Nanjing Road is always a landmark of Shanghai, regardless of the past, present and future. It is a place that you must come if you travel in Shanghai, just like the Time Square of New York City and the Avenue of Stars of Hong Kong because only being to such places that you can find out the gene of the city.
Old Brand, Old Story
Undoubtedly, Nanjing Road has become an irreplaceable icon of Shanghai. In Ang Lee’s blockbuster, the Lust Caution, scenes of the Shanghai girl Wang Jiazhi sitting in an unsteady rickshaw, sipping coffee by the window, looking at the bustling street out of the window, which all take place against a background of Nanjing Road in the 1930s, make the movie full of Shanghai flavor. Having survived the turbulent past hundred years, Nanjing Road still enjoys great popularity nowadays. Although many of the historical sites have vanished through years, there are two things remain unchanged --- the gleaming of the neon-lights and the bustling stream of people. However, time has changed and enriched this legendary road of a fashionable, modern and western stylish image to a festive, joyous and multi-functional tourist spot.
Nanjing Road has witnessed the history and has promoted the development of Shanghai. Starting from the Bund in the east to Jing’an Temple in the west, the 5-kilometer-long Nanjing Road, which used to be the showcase of imported goods in the 1850s and 1860s, really lives up the name of No. 1 shopping street in China with a great number of famous buildings located on this street, such as the “four grand department stores”, the Peace Hotel, the Shanghai Art Museum and the Grand Theatre. Even the creation of the Chinese word “Ma Lu”, which means road in general, has something to do with the history of Nanjing Road. East Nanjing Road, constructed in 1851, one of a few roads that were built in the early time of Shanghai’s Port Opening, with a history of more than 160 years, a little longer than West Nanjing Road, used to be a narrow lane linking the Bund to Shanghai Race Club, the first horse court of Shanghai, which was initiated by Hogg, the then chief director of a foreign company called Lin Rui. As people often saw foreigners riding horse on the road, they called it Ma Lu (literally means horse road). In the 1930s, Nanjing Road, being called Da Ma Lu (literally means grand horse road), established its status as a modern commercial center of China, becoming famous both domestically and overseas, due to the development of Shanghai.
In 1848, the western boundary of British Concession in Shanghai was extended from today’s Middle Henan Road, which was the original boundary set in 1845, to Middle Tibet Road. Coincidently, today’s Middle Henan Road and Middle Tibet Road are the two boundaries of the East Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, stretching from Hongyi Plaza in the east to Shanghai’s First Department Stores in the west. The pedestrian street is the paradise for dining, pubbing, relaxing and pleasure-seeking, ranging from dining in a restaurant with a history of a hundred years to buying the most in-fashion goods in a modern designed shopping mall. When holiday season is approaching, the street is so crowded that it’s almost impossible to get a seat in a restaurant, much more popular than that several decades ago.
The “four grand department stores” used to be the most famous stores on East Nanjing Road, whose names the old generation of Shanghainese are quite familiar with. However, those names do not ring a bell to the young generation because new shopping malls have mushroomed on the street in recent years. After all, what are the “four grand department stores”? By the end of the 19th century, comprehensive department stores of Fu Li, Hui Luo, Tai Xing and Hui Si, had grown up on East Nanjing Road and were regarded as the “four grand department stores”. In 1937, department stores of Yong An, Sincere, Xin Xin and Da Xin emerged as the new “four grand department stores”, which nowadays are replaced by Yong An department stores, Shanghai Fashion Corporation, Shanghai First Food Company and Shanghai First Department Stores. The young generation now shopping at Plaza 66 and Shanghai Xintiandi, where trend-setters and fashion icons often appear, would be the frequent customers of the stores on East Nanjing Road five decades ago, when East Nanjing Road was the most stylish place. In the movie Lust Caution, as the young lady Wang Jiazhi dressed in fashion walked elegantly across the street, a large billboard reading “Yong An” appeared in the movie at the background. Nowadays, if you come to Nanjing Road, you can shop in the Yong An Department Store (Add: No. 635 Nanjing Road / Tel: + 86-21-63224466) that appeared in the movie. The store, built in 1918, once a second-to-none high-end store in Shanghai, with names being changed a few times, adopts its original name Yong An in recent years. When evening falls, lights turn the store glimmering like a diamond. The building becomes more magnificent and luxurious after renovation, while some of the decorations remain their original appearance, especially the old-fashioned elevator, which might give you a feeling of traveling back to the old Shanghai. Though the market positioning at mid-high level, the store attracts most aged customers, probably due to the old building giving people a sense of distance. However, you may find out some nostalgic goods in this mysterious and historic building. Is there any other old brand on the street recalling your memory? Perhaps, Shanghai First Department Stores (Add: No. 830 East Nanjing Road / Tel: +86-21-63223344) would come to your mind. As other stores with names or ownership changed or even being closed, Shanghai First Department Stores took its present name ever since it first opened in 1953, the brown building of which was used to be the well-known Da Xin Co., Ltd., the largest department store in the Far East 53 years ago, which once was awarded the Best Architecture of Asia. If Nanjing Road is regarded as the name-card of Shanghai, this brown building standing at the west entrance of the pedestrian street is the name-card of East Nanjing Road.
Though the names of Sassoon House, Continent Store, Sincere Corporation and Da Xin Company may have faded away in people’s memories through a hundred years, which now are replaced by Peace Hotel, Plaza 353, Shanghai Fashion Corporation, Shanghai’s First Department Stores, the buildings, though newly decorated, still give out a classic elegance, which is deeply embedded in the outline of the architecture, in the mottled outer walls of the building and in the delicate carving of the stair rail. It is these exquisite but low-profile features that makes Nanjing Road have a enchanting charm beyond expression and impossible for duplication. Do not miss those beautiful details because of the dizzy neon-lights and the rushing stream of people.
Near the east end of East Nanjing Road, close to the Bund, stands the Peace hotel (No.20 East Nanjing Road), once the First Building of the Far East, where nowadays various fashion activities are presented. In the past 80 years, Peace hotel has always been a fond of celebrities from different circles for social intercourse, even including the Queen of U.K. and the U.S. President. Peace hotel is originally known as Sassoon House, named after its owner Victor Sassoon, whose living place are still being reserved in the building presently. The jazz band of the hotel, founded in 1980, made up of all elderly people, is one of the most famous jazz band in Shanghai, whose interesting and nostalgic performances are still presented in Peace hotel.
Apart from the big stylish department stores and high-grade hotels, there are also many specialty shops on Nanjing Road, such as Shao Wan Sheng Food (Add: No.414 East Nanjing Road / Tel: +86-21-63224443). Founded in the 19th century, it has a history more than 160 years, almost as old as this street, and is a literally century-old brand. It used to be a lot of shops selling delicacies of South China on this street, but only Shao Wan Sheng Food is still doing such business as it did a hundred years ago -- making salted food, pickled food with wine and grain and liquor preserved food, while it also expands its business to bakery food and other snacks, which are quite popular among tourists who bought them as souvenirs. It had experienced extreme hardship several times during the past hundred years, but fortunately the boss and staff members made concerted efforts to protect this well-known brand which was accomplished through generations of hardworking. The world-famous Shao Wan Sheng Food is the best manifestation of preservation of the traditional culture and integration of different cultures. Not far from Shao Wan Sheng Food lies another well-known old brand shop: Zhang Xiao Quan Scissors (Add: No.490 East Nanjing Road / Tel: +86-21-63223858). It can be assumed from the busy scene in the store with endless customers all year round that the golden brand is still a big selling point. Even the price is almost as high as that of famous foreign brand, the business is prospering as before. Though it is hard to tell how many young people would know what is bed-curtain, the old Shanghai Bed Curtain Company, founded in 1942, presently known as Shanghai Bedding Products Co., Ltd (Add: No. 740 East Nanjing Road), is still doing well in business. It used to be almost a tradition to buy newly-weds beddings here, which lasts for several generations of Shanghainese and the beddings bought here are often regarded as important family property. The shop assistants all from downtown Shanghai provide a good service. It is often seen that customers lined in long queues to buy down quilts because the store presents the filling of downs on the spot, which can assure the customers that their quilts are of good quality and is also a good way to show its credibility. Many of the buyers are mothers of brides coming to buy quilts for their daughters as dowries. Another place that attracts mothers is the Xing Huo 24h Convenience Store (Add: No. 172 East Nanjing Road). Though nowadays there are 24h convenience stores at every corner in Shanghai, it is less common in other Chinese cities. However, this service is first provided in Shanghai several decades ago by Xing Huo, the name of which you might know from movies or TV plays about the old Shanghai. The store on Nanjing Road still keeps its original appearance, but it is not just a place for convenience shopping at night, also a snacks shop beloved by mothers and visitors.
Trolley buses were first introduced to Nanjing Road in 1908, which enables Nanjing Road to be the first road of Shanghai that has public transportation. This might remind you of the sight-seeing buses running through today’s Nanjing Road, which do catch a little bit feature of the old days.
No one knows since when there is a saying that Nanjing Road is a place occupied by visitors. As most of the local people know that Nanjing Road is a popular spot among visitors or have tortured experiences of being squeezed in the overpopulated crowds on holidays, many of them give it up and some of them even do not remember when is the last time they come to Nanjing Road. Actually, it is still a good choice to pick an ordinary day to see this one hundred years old street as there is something that does not change -- old feelings and customs. It is still a common scene that the Shanghainese stand in a long queue on the street to buy a Lao Da Fang’s pork stuffing moon-cake or a large group of aged women cram the food store of Shen Da Cheng just for a taste of the sweet green rice ball. It is often said that Shanghainese are fashionable, but they are also nostalgic.
New Landmark, New Shopping Mall
A guidance of newly mushroomed shopping malls
Hongyi Plaza, directly linked with Metro Line 2, enjoys a great popularity on the street. From the underground snack shops to the stylish restaurants of 6-7th floor, the plaza provides a wide range of fun places for parties and gatherings. For fashion shopping, it attracts many big international brands, such as GAP, who has a large store at the 1st floor, posing a competition to MANGO and ZARA in the adjoined Plaza 353. It is not only a good place to dine with friends, to buy clothes, to get hair-dressing, but also a popular place to buy diamond rings of better quality and at more reasonable price.
Add: No. 299 East Nanjing Road
Henderson Metropolitan is a new landmark of Nanjing Road. It has the largest Apple store of Asia with a big eye-catching logo of Apple hanging on the glass wall about ten meters high off the ground. Other fashion brands like AZUL BY MOUSSY and Dickies from Japan also have flagship stores here. If you want a fashionable, comfortable but not crowded shopping experience on Nanjing Road, come here!
Add: No.300 East Nanjing Road
Plaza 353 is another new shopping mall on the pedestrian street. It has many stylish brands and often holds promotional activities at the atrium to attract more customers. Zara at the 1st floor is always the most popular place in the plaza. Many people are enchanted by the charm of the exterior appearance of the building, which is the original Dong Hai Mansion, designed by a famous architect 70 years ago, adopting a style of ArtDeco which is popular in the 1930s. However, as it is an old building, the height of each story is a little low. Though the interior environment is newly decorated, it still gives out a sense of oppression.
Add: No.353 East Nanjing Road
Shanghai Landmark Department Store
Shanghai Landmark Department Store, though without a long history, is quite popular among customers. It has a large variety of popular and affordable brands of clothes, cosmetics, shoes and household goods. When it holds promotion activities, the store is tightly encircled by large numbers of customers. It is said that on Christmas Day or New Year Day customers have to wait in lines to get in to the store.
Add: No.409-No.459 East Nanjing Road
Orient Shopping Center
Orient Shopping Center is a high-end department store, a typical place where people buy upscale gifts. Nowadays the store adopts a more close-to-the-grassroot style, which also provides inexpensive products that are affordable to ordinary citizens. Though it is not as popular as other stores on the street, it provides the customers comfortable shopping experience. Cosmetics zone at the 1st floor and sports zone at the top floor covering a wide range of brands are considered to be the most characteristic part of this store, where you can buy all you want and need.
Add: No.800 East Nanjing Road
Bailian Shimao International Plaza
Bailian Shimao International Plaza, standing at the cross of Tibet Road and Nanjing Road, is a magnificent steel building, which brings you out of the old Shanghai into a post-modern style steel forest. As the architecture presents a feel of toughness, most of the brands in the plaza are of tough and masculine style, especially at the 1st floor, such as Montblanc, Givenchy, Van Cleef & Arpels and PRADA. Posters of the big brands displayed at the showcase each new season becomes a unique scenery in the plaza.
Add: No.819 East Nanjing Road
Precious Peace on the Bustling Nanjing Road
Finding a secluded and quite corner to relax in the hustle and bustle of Shanghai
Duo Yun Xuan Art Crafts Store
Duo Yun Xuan, an artistic name often associated with petty bourgeoisie cafes or upscale private clubs, however, is a traditional Chinese antiques and crafts store. It stands on this street for more than a hundred years, the history of which can be traced back to 1900 in Qing Dynasty. Once you come into the store, you would feel peaceful and isolated from the noisy outside world and can smell a tinge of ink fragrance in the air. It has various kinds of art crafts, traditional Chinese Four Treasures of Study (writing brush, ink, rice paper and ink stone), curios, calligraphies and paintings displayed for exhibition or sale, which offer you a visual feast and spiritual cultivation.
Add: 4th Floor, No.422 East Nanjing Road
Though the inner environment of Qichongtian Cafe is not as delicate as other modish cafe, it is decorated in an old Shanghai style with an old-fashioned phonograph at the corner and big posters of stylish lady of the 1930s hanging on the wall. You can hardly find another place as peaceful as here on this street. Imaging that you sit here sipping coffee, while looking at the bustling stream of people on the street through the old iron window, isn’t that pleasant?
Add: 7th Floor, Qichongtian Hotel, No.627 East Nanjing Road
No matter how crowded at the Bund or East Nanjing Road is, you can have your own peaceful world as long as you push the revolving door and get into SHOOK. It is a restaurant offering Asian cuisine and has the best view of the Huangpu River. You can even dine at the terrace on the roof on a clear day. The dishes here are quite delicate and tasty and, if it is not for meals, brunch or afternoon tea is a good choice too.
Add: 5-6th Floor, Swatch Art Peace Hotel, No.23 East Nanjing Road
Langham Hotel is a well-known while low-profile hotel, not far from the pedestrian street. Both the environment and service present you a retro and exquisite feel. People pulling themselves out of the crowded People’s Square and Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street would love to come here to enjoy some peaceful time. They relax themselves in the cafe at the 1st floor, sipping coffee and talking in soft voice.
Add: No.470 Hankou Road