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October 8, 2009

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Rebirth of old consulate part of Bund grand plan

THE former British Consulate, the oldest structure at the Bund, is being restored and will be ready ahead of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo that starts next May.

The restoration is part of the "Bund Origin" program, which involves conservation-oriented development of 14 historic buildings for banks, churches, apartments and hotels.

Veteran resident Gao Wenlan looked through the windows of her apartment. "Though the old buildings are still there, the Bund is totally different," she said.

Gao, 96, has been living in the Bund area for more than 60 years.

After the Opium War in 1840, Shanghai opened to the outside world. The Bund became the earliest concession area and was later turned into the "Oriental Wall Street."

In the early days, Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation built two businesses at the Bund, one for foreigners, on the main street, and the other for Chinese, on a side road.

And Chinese were rarely seen in the Bund Park.

"I hardly went there," Gao said. "The guard at the gate decided on whether to allow your entrance by your dress and his mood."

Things changed after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The Bund Park's name was changed to Huangpu Park and was opened to all Chinese.

"I often went there with my friends," said Gao's daughter Chen Yajun, 69. "People took photos, drank tea and walked after their evening meal."

Chinese organizations, including the Shanghai municipal government, established offices in the buildings where foreign banks and the British Consulate had been doing business.

"The Bund started to become the symbol of Shanghai in the eyes of both local residents and visitors," said Wu Jiang, vice president of Tongji University and former deputy head of administration of city planning for the municipal government.

After China's reform and opening-up drive was initiated in 1978, the Bund became a hub for transportation after trams were discontinued and the roads paved.

Many couples walked or sat at the "Sweethearts' Wall" along the banks of the Huangpu River in the early era of the opening-up initiative.

"Every time I took my girlfriend there, we went as early as possible, because there were always crowds of couples competing for space," said Lu Zhenhua, 57.

The Bund also serves as a great vantage point to watch fireworks and light shows.

Financial institutions have returned to the Bund big time since 1994.

In the late 1990s, high-end hotels and stores for luxury global brands were introduced to the Bund.

Last year the project to build a 3,000-meter-long underground road started at the Bund and is due for completion ahead of the Expo.


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