Within the Boundless Mystique of The Bund

Glitzy and glamourous, the “Paris of the East” is now China’s most populous city and a major international financial hub. Symbolic of that, is The Bund, a regal walkway on the west bank of the Huangpu River.

Lined along the Bund is a whole row of colonial-era, international architecture, a now historic visual emblem of the city’s grand standing as a thriving commercial centre, back in the 1920s.

Above: The view from the Bund. Below: A child, and her mother saunters down the Bund. 

An Anglo-Indian derivative referring to an embankment of a muddy waterfront, the area is no longer what it sounds.

The late 1800s and early 1900s saw the entrance of several regional and foreign powers, bringing with them the wealth and clout that culminated in the construction of many buildings that once signified prestige and influence. Neoclassical in style, they are undeniably uncharacteristically Western, in spite of the Oriental root.

The HSBC Building (now the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank) stood since 1923. The Great Northern Telegraph Company Building greeted foreigners since 1908. The Russo-Chinese Bank Building (now the Shanghai Foreign Exchange Trade Centre) opened their doors in 1901. The Bank of Taiwan Building, the North China Daily News Building, the Chartered Bank Building, the Bank of Communications Building, (and many more) all have been there for decades.

The opposite bank of the Huangpu River is home to various towering skyscrapers. The unmissable façade of the futuristic, and in sense, weird-looking Oriental Pearl TV Tower looms dramatically, and majestically within the vast Pudong skyline. The entire horizon of modern infrastructure stands, in stark contrast to the row of established institutions on the other bank, and yet a brilliant glimpse into the city’s bright outlook.

Above: The Oriental Pearl TV Tower Below: The skyline serves as a delightful photo spot. 

The have-to, must-try experience is a slow stroll along the stately path that is the Bund. But it is wholly incomplete without a preeminent appreciation of the colonial and wartime history of the city.

The early roots of globalisation saw Shanghai spotlighted by Western forces as a potential centre for economic and trade activity, leading to a circuitous jostle for spheres of influence. The 1842 Treaty of Nanking brought the British, and shortly after, through the 1843 Treaty of the Bogue, 1844 Sino-American Treaty of Wanghia and the 1844 Treaty of Whampoa, the French and Americans entered. The Sino-Japanese War, ending with the Treaty of Shimonoseki saw the Japanese becoming major players in 1895. Between 1920 and 1930, thousands of White Russians and Russian Jews fled the newly-formed Soviet Union to Shanghai.

The onset of WWII saw the then already international Shanghai become a startling playground of cutthroat competition and ideological scrambles. The city became a dazzling yet dangerous web of espionage, betrayal and machination between agents of the Axis, Allied, and self-interested individuals.

Above (various): Several colonial era buildings line the Bund.

So, sometime down the road, as you walk along the courtly boulevard of the Bund, take in the impressive slate of 1900s Western architecture. Be transported back in time as you recall and engage in the extraordinary exchanges of clout and leverage. Then gaze across the river and admire the glistening windows of tomorrow.

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