Shanghai is also known as the Paris of the East. This is no wonder – during 100 years, the city was partly occupied by the french. After the Chinese loss of the Opium Wards in 1842, Shanghai was forced to open to international business. The french obtained concession of certain terrain for settlement, which had its own laws and enforcement. Even though it started as a settlement for the french, it soon attracted english, americans and russians, the common point being their affluence and influence. It was home of the wealthy Shanghailanders (foreigners living in Shanghai).
Late 1930s, when the Japanese army invaded the city, many Shanghailanders left. Those remaining, were put in concentration camps at the height of WWII. By 1946, both, the Japanese and most Westerns had gone and Shanghai was cut off from the World.
The city remained almost untouched for 40 years.
Unfortunately, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, a lot of unregulated re-development took place in the area, tearing apart many neighborhoods. Some of the most remarkable buildings were substituted by modern high-rise developments.
Since the change of millennia, the Chinese Government has limited and regulated the re-development in this part of the city, in order to retain part of its historic feel. In some parts, you even get the impression to be time traveling back to 1930s.
Fuxing Park, where I came across this old timer, is the only French Style park in Shanghai – with a lake in the center, several small fountains, covered pavilions and beautiful flowerbeds. My favorite part of the park was its tree-shaded walkways, where seniors got together to chat or play chess and card games.
The buildings themselves were unique in style. I expected to be transported to the Paris of the 1930s, but instead, I found it to be a rare mix of western and eastern architecture. A mixture of old and new. I liked it. It was easy to read the city’s history through the lines of the buildings. Some low-rise colonial french style villas still remain, blending in with art deco designs, high-rise luxurious and modern apartment blocks on leafy streets.
Today, the French Concession is one of Shanghai’s most expensive terrains. Expats and artists make the atmosphere trendy and exclusive. Tree-lined streets are filled with little fashion boutiques, while wider streets boast expensive shopping malls. When lunch or dinner time approaches, groups or friends and couples make their way to one of the stylish bars and restaurants. In the French Concession, one can find any type of cuisine – from original spanish tapas, the best italian wine bars and beautiful french cafes to modern Vietnamese cuisine and fresh quality sushi.
While my stay in Shanghai, I visited some great bars and restaurant in this area, which deserve an individual post – stay tuned!