A Lively and Colourful Shanghai Bund in a Night + Deep into history

The night scene of Shanghai Bund

Buried in the list of folders was one which has photos taken during my trip to Shanghai almost three years ago. Back then, I was using my new Blackberry Z10 and thought the photos are not as good as the current Samsung S4 or Apple iPhone 6, but I hope to share these pictures.

“Ye Shanghai, ye Shanghai” (夜上海,夜上海) while the songs goes on. This was the first thought that came to my mind while penning down this blog. In the memory of mine, Shanghai was a flourishing city that has undergo transformation on revolutionary modernization to became what they are today. Shanghai Bund will be then a good example to start with.

The Bund or Waitan (外滩) literally means “outer beach”, referring to the waterfront area in central Shanghai. It lies north of the old, walled city of Shanghai and also run along the western bank of the Huangpu River. Now, a row of commercialized historical building still remains as one of the signature street in Shanghai.

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Shanghai Bund No. 6 Building
Bund No. 6 – Housed the first modernized bank in China.

There was a great history to be told on this four-storey Romanesque-styled building that was designed by British architects Morrison & Gratton. It backdated more than a century in 1881 which it was built as the headquarters for the powerful American traders, Russell & Co. They are one of the earliest and famous “Shanghai-landers” on the Bund, trading tea, silk, porcelain, opium and other commodities. However, it soon meet its downfall and announced bankrupt in 1891.

Later in 1897, China’s first modern bank, Imperial Bank of China (Commercial Bank of China) was established here. It was spearheaded by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) minister Sheng Xuanhuai, who famously advocated use of western banking system to modelled the bank. He adapted the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Corp (HSBC) and even hired Englishman A.M. Maitland, a former HSBC employee as a manager. (Ironically, it currently housed a HSBC branch office at The Bund No. 6) After the Revolution of 1911, it was renamed as the Commercial Bank of China.

It has undergoes two major renovation in 1919 and 1937, but there were renovations done in recent years to reinforce the facade, building’s foundation and reinforcement. The building was also used by international brand Dolce and Gabana that has moved away and now house HSBC branch offices was well as some fine restaurants at the Bund.

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Former Great Northern Telegraph Building (left) and China Merchants Steam Navigation Company (right)
Former Great Northern Telegraph Building (left) and China Merchants Steam Navigation Company (right)

The Bund No. 7 was formerly owned by the Russell and Co. whom has rented the 724 sqm to Danish Great North Telegraph Company (current GN Store Nord) in 15 August 1881. The company then set up the first telephone switch in Shanghai within the building a year later. With the original building condition deteriorating, they decided to build a new one, designed by architectural firm Atkinson & Dallas. However, a large fire in October 1905 delayed the construction which only opening in January 1908. It then housed the offices of the British-owned Eastern Extension and the American-owned Commercial Cable telegraph companies.

At the end of 1921, the telegraph offices moved into a new building in East Yan’an Road, behind The Bund No. 1. The following year, the Commercial Bank of China moved its business into the building from No.6 The Bund. In 1995, Bangkok Bank took over part of the premises in 1995 till now while numerous consulates also occupied the building. That included the Royal Thai Consulate-General which moved out in 2008.

The Bund No. 9 in the past. Image: CM Energy Shipping

After the American Russell & Co. bankrupted in the 1860s, the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company (轮船招商局) bought over the land and constructed the current building at The Bund No. 9 in 1901. The building stands as one of China’s symbolic examples of the nation’s early modernisation process. The company was “official supervised” by Qing dynasty official, Minister of Beiyang, Li Hongzhang while being managed by various merchants.

Li Hongzhang established the company in 1872 to reclaim China’s share of profits from steam shipping in Chinese waters that has been enjoyed by foreign shipping firms since the early 1860s. It currently house the China Merchants Energy Shipping Co., Ltd, under China Merchants Group.

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Current Shanghai Pudong Development House (left) & The Customs House (right)
Current Shanghai Pudong Development House (left) & The Customs House (right)

When HSBC first opened its Shanghai branch on the ground floor of the Central Hotel (current Peace Hotel) in 4th March 1865, they did not expect business to expand so quickly that is outgrown its existing premises. Subsequently in 1874, they purchased the Foreign Club at The Bund No. 12 for 60,000 taels of silver (US$ 1,329,120 based on current silver spot price) and build a three-storey building in the same year.

In 1912, in order to further expand the business, HSBC purchased two pieces of land No. 11 (Kelly & Walsh Ltd) and No. 12 (Andrew & George Building) at a price of 4000 taels of silver per mu (667 sqm), equivalent to US$ 132 per sqm in current silver price. They tore down the old buildings and started construction of the new seven storey building in 5th May 1921, designed by architect firm, Palmer and Turner. After undergoing 25 months of construction, the building was finally completed in 23rd June 1923. The entire building sits on 1.3 hectares of land and total constructed area of 23,415 sqm. At the time it was the largest bank building in the Far East and second largest in the world, after the Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh.

During the Second World War, it was occupied by the Japanese Yokohama Specie Bank and in 1955, the political situation led to a down scale of their operation and the building was handed over to the government. Later the year Shanghai Municipal Government moved into the building and the subsidary building house the Municipal Archives from 1956. In 1990, Municipal Government planned to move government buildings along The Bund to make way for commercial use, HSBC negotiation with the government fell through after not able to agree to the price. In 1995, the Municipal Government moved out and Shanghai Pudong Development bank has been leasing the building since then.

Beside it was The Custom House located on The Bund No. 13. History backdated to the late 17th century when Qing dynasty Kangxi Emperor set up customs houses in the four coastal provinces to facilitate trading along the east coast of China which the Jiangnan Customs House was one of them. However, due to its inconvenient, the custom houses have moved twice from outside the east gate of the walled city of Shanghai to the south end of the Bund and lastly into the current site, after insistence by the British consul to move the customs house inside the British concession. It was then called the North Customs House.

Throughout the century, the custom house has been demolished and re-built four time from traditional Chinese Yamen style to Gothic design before the current building was built – again by architects Palmer and Turner. Construction started in 15 December 1925 and completed in two year time in 19 December 1927. It has a reinforced concrete core while the exterior follows a Greek-revival and Neo-Classicist design. The building was in two section; eastern section being eight storeys tall and western section five storeys tall. It has became the tallest building in Shanghai Bund in 1920s.

Close view of the clock. Image Smith of Derby

While it has been exquisitely tiled with marbles and mosaics, the most notable feature is the clock tower at the easter section. Standing at 90 metres tall and offers views over the entire Bund and Shanghai city centre. It has four faces, each with a diameter of 5.3 metres that are made up of more than 100 pieces of glass between 0.3 and 1 metres in size. It also comes with 72 automatic lamps.

The clock and bell mechanism built according to the design of Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. The clock mechanism was built by JB Joyce & Co while the bells were casted by John Taylor Bellfounders in England. The clock will sound every 15 minutes, playing traditional tune the “Westminster Quarters”, but during the Cultural Revolution, the music was changed to “The East is Red”. Though the tune was restored in 1980s, Communist Party ordered the music to be change again to “The East is Red”. Today, the clock tower remains the largest clock in Asia, third largest in the world

Some knowledge to share
Silver are used as a means of currency in the China’s history and 1 tael of silver translate to 1.3 ounces of silver.

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The Waibaidu bridge, also called the Garden Bridge. It was the fourth western-designed bridge built at its location since 1856. It is in the downstream of the estuary of the Suzhou creek, near it confluence with the Huangpu River and adjacent to the Bund. It is the first all-steel bridge and only surviving example of a camelback truss bridge in China.

The present bridge was opened in 20 January 1908 and has been declared as a Heritage Architecture by Shanghai Municipal Government on 15 February 1994 as it symbolise Shanghai’s modern and industrial image with its rich history and unique design.

In April 2008, the bridge was removed for extensive repair and restoration and was installed back one year later on the 8 April 2009. An LED lighting system was installed on the bridge which cycles through different colours with reduced electricity consumption and to make the bridge look more attractive at night.

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Right across the Huangpu river, the peninsula are dotted with many modern skyscrapers, lead by the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower. This area is known as Lujiazui, a specifically developed are as a new financial district of Shanghai since early 1990s.

Looking at both sides of the Huangpu river, it can’t help to put one into thoughts of the country’s rise and fall in the past throughout the centuries yet awed by it rapid progress to be one of the most powerful country in the world. Moreover, The Bund has also displayed its rich historic background with the ongoing changing culture, technology and scenery.

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