Shanghai’s original signature skyline is the Bund, a strip of grand Neoclassical colonial edifices on the west bank of the Huangpu River, facing the flashy skyscrapers of Pudong on the opposite shore – a backdrop domestic visitors queue up against to have their picture taken. Named after an old Anglo-Indian term, “bunding” (the embanking of a muddy foreshore), the Bund’s official name is Zhongshan Lu, but it’s better known among locals as Wai Tan (literally “Outside Beach”). By whatever name, this was old Shanghai’s commercial heart, with the river on one side, the offices of the leading banks and trading houses on the other. During Shanghai’s riotous heyday it was also a hectic working harbour, where anything from tiny sailing junks to ocean-going freighters unloaded under the watch of British – and later American and Japanese – warships. Everything arrived here, from silk and tea to heavy industrial machinery. Amid it all, wealthy foreigners disembarked to pick their way to one of the grand hotels through crowds of beggars, hawkers, black marketeers, shoeshine boys, overladen coolies and even funeral parties – Chinese too poor to pay for the burial of relatives would launch the bodies into the river in boxes decked in paper flowers.

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