Shanghai‘s reputation has long had a sharp focus on commerce and fashion. For anyone who wants to see the proof, go no further than Nanjing Road East. The stretch of pedestrian mall in particular is a touristy hive of consumerism. Store fronts and their barrage of neon lights battle over people’s attentions, and window shoppers compete for space in the crowd. It is definitely one of China’s shopping highlights, with more than a million shoppers daily.
Today, Nanjing Road is far from the epicenter of Shanghai’s fashion scene, but it is the place that ushered that scene in. With a history that dates back to 1845, what started out as a few stores steadily grew into a center of commerce. By 1950, eight large department stores had arrived in Shanghai, each staking out a space along the avenue. The Shanghai No. 1 Department Store has held its ground since 1936, and has now grown to 11 stories.
Clothing and jewelry stores, restaurants and cafes all pull the throng towards and away from the Bund at the east end. International brand names are represented in full all along the road’s length, with a smaller number of local outlets and eateries stubbornly clinging to their spots. To some, the scene feels familiar; it’s a model that has been transplanted into many cities across China.
For anyone who wants to experience the Shanghai hustle and bustle, Nanjing Road East is a must-see. For actual shopping or dining, however, visitors can find better elsewhere. Nanjing Road has history, but history buffs will have to look pretty darn hard to see it.
And finally, a warning: Nanjing Road has the smell of money about it, and pickpockets often mingle in the throng. Scammers are also known to invite foreigners for coffee, eventually sticking them with a 5000 yuan bill.