Today’s elevated motorways crossing the center of Shanghai are so much part of our daily life that it is nearly impossible to imagine the city without them. This post is focused about a particular one, the main East-West one, Yannan lu.
The area of Shanghai center today was mostly rice fields and swamps when foreigners arrived in the mid 19th century. Crisscrossed by small canals and creeks, the landscape was similar to today’s well known water cities such a Xitang, Tong Li and Zhuo Zhang. The original British Concession was established in a rectangle within the Huangpu, the Suzhou Creek in the North and Yang Jin Pang Creek in the South… which became the border with the French Concession. As both concessions grew, the border between them expended westward until an area near to today’s Jing An Temple, following the Yank King Pang Creek. The growth of the concessions as well as trade and traffic pushed the Shanghai Municipal Council and the French administration to fill up the creek, transforming it into a street. The road that we nowadays know as Yanan lu was called Avenue Edouard VII from the Bund, followed by Avenue Foch westward of the current North-South motorway. Built over a river, the road follows a curved path that is clearly visible on the map and felt while driving it. The curves are particularly felt on the part from the Bund to People square, giving the feeling to slalom between skyscrapers.
Having a road that was also a border created all sorts of new problems, particularly in terms of traffic. Cars in Shanghai drove on the left hand side in both concessions. If you were on the South of the street (driving away from the Bund) traffic was handled by the French police, mostly manned by Tonkinese (now Vietnam) traffic officers. However, if you were on the North Side (driving towards the Bund), traffic was handled by the police of the Shanghai Municipal councils, mostly manned by Sikh officers from India (they were called “Hong Tou Asan” in Shanghainese). As the international settlement was mostly business oriented and the French Concession mostly residential, traffic crossing between both area was quite intense already in the old Shanghai time. I am sure there was already traffic jams at peak times, just like today.
Avenue Edouard VII was one of the major avenue of Shanghai bordered by large villas and residential buildings. Many of them were torn down to build the current elevated motorway in 1994, the blue light is a recent addition. Some remaining buildings are still visible near the Bund and near the cross with Nanjing Xi Lu. They are now very close to the concrete, as the Yanan elevated motorway is much larger than the old Avenue Edouard VII. Like many old Shanghailanders, crossing the Yank King Pang Creek is the road that I take everyday from my home near Heng Shan lu to my office on Nanjing Xi Lu. Although the border is long gone, I still have a thought for it every time I cross it.