Online Panorama Shows the Earliest Days of the Bund


The transformation of the Pudong area from undeveloped marshland to the home of China’s iconic skyline is celebrated as dramatic visual evidence of China’s breakneck development.

Pudong in 1987 and 2013.  Photo by Carlos Barria, Reuters/Stringer. via The Atlantic

On the other side of the Huangpu River in central Shanghai, the skyline has not changed much in the past century.  The Bund, as the western bank is called, is one of Shanghai’s most popular tourist areas and is known for historic stately buildings designed in various European architectural styles that today house posh shops, restaurants, and hotels.  The current day occupants continue the commercial legacy of their predecessors — banks, trading companies, and foreign governments — who erected the buildings mostly in the early 20th century when the waterfront was the outer edge of the Shanghai International Settlement (上海公共租界), an enclave created from the American and British Concessions in 1863.  What did the western bank in Puxi look like before being lined with these elegant buildings?

On the occasion of the opening in Pudong of the Shanghai Tower (上海中心大厦) — at the moment the world’s 2nd tallest building — the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts looks back at the Bund’s history with an online photographic panorama of the Shanghai Bund as it looked in 1882, before the first of the current day buildings, the China Merchants Bank Building, was constructed in 1897.   The panorama includes the Shanghai International Settlement and the French Concession to its south.

From the press release:

“This 11-feet panorama of the Shanghai Bund…consists of 13 albumen prints joined to form a sweeping view of the Shanghai waterfront. Although similar panoramas are known, PEM’s appears to be the largest in existence and the only one to contain so many detailed annotations. Eighty-one handwritten notes, describing the waterfront, identify different locations on the waterfront and describe their commercial, maritime, diplomatic or recreational activities. Likely annotated by its original owner shortly after the panorama was created, these notes and the corresponding images provide new insights into the bustling and fast-changing international port city at a critical moment in China’s modern history. The panorama was created by the Shanghai-based Kung Tai studio, which specialized in producing multipart panoramas of the Bund. Made every few years to document the rapidly changing city, these panoramas were frequently bound into souvenir albums and marketed to foreigners.”


Can anybody match up places in the panorama with the current day Bund?

After seeing this part of Shanghai’s history, we’re eager to see more from the Peabody’s extensive collection of 19th century photographs of China.

Photos from The Atlantic and Peabody Essex Museum