Mak­ing con­ces­sions in Shang­hai

Look be­hind the sky­scrapers to the city’s his­toric French quar­ter

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Asia - HAR­RIET O’BRIEN

THE pre­vail­ing im­age of Shang­hai is of the host of im­plau­si­bly tall tower blocks in the river­side dis­trict of Pudong. Yet, across the other side of the Huangpu River, the city’s French Con­ces­sion is a won­der­fully pretty, lowrise area of el­e­gant colo­nial-era houses and nar­row streets lined with plane trees. It’s the most at­mo­spheric and cap­ti­vat­ing quar­ter of China’s most pop­u­lous ur­ban devel­op­ment — and it’s be­come fab­u­lously ritzy. I have come to ex­plore the col­li­sion of old and new worlds here: red-flag repub­lic and re­tail luxury, cheek by jowl.

The French Con­ces­sion was a ter­ri­tory within Shang­hai ceded to France dur­ing the colo­nial era. Be­tween the 1850s and World War II, it was an al­lur­ing pocket of ad­ven­tur­ers, emi­gres, ty­coons and rack­e­teers. In the any­thing-goes mood of the early 1900s, it be­came a hot­bed of rev­o­lu­tion­ary plot­ting and pol­i­tics. Some of the most im­por­tant sites of the devel­op­ment of post-im­pe­rial China are here. Yet the French Con­ces­sion now con­tains much of Shang­hai’s prime real es­tate.

I head first to Xin­tiandi, the city’s most con­spic­u­ously af­flu­ent devel­op­ment. It’s a strik­ing com­plex of 19th­cen­tury shiku­men houses — all old brick­work, big stone door­ways and court­yards — that since 2001 has been re­vamped into a pedes­trian zone of up­scale bars, cafes

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