Shanghai Garden Bridge (Waibaidu Bridge) on the Suzhou River is a major landmark of the city. When the weather is nice, many photographers would choose to make wedding photos there, as the bridge is a perfect symbol for the blend between old and modern Shanghai. Let's understand why this bridge is so important when talking about Shanghai and what key role it played in Shanghai History.
A strategic location
When the British settled in 1842 at the intersection of Suzhou Creek and Huangpu River, this piece of land was deserted. This was a most secure location however, away from the turbulent Chinese city and easy to protect by the neighboring ships. The first British Consulate was built in 1852 (photo bellow). It is actually the oldest building of the Bund and can still be visited although transformed into a luxury watch shop. At that time, very few Westerners would use the ferry to cross the Suzhou River. But the lack of space in the British Settlement lead to the construction of a first wooden bridge, the Wills Bridge in 1857 (photo nearby). This was built by merchants who would collect toll fees!
On both sides of the Suzhou Creek, many public or companies would build their offices such as the Shanghai Waterworks, Siemssens and or the first modern hotel of the city, the Astor House Hotel in 1858. The British Consulate was followed by the installation of other foreign legations on the North side of the Suzhou Creek: The German Consulate, the American one and the Japanese. The last of them would be the Russian Consulate which was completed in 1917, the year of the Bolchevik revolution! As citizens got tired of paying to cross the river, the Shanghai Municipal Council decided to build the first Garden Bridge, in wood in 1873 then in iron in 1907. It would support two crossing trams. As electricity was spreading, the Garden Bridge became a symbol of modernity, just like the Eiffel Tower in Paris!
The rich meet the poor
At the feet of the Bridge, two worlds would confront themselves. The loads of migrants boats rushing into the city from the inner canals and stationing under the Bridge on one side (photo nearby). They came to work in Shanghai and would find more convenient and cheaper to live on the river. Old Shanghainese would remember this part of the city as so dirty that only the local speciality "Chou Doufu” (or “stinky toufu) could cover the smell of the river! On the South side of the Suzhou Creek though, the elite of the British society would practice rowing at the British Rowing Club by occasionaly taking long boats into the river. The nearby British Garden was also denied access to the Chinese. This rather colonial policy would later be exploited by the communist propaganda in History books, telling that foreigners did put signs banning “Dogs and Chinese” from their parks. There was actually no such sign but it is true that dogs were not allowed in the parks regulations. As "dog" is one of the worst insults in Chinese, this belief still persists today in many Chinese minds!