There was once nothing but a wide stretch of mire, overgrown with reeds. It was a deserted land in which nobody showed any interest. 150 years ago, a British man named George Balfour changed the fate of the beach. Today, it has become one of the most brilliant landmarks in China, and even all over the world. It’s the Bund.
A Dazzling Tale of Two Cities
Right here, you can see both the east and west side of Shanghai, which may be likened to a dazzling tale of two cities on show every day. From here, you can find out how poles apart are the day and the night in Shanghai: the brightness of daytime alternates the evilness of nighttime. Standing here is standing in the axis of history. You look up, quietly, to the city’s brilliance and shamefulness, the past and the present, the west and the east, which enhances each other’s beauty at the same time. The distance of 1,500 meters stretches from Waibaidu Bridge in the north to the East Jinling Road in the south, resting peacefully along the Huangpu River with the 52 buildings of different styles, Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classical, Renaissance or Chinese and Western-style, in the west. These buildings, stemming from different worlds, were built by people from different countries and owned by different persons. Today, together, they are the beloved ones of the Bund, for good.
Once, the writer Chen Danyan described enjoyably buildings in the Bund in one of her novels, “The grey buildings are as stiff as a frozen serpent. Thanks to red flags on top of those building, which rippled now and then and whose red colors vivified the Bund.” Chen Danyan is very fond of Shanghai. Shanghai, from the pen of Chen, is no inferior to any famous European cities in her travels. She affectionately referred to it as “the Rabbit Hole in Alice’s wonderland”. As to the Bund, Chen remarked in a more rational way, “It seems that she’s a combination of superiority and inferiority, eagerly searching for her identity. However, she is confused by the too complicated identity, not knowing from where she comes, like a mixed-blood. I think the interesting part is that the Bund reminds you of the clear mark in her, and reminds the Chinese of what modern citizens and modernization have gone through.”
Another writer Sun Ganlu compared the Bund to “a heart hanging outside the body. You are as close as alienated to it at the same time.” If you view the Bund in a complex political way, it may appear a little unfamiliar to you. However, as a native Shanghainese, the Bund is as kind and amiable, no matter what she had gone through.
An Enchanting Eden
The famous Hong Kong columnist Tao Jie once described the pleasure of spending a weekend in the Bund: living in an old hotel along the Huangpu River, which was decorated with scarlet carpets and brown teak window-shades, and permeating an Eileen Chang’s decadence… Outside the window are shadows of eminent buildings in the Bund and busy cargo ships on the Huangpu River… If you can afford the expenses, the preferred place in Shanghai to spend a weekend is the Bund… It’s an enchanting new Eden.
The charm of the Bund is like a cup of red wine with just enough ferment. You cannot blame her for her plain of being tedious; on the contrary, some historical dusts just added her unique glamour. In the meantime, her fresh scent lingers in the tip of the tongue. She’s still young, dynamic, and even a little unknown.
The complex of international buildings in the Bund, from the Waibaidu Bridge in the north, always stands with great composure. Whatever skyscrapers have been being built on the opposite bank, it always ignores them, with its own abundance and haughtiness, clamoring in low voice.
There are 33 buildings in the Bund, some of which are still in use by units and organizations. For instance, Bund No. 13, former Customs House, remains to be the seat of Shanghai Customs. Bund No. 14, Building of the Bank of Communications, the youngest building in the Bund, was built in 1948. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, it has been used by the Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce. The other buildings become either headquarters of banks and insurance companies all over the world, or luxury hotels. For example, Bund No. 1, former Asia Building, becomes the headquarter of China Pacific Insurance Company; Bund No. 5, built in 1925 as the Nissin Shipping Building, is Huaxia Bank now; Bund No. 12, HSBC Building, which was built also in 1925, becomes Pudong Development Bank; Bund No. 2, formerly known as the famous UK General Assembly, is East Wind Hotel now; Bund No. 19, Palace Hotel, becomes Peace Hotel and Bund No. 22, Sassoon House, built in 1929 as the highest building in the Bund, now belongs to Peace Hotel as well. Bund No. 3, No. 6 and No. 18, has been reconstructed and developed as high-grade leisure shopping and entertainment places, thus becoming the new landmark of Shanghai for luxury consumption.
Bund No. 1 is Asia Building. Just like her name implied, the building resembles its European compatriots but is mixed with various styles. The front elevation is Baroque, with four Ionic columns in front of its main entrance, two for each side. Small Ionic columns stand inside the interior door, upon which is a semicircle vaulting carved with decorative patterns. Thanks to its symmetric design, the building appears quite neat, like a smart and graceful rich girl. The 7-story building was built in 1916, being the highest building in the Bund at that time. With its “No.1 East Zhongshan Road” doorplate, it was known as “No.1 Building in the Bund”. With the investment of Macbeth Corporation, the old house there was pulled down in 1913 and a new building was completed in 1916. At that time, it was named as McBain Building (A.K.A. McBain). In 1917, it was bought by a British company, Asiatic Petroleum Corporation, and that’s why it got the name “Asia Building”.
Perhaps Bund No. 2, East Wind Hotel is the most well-known building in the complex of international buildings. In the memory of those who were born after the 80s, it relates to the first KFC restaurant appearing in Shanghai. However, the first KFC seems to blaspheme the great reputation of former Shanghai Club Building. Actually, the eminent Shanghai Club Building, served for British in Shanghai as a club, was the predecessor of Bund No. 2, East Wind Hotel. The building was built in 1910 at the cost of 450 thousand silver dollars. It belonged to the Renaissance buildings, whose facade followed the example of both American Neoclassicism and Japan’s Imperial Palace. So it won the nickname of “Oriental London”. The interior decoration, which was ornate, was designed by Japanese architect Shimoda Kikutaro. The bar, with a length of 34 meters, was the longest bar counter in the Far East at that time, and it remains to be used now, with a literal name: Long Bar. Today, the East Wind Hotel has become the first Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Asia, run by the Hilton Group. No wonder the building will continue to compose her magnificent history.
Listen to Bell Tolls in the Bund
You cannot miss the bell tolls, which was very influential socially, if you go to the Bund. The clock tower in the Bund is one of the only 3 existing Westminster clocks, ranking the first in Asia and the third around the world. The tolls come from Bund No. 13, Customs House. There are several statements about why the clock was installed. It’s said that the Customs House, being built in 1893, was the highest building in the Bund at that time so that foreign ships sailing to the Huangpu River from Wusong estuary could observe the building and hear the tolls, which acted as the navigation mark and the lighthouse, from afar. In this way can they berth their ships, handle entry customs formalities, load export goods and unload import goods. Besides, since the 19th century, Chinese customs has followed the western example of calculating tonnage taxes by days, which means if the ship arrived there after 12 o’clock at night, it would be counted as another day. It became controversial because ships, whether entry into or departure from the port, were from all over the world, and their own clocks didn’t tell the same time. To solve the dispute, the time told by the clock tower in the Customs House was served as a standard. When the Jianghai Customs invested 4.3 million silver dollars to build a new building in 1925, the commissioner and the inspector decided to reconstruct a world-famous, biggest clock around the nation. Two years later, the new building and clock was completed at the same time.
The clock was designed and manufactured by British Whitchurch Corporation, at a cost of more than 5 thousand silver dollars. It was completed in 1927, and in August the same year was shipped to Shanghai from London. The big clock, together with its wooden package case, weighed 6.25 ton. When the weighty case, with clock inside, was hanged up to the more than 72-meter high clock tower, pedestrians in the Bund stopped to watch the marvelous scene. When the bell tolled the first on New Year’s Day, 1928, the “Westminster Chimes” was played. You cannot underestimate the red flag waving on top of the tower. The flagpole was located at 31°14’20.38 north latitude, 121°29’0.02 east longitude, which became the mark point of Shanghai’s geographical position. In all ages in Shanghai there have been such kind of persons who are not afraid of creating the best things under the sun. Shanghai is extremely conceited, overshadowing New York and Paris.
Peace Hotel is different from any other five-star hotels in Shanghai. It’s not modernized, magnificent or luxury. What she shows is a subtle splendor, with the long building and usual lattice windows. There’s no aristocracy nor carved railings or jade inlays. Her story, even if hiding in any road in Shanghai, will dazzle with brilliance, not to mention her “hiding spot” is the intersection of East Nanjing Road.
The Peace Hotel is divided into the north and the south buildings. The southern one was built in 1906, known as Palace Hotel at that time, also the earliest hotel existing in Shanghai. It’s an imitation of equilibrium building in the Renaissance. The northern one was built in 1929, with a primitive name of Cathay Hotel. It’s a 12-story Gothic building of Chicago school, which is 77 meters high. The Cathay Hotel was built by the then enormously wealthy British-Jew Elias Victor Sassoon, so people also call it “Sassoon House”.
In this way, two buildings of different styles made the unique Peace Hotel in Shanghai Beach. The Peace Hotel has received General George Marshall, John Leighton Stuart, Loo-Keng Hua and American journalist Edgar Snow, who wrote Red Star Over China. British playwright Sir Noel Coward wrote his most known drama Private Lives in room 314 of the hotel. In the 1930s and 1940s, Lu Xun and Soong Ching-ling met Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw and others here. The hotel was a witness of Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling’s engagement ceremony. Also the famous words “Revolution has not yet prevailed. Comrades, keep up the good work” was put forth by Mr. Sun Yat-sen in the welcome conference held by all walks of life from the city in Huizhong Hall when he approached Shanghai.
If there is any hotel in Shanghai that has carved with immortal history, it must be the Peace Hotel.
There are persons who love the bustle in the Bund, but as for me, the iciness is the best part. The East Zhongshan No. 1 Road is bustling, while the complex of international buildings, on the opposite bank of the Huangpu River, is icy and graceful. Outsiders don’t believe that there are few people wandering in the Bund at night, and fewer near the Waibaidu Bridge. Once in a while, some tall Europeans who wear long black wool coats brush against you, letting you doubt if you are in your own country. If the answer is yes, then how can these foreigners unhurriedly walking past you? The garish part is that everything surrounding you is like that in their countries. Such separate illusions happen in the Bund time and again, because shadows of western civilization, imprints of huge historical changes and vicissitudes that we can’t understand are ubiquitous here. Sure enough, the Bund does not belong to us or them, it belongs only to itself.
If You Want to Spend a Day in the Bund
You can encounter everything you yearn for, if you want to spend a day in the Bund. That’s because the place itself is a good proof of what’s Shanghai like.
You should have your breakfast in the Cathay’s room in the Peace Hotel, from where you get a panoramic view of both banks of the Pujiang River. It seems that you are the first person to greet Shanghai’s morning. Cloud-kissing skyscrapers are everywhere, and you have a commanding view of Pudong. Watching the Peace Hotel you are in has a flavor as well; imagine that it could be Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw or General George Marshall sitting besides you in the old time. I suppose breakfast in the Peace Hotel must be the most refreshing one.
After breakfast, you stroll in the Huangpu Park across the road. It is not any park you walk your dog beside your neighborhood. It has a long history, too. It was first completed in 1868, being the earliest European garden in Shanghai. The notorious humiliated history that “No dogs and Chinese admitted” happened in the very same park. You can still find the Tower to the People’s Heroes and the Bund Historical Memorial in the park. In the park that had a succession of owners, you may observe the vicissitudes of life and today’s peace in Shanghai, which indeed is provoking.
After strolling around the park, it’s time to have lunch. You don’t want to maltreat yourself, so you go to Bund No. 18, Mr. & Mrs. Bund. The creative French restaurant seems just as a lovely mom-and-pop store by its name. The owner of the restaurant, Paul Pairet, was the chief cook of “Jade 36” in Shangri-la Hotel. The restaurant is full of warm family air and elegant taste. It is creative that every waiter wears overalls and sneakers. It’s said that the pre-meal bread is super good there, and you can order a dozen of them for free!
Then how to spend the afternoon? It’s kind of monotonous if you just loiter beside the Bund and watch the river flowing. Why not go to the professional recording studio in Bund No. 8 and record your own album? Decorations in the studio are cool and professional mixers will give you some instructions when you are recording. After post-production you can come out your own album. It’s a good choice to make a Mixed Tape for Valentine’s Day to favor your sweetheart, following Chandler’s example in Friends. Your killing an entire afternoon here is much cooler than in some KTV.
Gourmets need not worry to miss any “afternoon tea” here. On the contrary, they can have good meals in the Bund, because it is full of such European tea. It can be said without exaggeration that the best place for afternoon tea is the Bund. The Sibilla Boutique Café in Bund No. 18 has delicious chocolates. Also waiters will teach you how to mix chocolates into coffee for drinking. It’s the only café in Shanghai whose chocolates are all imported from Belgium. The Lobby in Peninsula Hotel offers wonderful afternoon tea, which is really an eye-opener. The desserts, mostly in pink or red colors, are delicious and attractive. Each of the desserts has something to do with strawberries. Having afternoon tea in the Peninsula Hotel, it’s the most enjoyable choice you’ll make.
To make sure your “one day” in the Bund is perfect, you go to the most exclusive French restaurant in Shanghai, where every dish is a piece of art. The most recommended dishes are goose liver and steak. Of course you must order a piece of chocolate dessert, which is the critical touch. With good food in dinner and fine scenes of Pujiang River, who is able to resist the enchantment? Shanghai will always be compelling in your memory, and also leave sweet marks in the depth of your taste buds.
After dinner, it’s time to go for a stroll. You can try to find out the exclusive secrets of the complex of international buildings by feeling them in the night. Luxuries behind the tranquil windows of Bund No. 18 stand there with their unique na?ve and arrogance. In summer, you can watch vehicle flows, crowds of people, streets, plazas and fountains in the terrace of Bund No. 3, where you feel the cool breeze, mingling with smell of the Huangpu River and caressing your face. In this very moment, the Bund, and Shanghai with its hundred years of past, becomes eternal. If you walk farther into the depth of Waibaidu Bridge, you’ll find the Waitan Yuan, where hide more stories…
Now it’s late at night, and you can chat with several friends in certain bar in the Bund, or listen to their stories. Then you can go to the Gallery Bar in the Waldorf Hotel, Bund No. 2. Don’t say that you do not know what the Gallery Bar is, for it’s the very same longest bar in Far East when it belonged to the Shanghai Club. There you can find best French oysters with a reasonable price. It’s worth the money you spend there. Only the word “perfect” can properly describe night in the Bund, when you taste mellow white wine and delicious French oysters here.
The Bund is where one can trace the Shanghai Dream. British, American, Jews… all kinds of people come here. It seems as if there was a huge delicious cake, and it’s regretful if you didn’t come and get a bite of it. Today, it is still the birthplace of dreams. Everyone with a dream is welcome here. Plentiful young people, from all over the world, come here with their backpacks, just to get a glance of scenery in pictures. Yet, they don’t know that scenery in pictures is not as beautiful as the real Bund. It doesn’t matter whether you are dreaming or awake here. She entitles us with a dream, and our eyes are on her. She is the Bund.