Today I joined a walking tour of the former French Concession neighborhood, arguably one of the prettiest areas of the city. I was surprised to learn that although French rule prevailed, very few French people actually lived in the district. The population mostly consisted of Brits, Americans, White Russians and Chinese. Yet Shanghai became known as the “Paris of the East” during the 1920’s. The wide avenues lined with plane trees and charming architecture do have a decidedly European feel, although only a few of the grand mansions from that era remain.
Most of the apartment buildings are still standing, however. Many were built by the great Jewish families in the 1920’s and subdivided into smaller flats once the Communists came to power. We were told that you can tell how many additional families moved into a place by the number of extra pipes coming out of the walls. We even saw where a garage had been converted into a tiny living space. Some of the buildings are gradually being restored, giving us some insight into the former glory of the neighborhood, while others remain derelict and crammed with tenants. It was interesting to wander the alleyways, exploring the living history of the city.
What kind of architecture do you associate with Shanghai?