Its perimeters defined by the city’s main arteries – Xizang, Nanjing and Yan’an roads – Renmin Square, or People’s Square (人民广场, rénmín guăngchăng), is the modern heart of Shanghai. The area of Renmin Square was originally the site of the Shanghai racecourse, built by the British in 1862. The races became so popular among the foreign population that most businesses closed for the ten-day periods of the twice-yearly meets. They soon caught on with the Chinese, too, so that by the 1920s the Shanghai Race Club was the third-wealthiest foreign corporation in China. It was converted into a sports arena in 1941 by Chiang Kai-shek, who thought gambling immoral. During World War II the stadium served as a holding camp for prisoners and as a temporary mortuary; afterwards, most of it was levelled, and while the north part was landscaped to create Renmin Park, the rest was paved to form a dusty concrete parade ground for political rallies. Only the racecourse’s clubhouse survives, as the venue for the Shanghai Art Museum.
There’s an impressive clutch of sights, with the Shanghai Museum, Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, Shanghai Art Museum and little Museum of Contemporary Art all within walking distance of each other. Add to that an unexpectedly peaceful park, and you have one of Shanghai’s most rewarding destinations.