Nan­jing Road’s tales of the un­ex­pected

Shanghai Daily - - CULTURE - Michelle Qiao

Is­tarted writ­ing a se­ries about Nan­jing Road in 2017 af­ter I took in­ter­est in the route from 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 the Bund to the race­course on to­day’s He­nan Road. It was widely called “Da Malu” in Chi­nese, which means “Great Horse Road.” The great horse road was ex­tended to Zhe­jiang Road in 1854 and stretched fur­ther to Xizang Road in 1862 as the race­course was re­lo­cated twice — the last one in to­day’s Peo­ple’s Square.

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 area for safety from the Taip­ing Re­bel­lion (1850-64).” There­after, Park Lane was re­named Nan­jing Road af­ter the an­cient Chi­nese cap­i­tal city.

Bub­bling Well Road

Ac­cord­ing to the book “The 140th An­niver­sary of Nan­jing Road West (1862 to 2002),” Shang­hai Race Club con­structed a 2-mile-long road from to­day’s Xizang Road M. to Jing’an Tem­ple in 1862. They named the ex­tended road Bub­bling Well Road af­ter the renowned bub­bling well fronting the tem­ple, which had been filled up and buried un­derneath.

Then muddy road was paved with stones in 1890, planted with plane trees in 1891 and fi­nally in­cluded in the in­ter­na­tional set­tle­ment in 1899. In 1921, the road was fur­ther ex­panded to to­day’s Yan’an Road W.

In 1945, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­named the for­mer Bub­bling Well Road as 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 “10mile-long for­eign me­trop­o­lis.”

Early last cen­tury the east­ern part of Nan­jing Road was up­graded to a world­class shop­ping street af­ter Chi­nese mer­chants erected four mod­ern depart­ment stores — con­crete struc­tures with mod­ern equip­ment and high tow­ers — along the street.

The west­ern part also flour­ished with stylish shops, fa­mous the­aters and gor­geous gar­den vil­las built by for­eign and Chi­nese ty­coons.

Ac­cord­ing to Tongji Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Qian Zong­hao, au­thor of the book “Nank­ing Road 1840s-1950s,” early Shang­hai ex­pa­tri­ates once said “if the Bund was like a bow, 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.”

Af­ter ex­plor­ing the bow-shaped Bund, I have fol­lowed “the ar­row of Shang­hai” and walked west­ward along Nan­jing Road.

The first part of the jour­ney fo­cus­ing on the for­mer Park Lane, to­day’s Nan­jing Road E. (from the Bund to Xizang Road) ends at The Sun Build­ing, the youngest and most mod­ern among the four big Chi­nese depart­ment stores on Nan­jing Road.

Upon the much-ex­pected open­ing of the Shang­hai His­tory Mu­seum, ren­o­vated from the for­mer Shang­hai Race Club build­ing this March, I cir­cled around the old race­course and to­day’s Peo­ple’s Square. The se­ries cli­maxed and closed with ar­chi­tect Las­zlo Hudec’s four ar­chi­tec­tural gems around the square this Oc­to­ber that hap­pened to mark the 100th year of his ar­rival in Shang­hai.

Now it’s time to walk fur­ther west­ward from the Peo­ple’s Square to the Jing’an Tem­ple along Nan­jing Road W. Com­pared with Nan­jing Road E., filled with shops us­ing loud speak­ers to sell jade bro­cades and tourists speak­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages and di­alects, Nan­jing Road W. seems to be more stylish and re­lax­ing.

With the help of Jing’an Dis­trict gov­ern­ment and its four sub-dis­trict gov­ern­ments — Nan­jing Road W., Shi­men Road No. 2, Jiangn­ing Road and Jing’an Tem­ple sub-dis­tricts along the for­mer Bub­bling Well Road, I plan to ex­plore an amaz­ing va­ri­ety of his­tor­i­cal build­ings, rang­ing from clubs, hospi­tals, the­aters, apart­ments, gar­den vil­las to the an­cient tem­ple and even the for­mer ceme­tery park.

Dur­ing re­cent re­search, I’m more than happy to learn that some of the new­est tech­nolo­gies and de­vices, such as drones and ar­chi­tec­tural mon­i­tors, have been used to pre­vent the re­gion’s his­tor­i­cal build­ings from been de­stroyed. The lo­cal gov­ern­ment has learned a les­son from last year’s il­le­gal de­mo­li­tion of 888 Julu Road, a gar­den villa de­signed by Las­zlo Hudec nearly 100 years ago. These sub­dis­trict gov­ern­ments have also or­ga­nized vol­un­teer teams com­pris­ing ex­perts and lo­cal her­itage afi­ciona­dos to mon­i­tor the con­di­tions of ar­chi­tec­tural gems.

When re­search­ing for the se­ries, I was strongly moved by life sto­ries of two ex­pa­tri­ates who had left relics and lega­cies along Nan­jing Road W.

One was Bri­tish mil­lion­aire Henry Lester, who made a for­tune from old Shang­hai’s real es­tate but do­nated al­most all his as­sets to Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion. A med­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion built with his money still stands a few min­utes’ walk from Nan­jing Road W. The Lester Foun­da­tion spon­sors Chi­nese schol­ars study­ing in the UK to this day.

The other was a Ger­man doc­tor named Erich Paulun. The for­mer Ger­man navy doc­tor trav­eled thou­sands of miles to Shang­hai and built a char­i­ta­ble hos­pi­tal to treat poor Chi­nese pa­tients for free, which later evolved to be to­day’s Changzheng Hos­pi­tal and Tongji Univer­sity. Though the old hos­pi­tal build­ings along Nan­jing Road W. have been de­mol­ished, Paulun’s legacy has a lin­ger­ing in­flu­ence in Shang­hai, China and Ger­many. In March next year, it will be 110 years since he died.

Both Lester and Paulun, who must have worked and walked along the Bub­bling Well Road, were both buried in the Bub­bling Well Road Ceme­tery, to­day’s Jing’an Park.

Their spir­its and sto­ries, as well as that of the stylish Nan­jing Road W. are worth telling and re­mem­ber­ing. So let’s con­tinue to fol­low the ar­row of Shang­hai.

Above: Cov­ered in lush tree canopies, Nan­jing Road W. is the main artery of ex­cite­ment in the flour­ish­ing down­town area of Shang­hai. — Zhang Xue­feiLeft: Bub­bling Well in front of Jing’an Tem­ple in the 1940s.

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