Electric light in Shanghai came in 1882, powered by the newly incorporated Shanghai Electric company. Fifteen (!) street lamps were installed, out of which seven in The Astor house hotel on the North Bund. They made it the first building to be lit by electricity in Shanghai. Shanghai electric lighting grew with years and streets with neon lights became a fixture of the city in the 1910’s and 1920’s. Just like today, most of the lighting was commercial, used to highlight hotels and department stores, as well as lighting the streets. Electricity was supplied by Shanghai Power Company (the ancestor of today’s Shanghai Power) in the International Settlement, and the “Compagnie Francaise de tramway et d’éclairage électrique de Changhai” in the French Concession.
War in the late 1930’s and later lack of power turned Shanghai back into a dark city. Street lighting has come back to Shanghai in the 1980’s with advertising sign put on historical buildings, and (fortunately) being removed later on. Most of the lighting is still commercial, shouting brand names through the night. It is not always of the best taste (see post “Lights on Huai Hai Lu“). Contemporary night in Shanghai is a fascinating show for the newcomer and old residents alike.
Celebration lighting is the time for the city to show its best and I had not been much impressed by Shanghai celebration lighting until now. The number of light bulbs has sometimes been enormous, but the effect was not always that successful… until this year. 1st October 2009 was a departure from previous themes and transformed Nanjing Xi Lu for a few days. Trees all along the avenue were decorated by light balls of changing colors. They looked like the impossible fruits on magic trees, and gave to the street the atmosphere of a fairy tale. The feeling of the event was made even more fragile and precious by the short time of display. Imaginative and tasteful, it was really something to see and was taken out after a few days. The best way to enjoy this incredible show was surely to drive up the street slowly… in a side car, which I did several times. With such an incredible performance, Shanghai is getting more and more of a modern city.