Shanghai is one of the world’s most exciting cities. It is China’s most populous city and financial center. However, walk around the city, and you will see the influence of different world powers. Thus, its heritage is a blend of Chinese and western influences. Indeed, the city boasts an ancient old town, lavish palaces, and contemporary ultramodern architecture. Shanghai is also home to renowned museums, very nice parks, and charming pedestrian areas. That’s not all. Just a step away from the city, you will find several wonderful water towns to explore. These 15 interesting facts about Shanghai will make you fall in love with the city just like we did.
01 Shanghai Is China’s Largest City
Shanghai is China’s largest city in terms of population. According to the last national census, the urban population of Shanghai stood at 20.2 million in 2010. At that time, the population within the city’s administrative borders was 23 million. Since then, the urban population in Shanghai kept growing and is now projected to be 27 million. Consequently, Shanghai is the world’s third-largest city, after Tokyo and Delhi. Take note that about 10 million people that live in Shanghai are long term migrants mostly from rural China. Shanghai also homes the biggest community of foreigners residing in Mainland China: over 150000.
02 Its Name Comes From the Location
Shanghai owes its name to its wonderful location. Two Chinese characters make the word Shanghai. Shang means above or upon, and Hai means the sea. Therefore, its name means upon the sea! Shanghai has a strategic location close to the confluence of two rivers, the Huangpu and Yangtze, and the sea. The city originally occupied only the left bank of the Huangpu River. The name Shanghai was first mentioned around the 11th Century when it was just a small town. Those original inhabitants could never imagine that their dwelling would grow all the way to the Yangtze River and the East China Sea.
03 Shanghai Came to Prominence in the 19th Century
Though people inhabited the area around modern-day Shanghai for 6000 years, the first settlement in the area appeared during the late Song Dynasty. This original fishing village became a market town in 1074, and a county seat in 1272. Shanghai was already an important port during the 18th, under the Qing rule. In 1842, after the First Opium War, the British occupied Shanghai. Soon enough, Shanghai’s port opened to international trade. The city prospered enormously and continued to do so even more so as from 1927 when it became a municipality. Things changed dramatically after World War II. During the Cultural Revolution, the city suffered a lot. Luckily, it roared back into the world center stage in the last few decades.
04 Shanghai’s Old City Still Exists
Take note that Shanghai was purely Chinese until the arrival of foreigners. In fact, Chinese Shanghai never ceased to exist. It concentrated inside the so called Old City of Shanghai. City walls surrounded the circular city. These were destroyed in the 20th century. Actually, a small section of the wall survived and you can see it next to the Dajing Ge Pavilion. Shanghai had impressive historical sites, but only a few survived in the area. The city’s most beautiful garden, Yu Garden, and one of the oldest temples, Jade Buddha Temple, are a testament to its medieval character.
05 Shanghai Has Its Own Architectural Style
The typical communal housing block in Shanghai is called Longtang or Lilong. The term refers to a group of buildings around several internal lanes. The most famous Lilongs follow the so-called Shikumen style. These have two or three-story buildings surrounded by a wall and magnificent access gates. Since foreign powers controlled the city for so long, everything is a mixture of Chinese and western-style architecture. At one point, there were up to 9000 Shikumen all around Shanghai. Luckily, many still exist today.
06 Shanghai Has a Proper City Center
Unlike Beijing, where the City center is a historical palace and an empty square, Shanghai has a well defined and popular city center. The city’s epicenter is the enormous and heterogeneous People’s Square and Park. It’s an interesting place, with a plethora of architectural styles. The area is both residential and commercial. Many important buildings are here, including several museums and the Municipality of Shanghai. Shanghai’s main drag, East Nanjing Road, starts at the square’s northeastern end. This colorful street is where everything happens. You will find people shopping, dining, and having fun. We love the incredibly varied architecture. Walking about Nanjing Road is a feast to the eyes, with people and buildings competing for your attention.
07 China’s Most Lavish Architecture Is in Shanghai
Perhaps you didn’t know about Shanghai’s Old Town. But surely you have seen Shanghai’s riverfront. It’s on every postcard! The city’s early 20th century elegant architecture is here. At the beginning of the last century, Shanghai was booming with international trade. Powerful companies opened their offices in its embankment area, the world-famous Bund. The variety of architectural styles is impressive. You can admire buildings in neoclassical and all kinds of revival styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Amongst our favorite, the unique Art Deco buildings. Financial institutions, hotels, foreign consulates, and even a custom house built incredible structures.
08 There Is Also Outstanding Modern Architecture
Nowadays, Shanghai is all about first-class modern architecture. The world’s top firms such as Foster and Partners, OMA, and UN Studio, rushed to modernize the city. The iconic China Pavilion of the Expo 2010 was the first building to attain international fame. The event’s largest pavilion attracted the most attention. The simple shape combines elements of the traditional Chinese wooden bracket Dougong and the ancient Ding cauldron. Another building full of symbolism is the Bund Finance Center from 2017. Its triple-layered façade resembles a theater curtain, and it even moves. The architecture of Shanghai keeps grabbing the world’s attention.
09 When We Talk About Pudong We Mean Lujiazui
Shanghai’s most recognizable skyline is the one at Pudong, across the city center. Take note that Pudong is a district of some 1210 km2 (467mi2). As you can imagine, the famous skyscrapers occupy a small fraction. The world-famous towers stand proud on a small peninsula across the Bund called Lujiazui. In 2005, the national government designed this area as the only financial and trade zone in Mainland China. Since then, more than 30 skyscrapers of over 25 stories were built. Among them, the most famous one is the Oriental Pearl Tower, a 468 meters (1500 ft) tall radio and television tower. Other interesting towers are the Shanghai Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center, and Jin Mao Tower.
10 There Are Some Wonderful Pedestrian Areas
One of the things that make Shanghai one of China’s most delightful places to live is the numerous pedestrian areas. Lined with interesting architecture, they offer everything, from commerce to hospitality. The most popular one is the area around Yuyuan Garden in Old Shanghai. This is the most crowded pedestrian area in Shanghai. Other than the garden itself, it is not that interesting. There are several pedestrian areas around the French Concession. Xintiandi, close to the center, is an entertainment hub lined with trees and nice villas. Renowned Skidmore, Owings & Merril firm developed it. We like secluded Tianzi Fang in particular. The area is a bit more intimate and specializes in arts and crafts.
11 Shanghai Is Becoming Sustainable
Nowadays, world architecture and urban design must be sustainable. In recent times, Shanghai developed areas around the city under these principles. The area where the Expo 2010 took place, north of Huangpu River, is particularly interesting. This beautiful neighborhood is car-free and full of greenery irrigated with renewable rainwater. Regarding design, the project blends old industrial facilities with new visually appealing architecture. As you can imagine, the young and hip gravitate towards it. Besides, it’s a great place to exercise or go for a walk.
12 Culture Is Booming
As Shanghai became more cosmopolitan, its interest in the arts and culture grew exponentially. Today, the city homes some of China’s best museums. The most distinguished one is Shanghai Museum. It displays more than 120000 pieces of ancient Chinese art. Another extraordinary museum is the Natural History Museum, one of China’s largest. Among contemporary art museums, the Power Station of Art is the best in the city. The first art district in Shanghai dates back to the year 2000. The M50 Creative Park to the northwest of the city, next to Suzhou River, houses 120 art studios and galleries in an old abandoned industrial area.
13 Shanghai Has Wonderful Parks
China wants its cities to be livable. Thus, its urban policy includes widening sidewalks, building green corridors, riverside promenades, squares, and parks. Shanghai’s largest park is Century Park in Pudong. The giant new park is a collection of gardens, lakes, canals, and lawns. On the other side of the city, inside the French Concession, we find Fuxing Park, over a century old. It is a French-inspired park, with fountains, flowers, and garden pavilions. Shanghai Botanical Garden holds even more flowers, from magnolias to roses, azaleas, and conifers. It is famous for its Penjing, similar to a Japanese bonsai garden.
14 Several Water Towns Are Close to the City
Shanghai’s architecture is varied and colorful. Everything is here, from the medieval old city to elegant palaces, contemporary architecture, and high tech towers. The magic doesn’t end here. Some 100 km away from Shanghai, you will find a dozen water towns. These are ancient cities and towns built along canals and rivers. The nicest ones still preserve their unique old houses and elegant bridges. Traditional boats roam around their canals, though now they take tourists instead of locals. The most beautiful water towns are Zhujiajiao, Qibao, Luzhi, and Fengjing. Just imagine getting out of a noisy metropolis and landing in a place where life seems to have stopped in no time.
15 Shanghai Metro Is the World’s Second Largest
Shanghai built its metro system in the last 30 years. After World War II, Chinese authorities laid out a plan to build metro systems in four cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Shenyang. However, Shanghai didn’t start construction until 1986. The first section opened in 1993. Today, the 16 line system is 676 kilometers (420 miles) long. It is the world’s second-largest metro system, second only to Beijing. Besides, Shanghai operates the fastest train in the world: the Shanghai Maglev Train that connects the city with Pudong Airport.