Friday, June 16, 2017

踏上上海 - Stepping out in Shanghai

What a mix of old and new…On one side of the Huangpu River are the colonial buildings
Protective dragon
that mark Shanghai as a world banking center since the 1930s. On the other side are new high rise office and apartment buildings rivaling any city with a vision of the future. Touring this city may have been my favorite part of the trip.














It’s argued that parts of Shanghai date from around 4000 years ago, but it wasn’t established as a city until 1291. Prior to that, in 1172, a second sea wall was built to keep
Left: Ceremonial dress
Center T to B: Ming vase, Twisted bronze necklace
Right: Portion of an ink and pastel drawing
out the ocean and stabilize the pre-existing dike. The first city wall was built to protect the town from raids by Japanese pirates at about that same time; and in 1602 a City God Temple was erected. Building the wall and erecting the temple supported the town's economic importance so by the early 1730s, Shanghai held exclusive control over customs collections for Jiangsu's foreign trade making it a major port for the entire lower Yangtze region. Celebrating the history of Shanghai and of China is the
Shanghai Museum. As our guide, John, had warned me, I wanted to spend all day in this wonderful museum. While there are rooms full of coins and seals, Dave and I focused on the traditional art work, the dress and costume gallery, and the ceramics. I was particularly enamored of the beadwork which was integral to the costumes of all 55 ethnic minority groups; I’ve got more than 100 photographs of these works of art and all spark ideas for my own beadwork. Traveling through the Three Gorges has given us a much better understanding of the drawings and watercolors that are so common in China. The misty, rugged mountains are nearly a snapshot of the gorge areas and provide almost the same peaceful feelings as sailing through the region.

One of the loveliest parts of the old city is the Yuyuan Garden. It was commissioned by Pan Yunduan, to comfort his father in his old age, in 1559; however, it took architect Zhang Nanyang more than 19 years to complete the task, nearly bankrupting the Pan family. The
Pond, pagodas, and rocks in a traditional Chinese garden
philosophy of a Chinese garden is to bring nature to the viewer, so what you most often see are ponds, winding walkways, flora in natural settings, and lots of rocks, in this case limestone. We spent quite a bit of time watching the koi and marveling at the manner in which the rocks were cut. The limestone is selected then kept underwater for years until the artist likes the manner in which the water has sculpted the stone; it is then set in the garden in or near a pond. Also in evidence are the guardians of the garden – dragons. They keep bad spirits out and protect longevity, health, and good fortune. The dragons didn’t do a particularly good job of keeping bad spirits at bay in 1853. It was within these walls that the Small Swords Society plotted the overthrow of Shanghai; two years later they were thwarted and the Shanghai Municipal Council was created. This group managed the concessions sought by the British, Americans, and, at one time, the French, setting the stage for an influx of trade by countries from around the world. Fleeing the newly established Soviet Union, almost 20,000 White Russians and Russian Jews made Shanghai their home in the 1920s and 1930s. They created the second-largest foreign community so that by 1932 Shanghai had become the world's fifth largest city and home to 70,000 foreigners. The international flavor of the city did not change considerably even throughout Mao’s regime and the upheaval that followed.


Since I really enjoy Art Deco architecture, the Shanghai Bund was one of my favorite places and still reflects the international tenor of the city. Initially it was a British settlement; but later the British and American settlements were combined into the International Settlement. At the turn of the 20th century Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival,
Evening light show
Baroque Revival, Neo-Classical or Beaux-Arts styles, and a number in Art Deco style buildings appeared as the Bund developed into the major financial center of east Asia. These now historical buildings that once housed banks and trading houses from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, along with the Russian and British consulates, a newspaper, the Shanghai Club, and the Masonic Club still remain and many are used by the same groups. At night, however, the focus moves from the historical to the futuristic. Across the river are skyscrapers that come alive after dark. These buildings put on a light show that is best seen from the river. Although it was drizzling, we enjoyed a trip down the Huangpu to watch this spectacular presentation. I wasn’t particularly concerned about the precipitation since I had a raincoat, but a young Chinese woman was. She spent most of the trip making sure that her umbrella covered both of us and that I got good pictures of the lights. She spoke very little English, and I had no Chinese language skills, but we had a great deal of fun with our cameras and pantomiming what we wanted to do. She was delightful and underscored the manner in which the people of China had treated us throughout our journey. I wish I had gotten her email address so that I could share my pictures with her. Perhaps one day our paths will cross again.


Next week we'll take a look at the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an. 前进步伐!


New friend on the Bund
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