EMILY Ma loves walking to her office every morning, whether it’s sunny or raining.
“It’s only a 30-minute walk from my rented apartment (on Wuyuan Road) to my office on Hengshan Road,” says the 27-year-old Zhejiang Province native who’s been working and living in the city since she graduated from a local university.
“The neighborhood (of Wuyuan Road) is very quiet and nice, very suitable for a walk, and when I move onto Hengshan Road, it becomes busy and modern, with lots of trees and beautiful buildings,” the marketing specialist says.
A recent survey showed that Shanghai is one of the most walk-friendly cities in China.
The survey conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an international environmental organization, is the first of this kind in China, where 35 cities were selected.
Shanghai ranked third, following Hong Kong and Shenzhen in southern China’s Guangdong Province.
“I do think the city is good for walking, not just because it’s my home city, but as a whole, Shanghai does well in offering a safe and relaxing environment,” says Wang Chen, 25, who lives on Tian’ai Road in Hongkou District.
Shanghai is highly reputed as a safe and open city, attracting both local residents and expats with its charming architecture and a culture mixed with old and new, West and East.
Taking a walk around, not merely on famous Huaihai Road or in Lujiazui, but exploring small streets hidden behind the crowded city center allows one to feel the atmosphere of the “Paris of the East.” Some parts of the city seem like historical scenes that bring you back to 1930s Europe.
Shanghai Daily provides a guide to some streets with rich history and beautiful scenes that are worth a walk.
Here we go.
If you are asked where to take wedding photos, this road is definitely one of the best choices. Regarded as one of Shanghai’s most Westernized streets, Hengshan Road is lined with luxuriant old French phoenix trees and European-style architecture of the 1920s and 1930s.
Its charm lies not merely in the well-known nightlife scene and fine international restaurants, but in its long history that can still be traced in the European-style buildings. Old Chinese remember that today’s “bar street” was the birthplace of China’s recorded music industry. An old red house on the edge of a peaceful, grassy area of Xujiahui, at 811 Hengshan Road, tells the story.
Walking in this tastefully decorated building, which was turned into a restaurant in 2002, you’ll see its worn wooden floors, antique tables, leather chairs and gramophones in almost every room — a step back in time. Genuine traces of the past remain with exquisitely carved staircases, fireplaces and a secret iron safe on the first floor. Old framed records grace the walls.
The house is known simply as the “Little Red House” (“La Villa Rouge” in the original French name) and was the first headquarters of the recording company EMI in China. As the first and biggest music recording company in China before 1949, EMI had considerable influence on China's record industry.
In recent years, as China’s economy is booming, foreigners gradually returned to Shanghai. Since the 1990s, the street revived with many cultural, entertainment and recreational facilities, including a proliferation of restaurants, bars and cafes that combine East and West.
At 2.3 kilometers long, Hengshan Road itself was built in 1922 in the former French concession area. It was originally called Avenue Petain, named after French general Philippe Petain in World War I. The current name was given in 1943 in honor of Chinese politician Shen Junru (1875-1963) who was also called “Hengshan.” His bronze statue stands in Hengshan Park.
At only a bit over 300 meters long, Anting Road may be one of the shortest streets in Shanghai. Running from Yongjia Road to Jianguo Road W., it can easily be seen from the beginning to the end. The garden villas and old houses and apartments on this street used to be homes of rich and famous people in old Shanghai, ranging in various European styles such as British, Spanish and Portuguese.
During the days of the French concession, Anting Road which was built in 1930 was known as Route Kaufmann and then Rue de Adina. In 1946, it was named for Anting — a town in Shanghai’s suburban Jiading District.
Anting Apartments, at 43 Anting Road, was built in 1935 in Georgian style with New Classical elements. It used to be called Kinslynn Apartments.
Anting Road has not changed much in appearance. More than 60 cypress trees decorate the road as a calm and peaceful park. In autumn, the leaves of the trees, which are as old as the road, turn yellow, then red. It can be quite a romantic stroll to walk slowly on the street, stepping on the thick mat of fallen leaves.
Similar phoenix trees and European-style architecture do not make Huashan Road, another famous street in the former French concession area, a boring beauty. People cannot help but be curious about these old houses, featuring brick-and-tile exteriors, when they walk by.
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Prime Minister Li Hongzhang, educator Cai Yuanpei, “Golden Voice” Zhou Xuan, actress Bai Yang and writer Eileen Chang are among the many big names in old Shanghai who left their footprints on Huashan Road. Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the China Welfare Institute and the Shanghai Theater Academy add more humanity to this street.
Huashan Road was built in the 1860s during the Opium War by the then British and French concession governments. The street connects Jing’an Temple on Nanjing Road W. with Xujiahui. The long, curved street carves its way past many important roads, including Yan’an Road M., Fuxing Road and Huaihai Road.
It was called Avenue Haig between 1921 and 1943, named after the French General Douglas Haig (1861-1928), Britain’s commander-in-chief in World War I.
One of the interesting buildings on Huashan Road is Dingxiang Garden, known for its elegant architecture and a bit of romance behind it. According to official records, Dingxiang Garden was built in 1900 and designed by American architects. Its first resident was a British businessman.
The villa used to be the private garden of Qing Dynasty Prime Minister Li Hongzhang. It’s said that Li bought the villa as a gift for his seventh wife, Ding Xiang, for whom the villa is now named.
Nanjing Road E.
After walking around in the former French concession area and sensing the atmosphere of European architecture and symbolic phoenix trees, it’s time to move on to the real center of Shanghai — People’s Square.
Called Da Ma Lu in old Shanghai, which literally means “Great Horse Road,” Nanjing Road E. was named as “one of the world’s seven great roads in the 1930s.” It played an important role in Shanghai’s modern history.
Nanjing Road E. was the top commercial street in Shanghai, featuring big shopping malls and restaurants, and it has long been a must-go place on the tourist map. Much of it is now a wide, pedestrian-only street, often jammed with thousands of people.
Besides big restaurants, traditional food stores like Lao Da Fang, Wu Fang Zhai, Guan Sheng Yuan are good places to try some local foods and snacks.
On Nanjing Road E., there are also big photo studios, pharmacies, bookstores and large shops. One of the latter is Central (Zhongyang) Market, which is imprinted on Shanghai’s collective memory. From a narrow lane of floating street vendors in the 1920s, the market expanded into a big, housed import and export trading hub.
Hunan Road is very quiet and has few cars, lending it a peaceful environment with European-style architecture and old plants.
At 262 Hunan Road is a detached French-style house built in 1931.
In late 1949, Deng Xiaoping (1904-97) and Chen Yi (1901-72), top leaders of the Communist Party of China, moved into this estate with their families. Deng lived on the second floor and Chen lived on the ground floor. He Zizhen, the second wife of Chairman Mao Zedong, lived in the estate from 1954 until she died in 1984.
Zhao Dan (1915-80), a famous Shanghai actor, lived at 8 Hunan Road from 1962. It is a modern Western-style garden villa built in 1948.
Although Zhao had several residences in Shanghai at different periods, his daughter believed that 8 Hunan Road was the true “memorial residence of Zhan Dan.”
Free walking routes
During the Shanghai Tourism Festival to be held from September 14 to October 6, Shanghai Tourism Administration has six walking tours in five districts—Huangpu, Jing’an, Changning, Hongkou and Xuhui.
So far only detail of the first route has been released.