Shanghai Bund 上海滩

According to the clock on the Customs House it is about 20 to 7. The clock was brought from England in 1843 and recalled Big Ben for the expatriots. It was called "Big Ch'ing". When that Customs House was torn down to replace it with the present building in 1927, Big Ch'ing was given a grander home. The building is 8 stories and is in the neo-classic style with strong square columns of granite. Four pillars mark its entrance. It was built to last.

The building boom on the Bund in the early 20th century was brought about by a change in the relationship between the foreigners and China. While the early traders were interested in making good shipments and returning home, the banks along the Bund attest to the commitment to long term growth and investment in China. The banks funneled money into the Chinese infrastructure, financed modernization, and helped build industries. That's not to say that all was sweetness and light, but that the economy and social structure had changed.

The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was founded by Thomas Southerland in 1865. The Shanghai branch opened a month later. Soon it had branches in the major trading ports of Asia, it was the first bank established in Thailand. Like most banks of the time, during the late 1800s it focused on financing trade deals.

For instance, you are the captain of a ship and you have just delivered tin to Shanghai. You are paid in taels. You make a profit on the sale, but most of the money pays for the tin in England. The bank converts the money from taels to pounds and gives you a letter of credit. You find a load of silk that you believe you can sell in New York. You go to the bank and borrow the money to buy the silk with the expectation that you can sell the silk for enough to make a profit for yourself, pay the bank some interest and pay back the loan. The silk merchant gets his money right away, the bank gets theirs when you sell the silk in New York and deposit the dollars in their account there. They can then convert the dollars to whatever currency they need. That is a bit of a simplification but you can see how it was better than carrying chests of gold doubloons around.

In the 1880s the bank expanded its role and began to aid countries by issuing bank notes. This helped stabilize currencies and thus the economy. In 1874 the bank made the first loan to a Chinese government, that of Fuzhou (Fuchou). It handled many other public loans after that for railways and other infrastructure projects. By 1910, a group of banks formed the China Consortium to float loans for China's growth. The amounts had become too great for any one bank to handle.

In 1873, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank moved from Nanjing Road to the Bund. The new building was three stories and looked a little like a square steam boat, each story had a balcony that totally surrounded the building. In 1923 they moved to the domed building shown above. It is granite faced and was designed in the neo-classical style by Palmer and Turner. The body of the building is five stories with a central section of seven stories. No expense was spared. Two bronze lions flanked the entry. It was considered good luck to stroke their paws. The lions were removed during the Cultural Revolution, but one of the lions can be seen in the Shanghai Museum. The central hall has eight solid marble columns and the floors and walls were appointed with equal solidity. World War I had ended, and a new world was at hand.

In the 1930s the banks along the Bund, in Hong Kong, and in Guangzhou worked with the government to stabilize the currency. Into the 30s different provinces had their own money and would not recognize that of others. Silver coins of various denominations were used as were strings of cash - small circular coins with square hole or silver paper triangles. Cash had been in circulation for hundreds of years but you had to have about 3,000 coins to make a dollar. People had large jugs of cash in their homes. You can read a description from a 1934 guide book here. During the civil war it became increasingly difficult to stabilize the currency.

Then in 1937 the Japanese invaded China. In 1941 Shanghai and Hong Kong fell and most of the Bund was occupied by one agency or another of the Japanese military or occupation government. Most foreigners were interred both in Shanghai and Hong Kong. In 1946, following the war rebuilding began, but in China the participation by the Shanghai banks was brought to an end by the new regime. The Chinese government nationalized all businesses and became the occupants of the Bund. The Shanghai branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank stayed open while their other branches in China were closed, but it moved to different quarters.

In the 1990s the Shanghai government began to sell the buildings on the Bund to private ventures. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank made an offer but couldn't reach an agreement. The building is occupied by the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank has built a new tower.

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

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Last update: February 2007
© Marilyn Shea 1996, 1999, 2002, 2007