What’s in a name
Shanghai’s history has often been quite tormented and street names have been changed often. Old Shanghai enthusiasts (like me) can sometimes be heard talking about the old names of current Shanghai streets, including Avenue Joffre, Hart Road or Avenue Edouard VII. Shanghai streets grew with the city itself, following its transformation. Foreigners came in, created concession and settlements and went away, leaving their mark on the street names. The Communist “Liberation” and its ideology came and most of names where changed. This is when the Avenue Joffre (one of the main general of the French army in World War I, a very common street name in France), was turned to Huai Hai Lu, the major communist victory against the nationalist Guomintang army in 1948-1949. This is also when Avenue Edward VII (British King Son of Queen Victoria who died in 1910)/ Avenue Foch (another French general from World War I), was turned in Yan An lu (the place in Shaanxi province where the long march finished).
The name of the original streets of the international settlement perpendicular to the Bund like “Da Ma Lu” (today Nanjing Dong Lu) and Si Ma Lu (todays Fuzhou Lu) were changed into names of cities and provinces of China, and later other Asian cities (like Singapore and Penang Road). They also included a few local celebrities (like Hart Road and Gordon Road). Streets in the French concession were mostly named after local French officials and celebrities, like Route Vallon (today’s Nanchang Lu) named after the French aviator who flew the first airplane in China… and crashed People Square in 1916. Apart from the foreign names, Shanghai streets also had Chinese names sometimes similar to the foreign one like Sinnan lu (Rue Massenet in French), Gaohan Lu (Route Cohen in French), Sha Fei Lu (Avenue Joffre in French). Sometimes the name was totally different and often much more practical, such as “Bubbling Well Road” (current Nanjing Xi Lu), named after the bubbling water spring that was located near today’s Jin An Temple. It’s Chinese name was simply “Jing An Si lu”, i.e. Jing An Temple street.
I have long dream that old street names would be displayed back on Shanghai street. Some attempts were made on private buildings like “Rue Francis Garnier” on the bakery on Dong Ping Lu, or the Henry’s restaurant on Route Paul Henry (today Xin Le Lu). The aim is obviously not to re-instate long gone memories, but to show the history of places, helping Shanghai to reconnect to its past. I am surely not the only one to have dreamed of this and somebody has actually done it. It is currently limited to one street, the current Wukang Lu, former Ferguson Road but this really looks like an official attempt. Hopefully, this will be extended all streets of Old Shanghai. Not sure how long it will take though.