Los Angeles Times - - SHANGHAI - Michelle Qiao

Ihave walked through Nan­jing Road many times on my way to Bund and re­mem­ber pass­ing by shops us­ing loud speak­ers to sell jade bro­cades, tourists speak­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages and di­alects, and young boys hur­riedly chuck­ing flyers and cards in my hand­bag.

But my in­ter­est in Nan­jing Road started when I found a 1929 map of Shang­hai that high­lighted the mar­ket value of dif­fer­ent zones in the city. A blue-toned, T-shaped zone of Nan­jing Road all the way to the Bund was the city’s most ex­pen­sive area that year.

Nan­jing Road was con­structed in 1851 as “Park Lane” — from Bund to the race­course on to­day’s He­nan Road. It was widely called “Ta Maloo” which trans­lates into “Great Horse Road.” The Maloo was ex­tended to Zhe­jiang Road in 1854 and stretched fur­ther to Xizang Road in 1862 as the race course was re­lo­cated twice — the last one in to­day’s Peo­ple’s Square.

Ac­cord­ing to “His­tory of Shang­hai” that was pub­lished by Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil in 1921, English mis­sion­ary Wal­ter Henry Med­hurst sug­gested that “the set­tle­ment road names should be made in­tel­li­gi­ble to the tens of thou­sands of na­tives who had crowded into the lim­its for safety from the Taip­ing Re­bel­lion.” There­after, Park Lane was re­named Nan­jing Road after the an­cient Chi­nese cap­i­tal city.

In 1945, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­named the for­mer Bub­bling Well Road to Nan­jing Road W. — and the other end be­came Nan­jing Road E. The en­tire stretch came to be known as Nan­jing Road that stretched 5 kilo­me­ters. The street be­came so prom­i­nent that it came to sym­bol­ize old Shang­hai, and nick­named “Shi Li Yang Chang” or “10-mile-long for­eign me­trop­o­lis.”

“‘Shi Li Yang Chang’ was prob­a­bly apt but this street was not just a for­eign­ers’ street,” says Tongji Univer­sity Professor Chang Qing.

Chang is the au­thor of the book “Ori­gin of a Me­trop­o­lis — A Study on the Bund Sec­tion of Nan­jing Road in Shang­hai.”

“Archival pho­tos show that the eastern sec­tion of Nan­jing Road, from the Bund till He­nan Road, was more for­eign-owned and had a Western look, while the street scenes from He­nan to Xizang roads were more Chi­nese. Nan­jing Road grad­u­ally took its shape after en­dur­ing long-time con­tacts and competitions be­tween Chi­nese and West­ern­ers on so­cial and ur­ban space.”

The 1934 ver­sion of “All About Shang­hai A Stan­dard Guide­book” notes this prin­ci­pal re­tail busi­ness street in Shang­hai was “des­ig­nated by an em­i­nent Amer­i­can au­thor as one of ‘the seven most in­ter­est­ing streets in the world’.”

“Few roads can ri­val Nan­jing Road in terms of col­or­ful­ness and rich­ness it em­bod­ied,” says Shang­hai his­to­rian Xiong Yuezhi, ed­i­tor-in-chief of the book “Gen­eral His­tory of Shang­hai.”

“Many of China’s mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties made its de­but on this road, such as the gas and elec­tric lamps, trol­ley cars, el­e­va­tors and sky­scrapers, as well as neon lights and large amuse­ment parks,” he says. “I can find no words to de­scribe its for­mer pros­per­ity. It was a place to show off po­lit­i­cal power where big cel­e­bra­tions were of­ten held. A galaxy of celebri­ties left their traces, too. It’s where Dr Sun Yat­sen con­cocted spec­ta­cles, Al­bert Ein­stein lec­tured on the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity, Ber­trand Russell gave a speech on cross-cul­tural com­par­i­son and Char­lie Chap­lin had his silk shirts tai­lor-made.”

Early last century Nan­jing Road was up­graded to a world-class shop­ping street after Chi­nese mer­chants built four mod­ern de­part­ment stores — con­crete struc­tures with mod­ern equip­ment and high tow­ers — along the street.

“At night they were il­lu­mi­nated by thou­sands of elec­tric lights, and helped make the up­per part of Nank­ing Road a ‘great white way.’ Most sig­nif­i­cant of all, they an­swer to a de­mand and are crowded by shop­pers, many of whom were visi­tors to Shang­hai from other cities. They mark both the grad­ual process of the mod­ern­iza­tion of China and the grow­ing pros­per­ity of Shang­hai,” F. L. Hawks Pott de­scribed in his 1928 book “A Short His­tory of Shang­hai.”

To­day Nan­jing Road is still crowded by visi­tors from all over China and the world, who can be seen en­joy­ing a bot­tle of “old Shang­hai yo­ghurt,” or buy­ing a plas­tic Ori­en­tal Pearl TV Tower or tak­ing pho­tos with a man at­tired in old Shang­hai-style suit be­sides a vintage car.

“You will re­gret if you don’t come to Nan­jing Road dur­ing a Shang­hai trip. But if you do come, you might have mixed feel­ings,” says Ding Qimin, deputy di­rec­tor of the Bund Sub­dis­trict Of­fice. Ding grew up in the Nan­jing Road neigh­bor­hood and now works in the de­part­ment re­spon­si­ble for ur­ban man­age­ment.

“I of­ten played on Nan­jing Road as a young boy in the 1980s and can still re­call the ec­stasy I felt ev­ery time a new de­part­ment store opened. It’s a street where you can feel the pros­per­ity of a me­trop­o­lis,” Ding says.

Nan­jing Road un­der­went sev­eral rounds of ren­o­va­tions, the most fa­mous be­ing con­vert­ing the stretch be­tween He­nan and Xizang roads into a pedes­trian street in 1999.

“A new round of ur­ban restora­tion is be­ing planned for the four big de­part­ment stores, and sev­eral other his­tor­i­cal build­ings will open to the public for use as life­style cen­ter or ho­tel,” he says.

Ur­ban Re­gen­er­a­tion

It’s been two years since Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Gov­ern­ment is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der for ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion with the aim of build­ing a global city. This has led to mixed use of land, re­vi­tal­ized ur­ban ar­eas, and in­tro­duced a new life­style.

Tongji Univer­sity Professor Zheng Shiling says Nan­jing Road Pedes­trian Street and Yuyuan Gar­den Shop­ping Dis­trict in the 1990s were the two ear­li­est cases of Shang­hai’s ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion prac­tices. They were fol­lowed by other well-known pro­jects in­clud­ing Xintiandi, Tian Zi Fang, M50, Si­nan Man­sions and Wai­tanuyuan.

“Nan­jing Road, with more than 100 years of his­tory, was ren­o­vated into a prom­e­nade extending over 1 kilo­me­ter. This is con­sid­ered to be one of the ear­li­est prom­e­nades in China that com­bines shop­ping, street space and traf­fic or­ga­ni­za­tion,” re­calls Zheng, who was the chief ar­chi­tect for de­sign­ing Nan­jing Road Pedes­trian Street.

“We adapted the idea of ‘golden line’ from French ar­chi­tect Jean-Marie Char­p­en­tier to put all the fa­cil­i­ties such as chairs, dust bins, street lamps and ad­ver­tis­ing all on this ‘golden line.’ We also cleared many ugly ad­ver­tis­ing signs that looked like beer bot­tle caps and fly swat­ters along the street. It not only im­proved the en­vi­ron­ment but also pro­moted the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. I hope the pedes­trian will be ex­tended all the way to the Bund in the fu­ture,” Zheng adds.

Ear­lier this year Bail­ian Group, owner of the four big de­part­ment stores, an­nounced a strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion with Alibaba to at­tract more young con­sumers. They re­leased a ren­o­va­tion plan for the cen­tu­ry­old shops. High­light of the plan will be a glass dome and a gallery in the air to beau­ti­fully link the 1936 Sun Sun Co to two new build­ings.

“We had the plan 10 years ago and now it is time to fi­nally make it true,” says Zhuang Qian, deputy CEO of Shang­hai No. 1 De­part­ment Store com­pris­ing Sun Sun Co and two neigh­bor­ing build­ings.

“We are fac­ing strong com­pe­ti­tion from newer de­part­ment stores and on­line shop­ping. We want to win back young con­sumers by adding old Shang­hai el­e­ments into the in­te­rior de­sign, such as jazz, al­ley­way houses, pla­tane trees, etc,” says Zhuang. “Glanc­ing through the build­ing’s archives, I ad­mired my pre­de­ces­sors, the old-time man­agers of the four de­part­ment stores. There’s so much to learn from them whose ideas were ahead of their times.”

“In the begin­ning, Nan­jing Road was per­haps like an in­no­cent coun­try girl who grad­u­ally grew into a mod­ern, fash­ion­able woman in the 1920s and 1930s. In the fol­low­ing decades she man­aged to dress her­self up with ev­ery­thing to keep her vi­tal­ity. Now I think she’s learned to choose what suits her best. She will fi­nally be­come an el­e­gant, in­tel­li­gent woman, I hope,” says di­rec­tor Ding.

Professor Qian Zong­hao, who au­thored the book “Nank­ing Road 1840s-1950s,” notes an­other anal­ogy of this leg­endary street nar­rated by early Shang­hai ex­pa­tri­ates.

“They said if Bund was like a bow, then Nan­jing Road was the ar­row, fly­ing west­ward which has been the di­rec­tion that has guided Shang­hai’s ur­ban de­vel­op­ment for a long pe­riod of time,” he says.

A cou­ple takes a selfie against his­tor­i­cal build­ings on the Nan­jing Road Pedes­trian Street. — Wang Rongjiang

Tourists browse ac­ces­sories at a store on Nan­jing Road E. — Michelle Qiao

Sight­see­ing buses run along the Nan­jing Road Pedes­trian Street from He­nan Road to Xizang Road M. One-way trip costs 5 yuan per per­son. — Wang Rongjiang

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