlement Shanghai’’ (Shanghai:
Shanghai Municipal Council, 1890); ‘‘Street Plan of the British and French Settlements’’ (Shanghai,
1900); ‘‘Saishin Shanhai chizu’’ [The New Map of Shanghai City] (Shanghai: Sh!
osuido Sh!
oten, 1908);
‘‘Street Plan of the Foreign Settlement (Central District) & French Settlement at Shanghai,’’ in The
Chronicle and Directory for China, Corea, Japan, the Philippines, IndoChina, Straits Settlements,
Siam, Borneo, Malay states, etc. (Hong Kong: ‘‘Daily Press’’ Office, 1895 & 1926); ‘‘ Saishin Shanhai
chizu’’ [The New Map of Shanghai City] (Osaka: Mainichi shinbunsha, 1932); Shanghai shi hanghao
lutu lu [Shanghai Street Directory], 2 vols. (Shanghai: The Free Trading Co. Ltd., 19391940).
A case in point is the 1857 picture of the Bund and its labeling by Morse in his 1910 book. The
captions have been taken for granted and reproduced in various publications. For a full discussion of
Morses captions, see Politzer, ‘‘The Changing Face of the Shanghai Bund,’’ 7677.
For 1987, I used Shanghai shi shangyong dituce [Shanghai Business Atlas], 7 vols. (Shanghai:
Shanghai fanyi chuban gongsi, 1987).
The term came to be used by civil engineers in Shanghai – ‘‘bunding’ – to designate the action of
placing sloping stone pavement against an earth bank with a foundation of fascine work and a stone
wall at the toe of the sloping pavement. H. von Heidenstam, The Improvement of the Huang Pu River
(Shanghai, China) for Ocean Navigation (Brussels: Permanent International Association of
Congresses of Navigation, Office of the Secretary General, 1920), 16.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 5
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from various colonized countries as British imperialism made its progress to the East and to
‘‘mark’’ newly conquered spaces with a symbolic meaning.
How the word ‘‘ Bund’’ came
into usage in Shanghai has not been documented. It appears to have been used quite early,
although its adoption as the official name of the riverfront in Shanghai came at a fairly late
Apart from hand-made rough schematic drawings, the earliest extant map of the English
Settlement dates from 1855. While all the streets of the settlement bore proper names, the
riverfront was still nameless.
On later maps, as on the 18641866 cadastral map,
1870 map of the English, French and American settlements
or the 1890 ‘‘ Cadastral plan of
the (so-called) English settlement’’
the road was designated as ‘‘ Bund or Yangtsze Road,’’
reflecting an ambiguity between common usage (Bund) and the official designation estab-
lished in 1865.
Ten years later, however, the riverfront was clearly labeled the ‘‘ Bund.’’
As we do not have maps for the interval, we cannot ascertain when the name became official.
Until we find other textual evidence, we can only assume the Bund became the official name
of the riverfront some time around 1900. While there is no doubt that the word was in use
much earlier and was most probably part of the common language, the absence of designa-
tion also points to a change of perception regarding the riverfront when it came to be
associated with a more glamorous image that emerged at a later stage.
The other major designation of the Bund is of course its name in Chinese. It has not
changed since the nineteenth century, and probably earlier, when the term waitan simply
designated the ‘‘ outside bank’’ of the Huangpu River.
Before Westerners were allowed to
settle in Shanghai on a small strip of land north of the walled city, the riverbank had been in
use for many centuries. Of course, only the section that followed the riverfront along the city
wall was actually used as a mooring and transshipment area. The reason for the distinction
between an ‘‘ outside’’ bank and an ‘‘ inner’’ bank is one of geography in relation with the
walled city. The upper stream of any river was called li (internal, inside); the lower stream
was called wai.
The local Chinese therefore distinguished between the ‘‘ inside bank’’
(neitan), south of an imaginary line set at Lujiabang Creek and the ‘‘ external bank’’ (waitan)
north of that line.
While the southern section hosted warehouses, wharves, and mooring
areas, the northern section had very little relevance as it had no specific function besides a
‘‘rope walk’’ as we shall see below. The ‘‘active’’ part of the riverfront was named shiliupu
Taylor, ‘‘The Bund,’’ 129. The argument is debatable. One can also read this linguistic process of
appropriating foreign words as a form of spontaneous hybridization and a practical way of working out
a common language. The term ‘‘bund,’’ at least in Chinese, never had an impact on the native language.
‘‘Ground Plan of the Foreign Settlement at Shanghai North of the Yang Kang Pang Canal.’’
‘‘Plan of the English Settlement at Shanghae.’’
‘‘Street Plan of the English, French and American Settlement’’ (London: published for the North
China Herald and North China Daily New Offices, Shanghai, circa 1870).
‘‘Cadastral Plan of the (So-called) English Settlement, Shanghai.’’
In 1865, the SMC adopted the first general scheme that established the names of all roads in the
settlement, with all NorthSouth streets named after Chinese provinces and EastWest streets named
after Chinese cities. The road along the Huangpu was named ‘‘Yangtsze Road.’’ Yuan Xieming,
‘‘Gongbuju yu Shanghai luzheng’’ [The Shanghai Municipal Council and Road Policy], Shanghai
yanjiu luncong, no. 2 (1989), 176; Hibbard, The Bund Shanghai, 2733.
‘‘Street Plan of the British and French Settlements,’’ Shanghai, 1900.
I chose to translate tan as ‘‘bank.’’ The actual meaning is closer to ‘‘ beach,’’ which it actually was
until the Bund was turned into an embankment by placing wooden posts along the bank. Up to then, at
low ebb, the river withdrew and left a 30-meter wide open mud bank.
Xue Liyong, Waitan de lishi he jianzhu [History and Construction of the Bund] (Shanghai: Shanghai
shehui kexueyuan chubanshe, 2002), 2.
Ibid., 3.
6Christian Henriot
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after the administrative system that divided the walled city and its suburbs into various
districts (pu).
In the French Concession, the word ‘‘ Bund’’ never made it into the local official or
informal language. Pidgin notwithstanding, the French stuck to the conventional designation
of ‘‘quai’’ (wharf) to name their section of the riverfront. That section was initially very
limited, as it stretched from Yangjingbang Creek, which separated the two settlements, to its
terminus with adjoining Chinese-administered territory along the creek that bordered the
Tianhougong (Temple of the Queen of Heaven). The riverfront was simply named after the
river, Quai du Whampoo (Whampoo Wharf). In 1861, the French obtained an extension of
the settlement that included the area south of the initial border down to the canal that flowed
out of the Eastern Gate (Dongmen). This was precisely the section of the Chinese Bund
called ‘‘Shiliupu.’’ To give it more grandeur in French eyes, the riverfront was christened
‘‘Quai de France.’’ Eventually, the name ‘‘Quai du Whampoo’’ was dropped and the entire
section was officially called Quai de France. This was part of a general movement in the
early years of the twentieth century that saw the French municipality getting rid of most
references to Chinese place names for street designations and replacing them with those of
local or national luminaries, or with names that highlighted French accomplishments
Before the opening of the harbor to foreign trade, the riverbank had no special equipment
or infrastructure for junks or sampans. Although there was an active domestic and interna-
tional trade going through Shanghai, ships simply used the riverbank as it was, except
around the Eastern gate (Dongmen) where a sort of embankment had been built. Depending
on the time of the day, low tide or high ebb, the river left open a strip of sand (tan). The name
in Chinese took its origin from this. The only specific feature was a pathway traced by boat
pullers along the riverbank. It was called xiandao, or the ‘‘ Rope path (or walk)’’ and
constituted the only way along the river. When Westerners came to Shanghai, the area
along the river north of the Walled City was just that rope path.
In the English Settlement,
the Land Regulations approved by Chinese authorities prohibited foreigners from building
right along the river. This was meant precisely to protect the ‘‘rope walk’’ from encroach-
ment and allow the passage of the pullers.
Yet even before the Regulations were signed,
foreign residents actually foreign hongs had started to consolidate and enlarge the
original ‘‘rope walk’’ to twice its official width.
Obviously technological progress would
soon make the use of ropes to pull boats irrelevant, but the rule remained in force. As a result,
the riverfront remained free from construction and eventually was transformed into a major
1500-meter long thoroughfare.
By the late 1840s, all the British settlement offered to the viewer was no more than a few
roads that crept into the newly built-up area behind the ‘‘ Bund.’’ The early settlement was
bordered by four waterways, with two main rivers, the Huangpu and Soochow Creek in the
Xue Liyong, Shanghai tan diming zhanggu [Stories about the Place Names of the Shanghai Bund]
(Shanghai: Tongji daxue chubanshe, 1994), 23840.
On the history of street names in the French Concession, see the study by J.H. Haan, The SinoWestern
Miscellany, Bseing Historical Notes about Foreign Life in China (no publisher given, 1993).
Ke Zhaoyin and Zhuang Zhenxiang, eds., Shanghai tan yeshi [An Unofficial History of the Shanghai
Bund] (Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1993), 8; Xue Liyong, Waitan de lishi he jianzhu, 2.
‘‘Shanghai tudi zhangcheng’’ [Shanghai Land Regulations], in Shanghai gonglu shi [A History of
Shanghai Streets], ed. Li Shihua (Shanghai: Renmin jiaotong chubanshe, 1989), 201.
Wu Jiang, Shanghai bai nian jianzhu shi, 18401949 [The History of Shanghai Architecture,
18401949] (Shanghai: Tongji daxue chubanshe, 1997), 47.
Wang Shaozhou, Shanghai jindai chengshi jianzhu [Shanghai Modern City Construction] (Nanjing:
Jiangsu kexue jishu chubanshe, 1989), 17.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 7
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East and North respectively, and Defense Creek and the Yangjingbang in the West and South
respectively. By any measure, it was no more than a small flake of foreign presence amidst a
landscape dominated by rice fields and waterways, next to a sturdy but massive Chinese
walled city. Roads actually ranked high on the agenda for the new settlers. The first proto-
municipal organization established for the management of the new land was designed to take
care of ‘‘ roads and jetties.’’
Little was done in terms of actual planning before 1854,
although the establishment of lots after November 1843 called for the proper delimitation of
space between the lots. As early as 1846 the first mud roads were ploughed through the flat
land: Barrier Road, Park Lane, Rope Walk Road, and the Bund itself.
Along the river, the
major endeavor was the construction of jetties. As the Chinese had previously done, foreign
ships initially simply moored close to jetties from and to which the various goods were
carried by small-boat: ‘‘ Early Shanghai knew nothing of wharves alongside which vessels
could load and unload. All this was done from and into native boats in the stream, the cargo
coming and going from jetties jutting out from the Bund.’’
For about two decades, the Bund was largely left in its original state, even if private
initiative had started to transform it with the addition of jetties. Over time the path along the
river was widened and covered with a mix of ashes and refuse. In an 18491850 painting, the
riverbank remains pretty much in its ‘‘ natural’’ state, even if jetties can be seen protruding
from the bank.
In 1861, pavement was laid along the Bund as part of a general plan to
improve the condition of roads.
It did not prove satisfactory, however, and one year later,
the Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC) decided to build an embankment.
was achieved by planting wooden posts all along the riverfront, as an 1862 painting and a
photograph of the Customs House show.
This had the effect of delineating land from water
more sharply and laid the groundwork for further consolidation. One visual source, however,
tends to throw this chronology into question. For, in an 1854 painting, the Bund appears to
be carefully lined with wooden posts already.
I initially questioned the dating of the
picture, but its content makes it clear that the pilings date prior to both an 1857 painting
(on which the wooden posts are not visible) and an 1862 painting (on which the wooden
posts are in evidence). The textual record will have to be revisited to solve this enigma.
The ‘‘Committee on roads and jetties’’ was later renamed ‘‘ Municipal Council’’ after the signing of
the Land regulations between the British Consulate and the Shanghai Daotai in 1854. Initially there was
a plan to have all foreign areas British, American, and French to come under a single municipal
organization called ‘‘Executive Committee’’ (gongbuju in Chinese). Yet the plan for a single admin-
istration failed when the French decided to preserve their autonomy. The ‘‘Executive Committee’’ was
renamed ‘‘Municipal Council’’ (Shanghai Municipal Council), though the Chinese name remained
unchanged. In the French Concession, the process was very similar with a ‘‘Comité des routes’’ initially
taking care of the first layout of roads. Maybon and Fredet, Histoire de la Concession française,
Shanghai gonglu shi, 1989, 27.
Samuel Couling and George Lanning, The History of Shanghai (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1921), 389.
Arts of Asia, vol. 35, no. 2 (2005), 6869.
Yuan Xieming, ‘‘Gongbuju yu Shanghai luzheng,’’ 175.
Ke Zhaoyin and Zhuang Zhenxiang, eds., Shanghai tan yeshi, 8.
Arts of Asia, vol. 35, no. 2 (2005), 7273; ‘‘ Customs House,’’ photograph, undated, 2003.R22 Box
35, Getty Research Institute. In its early stage, the Bund probably looked like the Bund at Jiujiang for
which J. Thomson left a good photographic record. J. Thomson, Illustrations of China and its People.
A Series of Two Hundred Photographs, with Letterpress Descriptive of the Places and People
Represented, vol. 3 (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1874).
Arts of Asia, vol. 35, no. 2 (2005), 6869.
8Christian Henriot
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In an 18671868 painting, the northern part of the Bund is already bounded by a more
solid embankment made of stone.
This reinforcement was done in order to stabilize the
land at the mouth of Soochow Creek. As land stabilized, the area was further widened and
turned into a public garden.
The work of filling the area to create the garden started in 1866
and was completed in August 1868.
It is visible in later paintings and photographs of the
1870s. By ‘‘bunding’’ the river at the limit at the water level of low tide, under the protection
of the filled-in public garden, the SMC actually reclaimed a very large area outside the
original line of the Bund by filling in the space under the jetties.
Later, the enhancement of
the Bund also benefited from new technologies. Public lighting came on the heels of the
establishment of the first gas company in 1865. The Bund was among the first streets to
benefit from the new service. Electricity followed not much later, in 1882 and again the
Bund, along with Nanking Road, were the first to be graced with new electric lamps. Having
been built almost entirely on barren land, the appearance of the early streets remained quite
elementary. In 1865, trees were planted along the major arteries, starting with the Bund.
From the visual sources, however, it seems that the trees took some time before catching the
eyes of artists. Their presence became obvious only in mid-1870s photographs or late-1870s
In the French Concession, work to build a proper embankment started in 1855 on the initial
section of the riverfront. The Small Sword Rebellion had left much of the area in ruins. After
removing the rubble and debris, French sailors traced a rough path along the river. A road was
constructed in 1856 by a group of 200 Christian refugees who were employed as coolies.
Little progress was made, however, due to the lack of human presence in the French
Yet what constituted the French section of the riverbank soon became too
small to accommodate all the requests for land, warehouses and jetties. In 1860, due to the
pressure of private companies for more space along the river, the French consul initiated a new
round of negotiations to obtain a stretch of land that ran southward to the Small East gate.
Eventually, the extension was granted in 1861, which gave the French Bund an extra 650
Yet, while more jetties were being constructed, the riverfront remained in a pitiful
state. The French consul, Brenier de Montmorand, described it in 1864 as the following:
A badly drained and hardly leveled ground, often cut by large cracks after heavy rain. It
narrowed between the low tide mark, a large strip of sand from which the summer sun caused
unhealthy exhalations, with a few non-aligned and unassuming houses. In daytime, it looked
deserted and dreary; at night it was hardly lighted by a few badly kept gas lamps.
Ibid., 7980.
The area where the public garden stands was originally called the ‘‘Consular Flats.’’ It was formed by
the accumulation of mud and silt from the river around the wreck of a small vessel that had sunk near
the site. Rev. C.E. Darwent, Shanghai. A Handbook for Travellers and Residents (Shanghai: Kelly &
Walsh, 1904), 3.
Darwent, Shanghai. A Handbook, 3.
The photographic record documents the gradual process that turned the Bund from a small road into a
wide area encompassing a road, a space covered with grass and trees, and jetties and pontoons. The
earlier 30-meter long jetties were progressively turned into pathways on the newly reclaimed land. See
Hibbard, The Bund Shanghai, 3745.
Yuan Xieming, ‘‘Gongbuju yu Shanghai luzheng,’’ 17576 and 179.
Maybon and Fredet, Histoire de la Concession française, 16364; ‘‘Fa zujie waitan de di yi tiao
malu’’ [The First Road on the Bund of the French Concession], in Shanghai yanjiu ziliao [Research
Materials on Shanghai] (1936; repr., Shanghai: Shanghai shudian, 1984), 345.
Maybon and Fredet, Histoire de la Concession française, 61.
Ibid., 239 and 244.
Ibid., 28788.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 9
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One of the major impediments to the remodeling of the riverfront was clearly the lack of
financial resources by the French Municipal Council. The priority was given to dredging and
cleaning the creeks and moat along the wall and to removing the trash that had accumu-
The Messageries Impériales Company built its own wharf by 1863, but serious talks
about improving the riverfront did not start until the following year.
The French Municipal
Council hired a British engineer, Freeman, to build a proper embankment along the northern
section (Quai du Whampoo) of the riverfront. Work started in October 1864, but soon after,
in January 1865, a part of the new Bund collapsed, causing a dispute between the French
authorities and the British engineer, which provided an opportunity for sarcastic comments
in the North China Herald.
Eventually, that section was completed in 1867 with the cost
borne mostly by a special tax on the lots along the newly built 30-meter wide Bund, which
included several floating jetties.
The southern section was initially simply drained thanks
to a new canal and paved, while a new gate (Porte Montauban Xin beimen) was opened in
the wall to facilitate communication with the walled city.
The Chinese section of the Bund was the responsibility of local authorities, but little
work was done here until the late nineteenth century. From the various records we have, it
seems the anchorage was left much to its original layout, with boats mooring in front of the
city walls and the loading and unloading of the larger junks performed by small craft. Due to
its central role as a transshipment harbor between North and South China, and one of the
major outlets for the Jiangnan area, a whole district had developed outside of the walled city
since at least Ming times, as one painting shows.
By the mid-eighteenth century, there were
27 small streets that ran through the area.
Shanghai received a very high number of boats
and ships of all sizes. On an average year, about 12001300 large ships (80240 tons) and
25002600 smaller crafts (of less than 80 tons) which handled a total freight of about
280,000 tons, cleared the port.
In 1849, a British visitor noted that ‘‘ the suburb on this
side of the river is very extensive and densely populated.’’
As part of the modernization efforts of late Qing reformers, an arsenal and shipyard, the
Jiangnan Arsenal, was established south of the walled city. To facilitate traffic, a first effort
was made to improve the road along the Huangpu.
Work on the Chinese Bund started in
1896 and was completed one year later. The road was nine meters wide and had a full length
of 2412 meters.
This improvement came with the establishment of the first proto-
municipal organs in 1895. As with the ‘‘ Committee on Roads and Jetties’’ in the British
Settlement, the new organ, the South City Roadwork Board (Nanshi malu gongchengju) was
Ibid., 270.
‘‘Fa zujie waitan de diyige matou’’ [The First Wharf on the Bund of the French Concession], in
Shanghai yanjiu ziliao, 357.
Maybon and Fredet, Histoire de la Concession française, 28889; Haan, The SinoWestern
Miscellany, 90.
Maybon and Fredet, Histoire de la Concession française, 289, 295.
Ibid., 238. See picture ‘‘New North Gate (Porte Montauban),’’ China collection, Box 35, Getty
Research Institute.
See reproduction in Sun Ping, ed., Shanghai chengshi guihua zhi [Gazetteer of Shanghai Urban
Planning] (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubanshe, 1999), 56.
Shanghai gonglu shi, 14.
Zhang Zhongmin, ‘‘Qing qianqi Shanghai gang fazhan yanbian xintan,’’ Zhongguo jingjishi yanjiu
[Researches in Chinese Economic History], no. 3 (1981), 91.
Henry Charles Sirr, China and the Chinese: Their Religion, Character, Customs and Manufactures:
The Evils Arising from the Opium Trade with a Glance at our Religious, Moral, Political, and
Commercial Intercourse with the Country (London: W.S. Orr, 1849), 210.
Wu Jiang, Shanghai bai nian jianzhu shi, 18401949, 53.
Wang Shaozhou, Shanghai jindai chengshi jianzhu, 491; All about Shanghai, 61.
10 Christian Henriot
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concerned with the construction and maintenance of roads.
After its renovation, the road
came under strict supervision including new regulations about taxes, hygiene, traffic, and
shop signs.
Throughout the late Imperial and Republican periods, it remained a bustling
commercial area and a densely populated quarter. It was, however, an architecturally
undistinguished riverfront, lined with dockyards, warehouses, hospitals, and various ship-
ping, timber and rice offices through the 1930s.
Architectural transformation and change of function (18491949)
The status of Shanghai as one of the principal entrepots between Europe and China was
mirrored by the architectural transformation of its waterfront. From its initial period as a
meager outpost of mercantile enterprise, the Bund quickly became the main stage for
showcasing the citys growing stature as a nexus of trade and finance. By tracing the growth
of its physical form we can gain some insight as to how the power holders in Shanghai saw
themselves and wanted to be seen by the outside world. The Bund in the International
Settlement went through three successive waves of renewal. Of course, the erection of new
buildings did not take place simultaneously with these periods of transformation. Yet in most
locations, buildings were torn down and reconstructed two to three times. The highly visible
transformation of the Bund skyline, however, entailed much more than a physical renova-
tion. It also reflected a deeper change in the economic and social function of the Bund
(Figure 1).
From the 1850s to the early 1870s, the Bund was lined with one-story and two-story
buildings. While they may have looked impressive to the newcomer, as Wang Tao recalled,
the buildings distinguished themselves more by their style than by their actual height.
Chinese temples or guildhalls in the walled city were far more imposing. Many buildings
were simple one-level warehouses. The first generation of buildings was made up of
construction that often combined both offices and living quarters. As some companies
were able to acquire large tracks of riverfront, like Dent & Co. or Russel & Co., they
established large compounds made up of several buildings. Later, these compounds were
parceled out and gave way to new individual structures.
The second wave of construction was spread over a few decades starting from the 1880s
to around WWI. There was a double transformation. On the one hand many original lots
were subdivided, opening up space for entirely new buildings. On the other hand, many
existing edifices underwent their first transformation from their original ‘‘ compradoric’’
style a generic Southeast Asian style to an equally pompous though more massive
appearance. The third and last wave of construction the one that gave the Shanghai Bund
its present allure took place over a single decade between 1920 and 1929, although a few
more additions were made in the 1930s. Table 2 lists all the buildings that sprang from
ground during these two fateful decades. This spate of construction is a direct reflection of
the formidable growth and push for modernization that engulfed the city before the second
SinoJapanese war.
See Mark Elvin, ‘‘The Administration of Shanghai, 19051914,’’ in The Chinese City between Two
Worlds, ed. Mark Elvin and William G. Skinner (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974),
23962; Jack Gray, ed., ‘‘The Gentry Democracy in Shanghai, 19051914,’’ in Modern Chinas Search
for a Political Form (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 4165.
Yuan Xieming, ‘‘Gongbuju yu Shanghai luzheng,’’ 201.
All about Shanghai, 59 and 61.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 11
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The third wave of construction on the Bund (19201937)
This momentous change is significant because it happened in a unique setting. Whether by
formal administrative bodies or in the subtler expression of power embodied by powerful
Figure 1. Map and cross-section of the Bund. See also Figure 2.
Based on Wu Jiang, Shanghai bai nian jianzhu shi, 18401949, 113.
12 Christian Henriot
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trading firms, the Bunds architectural growth in many ways mirrored the relationship
between the European colonial powers and the Chinese treaty ports. Such environments,
especially one as prominent as the Shanghai Bund, were thus the results of imperial
processes that, through a visual medium, produced a sense of empire.
The early days: a trading port
In the early years, buildings were almost exclusively commercial in nature. Numerous
European trading firms from Britain, Norway, and Portugal, among other nations, estab-
lished commercial compounds, called hong, that varied in size proportionate to the scope of
a particular firms operations.
The hong served both a residential and commercial purpose.
The buildings back rooms or upper floors were reserved for accommodations, while the
ground floor or a covered veranda provided office space. The number of people in each hong
could range from two to three partners, five to ten European clerks, and up to 50 Chinese
The merchandise warehouses, or ‘‘ go-downs,’’ were also in the back lot of each
compound, around which employees resided in accommodations arranged hierarchically
according to seniority and nationality. Kitchens and stables also stood within the compound.
Such hong often covered acres and often included a garden.
While the actual layout may
have been more varied and even jumbled up, the key thing is that these buildings combined
utility with display, and display was uppermost on the waterfront.
Charles Dyce, a 30-year resident of Shanghai, lamented in his memoirs that ‘‘ the
community was almost entirely commercial.’’
Figure 2 (184950) confirms this view as,
except for the British Consulate and the Chinese Imperial Customs House, the Bund was
dotted with commercial premises (hong and warehouses). By the late 1860s, however,
greater diversification had occurred, even if the commercial hong still dominated the
Table 2. The third wave of construction on the Bund (19201937).
Building Date of construction
Yangtze Insurance Company 19161918
Glen Line 19201922
Jardine, Matheson & Co. 19201922
Nisshin Kisen Kaisha Steamship Company 1921
Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation 19211923
Union Insurance Co. 1922
Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China 19221923
North China Daily News 19221924
Yokohama Specie Bank 19231924
Bank of Taiwan 19241926
Customs House 19251927
Sassoon House 19261929
Broadway Mansions (across Soochow Creek) 19301934
Bank of China 19361937
Messageries Maritimes (French Bund) 1937
Mark Crinson, Modern Architecture and the End of Empire (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), 4.
Murphey, Shanghai, 69.
Charles M. Dyce, Personal Reminiscences of Thirty YearsResidence in the Model Settlement of
Shanghai (London: Chapman & Hall, 1906), 36.
Denison, Building Shanghai, 4748 and Dyce, Personal Reminiscences of Thirty Years, 35.
Dyce, Personal Reminiscences of Thirty Years, 32.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 13
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riverfront (see 186768). The new features included a few banks, the Masonic hall, opened
in 1867, and the Shanghai Club, a primarily British social institution established in 1862.
Maybons 1873 photograph of the Bund reveals a well-developed settlement with almost a
dozen ships anchored in the river, but it still had the appearance of a quiet harbor with few
major structures on the riverfront. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the
spacious hongs and other legacies of Shanghais early years began to give way to more
modern construction and a wider range of activities.
Consolidation and growth: Shanghais second wave
As the pressure on available space increased, a volatile real-estate market and the demand for
housing within the International Settlement provided the background for a second wave of
architectural development on the Bund.
In a 1908 panorama, the scene is completely
different. Steam has replaced sail, the buildings are taller, and factories crowd along
Soochow Creek and the stretches of the Huangpu north of the Garden Bridge. Likewise, a
change in architecture is apparent as a larger variety of buildings jostle for space on the
Bund. Limited to six stories in height, the Bunds large buildings stood on wooden pilings
driven into the silt. Beginning with the new Shanghai Club building, finished in 1910, major
buildings used a floating concrete flat in order to overcome the weight restrictions of the
areas alluvial soils.
While the Bunds buildings were not immediately transformed into skyscrapers, a
significant development during this period was the greater diversification of the Bunds
commercial tenants (Figure 2, 1907). Although there had been a banking presence from its
Figure 2. Schematic map of buildings on the Bund (18491939).
Denison, Building Shanghai, 68.
Ibid., 76.
Murphey, Shanghai, 31.
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earliest days in the form of the Oriental Bank and, from 1865, the Hong Kong and Shanghai
Banking Corporation (HSBC), nonetheless after the turn of the twentieth century financial
institutions became the largest single type of venture on the Bund. This growth coincided
with the construction of many new bank buildings (seven establishments altogether). The
HSBC for example moved into larger premises and the first Chinese-run bank the Imperial
Bank of China built an impressive structure on the south Bund in 1897. As the Bund
became more financial, the loading and unloading of ships moved away from it both
upstream and downstream. Trading companies were replaced by the large international
shipping companies that brought both goods and people from Europe, America and
In addition, the old and unique Central Hotel gave way to the modern Palace
Hotel, another significant development linked to tourism. Finally, the German Club
Concordia joined the Shanghai Club on the Bund. By and large, the Bund had taken on a
new appearance and function, with buildings geared toward finance and leisure.
The billion-dollar skyline: the apex of the Bund
If we were to take the amount of building on the Bund as a barometer of economic success,
then as Shanghai entered the 1920s, business appeared to be booming. By the middle of the
1930s, Shanghais Bund had reached the apex of its development. Called the ‘‘billion-dollar
skyline,’’ the Bund was the proud representative of a city which had turned into a major
regional industrial, financial, and mercantile powerhouse.
While the second wave of
growth during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had filled out the Bunds
empty spaces to make a continuous built-up streetscape, the final period of architectural
development was of an order and magnitude even larger than its predecessor. Technological
improvements, such as the safety elevator, steel frames, and reinforced concrete, combined
with the increasing demand for office space on Shanghais premier business street to create
the grand new buildings that still grace the citys riverfront.
Shanghais final wave of building definitely reflected the continuing transformation of
its function in the city (Figure 2, 1939). Financial institutions remained the largest group of
buildings with 11 establishments along the Bund. Playing a similar function in business, one
could now see insurance companies gaining ground on the Bund, while shipping seriously
receded. One major addition was the Sassoon House/Cathay Hotel. Two major hotels now
flanked the entrance to Nanking Road, the major commercial artery. Of the original trading
companies, only Jardine, Matheson & Co. remained, while at the opposite end of the Bund,
the Asiatic Petroleum Company and the William Munts Company figured as the new
‘‘trading companies.’’
Obviously the Bund had acquired enormous prestige as the place where any really
serious company had to establish its headquarters. As a result, by the 1930s the transfigura-
tion of the riverfront was spectacular, with the complete abandonment of the original
function of shipping and storing goods traveling between China and Europe. Large cargos
made way for ocean liners carrying tourists and would-be settlers. The prominent presence
of banks emphasized the new status of Shanghai as Asias major financial center. Still an
industrial center as well in its backyard districts, Shanghai shone with a riverfront dedicated
In terms of volume of goods and people transported, the most active shipping companies were those
engaged in the coastal and river trades. Yet they did not figure among the tenants or owners of buildings
on the Bund.
See the following paper: ‘‘Shanghais New Billion-dollar Skyline,’’ The Far Eastern Review (June
1927), 25455.
Huebner, ‘‘Architecture on the Shanghai Bund,’’ 213.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 15
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to the services banks, insurance companies, newspapers, clubs, hotels all of which
catered to the needs of its enterprising population.
Western and Chinese visions of the Bund
The history of Shanghai has been told many times as a ‘‘success story’’ supposedly due
entirely to Western presence. Without the least hesitation, a 1934 guide of Shanghai boldly
stated that ‘‘less than a century ago, Shanghai was little more than an anchorage for junks,
with a few villages scattered along the low, muddy banks of the river.’’
As we shall see in
this section, the ‘‘ anchorage’’ and its history is fully part of the mythical reconstruction of an
imaginary Western view of Shanghai.
In the same guide, the Bund came first as the
‘‘natural starting point for our tour’’ of the city, and it proudly made note of:
The muddy tow-path of fifty years ago which has magically become one of the most striking and
beautiful civic entrances in the world, faced from the West by an impressive rampart of modern
buildings and bounded on the East by the Huangpu river.
Of course, by the 1930s, the Bund had developed into a complex and sophisticated area
where work easily overlapped with leisure. ‘‘ The handsome boulevard is flanked by a park
space which extends to the rivers-edge with its unobtrusive landing stages, where tenders
bring passengers from great ocean liners.’’
These self-aggrandizing views of Shanghai by Western travelers or residents, celebrating
the Bund as a symbol of their success, are part of a myth to which even some Chinese have
subscribed. Cathy Yeh argues that for displaced literati in search of a new identity, Shanghai
offered itself as a ‘‘ playground,’’ as a place of ‘‘ exoticism,’’ something that threw them off
balance even if, in many ways, the physical surroundings of the early settlement were hardly
different from any other Chinese city (except for the neat grid of streets and the major
buildings on the Bund, all other construction bore the signature of Chinese traditional
Nevertheless, if Shanghai came to be represented in a way that magnified
this aspect and symbolized Chinese modernity, the way in which Westerners and Chinese
perceived and described the city, especially the Bund, differs widely. Whereas the Bund
figures prominently in all Western renditions of Shanghai, Chinese writers were far less
sensitive to its assumed grandeur and glamour. The Western bias, however, was a late
development. Early Western travelers to Shanghai were impressed by the Chinese Bund
obviously the only developed place before Westerners settled in Shanghai and failed to
harbor the prejudices of those who followed their tracks some years later.
The first visitors to Shanghai, Lindsay and Gutzlaff, reached the city in 1832. While they
spent most of their time trying to obtain the right to trade in Shanghai, they did not fail to note
All about Shanghai, 1934, 1
For earlier examination and deconstruction of the ‘‘ fishing village’’ and related myths, see Kerrie
L. MacPherson, A Wilderness of Marshes. The Origins of Public Health in Shanghai, 18431893
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987); Robert A. Bickers, Britain in China: Community Culture and
Colonialism, 19001949 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999); Linda C. Johnson,
Shanghai: From Market Town to Treaty Port (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995).
All about Shanghai, 44.
Ibid., 4445.
Catherine Vance Yeh, ‘‘The Life-Style of Four Wenren in Late Qing Shanghai,’’ Harvard Journal of
Asiatic Studies, vol. 57, no. 2 (1997), 42628; Catherine Yeh, ‘‘Guides to Paradise: Entertainment in
the Formation of Shanghais Identity,’’ in Shanghai Love: Courtesans, Intellectuals, and
Entertainment Culture, 18501910 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006), 30440.
16 Christian Henriot
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the brisk trade that was already taking place in the harbor. Lindsay reported quite favorably
on the local facilities:
Commodious wharfs and large warehouses occupy the banks of the river, which is deep enough
to allow junks to come and unload alongside of them; in the middle it has from six to eight
fathoms, and is nearly half a mile in breadth.
Captain Monfort, traveling through Shanghai in the early 1850s, was impressed by the hustle
and bustle in the city and its harbor: ‘‘ there is nothing more active and animated than the
aspect of the harbor and the wharves of the city.’’
With the rise of the English Bund, these
fairly positive descriptions of the city and its original Chinese Bund along the walled city,
would slowly give way to derogatory comments or simply complete omission.
When one reads through the travel accounts by early travelers to Shanghai, however, it
becomes obvious that the Bund was not yet on their mental map. While a few words of praise
are usually said about the British/International Settlement, it is about the buildings, the
streets, and the modern appearance of the place: ‘‘ Shanghai [. . .] is laid like a city at home. It
extends along the harbor for the distance of three miles and has a breadth of one mile.’’
learn that the streets are macadamized, drained with brick sewers and illuminated by ‘‘ an
abundance of public lamps.’’
The early-1860s visitor then turns his eyes to the houses
(although we do not know if it is a general comment or a description of the houses on the
Bund): ‘‘The residences of the merchants are large and elegantly finished, and admirably
constructed for comfort. The rooms are high and airy, with windows opening to the surface
of the floor upon a wide piazza.’’
The Bund itself is not mentioned as a noteworthy place.
By 1867, a major travel guide on China and Japan made one of the first mentions of the
riverfront as the ‘‘ far-famed Bund.’’
The author gives credit to the original tow-path and its
preservation and successive widening for giving Shanghai a ‘‘ noble quay along the entire
length of its river-front.’’ A newly arrived German banker expressed the same view: ‘‘ The
beautiful city lay before us. With its lovely quay and high regal palaces, the city made a
magnificent impression. This was, however, actually only the English settlement.’’
duplication of similar embankments in other Western settlements is said ‘‘to have made the
Bund a prominent feature of European progress throughout China.’’ In 1867, however, the
riverfront was still lined only with wooden pillars due to ‘‘ the high cost of granite in this
alluvial region.’’ At low ebb, a wide mud-bank of about 30 meters extended from the timber
facing the roadway. The tidal movement explains why long sloppy jetties, as can be seen on
nineteenth-century paintings, were built to secure an approach at all stages of the tide.
contrast, the French Bund paled compared to its British neighbor. It was lined with ‘‘ build-
ings of very inferior description.’’ The French municipality, however, was credited with
success in building a permanent embankment with stone. The guide emphasized the
‘‘commodious wharves’’ erected by the China Steam Navigation Company and the French
Report of Proceedings on a Voyage to the Northern Ports of China, in the Ship Lord Hamherst
(London: B. Fellowes, 1833), 173.
George Bell, Voyage en Chine du capitaine Montfort avec un appendice historique sur les derniers
événements (Paris: Victor Lecou, 1854), 265.
William L.G. Smith, Observations on China and the Chinese (New York: Carleton, 1863), 122.
Ibid., 122
Ibid., 123.
N.B. Dennys, ed., The Treaty ports of China and Japan (London: Trubner and Co., 1867), 355.
Hermann Wallich, Aus meinem Leben, in: Zwei Generationen im deutschen Bankwesen, 18331914
(1929; repr., Frankfurt: am Main, 1978), 8597.
Dennys, The Treaty Ports of China and Japan, 376.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 17
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Messageries Impériales. The Chinese section had already fallen into oblivion: ‘‘ Beyond this
point stretch the crowded tiers of the Chinese shipping.’’
Close to the turn of the century, the riverfront was taking shape both physically and,
above all, in peoples minds. The SMC seems to have decided to preserve the Bund from
turning into a major harbor area. In fact, while jetties and iron pontoons were constructed,
actual wharves never developed along the bank. No ships or large vessels were allowed at the
Bund. They could only moor at a distance and rely on cargo boats for loading and unload-
In 1897, as he approached Shanghai from the river, a British traveler recollected his
In front of the Bund, we look with wonder upon the splendid business houses, that seem like
palaces [. . .] Awalk along the Bund tends to increase the admiration we felt as it seemed to move
by us for inspection, when we looked at it from the poop of the steamer. The first thought that
strikes one is the magnificence with which everything has been planned.
This commentary echoes that given by Wang Tao upon arriving in Shanghai in 1848. But the
contemporary British traveler continues his description:
The Bund is wide and spacious, and kept in splendid order by the members of the Municipal
Council. .. On one side is a broad pathway lined with trees that throw a pleasant shade upon the
ground and keep off fiery rays of the sun. . . On the other side are the business houses, which are
also residences, and which have been built. . .with such artistic beauty and disregard of
From these descriptions, one can sense that the Bund was beginning to have a separate
identity from the river and from the city itself.
It existed by itself and stood as the most
concrete evidence of Western modernity and achievement in Shanghai. With the character-
istic enthusiasm of the time, the same author stated that:
There is a profound consciousness in many of them [Englishmen] that Englands mission is to
elevate the world. This idea exalts commerce, and drives out the meaner motives in connection
with it, by surrounding it with beautiful houses, and exquisite gardens, and lines of charming
Some newcomers were even surprised to discover there were Chinese in Shanghai, even on
the Bund. In 1899, on her first trip to Shanghai, a woman traveler wrote:
Ibid., 383. The walled city is covered in one paragraph that basically dissuades the traveler from
visiting, ‘‘except as an exemplification of the extreme of native filth and squalor,’’ a regular trope in
nineteenth-century travel accounts. See Jeffrey N. Dupée, British Travel Writers in China Writing
Home to a British Public, 18901914 (Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 2004), chapter 5.
William R. Kahler, My Holidays in China (Shanghai: unpublished, 1895), 7.
John Macgowan, Pictures of Southern China (London: Religious Tract Society, 1897), 1011.
Ibid., 13.
Taylors interpretation of the Bund as a space per se fails to take into account the historical process of
construction of the image/myth of the Bund. The terms did not create the space. The space came to be
created out of necessity in different urban settings that Taylor does not discuss. The extent to which the
term Bund came to acquire a specific meaning must have varied according to the cities, but above all it
was a ‘‘myth-creation’’ process that took place over several decades. It was also a process that took
place within the Western world with a limited impact on local society. Taylor, ‘‘The Bund.’’
Macgowan, Pictures of Southern China, 12.
18 Christian Henriot
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I was not prepared for the Chinese element being so much en evidence in the foreign settlement.
It is not only that clerks and compradors dressed in rich silk on which the characters for
happiness and longevity and the symbols of luck are in numbers on the Bund, and that all the
servile classes, as may be expected, are Chinese, but that Chinese shops of high standing. . . are
taking their places in fine streets which run back from the Bund.
Obviously, the first contact with the Shanghai Bund was an eye-opening experience which
shattered albeit partially the biased view of the traveler. Her description also gives us a
sense of the brisk activity along the Bund: ‘‘Single and two-horse carriages and buggies,
open and closed, with coachmen and grooms. .. dash along the drive. There are jinrickshas
in hundreds, with Chinese runners, and Shanghai wheelbarrows innumerable. . ..’’ All that,
however, was due to ‘‘an honest and thoroughly efficient British local administration.’’
This line of discourse was usually continued and magnified in the following decades. In
the first Western guide of Shanghai in 1904, the Bund comes first on the list of ‘‘Routes with
chief objects of interest.’’ It is described as ‘‘ one of the most interesting, famous, and
handsome thoroughfares in the world,’’ with the Shanghai Municipal Council identified as
the valiant designer and protector of public interest which ‘‘ fought against all attempts of the
shipping interest to construct wharves for shipping’’ thus insuring its continuation as ‘‘ the
great lung and promenade of Shanghai.’’
It is presented as an area for leisure, even if the
author also points to the active traffic that takes place on the Bund.
The Bund is also a place
that extols the apparent cosmopolitan nature of Shanghai. There is movement, there are
people from all over the world all strolling along the same street.
As waves of travelers and residents moved into Shanghai, the Bund became the main
focal point, the place that gave Shanghai its identity, while the original city the city once
surrounded by a wall and canals fell into oblivion. That part was unconsciously erased
from history. Myth overpowered history. The Bund had come out of nothing:
The splendid Bund, bounded on one side by sightly bank and club, steamboat and insurance
buildings, and on the other by the Whangpoo River, is the citys pride and glory. It is hard to
realize that this wide, white road, humming with life and swept by costly automobiles, was once
nothing but a well trodden tow-path bordering a marsh.
As seen before, it is true there once was only a towpath, but it connected to a harbor which
had been bustling for centuries along the walled city. Foreign trade and the development of
‘‘foreign Shanghai’’ metaphorically took off when it connected to the tremendous on-going
trade that was taking place a few miles to the south.
The image of the Bund as a place for leisure and architectural appreciation was taking
root. In his 1920 edition, Darwent had completely rewritten his introduction to the showcase
window of Shanghai:
The newcomer will observe a most striking difference between the river-front of the
International Settlement and that of the French Settlement. That of the French Settlement has
been captured by commerce; steamers line it, cargo and coolies litter it; it is not pleasant to
Isabella L. Bird, The Yangtze Valley and Beyond: An Account of Journeys in China, Chiefly in the
Province of Sze Chuan and among the Man-Tze of the Somo Territory (London: J. Murray, 1899),
Darwent, Shanghai. A Handbook, 1.
Ibid., 5.
Mary Ninde Gamewell, The Gateway to China: Pictures of Shanghai (New York: Fleming H. Revell
Company, 1916), 42.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 19
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promenade. That of the International Settlement is a splendid open space save for a few
launches and cargo-boats moored off it. Its pleasant grassy lawn and walks, with an unobstructed
view across the open water, across which the cool breezes from the sea are wafted and borne in
the heat of summer, make it of untold value to the amenity, the health and beauty of our river-
The tone is almost lyrical. The British Bund was no longer a place for trade and shipping,
except for ‘‘a few launches and cargo boats’’ that seem to be there through sufferance. With
stronger words than in the first edition of his guide, Darwent attributed this success to ‘‘ the
men of a past generation who fought and won the battle for this freedom of the Bund
foreshore from all-devouring commerce.’’
In Darwents eyes the genesis of the Bund
manifested epic significance.
By the 1920s, the image of the Bund as the beating heart of the city, where powerful firms
competed fiercely to build their headquarters, was well established. The competition, in fact,
generated a movement for higher and more massive buildings. The shift of attention from the
‘‘promenade’’ to the line of buildings started after WWI. In the 1916 edition of the Travelers
Handbook for China, the Bund is praised as ‘‘ shaded and inviting,’’ although it also points to
the ‘‘proud buildings for the citys principal banks and business houses.’’ Yet no single
building is mentioned. In the later editions 1921, 1925, 1933 the guide dutifully listed all
the ‘‘notable buildings,’’ updating its business profile along with the transformation of the
By the beginning of the decade, the technology was available to erect high and
heavy structures on Shanghais soft and water-filled soil. The 1921 edition of the guide
predicted that ‘‘ it is possible that in a few years time the entire Bund frontage will be filled
with six-story buildings.’’
Reality went well beyond this projection. By 1930 an impress-
ive row of buildings took over the entire Bund, creating what a hotel guide called the
‘‘billiondollar skyline.’’
Neither the French nor the Chinese sections of the Bund were ever able to receive but a
very slight, and often derogatory, comment in the writings of British travelers. The French
section partly redeemed itself through its installations. In 1899, the Quai du Whampoo is
praised for its ‘‘ fine wharves at which the big Yangtze steamers load and discharge their
cargoes and. . . beyond which stretch, far as the eye can reach, the crowded tiers of Chinese
The southern section of the riverfront retained its image as a place devoted to
shipping and storage, even after improvements were made. Except for a few major buildings,
like the French consulate or the 1920 rebuilt headquarters of the Messageries Maritimes, one
must admit that the French Bund failed to attract major construction. Further to the south, the
Chinese Bund was most often overlooked. In 1916, an American resident offered an
unusually romantic view: ‘‘ The characteristic feature of the Chinese Bund is its boat
population. For more than half a mile little boats called sampans. . . line the shore and extend
well into the river.’’
There were indeed differences between the various sections of the
Darwent, Shanghai, 1.
Carl Crow, The TravelersHandbook for China (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1916), 86; Crow, The
TravelersHandbook, 5th ed. (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1933), 14546; Crow, The Travelers
Handbook, 3rd ed. (Shanghai: Dood, Mead & Co., 1921), 106; Crow, The TravelersHandbook, 4th
ed. (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1925), 13940.
Crow, The TravelersHandbook for China, 3rd ed., 107.
California Directory Association, comp., Tourist Guide to ShanghaiNorth China (Shanghai:
unpublished, 1930), 15, compliments of Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels Ltd.
Bird, The Yangtze Valley and Beyond, 23.
Gamewell, The Gateway to China, 43.
20 Christian Henriot
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Bund, but as one can see from the visual record, a wide range of activities took place along
the riverfront. The presentation of the ‘‘ English’’ Bund as a place for rest and leisurely walks
fails to reflect the actual diversity of the place and its actual role as a bustling workplace.
Compared to Western enthusiasm for the Bund, Chinese records fail to convey a similar
sense of fervor. The Bund almost never appears as a central reference point of the city. Even
if it struck the eyes of early travelers such as Wang Tao in 1848 as we shall see below and
while it probably impressed scores of Chinese visitors, Chinese city guides glossed over the
In 1848, on his first visit to the city, Wang Tao seems to have been impressed by the row
of buildings along the Bund that he viewed from the river:
As soon as we got up the Huangpu [River], it was all at once a different world. Looking out from
the boat laid an expanse of mist and water with a forest of masts and sails. All along the bank of
the river were the houses of foreigners, tall buildings whose roofs seemed to reach to the clouds,
with elaborate gates and ornate flags.
There are two problems with this description of Shanghai in 1848. The first is that the date
that this prose description was written, while unclear, was about three decades after Wang
actually took his trip to Shanghai. While he may have kept a diary, his 1891 publication, first
serialized in a newspaper, is the only evidence we have.
In other words, his memory may
have been tainted by his more current view of the Bund. The second issue is that visual
evidence from contemporary paintings does not fully support the view presented by Wang
Tao. Paintings are of course imaginary re-creations of reality. Yet these paintings were
produced by local artists, both Chinese and Westerners, who cared less about the latest
trends in painting than in describing what they actually saw.
In this study, I have matched all the paintings with actual photographs and established
that these paintings were fairly accurate on all accounts: location of buildings, distribution,
general appearances, and so on. If we rely on the first painting known to date from
18491850, about the time when Wang Tao arrived in Shanghai, there was hardly anything
that would have impressed a young man fresh from Suzhou, a city of close to one million
people at the time.
There were less than a dozen buildings scattered along the riverbank,
from the British consulate to the Russell & Co. compound. None of them could be confused
with the potential six-story buildings of a later era. Actually, the building of the Chinese
Imperial Customs appears as the tallest structure on the riverfront.
The only major
difference was certainly style, but quite opposite to the elegant Chinese Customs structure,
Western buildings were sturdy and square, though their colonnades and balconies gave them
Wang Tao, Man you sui lu [Idle Travel Notes] (Shanghai: Zhu yi tang, 1877), inMan you sui lu tu ji [A
Pictorial Record of Idle Travel Notes], ed. Wang Jiaju (Jinan: Shandong huabao chubanshe, 2004), 23.
Wang Jiaju, introduction to Man you sui lu, by Wang Tao, 6. The only known diary by Wang Tao
does not include anything about his arrival in Shanghai. Wang Tao, Wang Tao riji [Wang Tao Diary]
(Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1987).
There is some disagreement on the size of the population of Suzhou, with F.W. Mote supporting a
high figure of one million in the 1850s, while W.G. Skinner offers a more conservative estimate of
700,000. William G. Skinner, ed., ‘‘Introduction: Urban Development in Imperial China,’’ in The City
in Late Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977), 29.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom argues that the twice-rebuilt Maritime Customs became one of the two tallest
buildings in Shanghai and the tallest one on the Bund. Its clock and chime set the time for the whole
city, which also contributed to turn the Customs House into an iconic urban landmark. Jeffrey
Wasserstrom, ‘‘A Big Ben with Chinese Characteristics: The Customs House as Urban Icon in Old
and New Shanghai,’’ Urban History, vol. 33, no. 1 (2006), 6584.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 21
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an airy aspect. The unusual façades may have engendered an element of surprise, especially
the columns that certainly gave the impression of ‘‘ reaching to the clouds.’’ Wang Tao also
noticed the flags that hung in front of many buildings, either the company flag or the flag of
whichever country the company represented.
As to the ‘‘ forest of sails and masts,’’ it is
unlikely there was such a concentration of vessels in front of the British settlement. All
paintings tend to show a more sparsely concentrated mooring. And aside from the visual
record, we know from other records that if any such forest was to be found in 1848, it was
along the Chinese section of the riverfront, along the walled city. This is where for centuries
thousands of ships had been mooring every year.
The testimony of Wang Tao has remained the unchallenged view of early-treaty-port
Shanghai in Western and Chinese literature.
This image is taken for granted and has been
repeated up to this day without critical distance.
Quite interestingly, it is not unlike the
mythical and romanticized view of the later Bund we have inherited from the 1920s1930s.
What this disjuncture between the recollections of Wang Tao and the visual sources suggests,
apart from the issue of a distorted memory, is that the confrontation of textual records, from
which historians have elaborated their interpretations both of the appearance of mid-
nineteenth century Shanghai and the reaction of a young Chinese literati to this scene,
calls for a second and more critical reading of these textual records. While the paintings by
themselves would be a questionable source, their systematic study through time and
comparison with early photographic records actually provides a solid basis for a ‘‘ visual
reconstruction’’ of the early Bund and an alternative tool through which to reassess textual
The first image of the Bund Wang Tao recalls actually does not seem to have made a
lasting impression on him. At least, it failed to attract him for a visit or casual stroll. In the
diary he kept at various times between 1858 and 1860, Wang Tao often mentions the various
places he went with his friends or by himself. However, the Bund is mentioned only once,
after he had taken a trip to Hongkou, across Soochow Creek.
In other words, apart from
the initial mention in his recollections, the Bund never became a point of reference in his
mental geography of the city. In point of fact, his whereabouts were centered more clearly on
the walled city. A contemporary of Wang Tao, the city guide compiler Ge Yuanxu, was
equally insensitive to the Bund. In the first Chinese city guide that he produced, he made no
mention of the Bund, or of any part of the riverfront, although he introduced the reader to
shipping and shipping routes from Shanghai. Quite evidently, the Bund failed to strike a
chord in the mind of the author.
In fact, one needs to point out that in Chinese textual
sources, the ‘‘ Bund’’ failed to become the icon that figured so prominently in Western
writing about the city.
A close examination of Chinese city guides published through the Republican period
confirms the lack of interest in the Bund. This may be due to their pragmatic approach since
In the early period of settlement, trade companies often also served in a consular capacity for a given
country. Jardine, Matheson & Co. displayed the Danish flag; Dent & Co. carried the Portuguese flag;
A. Heard & Co. represented Russia. In 1867, Great Britain, France, Spain, Prussia and the United States
were the only powers represented by official consuls. Dennys,The Treaty Ports of China and Japan, 380.
Zhang Zhongmin, ‘‘Qing qianqi Shanghai gang fazhan yanbian xintan,’’ 91.
Yuan Xieming, ‘‘ Gongbuju yu Shanghai luzheng,’’ 170.
H. McAleavy, Wang Tao (18281890): The Life and Writings of a Displaced Person (London: The
China Society, 1953), 4; Catherine Vance Yeh, ‘‘The Life-Style of Four Wenren in Late Qing
Shanghai,’’ 42324.
Wang Tao, Wang Tao riji, 117.
Ge Yuanxu, Hu you za ji [Miscellaneous Notes on Visiting Shanghai] (1876; repr., Shanghai:
Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1989).
22 Christian Henriot
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Chinese city guides usually described Shanghai very systematically in every aspect. These
guides were conceived less to assist foreign tourists, as in the Darwent or All about Shanghai
guides with their ‘‘ tours’’ of the various sections of the city, than to introduce the reader to the
various practical resources which Shanghai offered. The city is defined geographically, but it
has no center to start from. It is divided into various themes (government, industry, and
leisure) rather than by districts or areas. Even the photographic record in these guides fails to
offer a glimpse of the Bund. It appears almost furtively in one guide through a picture of the
Public Garden or of the WWI Memorial. There is no way to say whether this was a conscious
choice or simply the result of their editorial structures, but obviously the Bund was not an
element of civic pride in Chinese guides.
As we shall see below, this may explain why the
post-1949 guides also remained silent about the main promenade of the city. The only full
presentation of the Bund for tourists that I have found is a special issue of the L
uxing zazhi
(China Traveler) of January 1930. In an article devoted to the Bund, the author introduced
the reader to its magnificence, but in poetic language. No superlative here. No mention of
Westerners either. This was ‘‘ China modern.’’
Although the waitan (Bund) was absent from city guides, it eventually came to be
associated with Shanghai as a synonym for the citys name. The waitan epitomized
Shanghai, not necessarily physically, but rather for its lifestyle, attractions and dangers.
A 1942 guide, Da shanghai, devotes two short sections to ‘‘ tan.’’ One section ‘‘ Huangpu
tan’’ presents the Bund as the ‘‘ point of origin’’ of the International Settlement, but
immediately proceeds to describe it as the ‘‘ Wall Street’’ of the city, with a high concentra-
tion of banks from all over the world. No other aspect of the Bund is mentioned, save for the
impressive architecture of these financial establishments. The other sections of the riverfront
are glossed over. In another section the author explains to the traveler the meaning of
‘‘Shanghai tan’’ as a metaphor for the city as a whole, a place of pleasure for the rich, a
fine example of a modern city of the twentieth century, but also full of traps and disillusion-
In fact, this vision is certainly the one that prevailed, at least through other media. In
movies, in particular, the Bund often appears in the ‘‘opening credits,’’ along with views of
modern buildings and department stores.
Quite clearly, the visual record left a very
different imprint about the Bund in peoples minds than did the written sources. There is a
striking difference, however, between the Western and Chinese visions of the Bund in the
This discussion is based on the examination of the following guides: Shanghai zhinan [Guide to
Shanghai: A Chinese Directory of the Port] (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1909); see also subsequent
editions from 1919, 1920, 1923, 1925, 1926 and 1930; Zhonghua tushu jicheng gongsi bianjisuo, ed.,
Shanghai youlan zhinan [A Comprehensive Guide of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Zhonghua tushu jicheng
gongsi, 1923); Lin Zhen, Shanghai zhinan [Guide of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1930);
Shanghai shenmi zhinan[Secret Guide of Shanghai], 2 vols. (Shanghai: Datong tushushe, no date given);
Xu Wancheng, Huang Jingwan, Shanghai zhinan [Guide of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Guoguang shudian, no
date given); Shen Bojing, Shanghai shi zhinan [Guide of the Shanghai Municipality] (Shanghai:
Zhonghua shuju, 1933); Liu Peiqian, ed., Da Shanghai zhinan [Guide of Greater Shanghai]
(Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju, 1936); Leng Xingwu, Zuixin Shanghai zhinan [New Guide of Shanghai]
(Shanghai: Shanghai wenhua yanjiushe, 1946); Wang Changnian, ed., Da Shanghai zhinan [Guide of
Greater Shanghai] (Shanghai: Dongnan wenhua fuwushe, 1947).
Sun Enlin, ‘‘Pubin cangsang lu’’ [A Record of the Vicissitudes of River Bank], in Luxing zazhi
[China Traveler], vol. 4, no. 1 (1930), 6773.
Ji Longsheng, Da Shanghai [Greater Shanghai] (Taipei: Nanfang zazhishe, 1942), 1112, 2223.
The guide presents only a few other major streets in the International Settlement (Nanking, Peking,
Foochow, and Fukien Roads).
See for instance Shen nü [Goddess], 1934; Malu tianshi [Street Angel], 1937 or Sanmao liu lang ji
[San Mao], 1949.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 23
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twentieth century. While the former wrote about it as an ode to their accomplishments in
Shanghai, the latter used it to convey a sense of urban modernity.
Epilogue: the Bund in the post-revolutionary period
The glamorous Bund a glamour that overshadowed a more complex reality as seen before
started to shatter after the takeover by Communist armies in May 1949. The Bund fell into
oblivion in revolutionary Shanghai. Even if Chinese travelers coming to the city would
certainly make the walk to the Bund and have their picture taken, such opportunities became
rare with the enforcement of a rigid system of control over the movement of the population.
Apart from cadres and some technicians, few people were allowed to travel. Trade no longer
brought the flow of merchants that had made Shanghai famous. Foreign visitors were limited
to technicians from the socialist bloc and only very rarely did occasional delegations from
Western countries set foot in China. Tourism, both domestic and international, just dried up.
The city was required to turn itself from a place where ‘‘consumption’’ dominated and
corrupted its people to a ‘‘ productive’’ socialist urban entity. The Bund ceased to be a
marker of Chinese urban modernity. On the contrary, it came to be seen as a legacy of
Western colonialism. The buildings were simply taken over by the new authorities. Quite
symbolically, the new municipal government and the Party Committee elected to locate their
headquarters in the building of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Yet there was no
destruction by the new authorities, as little capital was made available for infrastructures
under the new regime. The little funding available went to the renovation of slum quarters
and the building of workersvillages.
Many of the features that make a place a city
disappeared from Shanghai. One can find a reflection of that in the virtual disappearance of
city guides compared to the several yearly publications to be found before 1949. I was able to
trace only two such guides, one for 1957 and the other for 1980 when Shanghai started to
regain some clout on the national scene.
In fact, the 1957 guide amounts to no more than
nine pages listing the bus lines and a few places of interest (theaters, cinemas, and sport
The progressive reopening of the city to travelers, however, took a cautious path within
the constraining shell of the officially defined ‘‘ socialist city.’’ A 1980 guide provides a
further illustration of this perspective. The guide seemed to target the ‘‘ serious’’ traveler, one
that came to Shanghai not to enjoy its cityscape or the pleasures a city usually offers, but the
relevant places for doing proper business in a socialist nation. The guide was illustrated with
advertisements for industrial hardware and technical gear that an individual would hardly
find useful. The geography of tourist attractions laid out in the guide offered only a very
small sample of historical landmarks of genuine Chinese origin (namely Yu Yuan Garden
and Longhua Pagoda) and non-controversial recreational areas (public parks and the zoo).
The Bund, even under its Chinese name, simply did not exist. Nowhere throughout the text
was there any reference to the riverfront or to any buildings thereon. The term waitan (Bund)
crept in almost inadvertently in the very last pages of the guide in a schematic map of the
major commercial arteries: Nanjing donglu did start from the ‘‘ waitan.’’
A 1987 traffic
Shanghai shehui kexueyuan jingji yanjiusuo [Institute of Economics, Shanghai Academy of Social
Sciences], ed., Shanghai penghuqu de bianqian [The Transformation of Shanghai Slums] (Shanghai:
Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1965).
Shanghai zhinan 1957 [Guide to Shanghai, 1957] (Shanghai: no publisher given, 1957); Shanghai
zhinan [Guide to Shanghai] (Shanghai: Shanghai kexue jishu chubanshe, 1980).
Shanghai zhinan, 16784.
Ibid., 188.
24 Christian Henriot
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guide equally failed to mention the Bund among its various entries. The term waitan appeared
only in relation with Zhongshan Dongyi Lu (East Zhongshan Road, Section one).
Little was done to maintain or enhance the buildings along the Bund or even to the Bund
itself. After the takeover of the city, the municipal government mostly reorganized the
wharves and jetties, removing some of them to the south, tearing down scattered buildings
to make way for green space.
By the mid-1980s, however, the Institute of Urban Planning
came up with a new scheme for the Bund, with the proposal to heighten the riverfront to
prevent possible damage from the millennium flood.
The dyke that runs along the
Huangpu was elevated from 5.8 to 6.9 meters and the Bund was turned into a 10-lane
highway. The planned renovation of the Bund was completed in September 1992. Other
additions were rather cosmetic, like the erection of a statue in the middle of the Bund garden
to commemorate the heroes of the revolution in Shanghai and one in honor of the first mayor
of Shanghai, Chen Yi, in front of Nanjing Lu.
The municipal Bureau of Urban Planning started to work on a scheme to preserve the
buildings on the Bund by 1984. Basically, it defined the stretch to be protected, from the Suzhou
River (Soochow Creek) to Yanan Donglu (Edward VII Avenue), and from the riverfront to
Henan Lu. Two years later, 17 buildings were listed as landmarks to be protected. It took another
five years for a general scheme to be adopted for the same area, slightly extended to the northern
bank of the Suzhou River. Altogether, a total of 40 buildings came under the protective scheme
of the Bureau of Urban Planning.
Finally, in 19931995, the Institute of Urban Planning
designed a plan for the development of the Bund in three sections: the Bund Finance and Trade
area (Waitan jinrong maoyi qu), the Southern Bund (Nan waitan qu) and the Northern Bund (Bei
waitan qu). These sections corresponded to the ‘‘ original’’ Bund and the French Bund respec-
tively. The third section comprised the area known as ‘‘ Consular Row’’ before 1949.
In the 1990s and 2000s, as in the 1930s, the focus remains firmly centered on the ‘‘British
Bund.’’ While its buildings are a legacy from Shanghais colonial past something that was
definitely erased during the first three decades of the Communist regime they are now
being viewed in a different perspective by the citys leaders. The city has invested in a
sumptuous illumination scheme to highlight the buildings on the Bund and to emphasize
Shanghais glamour. The buildings have been voided of their historical content or substance.
The colonial past has been pushed back into the fold of history and only the thin surface of its
heritage, reinterpreted for both domestic and international consumption, is being promoted.
The Bund has become a ‘‘heritage’’ in a quasi UNESCO fashion, a set of historical
monuments worth preserving for their own sake, not necessarily for what they represent
historically but worth preserving for what they convey in the current search of Shanghai for a
robust new identity, a renewed identity as the city reconnects with the world in the context of
the post-Deng reforms. In Shanghai, this re-evaluation was nurtured by a reconstruction of
the collective memory of the colonial past.
The Bund buildings were, mutatis mutandis,
Shanghai shi diming jiaotong zhinan [Guide of Place Names and Communications in the Shanghai
Municipality] (Shanghai: Shanghai wenhua chubanshe, 1987), 45
Sun Ping, ed., Shanghai chengshi guihua zhi, 468.
Johnson, Shanghai, 27. On the expansion of the Shanghai area, see the series of maps in Zhou
Zhenhe, Shanghai lishi ditu ji [Historical Atlas of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe,
1999), 1521.
Sun Ping, ed., Shanghai chengshi guihua zhi, 4057.
Ibid., 469.
On ‘‘Shanghai nostalgia,’’ see Zhang Xudong, ‘‘ Shanghai Nostalgia: Postrevolutionary Allegories
in Wang Anyis Literary Production in the 1990s,’’ Positions: East Asian Cultures Critique, vol. 8,
no. 2 (2000), 34987.
Journal of Modern Chinese History 25
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the material blocks that gave reality to a reinvented and sanitized past. This reinterpreted past
actually a de-historicized past fit both the ambitions of local leaders and the expectations
of the local population to put Shanghai into the forefront of Chinese modernity. Memory, and
Chinas economic resurgence, has redefined how the Bund should be viewed and seen.
This study of the Bund was an attempt to explore various ways in which the image of the
Bund one could certainly say the ‘‘ myth’’ of the Bund was created in the minds of
Westerners through their writings (travel accounts, city guides, and more), at the same time
as they were transforming the physical appearance of the riverfront. As we observed, the
Chinese failed to subscribe to this line of self-promotion. While the Bund was ever present in
everyday life for most Chinese in the city, it remained an area that reflected and embodied the
Western presence. The ‘‘myth’’ of the Bund as a genteel area also needs to be revised. It was
in fact a complex location that mixed work and leisure, even if leisure eventually became the
dominant theme attached to the Bund. Yet, by using a wide array of visual sources, I have
established that the tremendous physical transformation of the riverfront reflected various
stages in the function of the Bund within the city, from a place devoted to loading, unloading,
storing and shipping goods to one massively geared toward financial services and seconda-
rily leisure. Visual sources provide a solid counterpoint for the deconstruction of the various
forms of discourse on the Bund and its actual transformation, especially the pervasive
contemporary ‘‘ myth’’ of the Bund.
Bei waitan qu
Chen Yi
Ge Yuanxu
Henan lu
Nan waitan qu
Nanshi malu gongchengju
Waitan jinrong maoyi qu
Wang Tao
Xin beimen
26 Christian Henriot
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Yanan donglu
Yu Yuan
Zhongshan dongyi lu 东一
Chinese and Japanese Language Bibliography
Fa zujie waitan de diyige matou ‘‘ 一个’’,,:,
1984 (1936 )
Fa zujie waitan de diyitiao malu ‘‘’’ :
, 1984(1936)
Ge Yuanxu ,,:, 19891876
Ji Longsheng ,,台北:, 1942
Ke Zhaoyin and Zhuang Zhenxiang :,
Kobori Rintar!
Leng Xingwu ,,:, 1946
Lin Zhen ,,:,1930
Liu Peiqian :,:,1936
Saishin Shanhai chizu,:, 1908
Saishin Shanhai chizu地圖
,:日新, 1932
Shanghai tudi zhangcheng ‘‘土地章程’’ ,,:, 1989
Shanghai shehui kexueyuan jingji yanjiusuo :
Shanghai shenmi zhinan神秘,2,:
Shanghai shi diming jiaotong zhinan,:,1987
Shanghai shi hanghao lutu lu ,: The Free Trading Co. Ltd., 2,
Shanghai shi shangyong dituce,7,:,1987
Shanghai zhinan,:,1980
Shanghai zhinan,:,1909()1919192019231925
Shanghai Kyory!
umindan sanj!
unen kinenshi念志,:
Shen Bojing ,,:,1933
Shimazu Ch!
o,,:, 1918
Sun Enlin ,‘‘’’ ,, 1930,4,1,6773
Sun Ping :,:,1999
Wang Changnian :,:, 1947
Wang Shaozhou ,市建,:,1989
Wang Tao ,,:,:,2004
Wu Jiang ,年建18401949,:,1997
Xu Wancheng and Huang Jingwan ,,:
Xue Liyong ,历史,:,2002
—— ,,:,1994
Yuan Xieming ,‘‘ 与上’’ ,,1989,2,168205
Zhang Zhongmin 张忠,‘‘’’ ,, 1981,3
Zhonghua tushu jicheng gongsi bianjisuo :,:
Zhou Zhenhe ,历史,:,1999
Journal of Modern Chinese History 27
Downloaded By: [Henriot, Christian] At: 17:25 26 May 2010
... Figure 3-113 Land use map of 1995 the Bund (Henriot, 2007) Figure 3-114 Land use map of the bund before the construction of the riverside walkway (Henriot, 2007) The first map is the land-use map of the river in 1995. From the map, it is shown, that the buildings on the bank side are the buildings to protect and preserve (Henriot, 2007). ...
... Figure 3-113 Land use map of 1995 the Bund (Henriot, 2007) Figure 3-114 Land use map of the bund before the construction of the riverside walkway (Henriot, 2007) The first map is the land-use map of the river in 1995. From the map, it is shown, that the buildings on the bank side are the buildings to protect and preserve (Henriot, 2007). ...
... Figure 3-113 Land use map of 1995 the Bund (Henriot, 2007) Figure 3-114 Land use map of the bund before the construction of the riverside walkway (Henriot, 2007) The first map is the land-use map of the river in 1995. From the map, it is shown, that the buildings on the bank side are the buildings to protect and preserve (Henriot, 2007). The Chinese government decided to conserve the area as a historically important site. ...
Waterfronts work as a city’s existence. Waterfront regeneration has become one of the major urban planning strategies in the 20th century. The regeneration of urban waterfront has been challenging due to the social aspects of urban life. The research aims to identify social issues that influence the public realm of a waterfront. The paper looks into the design principles of the good public realm in waterfront regeneration and critically evaluates the framework through the case study analysis in The South Bank London and the Bund Shanghai. Each case study was analyzed on the chronological architectural history and the regeneration policies applied to improve the spatial quality. The identification from the thesis highlights the policy framework and gives a base for future research opportunities in a populated city, Dhaka, Bangladesh. It focuses on implying the urban design to shape the public realm of the waterfront areas and increase the social and economic value of the place. The socio-cultural factors and transforming urban fabric have shaped the waterfronts over time.The thesis will follow a critical analysis of waterfront regeneration which portrays the social aspects of urban waterfront and generates a framework to apply for the regeneration.
... Users' responses also undervalue specific heritage areas. For instance, the Bund reveals its deeply contested heritage nature (Henriot 2010). Lacking a consistent representation in metro stations, users characterize it not for its heritage value, but as a platform from which to see the skyline of Lujiazui financial district opposite the Huangpu River: ...
... The Bund, which during the time of the Concessions stood for Shanghai's financial prowess, was deleted of collective memory after the founding of the People's Republic of China and particularly during the Cultural Revolution (Henriot 2010). Even under statutory protection, the heritage consideration of the area remains being highly contentious, with the notion of 'Bund' being stretched north and south of its original position for branding purposes (Den Hartog and González Martínez 2022). ...
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The analysis of the perception of heritage features, artworks, and exhibitions in the metro stations of great cities remains greatly in the realm of the technical, without considering heritage's dimension as one of the multiform tactics of governmentality. Analyzing the impact that the 'heritagization' of metro stations has in travelers and staff is a key to evaluate its role, beyond acritical assumptions about its beneficial effect on users' wellness and education. This paper will study the perception that users have of heritage representations incorporated to a selection of stations in the 12 heritage listed areas of Shanghai. Based on semi-structured interviews, this research will study the user's interpretation of the interaction that heritage representations underground establish with the heritage above ground, as well as their awareness about heritage narratives at play in the metro. As we will argue, even if the heritagization of metro stations operates according to strict top-down procedures, its perception by users varies in different degrees of awareness, acceptance and contestation, which even question the efficiency of its governmentality purpose. Keywords Shanghai metro, metro station design, heritage dissemination, dominant heritage discourse, city branding, infrastructure and heritage.
... Nell'ottica di un processo di estetizzazione del paesaggio -ovvero il suo consumo pilotato dallo sfruttamento di canoni estetico-culturali prefissati o ri-plasmati nel tempo -si hanno esempi urbani in Cina fin dai primi anni 2000 in metropoli quali Shanghai e Pechino. La riscrittura valoriale dei centri storici (Henriot, 2010) si accompagna alla creazione ex novo di quartieri residenziali di lusso nel peri-urbano dove si coniugano discorsi neo-identitari di descrizione del diverso e dell'esotico (occidentale) a discorsi di ri-ascesa nazionale (Smith, 2002;Walks, 2006;. L'estetizzazione del rurale è un fenomeno più recente in Cina e gode anche della sempre maggiore diffusione dei social media. ...
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Integrated urban-rural planning in Southwest China: Sustainable views and local marketing. This article focuses on the implementation of China central government “integrated urban-rural planning” through the new landscape scenarios becoming visible in Chongqing peri-urban area. Two case studies explore new forms of ecologic tourism and bio-agriculture regulated by a “top-down” approach in which local institutions and industrial stakeholders appear to play the biggest role. The discourse analysis conducted through a semiotic lens, is aimed at questioning the sustainable views carried out by politics at the local level. In doing so, the research points out how the city as entrepreneur makes use of place marketing to enhance the consumerist potential of natural resources, leaving behind a material ambiguity forged by alternative ideas of the rural.
... A key site in the controversial history of Western colonialism in China is the Bund in Shanghai. Growing from an international settlement in the late nineteenth century, the Bund used to house numerous western banks, trading houses and social clubs (Henriot 2010;Bickers 2014). The Chinese government removed many colonial statues after 1949, in which the statue of Angel of Peace is a good example. ...
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Since the early twentieth century, heritage, museums and memorials have played active roles in constructing and reinterpreting the social memories of nation-states and sub-groups within the national population. In this paper, I examine how modern China remembers its remote and recent past through official heritage/memory devices. What follows is a discussion of the differences and similarities between the ways of remembering and forgetting the recent and remote past. How does the recent past become the remote? How do such changes reflect the ongoing social-political context of modern China? I argue that both of the remote and the recent serve the current political regime to show the idea of progress, development and the sense of continuity. However, while the remote past can sometimes be rewritten or romanticised with a relatively high degree of public consensus, the interpretation of the recent past is not always an easy task. The formation of official memory does not simply concern remembering: certain pieces of evidence of the past need to be erased or re-narrated - a phenomenon of collective amnesia – to facilitate the building of the homogenised, progressive national culture. During this process of creating a unified version of Chinese official memory, certain groups’ past has been highlighted, while others, such as minorities including women and victims, have been forgotten.
Shanghai has become an economic center of China and the world, as well as a place where young urbanites connect the dots between its mythical past and its promising future. A city of influence with a growing art scene, striving creative industries, and millions of avid tech-savvy consumers, Shanghai is also a fashion capital in the making. The Gen Z, or digital natives born after the mid-1990s, are at the forefront of social, economic, and cultural transformations. Their behaviors, aspirations, and mobile identities are increasingly driving the worlds of fashion and luxury, in China and globally. This chapter examines Shanghai fashion through three dimensions: the physical, digital, and social dimensions. The fusion of physical and virtual places in a phygital world, and soon in the metaverse, combine with the fast-moving sociocultural environment of an emerging country to create opportunities and challenges for the fashion industry.KeywordsChinaShanghaiCreative and cultural industriesFashionGen ZIdentityTechnology
The historical waterfront of Shanghai known as the Bund, one of the most impressive architectural landscapes in Asia, was described in the 1930s in Fortune magazine as having “the tallest buildings outside the American continent; the biggest hoard of silver in the world” and being “the cradle of new China”. ¹ At a time when the US economy was in ruins and much of China was besieged by civil war, Shanghai's foreign concessions provided a safe haven for Chinese and foreign investors. With the influx of hot money, Shanghai experienced an unprecedented building boom. Notable among these real estate developers was Sir Ellice Victor Elias Sassoon (1881–1961, hereafter Victor Sassoon) who transferred much of his wealth from India to Shanghai and then transformed the Shanghai skyline. Inspired by American skyscrapers, Sassoon decided to build the first skyscraper in Shanghai, which would also be the first in the Eastern hemisphere, even though Shanghai's muddy ground had never supported a building of that height before. This article documents how the evolution of treaty port architecture in China owed much to Victor Sassoon. Its innovations – from the advent of skyscrapers, with their Art Deco style and mixed-use function, to the engineering methods and financial arrangements that built them – bore Sassoon's stamp. As will be seen, Sassoon's experiment paid off handsomely.
As prosperous economic activities and liberal trends enriched Europe in the modern era, China too has benefitted from cultural encounters with the colonial presence in the second half of the nineteenth century. By the fin-de-siècle of the nineteenth century, Shanghai was not merely a trading port, but had thrived into a modern metropolis paving her way to a world city (Weltstadt). The presence of Westerners opened up a series of exchanges between Chinese culture and Western modernity. The newly emerged urban culture of Shanghai was henceforth greatly more diversified than her Western counterparts. Shanghai, to its residents and its visitors, was both a phantasmagoria, where new things were brought in and created every day, and a ground where traditions and modern mingled.
The use of cartographical sources is fundamental to understanding urban landscapes. Despite the increasing amount of research on the changing physical form of Chinese cities, knowledge of the sources and access to them remain poor. True ground plans showing streets, plots and building blockplans are rare. This paper highlights the importance in urban morphology of the use of those limited cartographical sources that are available in China, including their use in conjunction with field surveys and other sources of information.
The concepts 'typological process' and 'morphological period' have received surprisingly little empirical substantiation despite their familiarity to many urban morphologists. They are examined here in two contrasting cultural areas-England and the Shanghai area, China-over the period from the mid-19th century to the late-20th century. Sequences of ordinary residential building types are recognized in the two areas: for example, historical series of terraced house types in England and historical variations on the lilong development unit in the Shanghai area. Periods characterized by different types and connections between those types are identified. The areas are different in both their building types and their periodizations but commonalities in their processes of change, including those related to the spread of Western fashions, are found. The difficulty of uncovering the mechanism of the typological process whereby one form type is succeeded by another reflects major problems of assembling the requisite data. Many more comparative studies, including between contrasting cultural areas, are needed.
Qing qianqi Shanghai gang fazhan yanbian xintan
  • Zhang Zhongmin
Zhang Zhongmin, ''Qing qianqi Shanghai gang fazhan yanbian xintan,'' 91.
  • Shen Bojing
  • Shanghai Shi Zhinan
Shen Bojing, Shanghai shi zhinan [Guide of the Shanghai Municipality] (Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju, 1933);
All about Shanghai, 61. 10 Christian Henriot 76 For earlier examination and deconstruction of the ''fishing village'' and related myths, see Kerrie L. MacPherson, A Wilderness of Marshes. The Origins of Public Health in Shanghai
  • Wang Shaozhou
  • Shanghai Jindai Chengshi Jianzhu
Wang Shaozhou, Shanghai jindai chengshi jianzhu, 491; All about Shanghai, 61. 10 Christian Henriot 76 For earlier examination and deconstruction of the ''fishing village'' and related myths, see Kerrie L. MacPherson, A Wilderness of Marshes. The Origins of Public Health in Shanghai, 1843–1893 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987);
On the expansion of the Shanghai area, see the series of maps in Zhou Zhenhe
  • Shanghai Johnson
Johnson, Shanghai, 27. On the expansion of the Shanghai area, see the series of maps in Zhou Zhenhe, Shanghai lishi ditu ji [Historical Atlas of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1999), 15-21.
Shanghai zhinan [Guide of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Guoguang shudian, no date given)
  • Xu Wancheng
  • Huang Jingwan
Xu Wancheng, Huang Jingwan, Shanghai zhinan [Guide of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Guoguang shudian, no date given);
  • Lin Zhen
  • Shanghai Zhinan
Lin Zhen, Shanghai zhinan [Guide of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1930);
  • Ed Liu Peiqian
  • Da Shanghai Zhinan
Liu Peiqian, ed., Da Shanghai zhinan [Guide of Greater Shanghai] (Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju, 1936);