Shanghai divides easily into three major parts: the Old City; the Former French, British and America Concessions; and Pudong, the New Shanghai. While the structures of the older city tend to reflect typically older or traditional Chinese culture, the Pudong projects its vision of Shanghai with towering skyscrapers and bright lights. Wherever you stay, in traditional or newer luxury hotels, Shanghai promises you will experience a city in which the past and the present coexist.
In Shanghai, architecture reflects the trends and culture of the period. The Bund is, however, the best place to visit to view the range of popular international styles of the 1920s and 1930s. In construction of its banks, theatres and luxury hotels, Shanghai saw the favouring of the Art Deco style. This is particularly true in the Peace Hotel by Palmer and Turner and the Park Hotel by L. Hudec.
In parts of the Old City, the international look never gained a footing. Art Deco was not common, but traditional Shikumen (old stone gatehouse) houses remain. So, too, do temples and market places. In Xintiandi, renovation and restoration has modernised the Shikumen, turning them into trendy bars, chic stores and high-end restaurants.
Across the river, a different type of architecture plays out. This is the Shanghai of the future. In Pudong, the buildings and towers are bold and brassy. They reflect the new Shanghai. The Oriental Pearl tower is the tallest of its kind in Asia, while the silvery-coloured Jinmao Tower is a marvellously elegant and rich 88-floor hotel. The Shanghai World Financial Centre is also in Pudong. Constructed in 2008, it rises up 101 stories. This impressive structure includes the Skywalk, an observation platform, and the world’s highest hotel – the Park Shanghai Hyatt.
Museums – Big and Small
You can often judge the worth of a city by how it takes care of and presents its past. While it boasts high-end shopping, lively entertainment, beautiful architecture and luxury hotels, Shanghai also allows visitors a look at the city’s past. It even provides a look at different aspects of the city’s cultural history.
A visit to the city is not complete without spending time admiring all that the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square has to offer. Among the more than 120,000 pieces are truly unique items. The Sancai (3-colour) pottery figures are exquisite in design and rendering. The Shang Bronzes include some wonderful objects of skilled craftsmanship and art. In the Jade Gallery, you can wander past delicately carved pieces of jade. Some date back as far as the 31st century C.B.E. The exhibits include skilfully rendered and ornate artefacts that range from the Neolithic period to the Quing Dynasty.
Shanghai hosts other smaller, and often curious, museums. One of the more intriguing local museums is the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum. You can locate it on Changyang Road, Hongkou District. The 1927 structure originally housed the Ohel Moshe Synagogue. During the 1930s and into the period of World War II, the Synagogue was the place of worship for many of the Jewish refugees seeking safety from the ongoing slaughter. Shanghai, unlike other cities and countries, did not refuse Jews. In fact, it took in approximately 25,000.
Today, the Synagogue is a reminder of an important part of Shanghai’s past and Jewish history. The former Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, came to the Museum in 1993. He admired the various cultural relics, including ancient scrolls. Yet, he also came to thank the people in Shanghai for doing what so many other peoples and nations had failed to do.
Entertainment that Delights
You can find entertainment in many of the city’s luxury hotels. Shanghai, however, beckons visitors with a variety of venues and forms of entertainment. They reflect Shanghai’s heritage as both traditional and western-influenced offerings vie for your attention. Catch the incredible and world-famous Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe at either the Shanghai Circus World or over at the Shanghai Centre Theatre. The Peace Hotel offers traditional New Orleans Jazz nightly, while over at Babyface, the trendy and popular nightclub, visitors can people-watch and listen to more mainstream music.
If you are a fan of opera, consider sampling Chinese opera. The Yifu Theatre provides classic examples of this stylised form of traditional music. The Heluting Concert Hall, meanwhile, provides performances of classical and chamber music while the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra is on stage at the modern, butterfly-shaped Shanghai Oriental Art Centre.
Jazz and Blues are alive in Shanghai. Visit the Cotton Club, the J2 Club or even the House of Blues and Jazz. Alternatively, you can check a local guide and find any number of modern techno, indie or popular music venues.