Once upon a time, way back in the days when the Song dynasty discovered oil in Hangzhou* and moved south, a nearby fishing community called Hutu (also sometimes called Hudu) found itself strategically situated and soon became home to several the bigwigs from up north. After a short time, the fishers became traders and the traders became pajama-wearin’ xiao long bao-guzzlin’ urbanites. All was peaceful for a time in Shanghai, as Hutu became known, but just a short ways away on the East China Sea evil Japanese pirates hatched nefarious plots of rape and pillage. And so in 1553 Ming officials decreed an enormous wall 5 kilometers in length and eight meters high to be built around the city. The wall had a 20 meter wide moat, soldier outposts, four gates, and six sluice ways. The people rejoiced and the pirates sailed back to Japan in search of ladders.
Time passed, dynasties changed, colonialists built their own city (also called Shanghai) around the walled city, and the city inside the walls grew more crowded. The moats became rat-infested disease hatcheries and, since many of the Chinese had started to do business with the foreigners, the wall slowed commerce and traffic in and out of the Chinese city. By the turn of the twentieth century, Shanghainese business leaders began to campaign for the wall’s destruction and met with a venomous reception and death threats from the local community. Many viewed it as part of their heritage and a valuable buffer zone from the foreign devils. Additional gates were added as a compromise, but after the 1911 revolution the walls came tumbling down along with the Qing. Coincidentally, the Japanese would invade and destroy most of old Shanghai less than 25 years after the walls fell, so perhaps the naysayers were right all along.
Today Renmin Lu and Zhonghua Lu form a circle around the old city where the wall once stood. Only a small section of the original (though probably reconstructed) wall, complete with an archery tower, remains standing today on the corner of Renmin Lu and Dajing Lu. For just a few quai you can walk around on top and taunt imaginary Japanese hordes or pay your respects to the Daoist war god enshrined in the archery tower. Heck, you could even have a picnic up there, no one visits anyways, but what’s really nice is its fascinating little museum (Chinese descriptions only) with a collection of photographs of the old city during the Qing dynasty as well as a scale model of what it once looked like. It certainly makes for a more authentic experience than drinking frappuccinos at the Starbucks in Yuyuan.
*This is not true. They moved south for the shuffleboard and mojitos.