On Fuxing Island: A Glimpse Into Shanghai’s Past

Adam Dalton
June 6, 2015
Badminton on Fuxing


At the far eastern edge of the Yangpu district of Shanghai, a small and shallow canal no more than 100 meters wide juts off from the Huangpu River and rejoins in roughly two miles. This canal, although small, has served as a physical barrier for past 90 years in terms of isolating the island to its East (and former mudflat), my favorite place in Shanghai, Fuxing Island. Due to its isolated location (up until recently there was only 1 bridge onto this small island on the city’s periphery), Fuxing Island has not undergone the development that typifies almost every other area of downtown Shanghai. Therefore, walking onto the island feels like walking into a time machine where you can see a brief glimpse of Shanghai’s rapidly-disappearing past.

Since the mid 20th century, Fuxing Island has served as a shipping port, ship-building center, and warehouse district, strategically located at the intersection of the Huangpu River and downtown’s outside edge. Although there is some residential housing on the island (originally built to accommodate workers at the surrounding ship building factories), the island is mostly industrial and has only one small commercial area, located on its eastern-most point. During the past 30 years, the area around Fuxing Island has developed from an industrial center to one that houses University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and has ever increasing numbers of high rises and business centers. However, Fuxing itself exhibits more rust than regeneration and feels lost in time. Despite the recent additions of another bridge and new Shanghai Metro stop, Fuxing Island still remains behind its cross-canal neighbor in terms of development, and from the perspective of a foreigner and someone who is interested in history; this situation presents a unique and intriguing case within Shanghai.

When visiting Fuxing Island, you’ll be given very different initial impressions depending on when you arrive. If you arrive during the workweek, you’ll be greeted by a thick coating of dust on the sidewalks and roads, the noises of drills, hammers, and ship-horns, and workers milling about. However, if you arrive during the weekend or during off hours when the docks and ship-building factories are closed, the island will be a calm, peaceful, and green respite from the hustle and bustle of modern Shanghai. My first trip to Fuxing (on a weekday) did not leave me with the best impression and I left shortly after I arrived without having explored the island. For some reason still unbeknownst to myself, I decided to return to the island roughly a month later, albeit on a weekend.

During my second trip to Fuxing my impression of the island completely changed. Called a “Quiet Fairyland” by China People’s Daily, this place that I initially considered to be an industrial and under-developed wasteland quickly became a peaceful and beautiful respite that I had previously failed to see. I was amazed by all of the sights of small-town life and eras gone past that I was able to see in modern Shanghai. For example: elderly people sat around tables of their small shops and simultaneously played cards and gossiped, friendly dogs of all sizes roamed on every part of the island, and children played outside in the small courtyards of early 20th century Chinese-style single-family  homes (that in large do not exist anymore in Shanghai). Furthermore, the island offered a surprising amount of nature that I had not previously seen in Shanghai (especially downtown). A lush canopy of mature trees lined the entirety of the island’s only non-private street, flowerbeds abounded, and to top it all off, Fuxing is home to the one of the absolute best parks in Shanghai, Fuxing Island Park.

Sandwiched between two old factories on the western side of the island, Fuxing Island Park is easily my favorite place in Shanghai for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the park is the only location within downtown Shanghai that I feel that I can escape the city totally and be in nature. Since I am a huge nature junkie (I am a runner and also worked as a tour guide near Yosemite last summer), I had been looking endlessly to find a park where I could enjoy tranquility and really feel as If I were outside of the city limits, and Fuxing Island Park finally fulfilled my wishes. Although Shanghai has many nice parks, in all of the downtown parks you can see skyscrapers; hear the nearby traffic, and smell food from nearby restaurants, such phenomena that don’t quite lend themselves to an “authentic nature” experience.  

Secondly, the park has a great layout complete with many different seating and recreation areas, as well as a large variety of trees, bushes, and flowers, which are as beautiful as they are diverse. Aside from the beauty of the park’s scenery, there is also a surprising historical relic which stands unassumingly within the park boundaries. On the far western edge of the park lies a small and well-kept white house. Although it appears to have no significance, the house has an interesting past; in 1949 it served as Chiang Kai-shek’s final bolthouse in mainland China. 66 years later, the house stands roughly unchanged and is truly a hidden gem in the Shanghai cityscape. 

Although there have been recent plans floated around by a variety of different developers regarding Fuxing Island, as of 2015, none have come to fruition. However, when development plans are acted upon regarding the island (considering the speed of Shanghai’s development the aforementioned scenario seems unavoidable) downtown Shanghai will lose one of its final links to the past. So, if you are in Shanghai I would strongly recommend taking Metro Line 12 (teal line) over to Fuxing Island to spend an afternoon exploring. Although it lacks the glitz and glamour of modern Shanghai, it is incredibly valuable to get a look at a living remnant of Shanghai’s past and experience the tranquility that this small, quirky, and obscure island has to offer.

Finally, below experience Fuxing Island for yourself and give my attached photo-blog a look.

Until next time,

Adam Dalton 

Adam Dalton

<div>My Name is Adam Dalton and I am currently a junior at Grinnell College majoring in Economics and Chinese Studies. I am originally from Mason City, IA and will be studying abroad in Shanghai with IES Shanghai next semester. Aside from academics, my interests including playing guitar, enjoying the great outdoors and running (I am a member of Grinnell&#39;s T&amp;F and XC teams).&nbsp;</div>

2015 Spring
Home University:
Grinnell College
Chinese Language
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