Shanghai Bund 上海滩

The Bund on a summer evening is a great place to cool down. The Bund stretches along the Huangpu River and was the center of the old English concession in Shanghai. When the concession was forced by the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, the embankment was a towpath (see below) and the Chinese maintained the rights to continue to use it. The walled Chinese city was to the south of the concession. As ships came under power and wharves were built, the towpath was no longer needed.

Today the towpath is a park along the river (see above). It used to be much broader and had many wharves leading down to ferries, but the embankment had to be raised over 30 feet (10m) to prevent flooding. Strollers use the top of the levee as a public park. Notice the relationship between the people on the right and the bus parked next to the levee. Since the 1920s Shanghai has sunk over 6 feet (2m). Along the Bund, Zhongshan Road, named for Sun Yat-sen, was widened to ten lanes to accommodate modern traffic.

Most of the Bund, as we see it, is actually a product of an earlier modernization. By the 1880s the Bund had been built up with two and three story buildings ranging from Gothic turrets to the colonial style. In the early 1900s and especially in the 1920s there was a building craze in response to a growing economy and investment opportunities. Banks and companies tore down their "old-fashioned" buildings and built for the future.

In Chinese, the Bund is called 外滩 Waitan, or outer bank. Bund is actually a term brought from India in the late 1800s, probably by the Sassoon family who were originally from Bombay. The term refers only to a short stretch of waterfront on the Huangpu River that was part of the British concession. Today, the Bund is part of the Huangpu District which includes Nanjing Road, the People's Park and Square, and most of the cultural life of the city.

On the far left of the picture you can see the tower of the Union Insurance Building built in 1922; the center domed building was the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, built in 1923. To the right is the Customs House, built in 1927. The shorter white building to the right of that is the Bank of Communications building, completed in 1948. It is the most recent of the buildings on the Bund. Barely visible is the Russo-Asiatic Bank Building, built in 1901. In 1926, it was acquired by the Central Bank of China.

The embankment along the Bund had long been a towpath and remained such in the early days by agreement between the Chinese and the foreign concessions. The image above was taken by William Henry Jackson in 1895 of tow men pulling a sailboat against the wind up the Pieho to Peking. Much the same procedure had been used for centuries on the Huangpu River in Shanghai. The image is part of a collection at the Library of Congress.

A street in Shanghai in the 19th century. This image is from Wikipedia, no details were given. It may be a street within the walled section of the city, but then again, it might not. It may be within the concession area since most of the inhabitants of the concessions after 1850 were Chinese. If anyone has more information about the picture, please drop me a line.

China Index >> Shanghai, Bund, and Pudong >> The Bund, Shanghai

Click on a picture or use the arrows at the top to navigate through the site.
Last update: February 2007
© Marilyn Shea 1996, 1999, 2002, 2007