In the area of the South Market beyond the small East Gate in the old days, the ever-flowing wasters of Huangpu River brought the vessels sailing back and forth as well as the prosperity of the money-making Shiliupu; nowadays, the water of the river is still beating upon the banks beside the Old Wharf with the visits of the personages and the modern and fine scenery. The great changes can also be found in the speeches of the old and new generations of Shanghai natives. When ridiculing the rustic style, the slang “coming up from Shiliupu” spoken by old Shanghai natives can hardly be understood by young people, while the fine hotels on Maojiayuan Road and the Sunshine beach at the Old Wharf on the lips of young people may also make the old people confused. The links between the Shiliupu and the Old Wharf can never be cut apart even in the changing times and scenes.
Britons’ Surprises at Shiliupu
In the 1720s and the 1730s, the European merchants with the impulsion for trade were eager to develop their business in China as they could obviously no longer be contented with the “one commercial port” of the Guangzhou Customs restricted by the government of the Qing Dynasty. Therefore, the Taipans of the East India Company were so generous as to send pathfinders northward on their own expenses.
On one afternoon in June, 1832, neglecting the warnings of the Chinese defense authorities, Hugh Hamilton Lindsay, an employee of the Guangzhou branch of the East India Company and Gutzlaff Charles, a missionary of London Missionary Society, came ashore together at the Goddess Palace outside the east gate of Shiliupu. For the purpose of avoiding troubles, the local government chief treated the two Britons well while asserting no authorization for trades, only hoping they could leave as soon as possible. On the contrary, this aroused more curiosity in the Britons, who hid themselves in the reeds at Wusongkou for the whole week for observation. After the meticulous and hard work, they said, “In seven days, a total of 400 sailboats of different sizes with loads between 100 tons and 400 tons sail to Shanghai via Wusong.” According to the statistics, Gutzlaff Charles said in the “Journal of Three Voyages along the Coast of China in 1831, 1832 and 1833, with notices of Siam, Corea, and the Loo-Choo Islands”, “Shanghai is the largest commercial center in China.” According to Gutzlaff’s estimates, then the annual transportation at Shiliupu exceeded 5 million tons, so Shanghai Port was absolutely the largest in the Far East even after deducting the factors of exaggeration that the East India Company reported to the British government. It can not be said that the Britons’ horizons broadened at Shiliupu were the direct cause for the “opening up five ports for trade” later, but the two facts were definitely related.
And accordingly, Shiliupu as the "golden and prosperous Pu (market area)” may date back to 200 years ago. In traditional Chinese cities, the Pus were set along the streets. In old Shanghai County, the street market areas in the suburbs are arranged as the “Toupu (the first Pu)”, the second Pu, etc., one Pu after another. The area inside Dadongmen (big east gate) was Shiwupu (the fifteenth Pu) and beyond the Dadongmen, the area from Xiaodongmen (small east gate) Street on the north to Dongjiadu Street on the south was “Shiliupu (the sixteenth Pu). Three centuries ago, the area was called “Chengxiangwai (outside the city)” and was the eastern suburbs of Shanghai. As a vast area with little population, Shiliupu was 10-plus times the area of the Toupu. Therefore, when the commerce throve some years later, Shiliupu provided the space broad enough for the ambitious youths to expand the business. By the early Qing Dynasty, Shanghai had become the center of the coastal transportation and trade in China, receiving the “Guang (Canton) vessels” from Canton carrying the “Xiyang (the Western World)” goods including the timber and rare animals from Vietnam and Siam, the Persian spices and the clocks and other articles from the Western Europe, etc., the “Min vessels” from Fuzhou loaded with the “Nanyang (the Southeast Asia)” goods including sugar, bird's nests, sea cucumbers, tung oil, silver, etc. from Taiwan, Java and Malacca, etc., the “Ning vessels” from Ningbo transporting “Dongyang (Japan)” goods mainly including the copper and the copper ware from Kansai and Kyushu, Japan, and the “Wei vessels” from Tianjin carrying soybean, cooking oil and grains, etc. produced in Shandong, Manchuria and Korea. As the goods came from all directions, the importance of Shiliupu was highlighted.
Taller, larger and with deeper draft, the Guang vessels and the Min vessels were suitable for sailing on deep water such as East China Sea and South China Sea. With flat hull bottom and less deep draft, the Sha (sand) vessels of Shanghai region were suitable for sailing on the shoal water along the coasts such as the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea. It was because the Sha vessels of Shanghai region were needed for transshipping the goods coming from the south and the north as a result of the restriction of the southern vessels sailing to the north that Shanghai became China's coastal transportation hub as well as a center for trade. Just as an old saying goes, “thriving businesses extending to the four seas and the wealth coming from the three rivers”, with all the advantages, it was hard for Shiliupu not to become prosperous.
Du Yuesheng’s Life at the Wharf
As the markets developed along with the port, the wharf and the street markets gradually joined together. According to the records of the streets in Shanghai County in the “Jiaqing Shanghai County Annals”, outside the east gate, along the Huangpu River and from the north to the south there were “Huiguan (club) Wharf”, “Zhuhang (bamboo ware) Wharf”, “Da (big) Wharf”, “Xin (new) Wharf”, “Wang’s Wharf” and “Dongjiadu Wharf”. In the area between the wharfs on the east and the city walls on the west there were various small market streets for various industries, including the “Inner Miezhu Street” and “Outer Miezhu Street” specially for the bamboo and wood wares, the “Doushi Street” specializing in the goods from the north such as beans and grains, and the “Huayi Street” for the cloth and cotton businesses as well as the “Yanghang Street” for the goods from Guangdong and the Southern China and the “Xiangua Street” dealing in the tung oil, herbs and other goods from both the south and the north.
Since the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the street markets inside the city walls were in the traditional industrial and commercial pattern of the average cities of the Jiangnan region. With the rising of Shiliupu and the goods from around the country and the East Asia transferred here, Shanghai naturally leapt to a first-tier city. In addition to the goods, Shiliupu also gathered people from all the directions with the dialects of Guangdong, Fujian, Ningbo, and Shandong and even the languages of Japan and the Western countries heard here.
The characteristics of Shiliupu at that time, in the words of the official documents reported to the central government by the local officials, were “cunning merchants”, “thriving markets” and “difficulty in governing”. It is no wonder that various casinos, opium houses and brothels spread here like flies and rats as from the perspective of the urban ecology, Shiliupu was the joining area of the Chinese and foreign communities, also called “no governance”. The government officials, merchants and riffraff as well as the homeless gathered in Shiliupu, which also later became an ideal place for the Shanghai tycoons starting from scratch.
In 1902, 14-year-old Du Yuesheng began his apprenticeship at Hongyuansheng Fruit Firm in Shiliupu to kick off his adventures in Shanghai. Among the crowds of customers, the boy quickly learned to observe people from all walks of life, which was conducive to his standing out. Soon Du practiced his unique skill in peeling the bruised Laiyang pears into attractive ones which were also sold at satisfactory prices. The feat was highly appreciated by the boss and also resulted in his nickname “Mr. Fruit”. However, Shiliupu was a place of Jianghu (lower class society) where it would make the life colorful and wonderful to be ambitious and eager for success. Du, as a young man, soon formed the habits of Jianghu, such as gambling, stealing and making friends of Jianghu. Gambling cost his job, stealing helped his subsistence and the friends of Jianghu provided him with the opportunity for “success in future”.
Du joined the Qingbang (Green Gang) with Chen Shichang as “Master”, which had great influence in the area of Shiliupu. Chen recommended him to Huang Jinrong, a Shanghai tycoon, to be a lackey. Thanks to the experiences in Shiliupu which made him smart and cunning, Du was soon promoted from a lackey to an opium agent and took the charge of running Gongxing Club, one of the three largest gambling houses in the French Concession. From then on, every two years Du was able to create a stir: in 1925, protected by the French Concession and the warlords, Du set up “Sanxin Company” to monopolize the transport of opium in the French Concession and became President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of the French Concession to gain the equal power with Huang Jinrong; in 1927, Du joined hands with Huang Jinrong and Zhang Xiaolin to organize the “Chinese Joint Progress Society” and secured the support of Chiang Kai-shek; in 1929, Du assumed the post of the Chinese member of the board of directors of the French Concession, the highest position held by a Chinese person in the French Concession then.
There is no doubt that Shiliupu in old China cultivated the tycoon but he had some unique quality similar to that of Robin Hood. After the outbreak of the Anti-Japanese War, Du initiated the "Shanghai Anti-enemy Support Association of All Walks of Life” to collect funds for saving the nation in addition to the donation of the residence and an armored car which cost 300,000-plus US dollars donated by his disciples. He even spent a lot of money in purchasing the progressive books published by the Communist Party of China such as “Red Star over China” and “Complete Works of Lu Xun”, which were printed with “With Compliments of Du Yuesheng” and donated to the libraries in the French Concession to support the anti-Japanese publicity.
Too many rights and wrongs and too much good and evil could be found in Du Yuesheng, a gang leader, who is like a mystery deeply buried in history.
“Port of Hope” for Old Shanghai
To our surprise, the top one in the ranking of the most frequented museums in New York is Ellis Island Immigration Museum instead of many world-famous museums. For many Americans, they can find their roots here. During the major immigration period from 1892 to 1943, about 17 million immigrants went through the examinations of the immigration authorities here to enter the US. At that time, the immigrants with aspirations for freedom and opportunities were still facing the misery of being sent back once they failed the physical and health examinations, resulting in the Ellis Island regarded as either “island of hope” of “island of tears” by the immigrants. Therefore, Ellis Island is unforgettable for the immigrants, “Via Ellis Island we came to the US.”
"Via Shiliupu we came to Shanghai." Does it remind the old Shanghai natives of something? It was not a “port of tears”, which was better than Ellis Island, as there were no strict immigration officers controlling the fate of the immigrants in Shiliupu, a “port of hope”, where, like the immigrants to the US, the immigrants with the pressure of life started the pursuit of their “Shanghai Dream”. Unfortunately, without any roster or museum, no record of the number of the immigrants coming ashore here was kept. The memory of the old wharf was fading away and the Shiliupu kept in old Shanghai natives’ mind can only be recorded in written materials.
More than half a century ago Shiliupu was an extremely prosperous and bustling place. In those years, the Shiliupu Wharf received more than 10 passenger and cargo shipping lines along the Yangtze River and the coast extending from Shanghai to Chongqing, Wuhan, Wenzhou, Ningbo, Dinghai, Haimen, Shenjiamen and Baozhen of Chongming. Every day there were two ships sailing to Wuhan on the Shenhan Line, two ships sailing to Ningbo on Shenyong Line and three ships sailing to Nantong on Shentong Line. Carrying luggage on the shoulders and in the hands as well as their children, the passengers filled the area with the loving for their hometowns and families as well as all kinds of sound. At that time, it was hard to secure a ticket and during the periods of the Spring Festival and other festivals, people waited in lines day and night to buy the tickets. In the chilly wind and dim street lights, the long lines waiting to buy tickets were seen in front of the ship ticket building located at 1, East Jinling Road with the serial numbers written on people’s sleeves in chalks to keep order.
The wharf was bustling all day with the speakers broadcasting the arrival of the ships and the notices for the passengers. Off the wharf were groups of stalls giving out the aroma of food and the smell of chickens, ducks and fish mixed with the sound of bargaining. On the road linking the wharf and the warehouses were the passengers walking in haste and vendors in high spirits as well as the sweating porters earning a hard living, who, wearing homespun shirt, shorts and a pair of sandals with a piece of cloth on the shoulders, carried large sacks between the wharf and the warehouses in the strong sunlight. The wharf was usually bustling with bright lights until 10 o’clock at night.
The prevalent saying “the brands on the Damalu Road and the money at Shiliupu” showed the prosperity of Shiliupu in the 1950s and the 1960s. Various industries throve and prospered at Shiliupu, including the wholesale and retail markets for more than 200 farm products and food including the grains from the south and north, aquatic products, meat and eggs, the markets for precious Chinese herbal medicine such as ginseng and bird's nests, the money shops and pawnshops clustering in Doushi Street and Yangshuo Street and the shops meeting the demands of the ships for anchors and ropes.
The non-local peasants earning their life in Shanghai, the vendors travelling from one place to another and the displaced persons experienced the ups and downs at Shiliupu in streams. The commercial prosperity of the city was also mixed with the secular, lower-class, rustic and profiteering styles.
However, with the rise of land transport, the Shiliupu passenger terminal building with the capacity of 6,000 people which had been crowded with people gradually became deserted. On September 25, 2003, the ship “Zizhulin” carrying 263 passengers from Dinghai slowly pulled in to Shiliupu Wharf. It was the last passenger liner berthing at Shiliupu. After that, the markets relying on the wharf such as the fruit market were also closed one after another. The Shiliupu Wharf with a history of 150 years has vanished without leaving any trace like ebbs.
Although the Shiliupu Wharf used to be a community mixed with good and evil, now the Old Wharf seems a secluded place with tranquility and only the ship whistles remind you now and then that it is the central area of the metropolis Shanghai on the Huangpu River. However, the tranquility also makes us meditate and observe Shanghai from some distance in a bid to find the unique glamour neglected in the introduction of the tour guides.
Starting from the Sunshine Beach on the Huangpu River, you may embark on a seemingly untrue journey of searching self and experience the dream-like Old Wharf. With the golden sand under our feet, instead of the vast sea, before our eyes is the beautiful scenery of Lujiazui with the buildings on postcards seemingly within our reach as well as crowds of people but without any noises as if we lost our hearing. When you are wondering whether the fine view of Lujiaxui or the vast sea is more worth seeing, the foreigners have calmly lain on the folding beds or jumped into the pool to listen to the river waters in the breeze and the smell of the mud. Since the eyes are closed, any fine view before the eyes is of no importance.
However, some attractions are to be discovered. Inside the gate of the buildings at Lane 479, South Zhongshan Road is a landscape pool which used to be transformed into a dream-like golden catwalk by a time-honored jewelry brand by draining the water.
Surrounding the landscape pool are restaurants and bar which must have their own characteristics. For example, the Ming Tang Organic Restaurant specializes in the green and healthy food which reminds the old Shanghai natives of the “organic food” as the major products of Shiliupu half a century ago, resulting in an illusion of time and space; the Oak Barrels Music Bar features an international standard dancing floor reproducing the scenes in the old Shanghai to some extent; Club One Restaurant & Bar of the Old Wharf provides the fine local cuisine with the dreamlike names such as the drunken shrimps in igloo instead of the “Zaobotou” that “Mr. Fruit” Du Yuesheng could not forget even after becoming a tycoon, the members of the club are seen putting the remaining cigars into the glass cases, and the thermometers show 21 degrees Celsius, all of which interpret the quality life of the middle class of Shanghai. The dreamlike Old Wharf makes the people indulge in the colorful and dazzling lifestyle here, but the diversity and the excellence in low profile remain unchanged.
The Jingpin Hotel located on Maojiayuan Road is also worth recommending. Transformed from the Military Police Command before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the building is not eye-catching with the fa?ade and the color of light grey just like those half a century ago, except the well-proportioned skylight showing the excellent designs. The guests visiting Shanghai for the first time may feel the different ways of life in old and modern times of Shanghai as well as the sustained low-profile and exquisite styles, the examples including the enamel bath ware representing the Shanghai style and the common life in Shanghai, the low-key, brand and well-matched decorations, the Continental Restaurant with Jason Atherton, a Michelin chef from London, in charge, and the terrace which is isolated from the noises of Lujiazui Financial Center while keeping the fine views as well as the privacy.