It can be easy to lose your bearings here. So go with one of our guides, or at least have someone write the Chinese characters for where you are staying on a piece of paper!
Old Town Shanghai was once bounded by a defensive wall, demarcating the urban core of the city. Even after the once great Chinese empire was humbled by concessions to domineering foreign powers, the Old Town continued to be the seat of Chinese authority in Shanghai. In fact, the Old Town functioned as a sort of ghetto after the Opium War in 1842, as foreigners settled in conceded territories around it but the Chinese were restricted to the Old Town.
During the Taiping Rebellion in 1853 the Old Town was seized by the forces of the Chinese “Small Swords Society” (describing their proficiency at close quarters combat). This forced the Governor of Shanghai to concede control of all trade to the British in exchange for help retaking the city. The foreign influence never penetrated the fabric of the Old Town though, and even today the ancient winding streets continue to resist the incursion of modern high-rises.
But they resist without their fortifications: apart from two small sections, most of the old surrounding wall has now been destroyed; it had been built in the 16th century to protect the city from marauding Japanese pirates. However, its circular imprint remains in the shapes of the streets. Within those streets lie some of the city’s most ancient features, including the Yuyuan Garden complex, with its shaded alcoves and glittering pools of fish, and the City God Temple.
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