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Shanghai: City Layout

Shanghai, with one of the largest urban populations on Earth (almost 14 million permanent residents, plus over four million registered migrants), is divided by the Huangpu River into Pudong (east of the river) and Puxi (west of the river). For the traveler, the majority of Shanghai's sights are still concentrated downtown in Puxi, whose layout bears a distinct Western imprint. After the First Opium War in 1842 opened Shanghai to foreign powers, the British, French, Germans, Americans, and others moved in, carving for themselves their own "concessions" where they were subject not to the laws of the Chinese government but to those established by their own governing councils.

Today, the city is divided into districts (qu), according to which listings in this book are organized. Today's districts hew fairly close to but do not follow exactly the original concession borders. For the traveler, the two most important geographical markers are the Bund (Waitan) and People's Square (Renmin Guangchang) about a mile to the west. Since the days of the International Settlement, established in 1863 with the melding of the British Concession and the American Concession, the Bund, with its signature colonial-era banks and trading houses, has been and still is the symbolic center of the city; from here, downtown Shanghai opens to the west like a fan. Today's practical and logistical center, however, is People's Square (Renmin Guangchang), about a mile to the west of the Bund. This is the meeting point of Shanghai's two main subway lines, as well as the location of some major attractions, including the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Art Museum, and Shanghai Grand Theatre. The Bund and People's Square are linked by several streets, none more famous than Nanjing Lu, historically China's number-one shopping street.

Southwest of the Bund is historic Nanshi, Shanghai's old Chinese city, which was the first part of Shanghai to be settled (and one of the last to be developed, though building is certainly proceeding apace these days). Nanshi used to have a city wall, which followed today's Renmin Lu and Zhonghua Lu circle. As its name suggests, the old Chinese city has retained the greatest number of typically Chinese sights, such as the quintessential Southern-Chinese Garden, Yu Yuan, the famous Huxing Ting teahouse, several temples, and even part of the old city wall.

A mile or so west of the Bund and the old Chinese city, Shanghai's former French Concession, established in 1849 and straddling both today's Luwan and northern Xuhui districts, is still one of Shanghai's trendiest neighborhoods. Chock-full of colonial architecture and attractions, it is home to some of the city's priciest real estate and to its most glamorous shops and restaurants, as seen in the mega-development Xin Tiandi.

Farther west still, beyond the Inner Ring Road that wraps around downtown Shanghai and the French Concession, is the Hongqiao Development Zone, where modern commercial and industrial development was concentrated beginning in the 1980s.

While sightseeing is concentrated in downtown Shanghai and the French Concession, north Shanghai has a scattering of interesting sights, including the Jade Buddha Temple, the Lu Xun Museum, and the Ohel Moshe Synagogue; and south Shanghai has the Longhua Pagoda, Xujiahui Cathedral, Shanghai Botanical Garden, and the trendy cafes and shops of Hengshan Lu.

In contrast to the colonial and historical sights of Puxi, the district of Pudong, lying east of the Huangpu River, is all about Shanghai's future. Mere farmland before 1990 when then-President Deng Xiaoping designated it as the engine of China's new economic growth, Pudong has sprouted in just a decade to become the city's financial center, and a high-tech and free trade zone, home to Asia's largest shopping centers, longest bridges, and tallest buildings. Modern skyscrapers like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Jin Mao Building, which houses the world's highest hotel, the Grand Hyatt, and a new slew of swanky international hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls, are attempts to attract the visitor over to the eastern shore of the Huangpu. With considerably less choice in the matter, many Shanghai residents were also displaced here in the last decade by the destruction of old neighborhoods in Puxi. Today, there are three bridges, three tunnels (two for vehicles, the other for pedestrians), two subway lines, and a ferry to connect Pudong to Puxi, making transfers between the two considerably easier.

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