Shanghai Re(defined): Puxi through the Centuries


  • Suzy Schlosberg Undergrad Student


The Bund, Puxi, Pudong, Shanghai


I invite you to consider The Shanghai Bund for your next magazine feature story. The Bund is a protected district running along the western bank of the Huangpu River. Composed of Neoclassical, Parisian-style villas, Art Deco and Renaissance architecture, The Bund exists in many ways as a beautiful paradox.

Imagine you are walking along the Bund. The first thing you might notice is the juxtaposition between the European-style buildings lining the western bank, and with one glance eastward, its reflection made of glass and steel skyscrapers. Almost all Shanghai travel guides published today take note of this visual contradiction—Puxi, named after its western position to the Huangpu river, is described as the “historical heart of the city” whereas Pudong is “a glimpse into its future (Nauman Tripsavvy).” This depiction of Puxi versus Pudong is fascinating when looking through the lens of Puxi as a symbol of China’s modernization and Shanghai’s cosmopolitanism[1] mere decades ago. The rapid transformation of Pudong’s landscape and subsequent reversal of the Bund’s image from one of modernity to historical relic reveals the fluidity of time and human memory; perceptions of old and new are not informed by the actual passage of time but molded through their spatial relationships to the other.

Walking further along the bank, you are now approaching Lover’s Wall. This mile-long flood wall reveals another paradox about the Bund’s function in Shanghai—is Puxi an extension of the “Eastern adventurer’s paradise (Xiwen)” marked by leisure and culture, or a commercial center turned from shipping and finance to tourism? In the late 19th and early 20th century, for Britain, France, and the United States, Shanghai was a site of “extraterritoriality,” where rules of Chinese law did not apply to foreigners and they had free reign to reconstruct along the Huangpu bank an exotic playground for European culture.[2] The Western imagination of Shanghai claim that their intervention created a success story. For the Chinese workers who toiled under backbreaking conditions to construct their architectural projects, the reality of Puxi’s function was not quite so romantic. Nor for Shanghai people who looked towards the Bund’s bustling commercial developments as a needed source of revenue[3]. The Bund’s origins of Western imperialism have since been reclaimed, now centered as a symbol of national pride in guidebooks published by China.[4] This reclamation by the Chinese Communist Party raises another question too—what is full-throated acceptance of cultural heritage if it is de-historicized? The controversial history of Puxi informs its modern representations, which also captures salient questions of how spatial relationships shape time. The Bund is a unique place for expanding the imaginations of your readers.




[1] Henriot, C. (2010). The Shanghai Bund in myth and history: An essay through textual and visual sources. Journal of Modern Chinese History, 4(1), 1-27. doi:10.1080/17535651003779400

[2] Brook, D. (2012). Once Upon a Time in Shanghai. Foreign Policy, (The Cities Issue), 74-77.

[3] China Intercontinental Communication Cente, V. (Producer). (2019). The Bund in Shanghai 上海外滩 [Video file]. Retrieved 2020, from

[4] Harte, D. (2020). Shanghai Cosmopolis: Negotiating the Branded City. Brand China in the Media, 97-112. doi:10.4324/9780429320224-7




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How to Cite

Schlosberg, S. (2022). Shanghai Re(defined): Puxi through the Centuries. Wittenberg University East Asian Studies Journal, 45, 38–50. Retrieved from