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Laowaitan (The Old Bund)
2019-06-15 14:49 Text Size: A A A

Seated on the north bank of the Sanjiangkou, Laowaitan (the Old Bund) of Ningbo became one of the five open ports in 1844 (even 20 years earlier than the Bund in Shanghai) and has long been one of the busiest trading ports since the Tang and Song Dynasty. After 1992 the Old Bund became a tourist attraction as one of the few extant bunds in China with a history of over 100 years.

Back in the Tang Dynasty, Ningbo was one of the four major ports in China. It was where Monk Jianzhen started his journey to Japan. During the Southern Song Dynasty, as one of the three major official ports it was governed by special foreign trade government agencies. Despite the close-door policy by the Qing government, Ningbo managed to keep commercial links with Japan and Southeast Asian nations. China imported copper and silver from Japan and exported silk, cotton and porcelain to Japan via Ningbo. When a rigorous close-door policy was practiced by the early Qing government, Ningbo was the only port to preserve the exporting rights in the following 40 years, from 1644 to 1684.

After the Opium War in 1842, the Qing government signed the Treaty of Nanjing with Western powers, in which Ningbo was designated as one of the five ports opened up to foreign trade. Businessmen from all over the world flocked into Ningbo. Britain, France and other countries turned it into a semi-colonial port as they grabbed the sovereignty, took over the administration power of the customs, controlled the see access, monopolized the navigation, and exercised foreignnization. Later it became the concession area of the UK, France and the US. The thriving of Shanghai port weakened its status. In 1927 the Chinese government resumed the exercise of the administrative rights of the concession strips. Thereafter, the Old Bund became a symbol mirroring the port culture and modernization progress of the city. There were electric lights, chime clocks, bikes, western-style houses, churches, hospitals and banks. It is the only bund extant in Zhejiang that can well document and reflect the progresses of the port culture.

According to a recent survey of the cultural relics in Ningbo, at least 31 of all the 54 historical buildings of the Old Bund are associated with Ningbo Overseas Trade Group (Ningbobang). These buildings, with both western and Chinese elements of the late 19th and the early 20th century are places for work, religious services, trade and residence. Therefore the Old Bund was designated as a place for conservation in the Ningbo City Master Plan together with five other landmarks. At present the Police Station, Hong Yuanchang’s, Zhu’s Residence and the Mansion of the Yans are listed as the municipal heritage buildings. Extant buildings carrying strong western flavor stand in striking contrast with the traditional dwelling houses.

Foreign consulates, Catholic Church, banks and piers line up the river, recording the whole history of the port. There is Zhejiang Customs, Basilica of BomJesus, Ningbo Postal Services, Commercial Bank, etc. There are old residences and time-honoured stores, too. The constructions are of different styles, British, French, German, Dutch and others, forming a sharp contrast with traditional Chinese residences.

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